Safety groups sue government over truck driver training standards

By: Brad Gardner


Lawsuit against US Department of Transportation demands stronger training standards for truck drivers.

Safety groups sue government over truck driver training standards
The Teamsters union has joined road safety advocates to demand new training standards for truck drivers.

 

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has been dragged to court over its failure to implement stronger training standards for entry-level truck drivers.

Road safety advocates are suing the department for not enacting new training requirements in accordance with a congressional directive.

US Congress passed a law in 2012 requiring the DOT to introduce a new rule by October 1 last year mandating on-road training for drivers.

Currently, aspiring truck drivers only need to receive 10 hours of classroom lectures and then pass a test to receive their licence, a process safety advocates claim is insufficient and exposing people to risk.

"People are dying needlessly while the agency drags its feet," Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety senior vice president Henry Jasny says.

"New truck drivers need to be properly trained before they get behind the wheel. This is a dereliction of the agency’s duty."

Jasny’s group has joined the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union in the lawsuit, which seeks a court ruling to order the DOT to issue new training standards.

"The Court should order the agency to publish proposed regulations establishing minimum entry-level training requirements for commercial motor vehicle operators within 60 days of the Court’s order, and to issue a final rule within 120 days thereafter," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit is the latest in a long line of actions taken against the DOT over entry-level driver training standards.

Congress initially told the DOT to introduce a new rule back in 1993. When the department failed to act by 2002, safety advocates took it to court and gained a commitment that a new rule would be in place by 2004.

That led to the formation of the existing rule made up of classroom lectures. It did not include on-road instruction, despite the department acknowledging it was essential to ensuring a driver was adequately trained.

This led further court action in 2005, where a court found the DOT disregarded evidence about the effectiveness of on-road training in improving safety.

The department issued a new training rule in 2007 but never finished it, leading to Congress in 2012 to specify a combination of classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction to ensure drivers had the necessary skills to operate a truck.

The DOT last month announced it had not started work on a new rule and did not intend to do so anytime soon.

"Enough is enough," the attorney acting for the safety groups, Adina Rosenbaum, says.

"Twenty years, two lawsuits and two congressional mandates have not been successful at prodding the DOT into issuing the entry-level driver training rule. The court should step in and order the agency to act."

Dorothy Wert, whose husband was killed in a truck crash in 2011, says drivers should not be allowed on the road without a required understanding of regulations and a minimum number of on-road training hours.

Teamsters general president Jim Hoffa says proper training is essential for new drivers.

"The agency is shirking its responsibility by not issuing this long-overdue rule," he says.

The lawsuit claims that without a court order the department will be able to continue to delay the introduction of a new rule.

"Given Congress’s specification of a timetable, DOT’s failure to promulgate a final rule (or even a proposed rule) almost a year after the statutory deadline has passed is unreasonable," it states.

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