WASHINGTON -- April 22 -- A federal rule establishing training requirements for truck and bus drivers is grossly inadequate because it doesnt require that entry-level drivers receive any training in how to operate a commercial motor vehicle, Public Citizen has told a court.
The brief, filed Thursday on behalf of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, asks the court to overturn a rule issued in May 2004 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
The rule was supposed to set minimum training requirements for commercial vehicle operators, including drivers of trucks and buses. Instead of requiring that drivers have on-the-road training in such things as backing, driving in severe weather, controlling skids and passing other vehicles, the rule merely requires training in driver wellness, driver qualifications, hours of service and whistleblower protection.
The federal government just released preliminary highway fatality data for 2004 showing an alarming increase in truck crash deaths. More than 5,100 people died in truck crashes last year, said Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. We are suing FMCSA because it issued a driver training rule for new truck drivers that did not require any on-the-road or behind-the-wheel training. It is inconceivable that this agency would allow someone to start driving an 18-wheeler for long distances at high speeds without adequate behind-the-wheel training. The agency is playing Russian roulette with the safety of truck drivers and American families on our highways.
Concerned about the number of truck crashes caused by inadequately trained drivers, Congress in 1991 directed the Secretary of Transportation to begin a formal process investigating the need for minimum training requirements for entry-level truck and bus drivers. The agency was to issue a rule by December 1993 or submit a report to Congress explaining why a rule was not necessary.
The Federal Highway Administrations Office of Motor Carriers (now FMCSA) had previously published a model curriculum for tractor-trailer drivers requiring at least 320 hours of instruction. In another study published in 1995, the highway administration called the model curriculum a starting point and found that commercial vehicle drivers were not being adequately trained. In fact, it found that only 8.1 percent of heavy truck carriers and 18.5 percent of bus operators provided entry-level drivers with adequate training statistics that indicate a need for minimum training requirements.
The agency held a public hearing in 1996 on the issue, but then did nothing for seven years. In November 2002, Public Citizen, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Teamsters for a Democratic Union filed a petition in court seeking an order directing the government to fulfill Congress mandate and issue a rule. As part of a settlement, the U.S. Department of Transportation agreed to issue a rule by May 31, 2004.
However, when FMCSA produced the rule on May 21, 2004, it appeared to give no consideration to the reams of information it had gathered documenting the inadequacies of driver training and the need for on-the-road training for entry-level commercial drivers. Its final rule calls for just 10 hours of training, none of it on the road.
The agency seems to have ignored all the data it collected showing the great need for minimum training standards for truck and bus drivers, said Adina Rosenbaum, the Public Citizen attorney working on the case. It is absurd that after 14 years, the rule doesnt require drivers to get behind the wheel of a truck or bus as part of their training.
In the brief, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safetys petition was consolidated with petitions filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the United Motorcoach Association.
The organizations are asking the court to declare FMCSAs rule arbitrary and capricious and to order the agency to rewrite it to ensure that entry-level drivers receive the training they need to operate a large truck or bus.