Recently, I attended a meeting in which a regulatory update was provided by staff of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The briefing took me and all of the attendees through a veritable time capsule of where any prospective regulations have been and where the regulatory landscape appears to be going in the future. While I sat there taking pages of notes, it occurred to me that I am part of an industry that is already well ahead of future regulations.
Although hours of service (HOS) always seem to be a regulatory headline, motor carriers across the country have expanded their focus to include issues such as drug testing, CSA, EOBRs and technology. These issues seem to remain on the back burner of FMCSA's regulatory agenda, yet carriers continue to be proactive in boosting their safety performance by diving further into these subject areas.
Carriers have long advocated for a drug and alcohol clearinghouse, yet any proposed rulemaking on the issue remains at least a year away. Currently, according to FMCSA regs, carriers are only required to use urine tests for drug testing, but many are taking testing to an entirely different level. Hair testing and oral swabs are starting to become standard testing mediums for the industry, providing a more thorough background on any individual driver's drug use. Recently, seemingly from the pages of any “CSI” television show script, there was even an announcement that fingerprints can now be drug tested, possibly revolutionizing drug testing the same way breathalyzers did for alcohol. It may only be a matter of time until this technology infiltrates the trucking industry. Still, regulators have yet to catch up with the industry and its already forward-thinking practices.
The same can be said for EOBRs. As focus remains on finalizing a rule to require EOBRs, carriers continue to test, adopt and use these units daily for compliance with HOS regulations. We know that any rulemaking would be supported by our members, provided that the EOBR be used strictly for HOS compliance. Yet the agency continues the slow pace of pushing the inevitable mandate through the regulatory pipeline while carriers and drivers have embraced the technology.
CSA is a prime example of the slow regulatory pace. Carriers, it seems, have embraced the system and integrated it into their own operations. In doing so, however, they have encountered problems with CSA and continue to wait for responses — which are slow in coming. Whether it is accident accountability, lack of proper inspection data, or even issues with the data Q process, carriers have learned to benefit from the information that CSA does provide while they wait for the agency to address their concerns. Unfortunately, the agency has taken a wait-and-see approach. Carriers are being exposed to these issues daily; because of this, they have taken the time to decipher how to address these issues and create real-world fixes. And yet the agency continues to investigate. Again, another example of the proactive nature of how trucking embraces changes that everyone thinks could be bestowed upon them.
The lesson to be learned in today's environment? Rules will always be in some form of promulgation or another; however, regardless of any rule's intention, it is always the intent of the carriers to save lives in the first place. As evidenced by a 36% reduction in the truck fatality rate since 2004, the trucking industry continues to take advantage of any means available to them, mandated or not, to save lives.
David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to [email protected].