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Vaughn: Universal identification devices for trucks? Answers, please!

July 13, 2023
An advanced notice of proposed rulemaking from FMCSA has once again brought up the idea of equipping trucks with electronic UIDs, but the proposal raises more questions than answers.

My neighbor is an avid gardener. He really knows his way around plants. That's why I chuckled when I saw him in a T-shirt that read, "Weed. Feed. Water." 

Friends keep asking him about crabgrass, knapweed, rose bushes, gladiolas, you name it. Well, his answer was always the same—thus the T-shirt.

I feel somewhat the same about UID, the universal (or unique) identification device recently discussed in an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. FMCSA was responding to a petition from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. CVSA, by all accounts, desires to have UIDs on trucks electronically transmit data to roadside enforcement to facilitate "Level VIII" inspections (also known as wireless roadside inspections). The idea is to determine, at highway speeds, which trucks need inspection.

So, people I know in trucking ask me questions: "Steve, you were a highway patrolman. You even served a year as CVSA president. How will this UID work?"

I would like a T-shirt that reads, "UID? Answers, please!"

Answers because UID raises so many questions. To start, which trucks would need to have a UID? Newly manufactured only or all of them? Requiring UID only on new equipment would create inequity. Carriers unable to afford new trucks would need to pull into every weigh station, while those with new equipment could receive a wireless inspection and drive on by.

See also: "Penalty flags" are flying at FMCSA

What data would the UID transmit? During the 2021 infrastructure bill debate, a UID amendment centered on a single point of data—the vehicle identification number, or VIN. From that, roadside enforcement could determine the identification of the truck and its owner. That addition to the infrastructure bill didn't pass. The ANPRM from FMCSA, however, talked about tapping into a truck's sensors and onboard data system, retrieving both mechanical conditions and the truck operator's licensing, medical certification, and hours-of-service status—all items necessary for Level VIII inspections. That is if there are trucks left to inspect. One industry survey reported that 27% of truck drivers would leave the industry if UIDs were required.

How would enforcement take place? Pulling a truck out of the traffic stream for a roadside inspection would be difficult and potentially unsafe. So roadside enforcement would instead direct trucks to existing weigh stations. This would require a UID capable of receiving and transmitting messages. And states would need to invest in new computer software and message boards where UIDs would replace the free weigh station bypass programs currently provided.

See also: Can you pass this trucking speed quiz?

Of course, the most important question: Would UID improve highway safety? As FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responded in 2010, the CVSA petition lacked information on UID costs and benefits. I do know the driving behavior of truck and passenger vehicle drivers remains the biggest highway safety issue we face, and UID addresses neither.

That's why I want the T-shirt, "UID? Answers, please!"

Steve Vaughn is Senior Vice President of Field Operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass and electronic toll payment and management services. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

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