Setting a minimum number of hours for behind-the-wheel (BTW) practice remains a sticking point in the long-awaited proposal to set federal standards for truck driver training, based on comments submitted ahead of last week’s deadline.

The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) continues to voice its opposition to the BTW requirement, as set in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published March 7.

“ATA strongly opposes a mandatory minimum number of hours spent in BTW training. Instead, ATA encourages the agency to pursue a pure competency-based final rule that relies on verification of demonstrated skills and techniques to ensure that drivers are prepared to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) safely,” ATA writes.

Among the reasons for the opposition, ATA argues that:

  • research does not indicate a relationship between the number of hours spent in training and a reduction in crashes
  • the hours-based proposal contravenes a federal directive to specify “performance objectives” rather than how those objectives are to be achieved
  • carrier training experience demonstrates that more hours trained BTW does not correlate with a reduction in future crash risk; and
  • the assignment of a minimum 30 hours BTW training is an arbitrary political compromise, essentially “splitting the difference” between the low and high ranges suggested during the negotiation on the proposed rule.

ATA was one of 26 members of the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee (ELDTAC) which developed the proposal last year, but the training minimum was supported by 24 of the other committee members, enough to include the requirement under the negotiated rulemaking procedures.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) also opposes the BTW time requirement, stating in its filing that the requirement has the potential to make the available CDL driver supply “even tighter” for the construction industry.

“Many construction firms operate in-house training initiatives to ensure that their drivers are thoroughly familiar with safe driving practices and are well-versed in the specific requirements of driving construction industry vehicles,” AGCA writes. “Industry experience indicates that performance-based training provides the best way to train drivers to the nuances of the industry.”

A number of agricultural interests voiced similar concerns, as did several large trucking companies who operate training schools or have extensive “finishing” programs in place.