Outlook: Truck equipment and the new administration

Jan. 5, 2017
A look at the impact a Trump administration will have on the trucking industry and what regulations may be changed.

Summarizing the truck equipment regulations newly on the books or in development for 2017 was more straightforward before Donald Trump was elected president. By and large, however, equipment suppliers and analysts don’t expect significant challenges to ongoing initiatives—with one possible exception: the next round of truck fuel efficiency standards, known as the Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards (Phase 2).

“Here’s where the election matters substantially,” says Avery Vise, TransComply president. “Any rule that is not in effect as of Inauguration Day is subject to being  vitiated.”

While Vise suggests a number of recent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules and proposals could be stalled indefinitely, a loosening of standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency is virtually a sure thing. And Phase 2 could fall under that heading—except that the rule, published last August, has already been enacted, making it procedurally difficult to undo.
But, Vise explains, the Congressional Review Act empowers lawmakers to pass a “resolution of disapproval” within 60 legislative days of a rule’s enactment—possibly exposing rules enacted as far back as June. Because such a resolution is subject to Senate reluctance as well as a presidential veto, the Review Act is seldom used, he notes.

The industry has generally praised the Phase 2 rule, which sets targets 10 years out, meaning truck and engine makers have sufficient time to develop and test new technologies.

“We’ll have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D to hit the targets, but we’re confident we can hit those targets in a way that will still provide benefits for our customers,” says Sean Waters, director of compliance and regulatory affairs for Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA). “If the technology saves the customer money at the end of the day, then they’re going to buy it, and we’ll see environmental benefits as well as fuel economy benefits.”

Indeed, even if the new administration ultimately lightens the regulatory burden, truckers shouldn’t expect GHG Phase 2 targets and plans to meet them to be shelved, suggests Kenny Vieth, president of ACT Research.

“I think the paybacks are so good on aerodynamics and parasitic drag that even if the Phase 2 mandate gets rolled back, the vast majority of that mandate is going to happen because the bang for the buck—the fuel economy relative to the cost—is so good that we’re in ‘no brainer’ territory,”  Vieth says. “The vast majority of the Phase 2 proposal is almost ‘baked in the cake’ regardless of what the Trump administration does.”

The big question, however, is what will the California Air Resources Board (CARB) do? The state agency had wanted Phase 2 to address nitrogen oxides (NOx) because much of Southern California struggles to meet EPA’s increasingly strict attainment standards.

“It will be interesting to see where the Trump EPA could be rolling back the Phase 2 mandate, whereas CARB, in working to improve air quality, will push for even more stringent standards and an ultra-low NOx solution,” Vieth says.

The question then becomes whether truck and engine makers would make California-compliant equipment and a 49-state version—or whether the CARB regulation becomes the de facto national standard.

Even if the new administration ultimately lightens the regulatory burden, trucking shouldn’t expect GHG Phase 2 targets and the plans to meet them to be shelved.”

- Kenny Vieth, president of ACT Research

Coincidentally, the week before the election, CARB hosted a workshop on the ultra-low NOx engine standard. Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs and communications for the Western States Trucking Assn., was among those in attendance. Rajkovacz contends the industry had been “kowtowing” to regulators, choosing to go along to get along and hope for reasonable mandates and incentives—“but that’s all changed.”

The key will be if the Trump EPA chooses to roll back recently tightened air quality standards.
“The Obama administration has been moving the goalposts,” Rajkovacz says. “Stopping [the tougher standards] doesn’t get you there, but if they can be reversed, it could mean some really good things for the trucking industry. We think there’s a real opportunity.”

Autonomous vehicle policy

Also now on the regulatory horizon, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last fall published its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy (FAVP) guidance document, billed as “a starting point that provides needed initial guidance to industry, government, and consumers.”

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation says the policy is “a proactive measure,” moving beyond the “traditional U.S. auto regulation approach” of reactive, post-sale enforcement of safety standards.
Sections of the policy are explained, such as the following:

◗ A 15-point safety assessment for the safe design, development, testing, and deployment of automated vehicles;

◗ Model state policy, meant to make a clear distinction between federal and state responsibilities for regulation of highly automated vehicles;

◗ A discussion outlining NHTSA’s current regulatory tools that can be used to ensure the safe development of new technologies, such as interpreting current rules to allow for greater flexibility in design and providing limited exemptions to allow for testing of nontraditional vehicle designs in a more timely fashion; and

◗ A discussion that identifies new regulatory tools and statutory authorities that policymakers may consider in the future to aid the safe and efficient deployment of new lifesaving technologies.
“There are huge upsides and significant challenges that come with automated vehicle technology, and we will continue the conversation with the public over the coming months and years as this technology develops,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in announcing the guidance.

Trucking reaction

Commercial vehicles get short shrift in the guidance, however. And numerous trucking groups pointed out that shortcoming during the comment period that closed in December.

Indeed, trucking must make itself heard, says Chris Spear, American Trucking Assns. president and CEO. He used his first address to members at ATA’s annual conference last fall to emphasize that trucking needs a voice at the table as policymakers address the opportunities and concerns.
“Autonomous vehicle technology is here, folks, whether we like it or not,” he said. “If properly developed, it has the potential to dramatically improve safety and reduce congestion. This technology has the potential to get trucks moving, reduce fuel burn and emissions, and increase miles driving—all measurable returns.”

Indeed, ATA opens its formal comment to the guidance document by noting that “the once inconceivable possibility that vehicles may drive themselves with little or no human interaction is quickly becoming reality.” In three “overarching” principles, ATA:

◗ Re-emphasized Spear’s insistence that “all relevant stakeholders” must be involved, including trucking;

◗ Urged NHTSA to protect transportation innovation as “an inherently interstate function,” ensuring that a patchwork of state rules don’t discourage the development or adoption of proven auto­mated vehicle technology; and

◗ Cautioned that NHTSA and other federal agencies should be “fully committed” to encouraging innovation and should not adopt regulatory processes that slow development, testing, or deployment.

“ATA strongly encourages NHTSA and other USDOT agencies to include the trucking industry in future policy discussions and take advantage of our long experience,” the comment concludes. “ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council, for example, is a prime illustration of an organization that uses best practices for safety and technology development. We hope that USDOT will use ATA and our members as a resource to better understand the development of highly automated vehicles (HAV) technology and its impact on users.”

Driver impact

The transportation industry has always centered on the vehicle and driver, points out the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA). “Drivers always accompanied vehicles and vice versa, and in order to achieve the ultimate form of operation, they have had to work in unison,” TCA President John Lyboldt writes. “Now, our industry and our nation are on the precipice of a new dawn.”

TCA specifically takes issue with the “automobile-based” policy and the absence of any mention of trucking regulations. “Trucking represents one of the most regulated deregulated industries in our country today, yet the principles of trucking are noticeably absent in your policy,” TCA comments.
As to cybersecurity concerns, TCA notes that the terrorism “threat to our way of life remains a verifiable constant” in today’s marketplace. 

“Our commercial motor vehicles and their contents remain at the forefront of every conversation concerning the threat of terrorist activity,” Lyboldt writes. “The thought of foreign entities and governments ‘hacking’ their way into our computer systems should certainly lend itself to the viability of this happening to any proposed HAV.”

Similarly, TCA addresses “the driver metamorphosis.”

“Operations will evolve and place more of the operating onus on the truck, yet the presence of a driver or operator/engineer must be vetted,” TCA says. “Problems pertaining to hours of service, vehicle inspections, and driver training, just to name a few, will become more prevalent as our industry traverses further along the path of vehicle autonomy.”

And speaking of drivers and training, the public is only beginning to understand “the positive and negative consequences” of autonomous vehicle technology, notes Don Lefeve, president and CEO of the Commercial Vehicle Training Assn. (CVTA).

“Because a driver will still be required to be in the cab of an autonomous truck, the responsibility to train the next generation of truck drivers to use this technology will fall on the commercial truck driving schools that make up CVTA’s membership,” Lefeve writes. “We are pleased to see that within the 15-point guidance, there is a point on consumer education and training, though we would like to see that point expanded to include training for commercial uses of autonomous technology.”

CVTA likewise notes that trucks “will be a prime target for hacking vehicles,” and Lefeve gets specific with regard to cybersecurity: “There needs to be a physical lever, switch, or mechanism, which is independent of the electronic systems propelling the vehicle, for the operator of an autonomous vehicle to assume control should a hacking event occur.”

Manufacturer concerns

Truck and engine maker Daimler Trucks North America, while recognizing value in the guidance, is concerned that certain provisions may have “unintentional consequences” that could delay the benefits of these technologies from reaching the road.

DTNA believes that the guidance should be limited to HAVs in which the driver is not expected to continually supervise the driving task. As written, the document includes recommendations for vehicles with automated systems that are categorized as Level 2 autonomous systems. These systems, already in commercial use, do not need to be included in the FAVP since these vehicles are covered by current regulations, DTNA’s Sean Waters notes.

“Including Level 2 vehicles in the policy will not increase safety and may discourage development and testing of these systems,” Waters says. “The deployment of Level 2 systems is paramount to gain public trust and acceptance of vehicle automation.”

DTNA also makes the case that test vehicles should not be included in the guidance document since existing federal testing laws and methods, including the exemption process, is sufficient to govern testing.

The document’s call for DOT pre- certification of vehicles should not be adopted as it would increase costs and delay new products to the market, stifling innovation, DTNA says, urging NHTSA to retain the current self-certification model.

With both Phase 2 and autonomous vehicle policy, time—and politics—will tell. Meanwhile, here’s a rundown of what to expect from less controversial new equipment regulations:

◗ Stability mandate:  Published in 2015, the rule requires electronic stability control (ESC) systems on large trucks and buses beginning this year. The first phase begins Aug. 1.

Six-by-four tractors built after Aug. 1 will be required to have full stability control, as opposed to simple roll stability systems. Class 8 motorcoaches will be required to have the technology in June 2018, and remaining tractors and Class 7 trucks will come under the mandate in August 2019. Single-unit trucks will not be required to have full stability systems.

◗ Collision mitigation: Safety groups petitioned NHTSA for a rulemaking on collision mitigation technology last year, and the National Transportation Safety Board has also called for the technology to be made standard on commercial vehicles. Dubbed forward collision avoidance and mitigation braking systems, or F-CAM systems, such technology should be able to brake on stationary vehicles, rapidly reduce closing speed, have a low rate of false alerts and interventions, and meet or exceed the European mandate for the equipment.

The agency will conduct an additional study using newer technologies designed specifically to better handle braking on stationary objects.

◗ Windshield-mounted safety technology: The highway bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, directs FMCSA to amend the FMCSRs to allow devices to be mounted on the windshield that utilize “vehicle safety technology.” The final rule was published last fall.

Additionally, all windshield-mounted devices and technologies with a limited two-year exemption in effect on the date of enactment are now considered to meet the equivalent-or-greater safety standard required for the initial exemption.

About the Author

Kevin Jones 1 | Editor

Kevin Jones has an odd fascination with the supply chain. As editor of American Trucker, he focuses on the critical role owner-ops and small fleets play in the economy, locally and globally. And he likes big trucks.

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