In early December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its ruling on a court case pertaining to the adequacy of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) entry-level training requirements for CDL drivers. Petitioners in the case included Advocates for Highway and Automobile Safety and United Motorcoach Assn.

The court agreed with the petitioners' assertion that FMCSA requirements for entry-level driver training, issued in May 2004, were “arbitrary and capricious” and “inexplicably ignored” the agency's own findings that effective entry level training should include “on-road” elements The rule was the culmination of a 1991 congressional mandate that directed FMCSA to look at the effectiveness of private sector CDL training and initiate a rulemaking to address entry-level training.

The agency published its “effectiveness” study in 1995, which concluded that trucking was not providing adequate driver training. In addition, it said effective training must include skill-based components, referred to as a “Model Curriculum,” that focused on vehicle maneuvers and road safety.

The Appeals Court judges noted that, quite apart from their 1995 findings, the agency's final entry-level training rule required only 10.5 hours of classroom instruction and no on-road training.

Interestingly the judges ruling did not strike down FMCSA's May 2004 entry-level training requirements. Instead, they “remanded” the rule back to the agency for further action. Apparently, neither the court nor the petitioners anticipated any harm in keeping the current entry-level requirements in place. The court also did not give FMCSA a deadline for completing a revised rule.

What are potential outcomes of this latest court action? Most likely, FMCSA will re-examine the costs and benefits of the training requirements as delineated in the five-element, 320-hour “Model Curriculum” referred to in its 1995 effectiveness study. (The model curriculum includes 116 hours of on-street time combined with 92.25 hours of driving-range instruction.)

In addition, it's possible the agency could prescribe a “finishing” component, since the congressional study emphasized that the Model Curriculum reflected minimum standards and did not fully prepare new drivers for solo operation.

Given these potential results, I would suggest the following. First, determine the extent of your fleet's appetite for entry-level CDL drivers. If you need to hire entry-level drivers, you must determine how you can ensure that they complete both a "Model Curriculum” and “finish” program.

You might consider aligning with a vendor that is certified with the industry organization known as the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). PTDI is recognized as an advocate for standardized and professional entry-level CDL training programs. The group also administers a training certification program that ensures quality and professional standards among its network of providers. Go to www.ptdi.org for more information.

At a minimum, you should become familiar with the Model Curriculum, which is available at the PTDI web site. My guess is that FMCSA will respond to this court action within the next 12 months. By then, you'll either need a partnership with a certified training vendor or you'll need to develop your own training program.

Sounds like a great New Year's resolution!




Jim York is the manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.