FMCSA Seeks Comment Regarding New CDL Certification Standards For New Drivers & License Upgrades

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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is seeking public comment regarding an array of new proposed commercial driver’s license (CDL) licensing requirements. FMCSA believes the new requirements would significantly improve commercial trucking safety through the establishment of more thorough entry-level training for new drivers of trucks. Furthermore, the agency also believes that the pending proposal would also have the effect of exposing more drivers to safety training thereby spreading the benefits of an educated trucking workforce more broadly.

FMCSA is the federal agency that is chiefly concerned with the regulation of large truck passenger-carrying buses, and other commercial vehicles. FMCSA is granted the authority to regulate these vehicles and the operation thereof via a litany of authority including Motor Carrier Act of 1935, the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, and the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.

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To Whom Who Would the New Standards Apply?

The new standards would revise the criteria for mandatory training of commercial drivers. The new standards would certainly apply to new applicants for a license to operate a commercial truck or another commercial motor vehicle.  Typically, this means drivers engaged in both intrastate and interstate commerce who require the possession of a CDL to perform their work. However, the new mandatory training standards would not only apply to new drivers. The standards would also require mandatory training for drivers who upgrade their CDL. Therefore, a Class B driver seeking to upgrade his or her license to a Class A CDL would be required to undergo the mandatory training. Furthermore, drivers seeking certain endorsements for the license would also be required to satisfy this new, proposed educational requirement. This would also include drivers seeking an endorsement to transport hazardous materials, passenger-carrying commercial drivers, and school bus drivers.

What Do the Current Training Standards Cover?

The effect of the proposed rule would largely be directed towards revising and strengthening 49 CFR part 380, Special Training Requirements. As currently written, Part 380 requires entry-level driver training to cover four main areas. These areas are:

  • Driver qualifications – Education in this area concerns federal standards set forth regarding medical certification, medical exams, responsibilities, and disqualifying offenses.
  • Hours of service rules – While hours of service of regulations have been in flux in recent years, the education does include information regarding maximum hours of service and periods when a driver is required to be off-duty.
  • Driver self-care – The education also instructs drivers on ways to maintain their health including avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol, maintaining a healthy diet, and engaging in exercise.
  • Protection for whistleblowers – Drivers are informed of their ability to question dangerous practices without the risk of adverse action.

Generally, the new standards as proposed by FMCSA would include a core curriculum for Class A CDL drivers, Class B CDL drivers, and a specific curriculum for drivers seeking hazmat, passenger, and school bus endorsements. There would also be a specific program devised for a ‘refresher” training course.

For instance, the Class A and Class B training programs along with the passenger and school bus endorsements would all include both a theory (classroom) and a hands-on practical behind the wheel (BTW) training. The hazardous materials endorsement would only require a theory aspect to the training course. While the standards do not set forth any minimum number of hours of instruction, the training provider is required to cover all required elements. An assessment is also required. A passing score of 80% on the assessment is required.

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Issues On Which FMCSA is Seeking Public Comment

FMCSA is seeking public comment on all issues but has emphasized a particular number of areas. For instance, in light of the current lack of guidance regarding a minimum required hours for training, FMCSA is seeking comment on whether an hourly standard should be required. In the absence of an hourly standard, FMCSA is seeking alternative means to measure adequate training levels. Furthermore, while the agency did not set forth a particular training sequence, it is asking whether such an approach would better serve safety interests.

This information published and made available by FMCSA in the Federal Register is scheduled to go live on March 7, 2016. Public comment is open for 30 days from publishing and is scheduled to close on April 6, 2016.

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