Government intervention

While it may seem like the federal government is ganging up on trucking, experts say the recent activity on the regulatory front may be nothing more than mere coincidence. The long-awaited electronic onboard recorder (EOBR) rule handed down by FMCSA last month is just the latest in a line of new and proposed regulations in the past year. Under the new final rule, carriers found with 10% or more HOS

While it may seem like the federal government is ganging up on trucking, experts say the recent activity on the regulatory front may be nothing more than mere coincidence.

The long-awaited electronic onboard recorder (EOBR) rule handed down by FMCSA last month is just the latest in a line of new and proposed regulations in the past year. Under the new final rule, carriers found with 10% or more HOS violations during a single compliance review will be required to install EOBRs in all their vehicles for a minimum of two years. The rule also details new technical performance standards for EOBRs installed in commercial motor vehicles, including requirements for recording the date, time and location of a driver's duty status.

The rule will go into effect June 1, 2012.

The EOBR rule follows on the heels of the new braking regulations announced last year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which mandates new stopping standards for commercial truck tractors. Those regulations require a tractor-trailer traveling at 60 mph to come to a complete stop in 250 ft., versus the old standard of 355 ft. For a small number of very heavy severe-service tractors, the stopping-distance requirement will be 310 ft. under these same conditions. In addition, this final rule requires that all heavy truck tractors must stop within 235 ft. when loaded to their “lightly loaded vehicle weight.”

Add in the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) program, proposed bans on texting by commercial drivers, hours-of-service regulations (which will remain a hot topic in the near future), and the Obama Administration's focus on distracted driving, plus the economic troubles faced by so many carriers trying to recover from the recession, and it just may seem like the government has it out for trucking.

But most say that is not the case at all. “It is connected with where the administration wants to go, which is asserting the federal role in making the transportation system safe,” says Rob Puentes, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program, which is part of The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization.

The timing of the rules is likely just coincidence, says Richard Henderson, director of government affairs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “It's not the result of some political decision made by President Obama,” he explains. “If there were not the change in administration and [former administrator] John Hill was still there, the [EOBR] rule would have come out about now anyway.”

In fact, the braking rule, the EOBR regulation and CSA 2010 were all promulgated under the Bush Administration. What Eli Lustgarten, senior research analyst at Longbow Research, suggests is the new spate of regulations is partly due to the rules catching up to technology and not any alternative conspiracy theories.

“Government has a heightened sensitivity to safety, and in particular the auto industry the last few years, and trucking is following along,” Lustgarten says. “There's been a constant improvement [in safety over the years]. The trends have been established and will continue, and there will be a continued use of technology to improve safety.”

Clayton Boyce, vp-public affairs for the American Trucking Assns., says we can expect the government to continue adding regulations. Boyce points out that the EOBR rule was delayed about 15 months and now CSA 2010's rollout has been pushed back as well. “I think [FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro] did well to listen to concerns about CSA 2010,” Boyce says, “because what we said was there are three major flaws in how it affects truck safety. She did listen to the industry and they delayed the rollout.”

Henderson says the delay in implementation of CSA 2010, and the number of “listening sessions” FMCSA has held regarding the program, shows there is concern about forcing regulations on the industry.

“I think [CSA 2010] is a pretty significant change they are trying to implement and the states have a lot to do with this as well,” Henderson says. “I think the delay is probably a good, cautionary move.”

Henderson adds that with the massive reauthorization bill, which may include a mandate for EOBRs, still working its way through Congress, plus HOS rules and other safety-related issues waiting to play out, there will be plenty of regulatory issues for fleets to stay abreast of.

“Yes, the regs are coming, but they are not coming tomorrow, so take some time to look at them,” says Henderson. “This is an active time and it looks like it will remain active for the next two years. Life will be different, hopefully for the better.”

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