“Limbo” best describes the state of recent and upcoming federal regulations, with Trump’s “two-for-one” executive order also “causing pause” in the rulemaking pipeline.

Trucking regs in limbo: What will emerge, and when?

March 14, 2017
While some trucking regulations will get a second look under the Trump administration’s regulatory freeze—and some of these might see substantial revision, or even be dropped altogether—major initiatives such as the electronic logging device mandate will likely be implemented on schedule, says a former FMCSA administrator.

While some trucking regulations will get a second look under the Trump administration’s regulatory freeze—and some of these might see substantial revision, or even be dropped altogether—major initiatives such as the electronic logging device mandate will likely be implemented on schedule, says a former FMCSA administrator, featured on the latest Fleet Owner/Omnitracs webinar.

But, at least for now, “limbo” best describes the state of recent and upcoming federal regs, explained Annette Sandberg, principal at TransSafe Consulting LLC and the FMCSA boss from 2002-2006. Trump’s “two-for-one” executive order (under which two existing rules must be dropped before a new one can imposed) is also “causing pause” in the pipeline. Another order calls for the appointment “regulatory reform officer” to apply specific standards to proposals in order for them to move forward.

“The president said they have to look carefully at any regulations and probably eliminate those regulations if they eliminate jobs or inhibit job creation; or if the regulation is unnecessary, outdated or ineffective; or if it imposes costs that exceed benefits,” Sandberg said. “So if you’ve wondered why DOT hasn’t done anything, these executive orders basically halted any regulations from coming out.”

Sandberg, joined by Steve Field, director of safety at Prime Inc., then went through the list of the latest rules and regulations, discussing their status, possible changes, implementation timelines, and their respective impacts on fleet operations.

Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs): Published in 2015 and due to take effect in December, Sandberg called the ELD mandate “the big one.” She noted “there are some concerns” regarding whether FMCSA will be completely prepared to roll out the regulation. Specifically, the agency has yet to finalize “the data transfer piece,” especially with regard to supplier self-testing and the impact on the enforcement community.

Annette Sandberg

“The way most people look at it, we anticipate this will move forward, some way or another, even if the data transfer piece is delayed,” Sandberg said. “What we’re hoping is FMCSA will work out some of the logistical problems and make sure federal and state enforcement people are fully trained, and that when fleets begin to implement this on a broader basis that everybody is ready and it goes off without any major problems. I don’t anticipate a delay but, given the surprises we’ve already had with this administration, there’s always the potential for another surprise. I’m telling fleets you need to be preparing.”

But most, if not all, large carriers have already made the transition to AOBRDs, Prime’s Field added.

“In general, we’re in favor [of ELDs], as most big companies are,” he said. “We are concerned about data transfer, and we’re certainly sympathetic to people with a different opinion, but we do feel ELDs are good for the industry. In the long run, the outcome from electronic logs is going to be positive. I think everyone should make the assumption that it is going to take effect this year. There’s a learning curve with this type of technology. This is not something you can switch to overnight and be successful.”

Heavy-Duty Speed Limiters: FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last fall published an NPRM that famously did not specify the speed at which to limit commercial vehicles, just one of several perceived problems that prompted the American Trucking Assns. to reject the plan after petitioning DOT to develop it.

“This one’s going to be held up,” Sandberg said. “Keep in mind: If the agency wants to issue it, they’re going to have to find two that they’re going to eliminate. So the 2-for-1 is going to impact some of these regulations whether people want to see them or not.”

Field noted that Prime does limit the speed of its fleet for both safety and fuel economy benefits, but he suggests the issue might be better decided by trucking companies and operators.

“We would not spend a lot of effort trying to get it passed,” he said. “I don’t think the regulation is going to get very far.”

Entry-level driver training (ELDT): Finalized late last year, the rule “has been caught up” in the initial freeze. DOT has yet to indicate whether the rule will move forward. However, the rule has been mandated by Congress, Sandberg noted, but it might be delayed because the cost-benefit analysis is difficult.

“There has been some consternation about on-road driver training time,” Sandberg said, referring to a late change that removed a requirement for a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel (BTW) instruction. “I think we’re going to have to wait until the DOT’s regulatory reform officer looks at this.”

Noting that Prime is “a training company,” Field called the ELDT rule “probably a good idea,” but said he was concerned about the requirements becoming “an administrative burden” and that the program is “workable” and “makes sense.”

Steve Field speaks at the recent Omnitracs Outlook conference (Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner photo)

Safety Fitness Determination (SFD): Sandberg explained that the SFD proposal, which would rely heavily of carrier inspection data, had been posted for an extended public comment period last year, but FMCSA never issued a final rule. Congress in the FAST Act called for a review of the agency’s safety data and analysis, so the rule has been on hold pending that study due by year’s end.

“The agency will probably have to do some re-work as it related to the CSA system and how they’re going to use those scores within a safety fitness determination,” Sandberg said. “So I anticipate, particularly under the regulatory reform that’s going on in the Trump administration, they’re going to have to start with Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and take comments—but it looks like that is going to be at last a year or two down the road.”

Field called CSA an improvement over the previous carrier safety measurement system and commended FMCSA for trying. But he questioned whether CSA places too much emphasis on record keeping rather than on the safety impact.

“We all have the same goal, and that’s to reduce crashes and to reduce injuries on the highway,” he said. “But this has a long way to go before it’s ready to be implemented.”

Obstructive Sleep Apnea: FMCSA, with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), last year published an Advance NPRM but, given the current reform environment, “absent significant scientific data, this one’s going to take a back burner,” Sandberg said.

Prime’s Field suggested that individuals and companies should make their own decisions on the matter.

“We’ve bought in to sleep apnea [prevention],” he said. “Opinions may change, but we do believe it is something that afflicts drivers. We aggressively promote getting treatment. But [the regulation] is probably not ready to move along.”

Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse: Another Final Rule that was published late last year and caught up in “wait-and-see mode” during the review process, Sandberg rates the driver test results national clearinghouse as “much more likely to move forward” than the ELDT rule, given it’s positive cost benefit analysis and its effectiveness in closing a loophole that allowed drivers with positive test results to be evade detection by moving to an employer in another state.

“The industry, as a whole, has been asking for this for years,” added Field. “It conclusively can give us a benefit. Anyone truly interested in safety is onboard.”

Financial Responsibility:  FMCSA last year published an ANPRM seeking input on increasing the minimum insurance levels required of carriers and brokers “and it never really moved very far,” Sandberg explained, noting the proposal is “likely on the back burner.”

:: The free webinar replay, including an extensive Q&A period, is available here.

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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