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FMCSA Asks for Guidance on Driver Training Rules

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By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter @ Transport Topic

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asked its advisory committee last week for help crafting minimum training requirements – including classroom and on-the-road instruction – for entry-level commercial drivers.

The agency proposed some requirements in December 2007, but comments its received from industry interest groups took issue with some aspects of the curriculum, how FMCSA would accredit training programs, the effect the regulation would have on the availability of new drivers and the benefits of training compared with the costs, said Rich Clemente, an FMCSA transportation specialist.

“Is a trained driver a safer driver? We would certainly like to think so, and that’s why we’ve been working on this,” Clemente said at a Dec. 3 presentation to the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. “But right now, there is currently no federal standard.”

Federal officials have been working on entry-level driver-training standards for about two decades and even issued a regulation in 2003. But a federal court later told FMCSA the standards must include on-the-road training because the agency had determined that such training is necessary for safety.

That resulted in the 2007 proposal, which the agency has not acted on since then. “We’re coming up on the five-year anniversary of the notice of proposed rulemaking,” Clemente said. “It’s been a long time.”

A major roadblock for the regulation – one identified by many comments on the 2007 proposal – is that no research has shown a positive cost-benefit analysis for requiring training. It would be a “fairly high rule cost, but the benefits are only intuitive,” Clemente said.

FMCSA is overseeing two research projects the agency hopes will demonstrate benefits that exceed the costs of training, said Martin Walker, chief of the agency’s research division.

Members of MCSAC agreed with the push to require driver training, despite the lack of a positive cost-benefit analysis.

John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, noted that other industries have required operator training for a long time.

“Law enforcement, military, aviation, all see benefits of training… somehow, either by sheer logic or they have a cost-benefit analysis for it, I don’t know,” said Lannen, a MCSAC member. “It’s stunning that we’re struggling with the benefits of this when there are so many other examples that clearly have been done.”

“It’s not that people haven’t been able to find benefits,” said Rob Abbott, vice president for safety policy at American Trucking Associations and a MCSAC member. “It’s that the benefits haven’t exceeded the cost.”

For Abbott, the realities of the cost-benefit analysis mean that the training FMCSA requires should be crafted to cost less than the benefits it causes through increased safety.

Walker noted that the U.S. military does not have to prove that its driver training is cost-beneficial. “You just have to prove that you’re imparting training, and knowledge, and skills,” he said.

And the current requirements for commercial pilot training also did not go through a regulatory cost-benefit analysis, Walker said.

ATA, along with the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) and other groups, is concerned the proposal mandated only the number of training hours required, not whether trainees actually learn the skills.

FMCSA has asked MCSAC to submit its recommendations before a meeting in April.

By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter @ Transport Topic