The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on Wednesday announced a Final Rule establishing comprehensive national minimum training standards for entry-level commercial truck and bus operators seeking to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or certain endorsements.
The standards established in Wednesday’s rule address the knowledge and skills necessary for the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles and also establish minimum qualifications for entities and individuals who provide entry-level driver training. The entry-level driver training Final Rule retains many of the consensus recommendations of a negotiated rulemaking committee made up of 25 stakeholders and FMCSA representatives.
The comprehensive CDL training requirements, which emphasize safety and promote driving efficiency, will result in lives saved, reductions in fuel consumption and emissions, vehicle maintenance cost reductions, and industry-wide performance improvements, according to the FMCSA. Congress in the Moving Ahead mandated the rulemaking for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) was quick to praise the FMCSA for issuing a skills-based entry-level driver training rule. Bill Sullivan, ATA’s executive vice president of advocacy, said, “ATA has consistently advocated that skills, not simply time spent in a classroom or behind the wheel, should be the deciding factor if a student should be allowed to take a commercial driver’s license test. Today’s rule is a victory for common sense and for safety.”
“ATA participated in FMCSA’s negotiated rulemaking process, and we have been pleased with how the agency outlined the skills and knowledge students must have,” said ATA Director of Safety Policy P. Sean Garney. “At the conclusion of the negotiation, ATA expressed our disappointment the agency appeared poised to go with an hours-based training regimen, but we were pleased and surprised to see they eschewed an arbitrary hours threshold in favor of a skills-based standard.”
Under the Final Rule announced Wednesday, applicants seeking a CDL would be required to demonstrate proficiency in knowledge training and behind-the-wheel training on a driving range and on a public road, with training obtained from an instructional program that meets FMCSA standards. There is no required minimum number of hours for the knowledge or behind-the-wheel portions of any of the individual training curricula, but training providers must determine that each CDL applicant demonstrates proficiency in all required elements of the training in order to successfully complete the program.
Mandatory, comprehensive training in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories would apply to first-time CDL applicants including Class A CDLs and Class B CDLs. That training would also include current CDL holders seeking a license upgrade (e.g., a Class B CDL holder seeking a Class A CDL) or an additional endorsement necessary to transport hazardous materials, or to operate a motorcoach or school bus.
All of these individuals are subject to the entry-level driver training requirements and must complete a course of instruction provided by an entity that meets the qualification standards set forth in the Final Rule. FMCSA anticipates that many entities currently providing entry-level driver training, including motor carriers, school districts, independent training schools, and individuals will be eligible to provide training that complies with the new requirements.
Drivers who are not subject to or are excepted or exempted from federal CDL requirements are not subject to this Final Rule. For example, military drivers, farmers, and firefighters who are excepted from federal CDL requirements are not subject to this Final Rule.
The entry-level driver training Final Rule goes into effect on Feb. 6, 2017, with a compliance date of February 2020.