8 in 10 readers view behind-the-wheel minimum hours crucial for training rule

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Updated May 8, 2018

Should the FMCSA’s Entry Level Driver Training rule include a behind-the-wheel training time minimum?

In the waning days of the Obama administration, when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released its final rule requiring certain curricula for pre-CDL Entry Level Driver Training, a marked departure from the rule as proposed sent shockwaves through the owner-operator community. The proposed rule’s minimum of 30 required hours behind the wheel (BTW) before CDL applicants could take the skills test was scuttled in favor of a performance-based approach, in which individual trainers hold wide latitude in determining how much required BTW training is appropriate.

Photo by Jim Allen | 365 TruckingPhoto by Jim Allen | 365 Trucking

The 30 hours minimum was agreed to as a compromise between the host of parties convened in 2015 to develop the rule in a negotiated rulemaking. By leaving the BTW minimum out, FMCSA has garnered significant criticism, most notably a petition for reconsideration of the rule from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and several truck-crash-victims and other safety advocacy groups. The Professional Truck Driver Institute, representing a network of CDL schools utilizing its training program, also called a BTW minimum critical for an effective rule in a letter to the agency. “The purpose of establishing entry-level training standards for commercial drivers,” PTDI said, “is to reduce programs that are turning out inadequately trained and prepared drivers, who pose a risk to public safety. … PTDI firmly believes that BTW time is critical to achieving that goal.”

PTDI’s courses, notably, include at least 44 hours of BTW time, as previously reported.

As Overdrive polling shown above makes clear, most owner-operators believe 30 hours itself is in fact insufficient as a minimum, and overall 78 percent believe a minimum of 30 or more was appropriate. “There is no way 30 hours is sufficient,” wrote Thomas Monfort, commenting under the poll at OverdriveOnline.com. “I’ve been driving for 39 years and I’m still learning. My opinion is if FMCSA thinks someone with [little to no] BTW training can get in a 80,000 truck, and drive in traffic where moms and dads, wives, husbands and kids are, they’re clueless and should be held responsible for the problems and accidents that may result.”

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D.W. Adams, meanwhile, concurred on Overdrive’s Facebook page, noting in his training work in past “about 70 hours worked for my students.”

Reasons for excluding the BTW minimum had to with a paucity of data showing a clear correlation between particular training times and crash rates down the line in a driver’s career. Previous attempts to develop an entry-level training rule at all were unsuccessful in part for some of the same reasons, the agency said in the text accompanying the final rule.

Opposition to a BTW minimum came from the American Trucking Associations, notably, according to the final rule, likewise a range of other businesses and organizations (many of them ATA members) that argued setting a minimum at 30 hours was arbitrary. Some in Overdrive’s audience take criticism of the entry-level rule farther: 14 percent view it as unnecessary in total. “Thirty, 60, 120 — doesn’t matter!” noted Dan Ashby on Overdrive’s Facebook page. “If the person doesn’t want to work hard and learn to operate the system by themselves, they won’t cut it out on the road anyways. So many people think truck driving is easy. A driver has to be self-motivated. It’s you and no one else beside you my friend!”

FMCSA offered an olive branch to those who believed the BTW requirement was absolutely necessary — in the rule itself. “Our decision not to include the minimum BTW hours as part of the Class A and B curricula should not necessarily be construed as the Agency’s last word on this subject,” the agency wrote. The Commercial Vehicle Training Association suggested that, with the rule in place, more data might then be available to make a revision to include a BTW minimum in future.

The final rule’s effective date, after Trump’s brief regulatory freeze, has been delayed to March 21. Compliance with the rule for CDL applicants will remain, however, a few years out.

Other reader views
Via OverdriveOnline.com:

R. J.: As a training manager at truck driving school, I see it firsthand. Thirty hours is not enough time BTW.

Christopher A. Smith: I was a licensed instructor for 7 years. I’m positive that no student learns at the same pace as any other student. All are motivated differently and come from different backgrounds. [Training] should be skills-based.

Craig: Having graduated from a PTDI-certified course, I can say that even 30 hours is insufficient to be able handle a tractor and trailer safely.

Michael: Having trained [post-CDL] more than 200 drivers for one company, I can honestly say that most of them were not ready at all to handle a cross-country trip. When you pay big money to go get trained, you have to expect a higher level of training. PTDI training holds a higher standard and as far as getting a CDL, at least at the school I attended, you didn’t get that CDL unless you earned it. Drivers have a lot of distractions, work overload, and time issues than someone even 20 years ago. No job is worth getting yourself killed.