Notes from TCA’s Regulatory Update
David Heller, the director of safety and policy at Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), recently hosted the latest webinar covering regulatory updates, one in a part of a series called Truckload Academy put on by the company. He covered a variety of topics based around a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) study that Congress asked them to conduct concerning the hours-of-service rules the federal agency instituted in 2013.
The study was to determine if the change to a 34-hour restart in the hours-of-service rules improved driver safety or not. Heller noted that the FMCSA has finished collecting data for the study and will now begin analyzing it. He said the conclusions from the study may be released in December. The trucking industry and their advocates have long challenged the FMCSA, believing that the 2013 rules were better for safety that the new ones. TCA was no exception. “The study should hopefully reveal data we’ve long talked about,” Heller said.
Heller spoke on the “exemption frenzy” to the hours-of-service rules as well. “The exemptions are running rampant,” he said. He states that the many exemptions that have been asked for lately show that the rule is “not a one-size fits all regulation” and that the regulations need restructuring.
There is a requirement in the new rules for drivers to take a 30 minute break, but this does not makes sense for all operations, such as for carriers that haul bees and livestock. Even those that move concrete or logs have been able to successfully gain waivers after petitioning the FMCSA. “Everybody can relate to operating under a rule that doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We’re looking for an [hours of service] rule that makes sense and [adheres] to [the trucking industry’s] advice on how to write this rule. The removal of a 34-hour restart would be excellent. There’s no need for it. We can already see the 30-minute break was not well designed for this industry.”
Heller thinks there is a stigma about truck driver work-weeks holding the industry back from getting a better hours ruling. Groups outside of the trucking sector may believe that it is common for truckers to drive 80 hours every week, but Heller
explains this is an incorrect perception. “The 11-hour drive time everybody thinks we enjoy is just not the case,” he said. He referencing a paper JB Hunt published this year that states its drivers are capable of driving only 6.5 hours a day. “But the pseudo-safety activists present it as if we drive until the wheels fall off, and that’s just not the case,” he said.
The meeting’s focus then turned to an array of regulatory topics. The Speed Limiter Rule Congress is debating would instruct all trucks of 26,000 pounds to use a governor that would limit their driving to a yet-to-be-determined speed. Heller said the mandate will likely apply to trucks already out on the road, not just the new ones. He covered the Entry-level driver training rule, a proposal that would mandate new drivers have 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training before they could get their certificate to operate along. The hours would be split equally between a closed-course range, on-road time, and flex time, which could be either on the road or a range. He expressed concern over how the rule would affect new drivers training amidst the truck driver shortage. He asked, “How are we going to be able to safely train all the new drivers entering the industry?” He expected the ruling will be challenged in court.
Also covered was the Safety Fitness Determination rule, which would let the FMCSA make safety labels for carriers, basing the rating off of where they rank in Compliance Safety Accountability’s BASICs (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories), perhaps combined with on-road data and on-site investigation data. If this were to pass, BASIC rankings would become a more imperative focus for carriers. It’s currently in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for review.
In both branches of Congress’s versions of the 2016 DOT-funding bills, a provision states that if the study by the FMCSA fails to prove the new hours-of-service have improved driver safety due to better rested drivers, the industry will revert back to the old rules.