Rules are rules

April 8, 2014
Agree with them or not, new federal rules are coming fast

It’s common at industry gatherings to hear people talk about the flood of recent regulation facing trucking operations, but when you step back and take a look at all the new rules on the books, it can still be something of a shock.  And based on last month’s activity in Washington, the pace is not letting up.

Like those of you running fleets, my job keeps me immersed in the daily news of federal regulation as it slowly makes its way from concept, to proposal, to rule, and finally, legal requirement.  So when I was asked to moderate a panel discussion on how the newest of those regulations were impacting the trucking business, I thought I had a good handle on the topic.

But as I started doing a bit of homework just to brush up on the details, I was surprised to see the list of significant new regulations quickly covered two pages.  Maybe even more surprising was the corresponding list of still unsettled questions raised by most of those rules.  And then just when I’d finished my homework, three new significant rules were unveiled in quick succession, lengthening the list yet again.

At the top of the list is hours of service.  I don’t have the room (or patience) to recount the tortured history of proposed rules, court challenges, Congressional directives, and other plot twists that have resulted in the latest set of HOS rules, but I think all would agree they represent a significant change from the old rules that governed drivers’  lives for over 60 years. 

Fleets and drivers have now had over half a year to figure out how to work with the federal requirements on rest breaks, on-duty status and two-night resets.  Yet I’ve seen no unbiased measurement on how the changes are impacting overall fleet productivity or driver pay.  Plenty of anecdotal evidence, for sure, but nothing generated without an agenda behind it.  I’m sure the complexity of rules trying to put a scientific justification on something as widely variable as individual fatigue are part of the reason it’s so hard to judge their effectiveness, but proven or not you have to make sure your drivers and dispatchers comply.

The other list-topper isn’t a regulation directly governing operations, but rather a new system for gathering, evaluating and disseminating information about your fleet. I’m talking about CSA, or the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. 

Although it’s been up and running since 2010, questions and criticisms about CSA have not died down.  Most center around problems outlined recently in a report from the Federal Government Accounting Office, which found CSA data inaccuracy undermines its stated mission of identifying fleets that pose potential safety risks.  Then last month, the Dept. of  Transportation’s Office of Inspector General said plans to improve data accuracy were lagging behind schedule.  Industry groups like the American Trucking Assns. have pointed to both reports as bolstering their arguments that CSA is deeply flawed and needs to be modified.  Like HOS, though, fleets still have to live with the current system no matter what its problems.

Then last month, we saw action on three long-anticipated federal regulatory actions.  A proposed rule was finally released requiring electronic logging devices to capture and record driver log activity.  Another was issued providing for a drug and alcohol clearinghouse to give fleets better access to driver-testing results. Finally, word came that a rule to require speed limiters on trucks was about to be released for comments.

It’s still too early to evaluate the impact of these new rules, but it’s not too early to predict that you will have to figure out how to meet them.  Agree with them or not, it looks like your to-do list just got longer.

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