Putting the drive in driver training

Oct. 13, 2014
Any entry-level driver training rule needs to include time behind the wheel

It’s hard to believe that October is already here, and as those of us with children prepare to go trick-or-treating, many truck drivers are dreading their encounter with snow on their next cross-country trip. Preparing and training drivers for winter driving takes a lot more than watching back-to-back episodes of Ice Road Truckers. I think every reader can agree that the most prepared drivers are the ones who are inevitably the best trained.  Watching past episodes of reality television, as entertaining as that may be, is not going to cut it.

For those of you who may have cringed when reading the previous paragraph, hold on, help is on the way. I know it seems like we have heard this before—that the federal government is preparing to develop a training mandate to better prepare entry-level drivers for life behind the wheel. In fact, we heard it 10 years ago. Those 10 years seem like forever since the agency first addressed entry-level driver training by requiring that drivers, in order to obtain their CDL, must receive training in the following areas: driver qualifications, hours of service, driver wellness, and whistleblower rights. To echo what most of you are likely thinking right now, it is clear that that mandate has not really worked out.

Now, we enter the process of what is known as a negotiated rulemaking. This approach to crafting an entry-level driver training rule brings all the players involved in training commercial drivers to the table, from the federal government to affected interest groups, in the hopes of developing a rule that makes everyone happy. The hope is that with all involved, a final rule will satisfy everyone and keep the rule out of litigation. Is this the right way to go about developing a rule? It certainly is not an approach that has been used in a while. Studies show, however, that a “neg reg” of sorts does not necessarily guarantee that. 

Many believe that a negotiated rulemaking promises expediency and decreases litigation as a result; unfortunately, that’s not true. While it does provide the added benefit of face-to-face rulemaking, timelines remain roughly the same, and it still is not lawsuit-proof. One study estimated that roughly 50% of one agency’s negotiated rulemakings ended up in a court battle. 

I do believe one thing we can’t say about a neg reg is that it won’t work. My reasoning for that is simply that we haven’t tried it yet. I think everyone can and will agree that for an entry-level driver to be properly trained, time must be spent behind the wheel of a commercial motor vehicle and not in a classroom.

While I have never claimed to be the smartest person around, I do think I can safely say that a mandate outlining the process to properly teach a person to drive a truck and operate it in a safe manner must contain language that puts the student behind the wheel actually driving. By doing just that, it paves the way for every driver who enters our industry to operate in a manner that is safe and protects everyone, including themselves, on our highways.

David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn.  He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to [email protected].

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

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