Trucks at Work

“Hammer time” approaches for CARB trailer rules

An interesting press release from Freight Wing crossed my desk yesterday, concerning the impending implementation of trailer aerodynamic device mandates crafted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) a while back.

Those mandates – due to go “live” on Jan. 1, 2013 – require truckers pulling 53-foot or longer dry van or refrigerated trailers within the confines of the Golden State to be equipped SmartWay verified aerodynamic devices such as side skirts or boat tail fairings, ostensibly to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from big rigs.

While 2003 to 2009 reefer trailer models are on what CARB calls a “delayed compliance schedule,” and thus will be exempted for a time from the aerodynamic rules, the agency is not being bashful in the slightest in terms of trumpeting its plans to take an aggressive stance on enforcing its trailer GHG rules.

“The clock is ticking for compliance,” noted Randy Rhondeau, a CARB air pollution specialist. “Fleets and owner operators who travel into California must have aerodynamic devices [on their trailers] unless they registered with CARB on a phase-in option.

He stressed that if pulled over for non-compliance, the owner of the tractor/trailer can be cited $1,000 per day. “The driver of the tractor-trailer is not off the hook either,” Rhondeau warned. “That person can be fined $1,000 a day as well. Fines can increase to $10,000 per day for egregious repeat offenders.”

Rhondeau emphasized that “ignorance is not bliss,” as owners, drivers, fleet operators, California-based brokers, California-based shippers and motor carriers should be fully aware of all the rules.

CARB said it will allow a one-time per fleet per year per tractor-trailer exemption into California for a trucking company or owner operator, but the request must be to the agency via an email or in writing request and then approved before crossing the Golden State’s borders.

That's definitely not something that conforms to the just-in-time deadlines of the freight world by any means, I think.

In addition, if registered with CARB, local haul 53-foot trailers are exempt from the aerodynamic requirements of the rule – but they must not go beyond 100 miles from their home base. Empty trailers are also exempt, as well as while short haul tractors and their trailers. However, those short haulers must be entered into CARB’s data base and tractor mileage must be 50,000 miles or lower per year, the agency warned.

“Information has been out there for quite some time, so if someone comes in and pleads ignorance, it’s not going to hold water,” Rhondeau emphasized. “If we catch violators, they’re getting a citation.”

I talked to FreightWing’s President, Sean Graham (seen at right), yesterday by phone about the impact of CARB’s trailer rules on trucking, and he’s of the opinion that most large national fleets, along with California-based carriers and their brethren located in nearby states (like Nevada), are either already compliant or have filed plans with CARB detailing their compliance timeline.

The truckers he’s getting calls from – and there’s been a growing volume of them – are mostly small fleets and independent operators located in the Midwest or on the East Coast who  infrequently haul shipments to California.

“These are the folks who are getting surprised by CARB’s rules,” Graham told me. “Larger fleets obviously have the resources to dedicate personnel to compliance issues like those generated by CARB. They are on top of it. But the smaller operators that lack those resources, who have been consumed by day-to-day business issues, are the ones being caught by surprise.”

For fleets behind the eight-ball and needing numerous trailers outfitted before the deadline, Graham said Freight Wing has put together mobile installation teams to help.

“We’ve found that it’s a great service to fleets that don’t have the manpower to self install,” he explained.  “For the do-it-your-selfer, it takes four-to-five man hours for an installation. But, like with anything, the more you do it, the faster they can be mounted and our teams can efficiently help fleets with the process.”

He also said Freight Wing’s partnerships with trailer dealership chains – such as Great Dane – offer another way fleets can gain compliance with CARB’s trailer rules without too much hassle.

Graham also noted that CARB’s rules don’t just mandate the use of trailer aerodynamic devices: they also require a 4% to 5% fuel economy benefit for the tractor-trailer as a complete unit. That’s because reducing GHG or carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is directly linked to fuel consumption – meaning the less fuel one burns, less CO2 is produced.

He noted, too, that Freight Wing’s SAE fuel tests show that the company’s side fairings can boost fuel savings anywhere from 4% to 7%, depending on application, so they meet CARB’s standards.

Graham also pointed out that while SmartWay-verified low rolling resistance tires can help boost improve trailer fuel efficiency, they can’t be used to help meet the 4% to 5% percent requirement – even though they typically offer an additional 3% fuel efficiency improvement for both the tractor and trailer.  

He stressed, though, that SmartWay verified tires will eventually be required on dry van and refrigerated 53-foot trailers in California – mandated for 2010 and older model “box” trailers starting in January 2017.

The real questions to be answered in all of this revolve around broader “ripple effects” in California’s freight markets. Will some truckers just walk away from California freight in the future? Will freight rates for California-bound cargo climb as truckers seek to recoup the additional investment mandated for their trailers? Will tonnage shift to intermodal if trucking capacity to the Gold State shrivels up?

We won’t really know until the new year begins. 

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.