Federal regulators remain unconvinced that UPS (NYSE: UPS) can maintain safety standards if the company were to be exempted from certain provisions included in new driver-training rules.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for the second time has denied a request by UPS that the company not need to adhere to a requirement that training instructors for its long-haul drivers have two years of experience driving a commercial truck, according to a ruling to be published Tuesday.
FMCSA also denied the company’s request that it not have to separately register each of its training locations in a new driver-training database. The two provisions are part of FMCSA’s Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) rule that went into effect Feb. 7.
In rejecting the company’s first request, FMCSA ruled in December 2019 that UPS was unable to demonstrate to the agency that the company would “achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level of safety that would be achieved absent the requested exemptions,” a statutory requirement for approving an exemption.
UPS attempted to resolve the issue in a petition for reconsideration filed in July 2020, in which the company reiterated the attributes of its own training program and detailed the difficulties it was experiencing in trying to hire instructors that were in compliance with the new ELDT rule.
“We learned very quickly that many of the applicants lacked basic safety skills in their operation of the vehicle as well as skills required to keep them injury free,” UPS asserted. “It was evident that the skill set was not aligned with our level of acceptance that has produced some of the safest drivers in the industry.”
However, after analyzing the updated petition along with public comments, FMCSA determined that UPS’ application, once again, “lacked evidence that would ensure that an equivalent level of safety or greater would likely be achieved [absent the exemptions].”
Both attempts at the ELDT exemptions generated over 100 comments. FMCSA noted that many of those in support of UPS’ second application were from the company’s drivers and current or former driver trainers.
“Most of these commenters cited the excellence of the UPS driver training program and the overall company safety record,” FMCSA acknowledged. “They argued that the UPS training program is one of the most comprehensive in the industry, that its driver trainers are put through an intense training program and are required to follow strict methods and procedures.”
But the two organizations commenting on the reconsideration — the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) — both opposed it as they had done with the company’s initial request.
“We believe the uniform application of the regulation for all training providers should be established and followed by anyone training [student drivers],” CVTA stated. “It is our belief that if granted, the FMCSA would be setting a bad precedent and opening up the floodgates for exemptions from other training providers. Our fear is that the number of exemptions would swallow the [ELDT] rule.”
OOIDA argued that “too many” new drivers are entering trucking without basic skills.
“The ELDT rule sets forth a process for holding training schools and instructors accountable for their performance,” commented OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer. “If these standards are maintained and enforced, highway safety will undoubtedly improve.”
UPS has also requested an FMCSA exemption to allow its driver trainees to operate twin 28-foot trailers while holding only a commercial learner’s permit. That application is still pending.