June 15, 2023

FMCSA to consider requiring proficiency tests for new carriers


WASHINGTON — Federal regulators are planning this summer to act on a petition filed 14 years ago requiring new trucking operators to take a standardized proficiency test before being granted operating authority, according to the Biden administration’s latest regulatory agenda.

The petition, filed by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) in January 2009, was in response to a final rule issued in 2008 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to implement a provision in a 1999 law aimed at improving the safety performance of new-entrant carriers.

Advocates had argued in its petition that FMCSA’s final rule had failed to establish a proficiency exam — which was included in the 1999 law — “to determine whether new entrant motor carriers possess the knowledge and capability to comply with applicable federal motor carrier safety requirements and, consequently, conduct safe operations.”

The petition prompted FMCSA to issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in August 2009, but the proposal never progressed.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, a Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a New Entrant Safety Assurance Process rule is scheduled for August.

“We’re very pleased this has moved off the long-term actions list,” Peter Kurdock, Advocates’ general counsel, told FreightWaves.

“New carriers need to take a standardized test to make sure they’re aware of and comply with federal safety regulations. A member of the public would be astounded that the agency in charge of safe truck operations has not put into place measures enacted by Congress to make sure they’re doing everything they can to make sure drivers are compliant with the laws.

“Why they haven’t done this yet is mind-boggling. But hopefully this signals a new effort to get this across the finish line.”

FMCSA was not immediately available to comment on why it has taken so long to move forward on its 2009 ANPRM.

The 2009 ANPRM, which presumably will be used as the basis for the updated proposal, sought feedback in 11 areas as part of a proficiency exam for new carriers:

  • Information on the feasibility of establishing the exam as a component of the New Entrant Safety Assurance Process.
  • Information about analogous types of exams used in the motor carrier or other industries that could serve as models for a new entrant proficiency exam.
  • Recommendations on testing protocols.
  • Recommendations on how the agency should administer the exam for applicants.
  • Recommendations on which motor carrier employees the agency should require to take a proficiency exam, and the feasibility of motor carriers retaining those employees through the duration of the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program.
  • Information on the costs involved to develop, maintain, implement and administer the proficiency exams.
  • Information on anticipated impacts on new entrants if the agency requires the exam as a condition for receiving new entrant authority and beginning operations.
  • Information on how the exams would increase carrier knowledge of regulations.
  • Information on how any increase in knowledge of regulations brought about by the exam itself would boost motor carrier safety.
  • Other general comments related to establishing a proficiency exam as a component of the New Entrant Safety Assurance Process.
  • Information on the particular needs of small entities in establishing an assurance process.

ATA, OOIDA have opposing views in 2009

Comments received by the agency on the 2009 petition included those from the American Trucking Associations, which supported the proficiency test requirement as well as requiring new entrants to complete safety training prior to receiving a DOT number.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposed the test, however, arguing that a pass/fail test “demonstrates only that the applicant found someone with an understanding of the pertinent regulations sufficient to take the test and get a passing score,” the group told FMCSA.

“A proficiency exam does not reflect practical knowledge of systems that will increase compliance with the regulations, does not ensure that pertinent ‘knowledge’ will be passed along to all personnel involved with safety matters, does not demonstrate that effective safety compliance systems will be established and, most important, does not in and of itself help prevent truck accidents.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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