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Truck Driver Safety Training Target of New Bill in California

The California State Senate has passed a bill that will require specific training for commercial truck drivers in the state. California is home to numerous truck accidents involving commercial drivers and some believe that insufficient training and regulations are to blame. While the bill has passed its first hurdle with Senate approval, it now needs to be approved in the State Assembly.

Democratic Senator Seeking Improved Truck Driver Safety Training

Senate Bill 158 is the work of Senator Bill Monning, who represents Paso Robles in the State Senate. Sen. Monning believes that the requirements for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in California fall short, and that the written exam and relatively brief behind-the-wheel driving test are not enough to prevent accidents involving inadequately trained drivers.

In a statement, Senator Monning outlined his vision for the bill.

“Commercial drivers who lack adequate training put everyone on the road at risk. SB 158 will ensure that drivers of big rigs and other large commercial vehicles have the necessary experience to drive safely by establishing a minimum of behind-the-wheel training hours,” Sen. Monning said. “These stronger training standards will prevent accidents and save lives.”

Senator Monning may soon meet his truck driver safety training goal, with the Senate unanimously approving the bill and it moving on to the Assembly.

Bill 158 Will Require Certified Instruction and Set Hours Behind-the-Wheel

Under the proposed bill, the California Department of Motor Vehicles would enact regulations to match a federal rule that requires more advanced truck driver safety training before a commercial driver’s license is granted.

The regulations include a certified instruction course through a commercial driving institution or through an employer-offered program prior to the license being issued.

Additionally, Senate Bill 158 would put in place requirements for behind-the-wheel training before a CDL is given.

Drivers seeking a Class A commercial driver’s license would be required to complete 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training. Of those 30 hours, 10 hours would have to take place at an off-highway facility and 10 hours would have to be completed on public roads.

Drivers seeking a Class B commercial driver’s license would be required to complete 15 hours of behind-the-wheel training. Of those 15 hours, seven hours would need to be done on public roads.

Trucking Groups Voice Support for Truck Driver Safety Training Bill 158

Among the supporters for Senate Bill 158 is the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), a trucking organization that says they have 5,562 members within the state of California.

OOIDA director of government affairs, Mike Matousek, says that the bill fills in the gaps in federal rulings on commercial driver’s licenses, and that the bill is in keeping with the OOIDA’s desire for nation-wide truck driver safety training standards for new CDL applicants.

“While the final rule will improve driver training and highway safety, it does not include a requirement that CDL applicants receive a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel instruction,” Matousek said in reference to the federal regulations. “SB 158 would address this oversight by requiring CDL applicants in California to complete a minimum number of hours behind the wheel of a truck.”

The Truck Safety Coalition has also spoken out in support of the bill, and some commercial driving institutions have done similarly.

Gil Chavez owns Santa Maria Truck Driver Institute and says he supports the bill because he feels that truck crashes are often caused by new drivers who haven’t been properly trained to handle emergencies.

“Somebody else will pay the consequence because a driver doesn’t have the proper knowledge to operate a vehicle of this size,” Chavez said in an interview with KSBY.com. At Chavez’ driving school, students spend 180 hours behind the wheel training.

Four Bills Introduced in Ohio Also Seek Training for Truck Drivers

While the improved truck driver safety training bill moves ahead in California, lawmakers in Ohio are also working to expand commercial driver training in the state, albeit with different motivations.

Four Representatives have introduced a four-bill package that would devote $8 million tax dollars to scholarships for new commercial drivers attending truck driving school, and would give tax credits to trucking companies to contribute to the costs of driver training. In addition, the bills would help trucking companies obtain insurance for young drivers and would aim to get military veterans jobs in the trucking industry.

Unlike Senator Monning’s bill, which has the primary goal of improving the safety of California’s roads and preventing deadly truck crashes, the bills proposed in Ohio are being suggested for economic reasons and in hopes of filling thousands of open truck driver positions in the state.

For their part, the OOIDA says the bills in Ohio miss the point.

Speaking for the OOIDA, Monte Wiederhold told NBC4i.com that new driver training won’t fill the job openings in the trucking industry.

“The shortage carriers want to talk about, is actually a retention problem,” Wiederhold said. “It’s basically just subsidizing training when there is not a need for it.”

For his part, Wiederhold feels the issue is job turnover and that trucking companies don’t pay enough or offer good enough benefits.

Deadly Truck Crashes Common in California

Senator Monning’s bill comes in response to alarmingly frequent truck crashes in California, many of which include fatalities. It’s not uncommon for a week to include a handful of semi-truck accidents across the state or even for multiple truck crashes to occur in a single day.

On April 25, 2017, a crash in Griffith Park resulted in the death of one and injuries to 10 more. Two semi-trucks were involved in the crash, including one that lost control and crossed the centerline, initiating the accident. Four passenger vehicles were affected. In the days immediately prior to and following the Griffith Park crash, three people were killed in semi-truck crashes in California.

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