Apprenticeship Pilot Program
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) requires a pilot program that would allow employers to establish an apprenticeship program for certain 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old drivers to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce. The details of how the program will operate were published back in September, but never implemented.
Motor carriers that would like to participate in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program must complete an application with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and also register an apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor. Once the program is in operation, the carrier must submit monthly data on an apprentice’s driver activity (e.g., vehicle miles traveled, duty hours, driving hours, off-duty time, or breaks), safety outcomes (e.g., crashes, violations, and safety-critical events), and any additional supporting information (e.g., onboard monitoring systems or investigative reports from previous crashes). In addition, carriers will be required to notify FMCSA within 24 hours of:
(1) Any injury or fatal crash involving an apprentice
(2) An apprentice receiving an alcohol-related citation in any vehicle (e.g., driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated)
(3) An apprentice choosing to leave the pilot program
(4) An apprentice leaving the carrier
(5) An apprentice failing a random or post-crash drug/alcohol test.
A motor carrier’s application may not be approved if they have a conditional or unsatisfactory safety rating, have any open enforcement actions, or have a crash rate or OOS rate above the national average.
FMCSA will review each driver applicant’s performance history against its systems and will issue an exemption for each driver. The exemption allows the driver to operate in interstate commerce while participating in the pilot program despite being under 21 and having a ‘‘K’’ (intrastate) restriction on their CDL.
The apprenticeship program must consist of a 120-hour probationary period and a 280-hour probationary period. Nothing in this notice prevents an employer from imposing additional requirements on an apprentice.
120-Hour Probationary Period
During the 120-hour probationary period, the employing motor carrier must ensure the apprentice:
• Completes 120 hours of on-duty time, of which not less than 80 hours shall be driving time in a CMV; and
• Is competent in each of the following areas: Interstate, city traffic, rural 2- lane, and evening driving; safety awareness; speed and space management; lane control; mirror scanning; right and left turns; and logging and complying with rules relating to hours of service.
280-Hour Probationary Period
After the 120-hour probationary period, the motor carrier must ensure the apprentice completes a 280-hour probationary period. The employing motor carrier must ensure the apprentice:
• Completes 280 hours of on-duty time, of which not less than 160 hours shall be driving time in a CMV; and
• Is competent in each of the following areas: Backing and maneuvering in close quarters; pre-trip inspections; fueling procedures; weighing loads, weight distribution, and sliding tandems; coupling and uncoupling procedures; and trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation, and permits.
During both the 120-hour and the 280-hour probationary period, the motor carrier must ensure the apprentice only drives a CMV that has an automatic manual or automatic transmission; an active braking collision mitigation system; a forward-facing video event capture system; and a governed speed of 65 miles per hour at the pedal and under adaptive cruise control. In addition, the apprentice must be accompanied in the passenger seat by an experienced driver. The experienced driver must be no younger than 26, have at least five years of interstate experience, have no preventable DOT accidents in the past two years, and no pointed moving violations in the past two years. Nothing in the notice prevents an employer from requiring or installing additional technologies in a CMV.
Restrictions and Remedial Training
During these probationary periods the apprentice cannot transport passengers or hazardous materials, or operate double or triple trailer combinations or cargo tank vehicles, regardless of any license endorsements held. After satisfactory completion of the second probationary period, the apprentice may begin operating CMVs in interstate commerce unaccompanied by an experienced driver.
If an apprentice is involved in a reportable, preventable crash or receives a pointed moving violation while driving a CMV, the apprentice will undergo remediation and additional training until the apprentice can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the motor carrier, competence in each of the performance benchmarks. The extent of remediation and additional training will be left to the discretion of the employing motor carrier. FMCSA will clarify the standards for remediation and additional training on its website once the Agency begins accepting applications for the pilot program.
New Vision Standard
Effective March 22, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is establishing an alternative vision standard. This new standard is applicable to individuals who do not satisfy, with the worse eye, the existing FMCSA distant visual acuity standard with corrective lenses or the field of vision standard, or both.
The individual must have a vision evaluation conducted by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. The specialist records the findings and provides specific medical opinions on the new Vision Evaluation Report. Then, a Medical Examiner (ME) performs a physical qualification examination and determines whether the individual meets the alternative vision standard, as well as FMCSA’s other physical qualification standards.
In making the physical qualification determination, the ME considers the information in the Vision Evaluation Report and utilizes independent medical judgment to apply the following four standards:
• Have, in the better eye, distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 (Snellen), with or without corrective lenses, and field of vision of at least 70 degrees in the horizontal meridian
• Be able to recognize the colors of traffic signals and devices showing standard red, green, and amber
• Have a stable vision deficiency
• Have had sufficient time pass since the vision deficiency became stable to adapt to and compensate for the change in vision
If the ME determines the individual meets the physical qualification standards, the ME may issue a Medical Examiner’s Certificate for a maximum of 12 months. Individuals qualified under the alternative vision standard for the first time must satisfactorily complete a road test before operating in interstate commerce. The employing motor carrier conducts the road test in accordance with the road test already required by § 391.31. Individuals are excepted from the road test if they have 3 years of intrastate or specific excepted interstate CMV driving experience with the vision deficiency, hold a valid Federal vision exemption, or are medically certified under the previously administered vision waiver study program in § 391.64(b).
The 1,967 current vision exemption holders have 1 year after the effective date of this rule to comply with the alternative vision standard, at which time all exemptions issued under 49 U.S.C. 31315(b) become void. Exemption holders will be notified by letter with details of the transition to the new standard. Similarly, the approximately 1,800 individuals currently physically qualified under the grandfather provisions in § 391.64(b) have 1 year after the effective date of this rule to comply.
FMCSA received 65 responses after it published the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking one year ago. The commenters were healthcare providers, one medical association, drivers, motor carriers, two trade associations, and private citizens. Fourteen commenters were anonymous. No safety organizations commented on the NPRM.
The majority of commenters (45) expressed general support for the proposed rule. Common reasons cited for supporting the proposal include the following:
• The evidence shows monocular drivers are safe and have no adverse impact on safety
• The rule would remove barriers to entry, create job opportunities, encourage more individuals to enter the workforce, keep experienced drivers, and reduce the driver shortage
• The rule is modeled on the approach used to eliminate the exemption program and create an alternative physical qualification standard for insulin-treated diabetes mellitus that has worked well
• The rule would be a step toward less discrimination and more inclusion in the workforce
• The proposed standard is more streamlined than the exemption process so it would decrease time and paperwork burdens for drivers.
Twenty commenters generally opposed the proposed rule (including commenters who supported the proposal in concept but wanted further study before implementing it). Common reasons cited for opposing the proposal include the following:
• The proposal fails to demonstrate an appropriate level of safety or the data is inconclusive on safety
• Findings from drivers enrolled in the waiver and exemption programs cannot be applied to the general population of drivers
• The road test is not a suitable alternative to 3 years of driving experience and places a burden on motor carriers
• The field of vision requirement should be greater than 70 degrees
• The Medical Review Board has not recommended changes to the vision standard.
UCR Rate Adjustment
Unified Carrier Registration Plan and Agreement (UCR) participants will see a 27% reduction in fees in 2023. For example, companies with two commercial motor vehicles (CMV) will see a reduction from $59 to $43, fleets between 21 and 100 will see a $330 reduction to $894, while the largest fleets will see their rate reduced to $41,627. The UCR definition of a CMV is:
• Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater, or when connected to trailing equipment has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater, or
• Carries placarded amounts of hazardous materials, regardless of the vehicle’s weight, or
• Is designed to carry more than 10 passengers, including the driver.
Once fees are paid each year, there is no need to file an amended report. Any change will be reflected when the following year’s fees are paid. There is no requirement that each vehicle carry proof of payment. However, compliance may be checked electronically during a roadside inspection.
The UCR Plan was created by Congress and 41 states participate. The fees collected from motor carriers, brokers, freight forwarders and leasing companies help fund safety enforcement programs in the participating states.
Fees must be reduced when annual revenues exceed the maximum allowed, or if there are excess funds after disbursements are made. However, the fees will be returned to prior levels the next year and then be reviewed each year.
Motor carriers located in non-participating states are still subject to the UCR fees. Last August the UCR board of directors approved an aggressive strategy to collect fees from the nearly 44,000 motor carriers who have either not registered with the plan or have been issued penalties. The non-participating states are:
• New Jersey