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FMCSA may negotiate a rule on driver training

Aug. 18, 2014
Agency tries new approach 21 years after it was supposed to have a final rule on minimum standards for entry-level training

In an effort to break a longstanding stalemate, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) may bring together various interested parties to negotiate a new regulation governing training standards for entry-level truck drivers.

In a notice to be published in the Aug. 19 Federal Register, FMCSA said that it is exploring regulatory negotiation – or “reg neg” – with the various stakeholders such as drivers, fleets, schools, state agencies, labor unions, safety advocates and insurance companies. The agency has hired a convener to talk with the stakeholders in an effort to determine whether a negotiated rulemaking is even worth trying.

Regulation governing entry-level driver training standards is one of the longest unresolved issues for FMCSA. In 1991, Congress ordered FMCSA’s predecessor agency to adopt a final rule within two years, so the agency is already 21 years past the deadline.

In 1995, the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Motor Carriers issued a report concluding that effective entry-level driver training standards required behind-the-wheel instruction, but it didn’t pursue a rulemaking.

In 2004 – already more than a decade past the original deadline - FMCSA adopted a final rule that required classroom instruction in four areas – driver qualifications, hours-of-service requirements, wellness and whistleblower protection – but did not mandate any behind-the-wheel training.

Several safety advocacy groups challenged the regulations. A federal appeals court ruled in 2005 that they didn’t go far enough and ordered FMCSA to rewrite the regulations. In a bit of an insult, the court didn’t even bother striking down the agency’s regulation, saying that the rule “while plainly inadequate, may do some good if it does anything at all.”

FMCSA came back to the table in 2007 with a proposed rule that drew much opposition from the trucking industry and others on grounds of costs, benefits, logistics of enforcement and other issues. For example, the American Trucking Assns. argued that the whole approach of requiring a certain number of hours for instruction was misplaced and that FMCSA instead should use performance-based standards to ensure that drivers actually can do what they need to be able to do.

Once again, regulatory efforts stalled. In 2012, Congress renewed its demand for a rule. Based on comments to the 2007 proposal, new Congressional provisions and recommendations from the agency’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC), FMCSA announced in September 2013 that it had decided to withdraw the 2007 rule altogether and start over.

FMCSA has explored reg neg in the past, but it has not adopted any regulations that way since it was created in 2000. The agency explored the approach with the thorny issue of the repair and maintenance of intermodal chassis, but it concluded that approach wouldn’t work and eventually issued regulations through the normal process.

About the Author

Avery Vise | Contributing editor

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