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The Full Story on Under-Inflation and Fuel Economy

As the Greenhouse Gas Phase 2 rules are getting fleshed out, automatic tire inflation systems are being considered as a major fuel-saving technology. As it stands right now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will offer compliance credits to any OEM that installs these systems.

According to industry insiders, the decision was based on information gleaned from a Department of Transportation (DOT) study completed between 2008 and 2010. The study revealed that on average fuel economy improved by 1.4 percent when wheel-mounted and valve-stem mounted tire pressure monitoring systems were used.

It’s About More Than Underinflating

There is little doubt that trailer automatic tire inflation systems help in reducing downtime costs associated with flat tires, but what can be said about their contribution to fuel economy?

We’ve all heard of the old adage that 10 percent under-inflation can cause a 1 percent degradation in fuel economy, mainly due to the increased rolling resistance of softer tires. But what exactly does this mean?

You need to isolate whether you are talking about one tire, all 18 tires, just the tires on the truck or just the tires on the trailer. Would all or one of them have to be under-inflated in order to see a 1 percent drop in the truck’s fuel economy? It might be a little bit more complex than that.

The overall fuel economy of your vehicle is depending mostly on the axle position of the under-inflated tire. The fact is, drive and trailer axles contribute more to overall fuel economy than the steer tires. So don’t look there to get the most savings.

What is Recommended?

It’s no secret that most fleets are not very good at tire pressure maintenance. One European study revealed that 12 percent of fleets routinely run under-inflated tires compared to whatever said fleet’s inflation guidelines are.

Another DOT study from 2003 showed that only half of all commercial truck tires were inflated to within 5 psi of the recommended pressure. A full 1 out of 20 were more than 20psi under-inflated and a fifth of dual-tire assemblies differed by more than 5 psi.

So the question remains: What exactly is the recommended tire pressure? There is only one official reference to tire pressure in any industry manuals and that is the tire makers’ load and inflation tables. The information can be found through the Tire Industry Association.

These tables are standards that are consistently maintained and designed to provide guidelines as to which tires can carry what types of loads. Keep in mind that these guidelines speak only to the minimum pressure required to support the load, so tires that are being operated under the guideline are running at below the threshold of their load.

Potential Problems

It can be reasonably concluded that any tire that is run below the minimum standard in the load and inflation guide is technically under-inflated. Under-inflation of this kind can result in tire damage. Whether it be through tread separation or increased flexing in the sidewalls leading to a zipper rupture, running with under-inflated tires is a serious safety issue.

Under-inflation also causes tire flex as they are rolling down the highway. Tire flex not only could damage the tire, but it also affects the truck’s overall fuel economy. Additionally, you may get uneven wear on any number of tires, which could spell additional problems if you are using retreads.

In the end, you’ve got to make the decision that is right for your equipment in relation to the type of loads you are running and terrain you are running it over. While you may realize some savings with under-inflated tires, you’ve got to make sure you adequately weight the risks to the benefits.

In the end, whether you choose to use automatic tire inflation systems or not may not even be up to you. If the EPA and NHTSA go through with the new GHG rules, fleets will have greater incentive to make the switch.

What You Need To Know About Alcohol And Drug Testing – Part II

Welcome to Part II of our series! In Part I, we gave you an introduction into the what and the why of drug and alcohol testing for truck drivers. Today we will give you the how.

There are a number of different types of drug and alcohol tests you may need to take, so it’s time to cover those details. For details on specific regulations, see section 382.107 of the FMCSRs.

Today we will discuss the following test types:

  • Pre-employment testing;
  • Post-accident testing;
  • Random testing.

The first step in getting your trucking job is passing your pre-employment test, so let’s start there.

Pre-Employment Drug Testing

Before you can report for duty and get behind the wheel of a big rig, you’ve got to take a pre-employment drug screening. Your employer must be able to report a negative result before you can be allowed to begin driving. A pre-employment alcohol test is not required, but an employer could choose to give this test at their discretion.

Post-Accident Drug and Alcohol Testing

There are two types of post-accident testing: Drug and alcohol. The criteria by which you must submit to either test differs.

You will need to submit to a post-accident alcohol test if:

  • There were any fatalities involved;
  • Anyone who is injured is immediately taken away from the scene of an accident and you are cited for a moving traffic violation within 8 hours;
  • A vehicle had to be towed from the scene of an accident and you are cited for a moving violation within 8 hours.

Post-accident alcohol testing will usually be done within 2 hours of the accident. If the test cannot be performed within that time frame, the motor carrier must provide a written record as to why the test could not be performed. If the test hasn’t been performed within 8 hours, it is then invalidated and will not be performed. In this case, the motor carrier must again explain why it did not happen.

A post-accident drug test will be required if:

  • There were any fatalities involved;
  • Anyone who is injured is immediately taken away from the scene of an accident and you are cited for a moving violation within 32 hours;
  • A vehicle had to be towed from the scene and you are cited for a moving violation within 32 hours.

Unlike post-accident alcohol testing, post-accident drug testing must be performed within 32 hours of the accident. If it cannot be performed within that time frame, it will not need to be, and the motor carrier must be able to provide a written record explaining why.

Bear in mind that if you are subject to a post-accident test, you must remain available for it. Not remaining available to take the test is considered a refusal. Refusals are generally given the same weight as failures, so you may as well take the test.

Random Testing

A certain percentage of truck drivers are required to undergo unannounced random testing throughout the year. When you are informed of a random test, you must immediately go to the testing site and take the test.

Random drug testing can happen at any point during your normal workday with a motor carrier. Random alcohol testing must be conducted before, during and after you have operated a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).

You may be wondering how certain truck drivers are selected. The Department of Transportation (DOT) will only accept a random number table or computer-based random number generator attached to a piece of identifying information relating to a particular employee. Pulling out of a hat is not acceptable.

Once you have been tested during the calendar year, your name will be returned to the pool. The DOT requires that each truck driver be subject to an equal chance of getting pulled for testing each time someone is selected.

Join us next time when we take a look at the final two tests: Reasonable suspicion and return-to-duty or follow-up testing.

Understanding The Third Factor In A DOT Audit

Welcome back to our series covering how to prepare your business for a Department of Transportation (DOT) audit. We’ve discussed what an audit is and why you may be subject to one and we’ve also gone over the first two factors in an audit, which were:

  • General
  • Driver

Today we will discuss the next factor: Operational. It’s important to remember that every factor in a DOT audit is extremely important. Audit outcomes can have a serious impact on your business. So without further delay, let’s dive back in.

Factor Two: Operational

Regulations covered under this factor, Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules (FMCSR), are some of the largest and most complex components of an audit.

If you are a business operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), you are subject to driving limitations and proper documentation surrounding the number of hours your truck drivers are logging. While some carriers may get an exception, for the most part the DOT will expect to see six months of driver logs and supporting paperwork.

You will be expected to keep a file – whether electronic or by paper – for each regulated truck driver in your operation. Truck drivers are required to complete a standard graph log. During their audit, the DOT will examine these logs.

The three primary factors they will be addressing when examining the logs are:

  • Form and Manner
  • Hours of Service
  • Log Falsification

The form and manner of the log is quite simple. Was there information in the log, including graph completion? Hours of service covers potential violations of the FMCSA’s hours of service requirement. Log falsification comes into play if supporting documents show a truck driver intentionally falsifying facts or information in the log. Fully formed logs must be returned to the fleet manager’s office within 13 days of their completion.

The operational factor also addresses whether you have a procedure in place to account for on-duty hours. On-duty hours include any compensated work performed by the driver outside of their normal employment with the motor carrier.

What About Logging Exceptions?

It might be easy for a fleet to assume that if they are using a logging exception, such as in the case of a 100-Air Mile Exception (Section 395.1), that they may be exempt from some of the logging requirements. Beware, because this isn’t true.

A carrier must always comply with recordkeeping requirements, despite using any exemptions. Using the 100-Air Mile Exemption again as an example, a carrier must be in compliance with four requirements before a logging exception can be used.

  1. The truck driver must stay within 100 air miles of his or her normal work reporting location;
  2. Must return to the work reporting location within 12 consecutive hours so that he or she can be relieved of duty;
  3. Cannot drive a CMV in excess of 11 hours within that mandated 12-hour period;
  4. Is required to take 10 consecutive hours off duty in between his or her shifts.

You are required to keep clear and accurate records showing that these requirements were met. Again, these documents should be kept for a period of six months. Supporting documents should include the regulated trucker’s daily start and stop times, the total number of hours he or she is on duty, and your method of tracking the 60 or 70-hour rule.

Considering the hours of service rule has been subject to all manner of change and debate in Washington, it is especially important that you make sure every aspect of your operation complies with whatever the rules were at the time that regulated trucker was on the road.

While it would be nice to be able to blame any slip ups on the constant change, DOT regulators won’t be so sympathetic. Make sure you are operationally accurate as you get through factor three. In our next segment dealing with a DOT audit, we will cover factor four, the vehicle.

Should The Federal Truck Weight Limit Be Raised?

A new round of lobbying has begun to increase the weight limit imposed on commercial trucks by the federal government. The current limit sits at 80,000 pounds, but should it be raised?

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) has introduced the Safe, Flexible and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act, which would allow individual states to increase the federal vehicle limit to 91,000 pounds, should they so choose. Would the passage and Presidential signature of this bill mean fewer trucks would be moving the same amount of cargo, and thus be safer?

Who Supports It?

Introduction of the bill was quickly applauded by at least six major associations that represent the interests of shippers. Initially, trucking-specific groups were silent on its passage.

Now the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) has thrown their lobbying weight behind the bill, as well. The NPTC is a member of the Coalition for Transportation, an association that represents some 600 private fleets.

The NPTC contends that the SAFE Act will provide fleets with the flexibility they need to safely address highway capacity issues. Letting carriers run heavier, six-axle trucks would create more options for fleet managers.

Ribble has said that he intends to introduce the SAFE Act as an amendment to the long-term highway bill. This means that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee can begin marking up the bill and allow discussions on associates amendments and riders.

In his defense of the bill, Ribble stated that there is a “fairly broad coalition of members who support it from both parties.” He went on to state that he expects the act to be fleshed out once the highway bill enters the conference process.

Who’s Against It?

So is anyone against the bill. As it turns out, the railroad lobby has come out against the proposal. Railroad interests fear a hit to their business model if more freight travels over interstate highways.

Railroad interests have also been joined by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), who sent a letter to Ribble on September 16, arguing strongly against the legislation. In the letter the TCA states that it opposed the measure because “it would only benefit a minority of the industry.”

The Trucking Alliance, which is a coalition of trucking companies that lobby for safety improvements, also decries the bill. As they put it, the bill “would drive up operating costs, drive down truck driver wages, and curtail investments in safety technologies.” It’s notable that the American Trucking Association has had no comment on the matter.

What Will It Do?

As Ribble puts it, the bill would allow the freight shipping industry to be more efficient. He argues that a heavier truck pulls more freight, in turn keeping more trucks off the road. This would result in less wear and tear on pavement and create new opportunities to improve safety on bridges and roads.

It is important to note that this bill will not actually mandate anything. All it does is allow state governments to permit truck combinations up to 91,000 pounds used on interstate highways within their states. State agencies would still be allowed to limit or even prohibit the use of vehicles of this size and weight.

The bill would essentially allow vehicles with a sixth axle to up their freight weight limit. But would adding up to 11,000 pounds to the gross cargo weight limit be safe? According to Ribble, the bill was written using data from the Department of Transportation (DOT) safety and road wear data. He said they want to ensure truck stopping times are as good or better than current stopping times.

But could this change create unintended consequences in the area of fleet equipment and safety management? Only time will tell.

What’s Next for the Fuel Efficiency Standard?

The environment is back in the news this week as the new Republican majorities in the house and senate seek to undo what they can of President Obama’s environmental agenda. The most recent battleground has been around coal fired power plants. Will the fuel efficiency standard be next?

A Complicated Relationship

The trucking industry and environmental groups and government agencies have long had a strained relationship. Thanks to new technologies, large trucks continue to make gains in fuel efficiency, but some think there’s still more progress to be made.

Last year President Obama ordered the development of new fuel standards for heavy-duty trucks. These new standards were part of a larger push by the president to take executive action in the fight over climate change.

Here’s a brief recap of what the new draft rule will be requiring:

  • It would direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to set the next round of fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The fact sheet states that this would save vehicle owners and operators an estimated $50 billion in fuel costs and save 530 million barrels of oil.

  • It would require the aforementioned agencies to also partner with private-sector companies to deploy advanced vehicles and technologies. The DOT specifically would be required to provide each company with specialized resources, technical know-how and support in developing fuel efficiency and cost saving strategies.
  • It seeks to expand fuel choices for American drivers. Specifically it looks to establish an Energy Security Trust Fund. This fund would provide grants to research and development for advanced vehicle technologies. Finally, it would require investment in new infrastructure through a tax credit. These tax credits would directly support cellulosic biofuels.

This new executive action was immediately followed by a large publicity push to drum up support. In a speech Mr. Obama gave at a Safeway grocery distribution center he said that “improving gas mileage for these trucks is going to drive down our oil imports even further. That reduces carbon pollution even more, cuts down on business’ fuel costs, which should pay off in lower prices for consumers. So it’s not just a win, it’s a win-win-win. We got three wins.”

Like so many before it, this has become a polarized debate. The conversation itself has become just as complicated as the relationships between the parties.

A Complicated Debate

For obvious, reasons some car and truck manufacturers have lobbied heavily against the increase. The vehicle manufacturing industry has always sought to pursue efficiency at their own pace, without government intervention.

Conversely, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) have been advocating for better fuel efficiency standards since 2007, when they endorsed a study that requested both better fuel efficiency and electronic device governance for large trucks.

Soon after Mr. Obama’s speech, ATA president and CEO Bill Graves came out stating that “today’s announcement by President Obama is welcome news to the trucking industry. Our members have been pushing for the setting of fuel efficiency standards for some time and today mark the culmination of those efforts.”

With industry having taken sides in the debate, it was time for the other side of the political aisle to weigh in. Not soon after the president’s speech did then house majority leader Eric Canter come out blasting the plan, saying that the “result of these regulations means increased costs for businesses and families, and fewer jobs for workers. Rather than placing additional burdens on working families and small businesses, Washington should be focused on removing barriers to growth.”

The EPA, industry, and other groups have a big year ahead. Beyond fuel efficiency, a new fuel tax is also on the legislative table. Will the fuel efficiency standard survive a divided government? With the new rule set to be finally drafted by March of this year, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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