Semi-Truck Drivers: No Minimum Number of BTW Hours Before Getting Commercial Driver’s License


Semi-Truck Drivers: No Minimum Number of BTW Hours Before Getting Commercial Driver’s License

A few weeks ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published its Analysis Brief entitled, “Analysis of Driver Critical Reason and Years of Driving Experience in Large Truck Crashes.”

It is a January 2017 report using data compiled by the FMCSA in its 2005 Large Truck Crash Causation Study to determine if there is less danger of a semi-truck crash when the truck driver is highly experienced in driving big rigs.

More Experienced Truckers Less Likely to Crash

You guessed it.  The data confirmed that if there are truckers behind the wheel with lots of miles behind them, they are less likely than newbie truck drivers to be in a serious accident.

From the Analysis Brief:

In conclusion … the risk of being assigned the critical reason for the crash diminishes both with more years of experience driving a truck and more years of experience driving the class of truck involved in the crash. In particular, for large truck drivers with fewer than 5 years of truck driving experience, the risk of being assigned the critical reason for the crash is 17 percent higher than that of drivers with 5 or more years of experience driving a truck.

Newbie Truck Driver Training Rule: No BTW Hours Requirement

Thing is, the FMCSA uses this research to form the rules and regulations that are imposed upon truck drivers who move those big machines through Indiana and Illinois along with the rest of the country.

Like the newly passed driver training rule.  In its new rule (which became law last month with a three year time frame for implementation), an earlier 30 BTW hour requirement was removed.

While BTW training is required to get a Commercial Driver’s License, there is no set hourly requirement on drive time before getting the truck driver license. 

Read FMCSA Rule “Minimum Training Requirements for Entry-Level Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators “ here.

BTW Hours: Time Spent Driving the Rig

What are BTW Hours?  These are called “behind the wheel” hours or actual time driving the rig.  It’s actual practice time, learning how to drive a commercial vehicle and getting experience maneuvering a big rig before getting that commercial truck driver’s license.

Apparently, when the newbie truck driver can demonstrate an ability to drive the rig, he’s good to go.  Or, in FMCSA language, when “… all elements of the curricula [are] proficiently demonstrated while the driver-trainee has actual control of the power unit during a driving lesson.”

BTW Hours

So, we’ve got a new federal regulation that does not have a minimum number of hours the newbie truck driver has to be driving a semi-truck before he can be let loose on the roads, moving cargo.

This is fine with the American Trucking Association and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.  Those are two big representatives of the trucking industry.

Ask the independent truck driver and you get a different story.  The position of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is that there should be a minimum BTW hours requirement in the FMCSA regulation.

For many truckers, even the 30 BTW hour minimum was way too low for someone to learn how to drive a commercial truck out on the roads.

OOIDA Suggests “Graduated CDL Programs”

From the OOIDA comment filed with FMCSA, not only do the independent truck drivers believe there should be a minimum number of BTW hours before someone is licensed as a commercial driver, but they also proposed continuing education and training be offered to truckers.

The OOIDA suggested to FMCSA that something akin to a program run by the United States Army be implemented for commercial truck drivers.  These would be called “graduated CDL programs.”

In the Army’s Motor Transport Operator Program, drivers are given the opportunity to become proficient behind the wheel of a number of big trucks, and have the opportunity to master driving larger and larger vehicles for up to 200 BTW hours.  As the driver masters driving one level of commercial truck, he then moves to a larger and more complicated rig (highest: class 8 articulated vehicle).

FMCSA Answers Why BTW Hours Omitted From Rule

So, why was a BTW Hour requirement taken out of the rule before it became law?  FMCSA does have an explanation.

1.  Not enough research.

From FMCSA, this answer (in its FAQ section, so apparently this question has been asked a lot):

The final rule does not impose a mandatory minimum number of BTW hours for the Class A and B CDL training primarily because, despite the best efforts of FMCSA and the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee (ELDTAC), we were not able to obtain sufficient quantitative data linking mandatory minimum BTW training hours with positive safety outcomes, such as crash reduction….

Notice how that Analysis Brief on truck driver safety didn’t discuss causes of truck crashes? 

2.  Imposing the BTW Hour requirement would be too burdensome.

FMCSA:

The Agency has an obligation to use the least burdensome means to achieve regulatory objectives.  In the Agency’s judgment, a BTW training standard based solely on a driver-trainee’s proficiency in performing required range and public road maneuvers is a more flexible, and thus less burdensome option than required minimum hours because it recognizes that driver-trainees will complete BTW training at a pace that reflects their varying levels of individual ability.

Newbie truck drivers can get licensed as soon as they can pass the CDL test drive.  To require a newbie trucker to have an established minimum driving experience behind the big rig wheel isn’t flexible.

3.  FMCSA is willing to return to the issue in “Post-Rule Data Analysis.”

FMCSA:

However, after the final rule is implemented, FMCSA will collect information from training providers which will allow us to compare the CMV driving records of drivers who received varying amounts of BTW training, and to draw conclusions regarding the extent to which hours of BTW training correlates to safer driving outcomes.  If the Agency ultimately decides, on the basis of post-rule data analysis, to revisit the issue of mandatory minimum BTW training hours, we will do so through notice and comment rulemaking.

So, maybe things will change.

Let’s hope so.  OOIDA has petitioned FMCSA to reconsider its current position, and to mandate BTW hours for commercial truck driver licenses.  They have been joined by safety groups like Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Truck Safety Coalition and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways.

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There are a huge number of commercial trucks sharing the roads here in Indiana and Illinois.  These big rigs are being driven by truck drivers at all levels of experience.  Let’s be careful out there!

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