FMCSA Considers Negotiated Rulemaking Process for Upgraded Federal Regulations Governing CDL Driver Training

In an action published in today’s Federal Register, the US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced the retention of a “neutral convener” to explore with stakeholders the potential of entering into a negotiated rulemaking process regarding the upgrading of licensing requirements for holders of Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Comments on this action are due no later than September 18th, 2014.

This action is intended to facilitate FMCSA revisiting the topic of expanded federal training requirements to be imposed on top of the present CDL licensing process—a process which, as persons familiar with it already know, can be widely variant under the myriad sets of differing rules imposed on the process by the individual states. FMCSA delved into this topic in 2007 with an NPRM that eventually was withdrawn. That rule would have required expanded and documented classroom and behind the wheel training time for CDL drivers, as well as the requirement that drivers present a training certificate from an accredited training institution or program to their state licensing agency prior to receiving a CDL license. The potentially significant costs associated with such an action caused no small angst in the industry at the time (as it happens, your author was working for an interstate motor carrier at the time, and personally recalls the uproar), and the NPRM foundered on this point.

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Nevertheless, FMCSA has never lost interest in the topic. Horror stories about accidents involving poorly trained drivers appear in the news with distressing regularity, and it is not uncommon for FMCSA to be at the end of fingers pointing, seeking to assign blame for too-lax oversight of this area of regulation. So, in this action, FMCSA appears to be seeking greater balance—convening the process this way will perhaps eventually result in an NPRM that is already a compromise between stakeholders and the agency and may lessen the risk of significant opposition. One “wild card” in the process may be the states—there is tremendous variance in how the individual states view the trucking industry and its relevance to their economic well being, so what one state feels is already adequate (or inadequate, for that matter) may be completely different from the opinion of another. Add in the sovereignty issues involved—a sore point in particular for many states in the southern and western United States, and FMCSA may face something of a tricky pathway to consensus. Under the circumstances FMCSA is likely to face, “front-loading” the process in this fashion is probably an excellent idea.

Here is a link to the notice:

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