On Sept. 18, 2014, several advocacy groups filed a most important lawsuit against the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for not promulgating rules for minimum training standards for entry level truck drivers which was mandated by Congress in 1993. In the past 20 years, the Department of Transportation and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have failed to or put off issuing minimum training requirements for entry level truck and bus drivers.
This saga began in 1991 when Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which required the Secretary of Transportation to report to Congress on the effectiveness of private sector training of entry level commercial motor vehicle drivers by Dec. 18, 1992, and to complete a rule-making proceeding on the need to require training of all entry level drivers of commercial motor vehicles by Dec. 18, 1993.
The report was submitted to Congress on Feb. 5, 1996, concluding that training of new commercial motor vehicle drivers was inadequate. The report found, for example, that only 31 percent of heavy truck drivers and 18 percent of bus drivers with five or less years of driving experience had received adequate training. In the next six years, however, the agency took those steps toward issuing a rule on entry-level driver training.
In November of 2002, advocacy groups concerned about vehicle safety filed a lawsuit seeking an order directing the Department of Transpiration to fulfill its statutory duty to promulgate overdue regulations relating to vehicle safety, which included the regulation of entry-level driver training. After the filing of the lawsuit, the parties entered into a settlement agreement in which the Department of Transportation agreed to issue a final rule on minimum training standards for entry level commercial motor vehicle drivers by May 31, 2004.
On May 31, 2004, the Department of Transportation published a final rule in which it acknowledged that training for entry-level drivers was inadequate and stated that a 320 hour curriculum with behind-the-wheel training would be an acceptable training model. However, the rule did not require any of the skills and knowledge training that formed the focus of the model curriculum. Instead, it required training in four areas:
• Driver qualifications;
• Hours of Service;
• Driver wellness; and
• Whistleblower protection.
The Department of Transportation estimated that the required training would take only 10 hours. Several advocacy groups petitioned the Court to review the final rule arguing that because the rule did not require entry-level drivers to receive training in how to operate commercial vehicles that the Court should not give final approval to the rule.
On Dec. 2, 2005, the Court determined that the agency had adopted a final rule that had nothing to do with adequate training for commercial motor vehicle drivers. On Dec. 26, 2007, after the Court’s decision the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a proposed rule, proposing new training standards for entry-level drivers that would include behind-the-wheel as well as classroom training. This proposed rule was based on the Federal Highway Administration model curriculum proposed in May of 2004.
After four years passed without the Department of Transportation issuing a final rule on entry-level training for commercial motor vehicle operators, Congress again directed the Department of Transportation to issue a final regulation establishing minimum entry-level training requirements for an individual operating a commercial motor vehicle. Congress specified that the final regulation must:
• Address the knowledge and skills necessary to safely operate a commercial vehicle;
• Address the specific training needs of drivers seeking passenger or hazardous material endorsement;
• Require effective instruction to acquire the knowledge, skills, and training to safely operate a commercial vehicle, including classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction;
• Require certification that operators meet the requirements that are established ; and
• Require training providers to demonstrate that their training program meets the required regulations.
Congress directed the Department of Transportation to issue the entry-level driver training final rule on or before Oct. 1, 2013. On Sept. 19, 2013, less than two weeks before the deadline for issuing the final rule, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a notice announcing that it was withdrawing its December 2007 proposed rule. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration concluded that a new rule-making procedure should be initiated in lieu of completing the 2007 rule making. In doing this, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not indicate when it expected to complete its new rule-making.
When the deadline passed, plus an additional 10 months without the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration taking any action on the entry level driver training rule, advocacy groups filed the current lawsuit to force the agencies to put in place training rules that Congress mandated back in 2001.
Hopefully, the Courts will force the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to publish entry-level training standards for commercial motor vehicle drivers so that the public will not have to suffer another 20 years of inadequately trained truck drivers on the road. If you need additional information on this subject, contact Mike Crow, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Crow@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: FMCSA website and New York Times
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