Trucks at Work

Get ready for a wave of trucking regulations

So I listened in for a bit last week to a presentation by Dave Osiecki, executive VP and chief of national advocacy for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) trade group, concerning what’s coming down the “regulatory pipeline” for trucking – a discussion that included his take on the potential implications for the industry regarding tomorrow’s mid-term Congressional elections.

By way of background, Osiecki (seen at right testifying about hours of service changes) is a long-time veteran of the policy debates surrounding trucking. After sending a decade in the trenches within the U.S. Department of Transportation, he joined ATA in 1996 holding a variety of positions over his nearly 20 years with that organization.

The upshot from Osiecki’s talk is pretty straightforward: a lot of new and revised regulations are headed trucking’s way over the next several years.

Yet he also thinks that even if Republicans gain control of Senate in tomorrow’s vote – giving them a majority in both houses of Congress – the pace of that regulatory oversight will only slow down; it won’t stop completely. Thus motor carriers need to figure out ways to cope with it all.

[And can myriads of written rules really make the kinds of improvements in safety we expect? Not necessarily so, according to one expert, as least.]

Here’s Osiecki’s “short list” (for it’s not really short) about what’s coming down the pike at trucking over the next few years:

  • On the bright side, he believes its “possible” that the new 114th Congress could pass legislation prohibiting the continued publishing of Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) scores for trucking companies, provided the Republicans hold a majority in the House and in the Senate.
  • Osiecki added that many within the industry believe think current CSA data is not typically indicative of a particular carrier’s crash risk. Withdrawing the data until it could be cleaned up and sanitized would eliminate the opportunity for some shippers and brokers, who are fearful of litigation, from using the spurious data to decide which carriers to use.
  • Again on the plus side, a Republican majority in both houses of Congress might also increase the possibility of the size and weight laws being changed to allow for the operation of twin 33 foot tractor semi-trailer combinations.
  • Then there’s the long-awaited Electronic Logging Device (ELD) final rule, expected now to be published in late 2015. Once published, a two-year window, during which all carriers would have to install ELD’s in their trucks.
  • Osiecki noted that many expect the ELD rulemaking will reduce the productivity of the industry since drivers will no longer be able to falsify paper log, and while that’s good for safety such reduced productivity will weigh heavily on the already tight supply demand dynamic within trucking.
  • The impact will be most noticeable during 2016 and 2017 as the portion of the industry currently not using ELDs begins to install them.
  • The final version of the new Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse rule is also likely to be published in 2015, taking between two and three years to populate the system with all drug and alcohol violations incurred by truck drivers.
  • Carriers will ultimately be able to see if driver applicants have ever previously tested positive for drugs or alcohol, yet Osiecki added that this rule could further reduce the size of the driver population during the 2017-2018 timeframe.
  • A sleep apnea rulemaking is also forthcoming. In the interim, however, the doctors appearing in the registry of approved medical examiners are applying guidelines – established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – to check truck drivers for sleep apnea. If a driver tests positive, he/she must accept treatment in order to continue as a driver in the industry.
  • With respect to the truck itself, Osiecki expects a stability control rulemaking to be implemented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) with a final rule likely to impact model year 2017 trucks and beyond. He estimates the cost of the stability system is likely to be in the vicinity of $1,000 per truck.
  • Speed limiters are also being studied by both NHTSA and FMCSA, with the 30% of truckers not currently using them being mandated to so, along with the establishment of a “uniform maximum speed limit” for all such devices, say 65 mph.
  • Phase II fuel economy standards are also in the works at NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), affecting model year 2019 trucks and later, focused on tighter engine-related greenhouse emission standards and aerodynamic treatment applied to both tractors and semi-trailers.
  • Liability insurance minimums could rise. Currently, most truckers carry insurance liability coverage with a $750,000 limit per occurrence yet many advocates suggest that $3 million to $4 million of minimum coverage is now more appropriate. Osiecki noted in particular that the Owner Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) is watching this rule (as well as others) very carefully and will likely seek to disrupt or at least slow down a rulemaking processes in that direction as the group believes it would disproportionately harm their members.

Interestingly, Osiecki wrapped up his presentation with this observation: Voter perceptions about trucking and the industry’s actual safety performance seem to have little influence on the highway safety regulatory agenda.

“Instead the 800 pound regulatory gorilla tends to press ahead, at a slow pace, with no one in Congress or in the trucking industry having the power to slow it much or dramatically modify its contents,” he added.

If that’s truly the case, then – at least from trucking’s perspective – whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s election, the regulatory grip on motor carrier may only continue to tighten.

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