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New Self-Driving Rules And An Automated Beer Run

You have heard that the Uber-acquired self-driving truck startup delivered 51 cases of Budweiser in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Leaving Fort Collins before dawn, the truck managed to navigate its way through downtown Denver and then on to Colorado Springs.

The Volvo truck utilizes different cameras, including radar, lidar and other advanced software augments to see the road and track objects around the vehicle. The automated system in this test run controlled the truck’s acceleration, braking and steering.

The only human intervention required was when the truck was driven onto the interstate and when it exited the interstate. Otherwise, the truck driver sat in the cab and monitored the system as it worked. Even though the truck mostly drove itself, take note that a truck driver was still required. In a future of semi-autonomous rigs, imagine the truck driver as a co-pilot to the software.

With states like Nevada and Colorado opening their roads to this kind of testing, expect to see many more pilots like this to come. So how will the Department of Transportation (DOT) respond as semi-autonomous become more prevalent, both in testing and on the road?

Rules and Regulations

On September 20, the DOT issued a regulatory framework for manufacturers, entitled the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, where semi-autonomous vehicles are concerned. The framework is designed to be adopted by both state regulators and industry players and governs both the development and deployment of autonomous cars and trucks.

Considering both traditional manufacturers and tech giants are increasingly partnering up and getting closer to bringing this technology to bear, it’s no surprise that the DOT is finally weighing in.

The document they issued on September 20th consists of a 114-page document that the DOT will accept public comment on for 60 days from the date of publication. Distilled down into its basic components, the document intends to set safety standards and help guide a unified national policy framework on how autonomous vehicles will be developed and driven.

What’s in the Details?

The proposed guidelines do several important things. First, they suggest a 15-point safety assessment. This assessment will need to be completed at the manufacturer and submitted to the DOT showing how their vehicles meet specified requirements concerning crashworthiness, privacy, safety systems and more.

The fact is this: Automated vehicles have the potential to add a whole new level of safety on the road without negatively impacting trucking jobs. To highlight this fact, the DOT noted in their release that out of over 35,000 people killed in the U.S. last year in car accidents, the clear majority of them were a result of “human error.”

The DOT is also moving beyond initial safety assessment and basic regulations. They have also set roles relative to how federal and state agencies will handle semi-autonomous trucks traveling over interstate highways. The federal government has (no surprise here) reserved the right to retain control over setting standards and compliance goals.

The states will be responsible for licensing those driving semi-autonomous trucks and registering the rigs. They will also handle enforcement and inspections.

A New Advisory Committee

The newest development comes in the form of an advisory committee set up by the DOT. Per Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the committee will handle information gathering, develop technical advice and present recommendations. Their work will cover autonomous vehicles, smart roads and highways and enhanced freight movement.

The DOT is looking for 15 people to serve on the committee, preferably those with cross-modal perspectives. They will be looking for thoughts on robotics, intelligent systems, and advanced technology deployment.

Committee members will serve a 2-year term. Of course, the DOT will be selecting these individuals, but members can be nominated through a transparent process. If you are interested in nominating yourself or someone else, get in contact with automation@dot.gov.

Trucker Drivers: Your Rig May Be Nice, But Is It Clean?

We wanted to look at a not-oft-talked-about aspect of driving a large commercial motor vehicle, and that’s its cleanliness. Whether you are an enterprising owner-operator or a conscientious fleet manager, you realize that your rig is a rolling billboard for your business.

Whether goods were being hauled in a horse-drawn carriage or a Class 8 big rig, how they looked was a direct representation of the company carrying those goods. Colorful, clean vehicles portray a clean, positive image of a fleet and its services. The opposite can be true if the vehicle is dirty or damaged. Which message would you want your truck to convey?

Another thing to consider that this goes beyond public perception. Consider that a dirty truck is quite literally a rolling bullseye for DOT officers. Whether it is true or not, they automatically assume that a dirty truck is likely also a poorly maintained truck. Of course, you’ll never get that on record, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

When you are investing in fleet maintenance there are three considerations you should make. Keep the following in mind:

  • Brand appeal
  • Safety
  • Resale value

How your vehicle appears has a direct impact on these goals. Most of all, showing your fleet in a positive light is the most impactful of all three aspects. Your brand appeal is very important.

Product Improvements and Corrosion

If your vehicle’s finish is not properly maintained, you will find the clarity of the paint fading over time. This leads to a direct decrease in the vehicle’s resale value. Keeping the finish clean not only helps it look better, but it will keep the vehicle from developing a dull, faded look over time.

The industry has also evolved quite a bit in the modern age. Where paints used to be prone to fading and ‘chalking’ as they refer to it, now they last quite a bit longer without losing a significant amount of their luster.

Still, even the best paint can’t withstand an onslaught of corrosion, brought about by road chemicals. A vehicle’s first line of defense against the serious effects of chemical corrosion eating away at the vehicle is its cleanliness.

The consequences of failing to keep your vehicle clean from a corrosion standpoint are dire indeed. This goes far beyond failing paint, it’s not unheard of for an oil pan to drop off or a radiator to internally rot away. From electrical wiring to other critical components, corrosion is a killer.

Practicing Preventative Maintenance

Making sure your vehicle is clean is as much about how it looks as it is about preventative maintenance. Regular washes and wax jobs need to be considered a part of a consistent maintenance program.

Do you have a wash bay at your facility? If you are an owner-operator, when was the last time you visited the wash bay? Have you considered hiring an outside company to keep your trucks clean?

Today, there are products that offer solutions to different levels of cleaning and maintenance, along with detailed step-by-step procedures on how to use them.

Additionally, you should make sure you are assigning a timeline to your washing schedule. When it comes to washing, waxing, polishing and cleaning the interior and exterior surfaces, think on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

Of course, one consideration is that of frequency of use and geography. Vehicles operating in the Northeast needs special attention paid to road chemicals and frequent washing. Conversely, regional haulers who spend a significant time at idle may need less special care.

Always remember, your truck represents your fleet out on the open road. How it looks is as much about how you present yourself as it is about how safe and reliable are your vehicles are on the road.

Listen Trucking Companies – Say Goodbye To Paper

It’s no secret that for many years now, trucking companies have been increasingly turning away from running their operations using paper. Whether it be to increase efficiencies, streamline processes or take advantage of advanced new software solutions, fleets are increasingly moving their operations from the physical world to the digital world.

There are several areas where better document capture without using paper can work wonders for your organization. Whether you are looking at it from a productivity, billing or delivery perspective, eliminating paper saves both time and money.

Apps and Digital Technology

Workflow apps allow enterprising motor carriers to turn physical documents into digital forms that their operators can fill out using an in-cab mobile device, smartphone or tablet. Truck drivers can do anything from capture signatures to scan barcodes or take pictures.

It also depends on what type of work a motor carrier is doing. The burden of paperwork is not uniform across the board. In truckload, for instance, expect loads and trips to languish under the weight of documentation.

LTL fleets may look at it differently. The difficulty for LTL providers lies in ensuring the paper flow matches the freight flow. When a fleet eliminates paper, they allow for digital information – which travels instantly – to be able to keep up with what’s actually going on in the yard and the cab.

Of course, the data that allows for eliminating the paper trail still needs to be tracked. Essential business functions need to be stored and managed. While fleets find themselves eliminating file cabinets, they increasingly find servers are needed in their place.

Some fleets are turning to onboard computing platforms that log and keep track of engine performance, driver performance and other factors such as hours of service. All this information is then transmitted back to home office for analysis.

Still, this doesn’t mean that paper is going to disappear altogether from trucking. Even fleets who have made major strides in going paperless still must use paper when needed. Fleets transporting hazardous or otherwise valuable or dangerous cargo must often utilize special documents – a paradigm that is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.

Impact on Drivers and Back-Office Workers

Fleets in this situation can still utilize these new wonders of technology. Hazardous cargo fleets may still need paper, but they can also better scan and transmit it. Everything from freight bills to safety documents and payables can be managed and transmitted electronically, regardless of whether it originated on a piece of paper or not.

Other examples can be seen in bills of lading, proof of delivery, fuel receipts and so much more. The documents can be turned in by the truck driver and then scanned and index into back office databases. Imagine reducing days-to-bill from around 7 or 8 days to 3 or 4 days. You’ll also spend far less time on postage, printer ink and paper costs in the long run.

While truck drivers still must collect data, and transmit information in the paperless trucking world, these technologies have still made various aspects of their lives far easier. The goal, whether a trucker is using a smartphone to log time or using a scanning kiosk back at home base, is to make their life easier.

Consider that your truck drivers are both your customer service representatives and in-house technology experts. Utilize technologies that help to ease the burden of responsibility, rather than create more.

As technology proliferates and government reporting requirements continue to grow, trucking industry players will need to find a way to manage the transition from paperless to digital. How that evolution plays out remains to be seen.

An Update On Trucking And Military Truck Drivers

There’s been a lot of movement lately where military truck drivers are concerned. It appears the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is setting out to clarify and seek comment on several new proposals related to military truck drivers transitioning into the civilian trucking industry.

First up, the FMCSA is looking to launch an interstate pilot program designed for military-trained truck drivers who happen to be under 21 years of age. Proposed in mid-August, the FAST Act-stipulated program would clear the way for truckers under 21 to operate their vehicles across state lines provided they have prior experience operating large vehicles in the military.

Under-21 Pilot Program for Military Truck Drivers

The current rule only allows for under-21 CDL holders to drive intrastate. Now open for public comment, the agency wants to know what you think about this proposed change. Of course, there are other details to consider.

As part of the proposal, the FMCSA mandates that any under-21 truck drivers in the pilot program must be sponsored by a motor carrier. The same motor carrier must also have an over-21 truck driver with similar training and experience operating as part of a control group.

At the end of the three-year pilot, the FMCSA will then look at the safety records of both groups. If it appears that there are safety issues in the under-21 group, it might be determined that age does represent a critical safety factor.

Motor carriers participating in the pilot program must have an electronic logging device installed in all the vehicles used by either the pilot or the control group. The FMCSA is also considering requiring carriers to install onboard monitoring systems, but hasn’t finalized that yet.

CDL Waiver for Military Truck Drivers

The second dive into military truck drivers and transitioning into the civilian workforce surrounds the CDL test. Currently, states can waive the general knowledge test needed to obtain a CDL if the person taking the test has either current or former military experience.

On October 27, the FMCSA issued a two-year exemption to that rule. The exemption essentially allows military truck drivers to list their time operating a military vehicle as training credit. The FMCSA acknowledged the many hours of classroom and practical skills training military truck drivers undergo every day.

The new exemption still leaves the power in states’ hands, however. State driver licensing agencies will be able to choose whether to waive the knowledge test. States will also be given assistance in setting up programs to verify the eligibility of applicant participants.

There are also requirements surrounding who can apply for the extension:

  • Current or former military members
  • National Guard
  • Reservists
  • Have been regularly employed within a year of the application
  • Have received formal military training related to the duty being applied for

This rule is yet another rule designed to help military personnel ease into civilian life and get jobs within the trucking industry.

The FMCSA has also given military personnel who drove large commercial vehicles a full year to apply for a skills test waiver. This is an increase over the prior rules 90 days.

The new rule also allows states to accept applications from active-duty military members provided they are stationed in that state. States will also be allowed to administer a learner’s or CDL written and skills test, and then electronically transfer the results to either the applicant or the licensing board, if the state so wishes.

Overall, these changes represent positive moves from the FMCSA, designed to make it easier for the hard-working men and women of our nation’s armed forces to get secure, rewarding jobs with motor carriers and build their trucking careers. That certainly can never be a bad thing.

Should Truckers Be Forced To Take A Sleep Apnea Test?

Have you heard? If the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) gets its way, truckers – under certain conditions – may have to be screened for sleep apnea to get a green light to hop in the cab.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the industry agrees this was the right move. The FMCSA had initially proposed this rule, but it first had to be held up by the FMCSA’s Medical Review Board and Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, which it now has done.

What is BMI?

So, what’s the deal here? Will every trucker have to undergo a sleep apnea test? Well, no. The criteria will be based upon a truck driver’s Body Mass Index (BMI). If a trucker has a BMI higher than 40, then they will be flagged for a sleep apnea screening.

BMI is a measure of body fat which is based upon an individual man or woman’s height and weight. While largely accurate, it is not without its limits. In athletes, for instance, who may weigh more because of muscle, rather than fat, BMI can be deceiving. It may also underestimate fat in older people who have lost muscle mass over time.

The BMI chart reads as:

  • < 18.5 = Underweight
  • 5 – 24.9 = Normal weight
  • 25 – 29.9 = Overweight
  • > 30 = Obese

Considering a reading above 30 is considered obese, some argue that requiring a sleep apnea test at 40 is not an overly onerous burden. Others claim that the FMCSA is using far too strict guidelines in how they determine who gets a test.

When a Test is Required

Some point to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) when advising the FMCSA on how to proceed. The FAA prohibits using BMI as a sole factor when issuing flight cards. The FAA once even wanted to do exactly what the FMCSA is proposing to do, but ended up reversing course.

For truckers who have a BMI over 40, the FMCSA would force them to get a 90-day medical certification. During the 90 days, they would have to either do an at-home or in-lab sleep study. If they receive a positive diagnosis, they would then have to begin treatment, again within the 90-day period.

In situations where a truck driver tests out with a BMI higher than 33, they would be subject to screening if they meet three other qualifiers. One such example of three other qualifiers includes being male and being over the age of 42 – neither of which are statistics in short supply within the trucking industry. For a postmenopausal female truck driver aged 42 or older, a flag for high blood pressure or a history of diabetes or heart disease might trigger a test.

If a trucker is diagnosed with moderate or severe sleep apnea, their medical certification can last no longer than a year. This replaces the standard two-year certification window for those who don’t suffer from sleep apnea.

Other Changes

While much of the FMCSA’s original idea came through the advisory board’s final analysis, there were some changes made to the criteria surrounding when a truck driver should be immediately disqualified.

A driver could be disqualified if they:

  • Are reporting excessive sleepiness while behind the wheel
  • Are involved in an accident related to falling asleep while driving
  • Have been seen by someone else sleeping while operating a commercial motor vehicle
  • Are not in compliance with existing sleep apnea treatment guidelines

A medical examiner could also disqualify a truck driver if they deem said driver to be high risk. They would then be out of service until they can get treatment, and would be required to be treated for two weeks before they can get behind the wheel.

Of course, many in the industry are not happy with this ruling. While some say it goes a long way to increasing truck driver safety and overall wellness, others say it is an intrusion that leaves a ton of unanswered questions, not-the-least-of-which being who foots the bill when a truck driver has to be removed from the road and sent for testing. In the end, only time will tell how this shakes out.

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