On Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had failed to provide adequate minimum training requirements for entry-level drivers in its final rule issued on May 2004.
The Court ordered FMCSA to come up with a new rule that addresses the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) “Adequacy Report,” published in 1995, which concluded “on-street hours” are needed for any training program to be considered adequate.
Three consolidated petitions by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA), and the United Motor Coach Assn. brought the lawsuit against FMCSA.
The Adequacy Report had determined that only 9% of carriers within the heavy truck sector provided sufficient training, raising the urgency for FMCSA to address the issue.
“The contested final rule begins with the assurance that it responds to the Adequacy Report,” wrote Senior Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards. “Rather than ‘respond’ to the imperatives laid out in the Adequacy Report, the final rule completely ignores the study’s emphasis on practical, on-the-road training.”
Instead, the final rule prescribed four initiatives:
- considering whether to modify the CDL test and whether the test can be administered more cost-effectively
- identifying the costs and benefits of a graduated license system
- publishing an interim final rule intended to heighten awareness of safety regulations among motor carriers
- administering a grant program to provide financial assistance to states in aid of roadside inspections and enforcement
According to OOIDA, the current rule requires 10 hours of non-driving experience on issues such as how to maintain a logbook and commercial driver qualifications.
FHWA estimated that training consistent with a model curriculum, which incorporates on-highway training, would cost between $4.19 and $4.51 billion over 10 years but would yield a $5.4 to $15.27 billion benefit during the same period.
Judge Edwards chided the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) for taking until 2004 to issue a final rule, almost ten years after the 1995 FHWA report.
FHWA held a public meeting in 1996 that addressed the report and further regulatory action. “After the meeting…[FHWA’s] activities…came to a halt,” Judge Edwards wrote. “Nothing in the record explains the hiatus, but for six years the agency initiated no further action. Indeed, it took litigation by concerned private parties to nudge the agency out of its slumber,” he added, referring to a November 2002 lawsuit, that led to a DOT agreement to issue an entry-level training requirement final rule by May 2004.
OOIDA said the Court did not give FMCSA a deadline for rewriting the rule, adding that it appears the current rule will remain in effect until a new one is issued.