FMCSA proposes mandatory behind-the-wheel training

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing to require that newly licensed commercial driver’s license holders first complete specified minimum classroom and behind-the-wheel training from an accredited institution or program. The notice of proposed rulemaking was published today, Dec. 26, in the Federal Register, and comments are due March 25.

FMCSA would exempt drivers who receive their first CDLs or upgrade to another class of CDL before a date that’s three years after the agency issues a final rule. Also exempted would be drivers who intend to operate exclusively intrastate.

Under the proposed rule, a state driver-licensing agency could issue a CDL only if the applicant presented a valid driver training certificate obtained from an accredited institution or program. The minimum training requirements would be based mostly on a model curriculum published in 1985 by the Federal Highway Administration, FMCSA’s predecessor. The model curriculum addresses basic operation, safe operating practices, vehicle maintenance and non-vehicle activities.

The agency proposes to require entry-level training for all types of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) but to vary the curriculum according to the class of CDL. For Class A CDLs, FMCSA proposes 120 hours of minimum training — 76 hours in the classroom and 44 hours behind the wheel. For Class B and C CDLs, 90 hours of training — 58 hours in the classroom and 32 hours behind the wheel — would be required. Training institutions would be required to conduct skills tests on entry-level driver students using qualified instructors as determined by FMCSA.

The training provider or program would have to be accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Based on keyword searches at the Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Opportunities Online Locater, FMCSA has identified about 130 accredited truck-driver training schools, some with numerous locations.

FMCSA encourages the use of simulators and computer-based instruction, but it does not propose to allow those methods to be substituted for behind-the-wheel training. Current research has not fully substantiated the equivalency of simulator training and behind-the-wheel training, FMCSA says. But it invites evidence to the contrary. Although FMCSA said it believes the proposal will improve the ability of entry-level drivers to operate more safely, the agency conceded that there is little or no research to link standardized driver training and increased safety. So FMCSA is inviting comments on the analytic basis and justification for the proposed rule.

FMCSA’s proposal regarding behind-the-wheel training responds to a December 2005 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that a May 2004 rule on minimum training standards was inadequate because it did not require any training in the commercial vehicle. The court relied heavy on a 1995 FHWA study concluding that effective entry-level commercial driver training required time spent behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle on the road.

The current regulation, which the court allowed to remain in place pending a new rule, requires classroom education for entry-level drivers in medical qualification, hours-of-service rules, wellness and whistleblower protection. After years of inaction on the minimum standards, FMCSA had issued the May 2004 regulations as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by safety advocates.

For a copy of the notice of proposed rulemaking, visit www.regulations.gov and search FMCSA-2007-27748.