May 29, 2015 7:00 PM, EDT

FMCSA Advisory Committee Recommends Hours-Based Training Program

Eric Miller/Transport Topics

WASHINGTON — A special federal advisory committee ironing out the details of a potential entry-level driver training rule finished its work May 29 but only after a vigorous debate over whether to recommend an hours-based or performance-based on-road training standard for new drivers.

In the end, the 26-member broad-based commercial vehicle stakeholders panel voted 24-2 to recommend a requirement that in addition to classroom time, new truck drivers would be required to complete at least 30 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. The requirement also would allow a flexible split that would include a minimum of 10 hours of range driving instruction and at least 10 hours of on-road instruction.

The dissenting votes came from Boyd Stephenson, director of hazardous material policy for American Trucking Associations; and James Edwards, Washington representative for the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.

Stephenson and Edwards had advocated for a performance-based on-road training standard that would have allowed a driver to complete the driving instruction in less than 30 hours if he or she had mastered the necessary skills sooner.

LIVEONWEB REPLAY: Below, ATA's Boyd Stephenson and CVTA's Don Lefeve talked driver training in March

MORE DRIVER TRAINING VIDEO: Con-way Truckload trainer Tomy Fox

MORE DRIVER TRAINING VIDEO: Doug Akers of Ozarks Technical Community College Transport Training Institute

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But overall, the committee unanimously agreed to send a comprehensive package of recommendations that will be forwarded to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The committee had vowed to achieve agreement among 23 of its 26 members for reaching a consensus.

FMCSA had tasked the committee, which has been meeting since April, to reach agreement on the details of the agency’s first-ever “negotiated” entry-level driver training rule.

FMCSA and its predecessor regulatory agency have been stymied since the 1980s in coming up with a rule that could gain stakeholder support and pass a rigorous White House review.

Larry Minor, FMCSA’s associate administrator for policy, lauded the work of the committee, saying he was convinced this time the committee’s recommendations will help the agency formulate a successful rule.

“I think we did reach a consensus with a broad group of stakeholders,” Minor told Transport Topics after the meeting. “I think the new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be much better received than the 2007 NPRM.”

Among the committee’s recommendations was a long list of stringent classroom requirements, in addition to the 30 hours of on-road instruction for Class A commercial driver license training. For Class B CDLs, the requirements included classroom instruction and 15 hours of driving instruction, seven of which must be on-road.

In attempting to define an entry-level driver, the committee decided that the agency should not require drivers whose CDL lapsed with a good driving record to take a refresher course before retesting for their CDLs.

Stephenson said a study by the American Transportation Research Institute showed that the number of hours of instruction for new drivers are “completely unrelated to safety in the future.”

“Overall, the deal is very good, and ATA is very excited and we’re very supportive,” Stephenson told TT. “The comments I got from some of the agency representatives was that this really gave them a lot of ideas about what they can and should and will be doing.”

Edwards, who voted to approve the package of recommendations, agreed with Stephenson.

“We advocated performance basis as opposed to hours basis from the get-go,” Edwards told TT. “If you base things on performance, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to acquire the skills and be able to master the maneuvers, which is going to vary by the individual student. There’s an arbitrariness when you inject hours.”