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How To Operate Trucking Effectively Under The Umbrella Of The Coercion Rule

It’s likely you’ve already heard of the rule prohibiting acts of coercion designed to get truck drivers to somehow violate or bend safety regulations. It went into effect in January, and operators have been driving under it ever since.

The rule is officially called “Prohibiting Coercion of Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Rule,” this regulatory measure – in very specific terms – prohibits fleets, shippers, receivers or other transportation operators from actively forcing truck drivers to break the rules.

There are three key areas that the final rule governs:

  • What a commercial truck driver should do if there is an incident of coercion
  • What the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must do in response to allegations of coercion
  • What sort of penalties will be imposed if a particular entity, whether fleet or individual, has coerced a truck driver

Where it comes to penalties, we are talking up to $16,000, which is no small number. The history of this rule dates to as far back as 2014, when the federal government was fielding concerns from truck drivers that carriers and others acted as though truck drivers weren’t governed by specific operational restrictions and regulations.

Specifically, the FMCSA pointed out that truck drivers routinely reported having been coerced to violate regulations with threats implied, whether implicit or explicit, up to and/or including termination, reduced pay or forfeiture of benefits or good working hours.

What You Need to Know

Since the rule has gone into effect, it has essentially forced the FMCSA to move truck driver coercion complaints to the top of their priority list. In many cases, when the FMCSA follows up on complaints, whether the operator was coerced or not, the agency oftentimes uncovers other things.

What’s the moral of the story here? You may have great CSA scores, but that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. If you aren’t focused on the specific processes and procedures involved in ensuring compliance, you might wind up with more than just a small fine for a minor violation.

There are specific areas of focus that the FMCSA seems to put more emphasis on, the first of which being hours of service violations. Hours of service complaints also seem to be the most often cited. The best way to do this is by ensuring you have the proper documentation trail outlining time and date. Are you utilizing technology to your advantage?

Another area to keep an eye on is your fuel reports when compared to your fuel receipts. Always remember that you must record the time of the transaction. Whatever third-party supplier you use, whether the receipts are paper or electronic, must record the date and time when the transaction took place.

Generally, inspectors will use information from your GPS system to cross reference your driver log information. Fleets still using older e-logs will have to square their system’s proprietary settings with what the inspectors will be looking for.

Watch for These Things

First, set your automatic onboard recording devices or AOBRDs to a synchronous setting as the federal standard for such devices. An area where fleets are seeing violations are often reported when the truck is marked as moving by the GPS unit when the AOBRD doesn’t concur.

The reason for this lies in that some AOBRDs account for speed and distance movement before the time on the GPS begins tracking. If an ELD is set at 5 miles per hour with no distance setting, then you may end up thinking you have “yard time” where there is none, thus generating a discrepancy.

In the end, whether you are an independent operator or a fleet manager, you need to ensure a policy is place to hold to a minimum standard where the potential for coercion is concerned. After all, the last thing you want to do is run afoul of new FMCSA regulations.

What’s Going On With ELDs In Canada?

With all the talk of ELDs on this side of the border, we sometimes forget that the trucking industry is a North American operation, not just an American one. Our brothers and sisters in Canada are as much a part of the equation as we are.

And yet, despite getting ahead of the game where the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) standard is concerned, regulators north of the border are now struggling to catch up with the United States and have something in place by December of 2017.

Oh, Canada

Even though Canada has been considering the ELD devices since as far back as 2007, work didn’t begin in on a new standard until 2010. With a first draft completed in 2013, the Canadian rule was intended to follow the first ELD rule published by the FMCSA, but it was vacated by a Canadian court on the grounds that there was some ambiguity in the driver coercion clause.

Now, after deciding to wait, they are catching up to the U.S, who is now putting out the final rule. According to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators’ Compliance and Regulatory Affairs Committee, they believed their initial decision was “justified.”

And even though the final rule was published at the tail end of 2015, Canada was a little burned because the U.S. didn’t involve them in the consultation process. According to a Canadian official, they were flummoxed as to why the U.S. didn’t include them, but reports that the FMCSA is now doing everything they can to resolve some of the differences between both policies.

By the time the final rule was laid out, Canadian officials met to determine what the differences were between the U.S. rule and the Canadian rule from 2013. They also set out to make whatever changes were required to align the two documents. This job was made all the more difficult by there being a significant number of differences between the policies.

Waiting for a Resolution

The final cut of the standard has now been completed and was revealed back in July. Industry partners and others involved in the process were allowed to comment and a final draft will be delivered to government ministers no later than April of 2017.

Although some say the timetable will be very tight, September of 2017 has been mentioned as the absolute final deadline before the Canadian rule must be delivered to the ministers. The extension is born mainly out of the fact that there are quite significant regulatory issues that must be worked through. Such examples include:

  • How to certify the devices.
  • Should current devices remain in service?
  • How should future ELD devices be certified?

Currently, Canada’s HOS rule call for ELDs, but only in a limited scope. Rule makers in Canada will likely need to put a grandfathering provision in place – much like the one we use here in the United States.

At the same time, the FMCSA is requiring that vendors self-certify. Still, they haven’t laid out specific policies or provided tools or test cases for companies to emulate. Individual jurisdictions in both countries are hesitant to set their own certification process, lest they run afoul of the final federal rule.

Yet because of the way the government is set up in Canada, the central government cannot force individual provinces to utilize a mandate applied to carriers operating within a province. The federal government can require ELDs for between provinces, but the provinces themselves must finalize the rules through specific legislation.

So what does this mean for the provinces themselves? While some have come out in full support of mandatory ELDs, others still haven’t bought into the idea and have clearly stated so. There are a number of positions being held, including the federal government’s. It looks like only time will tell how the ELD mandate debate will play out north of the border.

Truckers: The Latest Update On Mobile Resources Management And Telematics

The industry has been going through waves of changes as new technologies get adopted. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the coming era of mobile resources management and advanced telematics adoption.

The fact is, mobile resources management (MRM) was barely a phrase on anyone’s tongue a short five years ago. But today, as apps proliferate and new technologies allow fleets to track their equipment use down to the most minor detail, the game is changing.

Today, terms like Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) are the norm. So how well is the industry adopting these new technologies?

From GPS fleet management systems to GPS-equipped smartphones and other portable devices and apps, managing workers and equipment has never been easier.

Today, the U.S. fleet market currently stands at around 18.5 million vehicles. Of those, around 5 million are using some version of advanced resource management or telematics technology.

By 2019 it is projected that around 8 million trucks will be using some form of MRM technology, with hardware and service revenues approaching a staggering $4.7 billion. Looking at these numbers, it’s not hard to see that MRM adoption has seen major growth over the past decade.

The Trucking Fleet Solution Renaissance

If you are a trucking fleet solution provider, you have got to be looking ahead with a pretty satisfied eye. Average growth for GPS tracking solutions has grown around 15% a year in the local sector, especially in regional and city applications.

But with the recent FMCSA ELD mandate about to go into effect, expect MRM and telematics growth to really explode. By as soon as the end of next year, operators will be required to record hours of service using electronic logging devices instead of paper logs. This will open the door to GPS-tracking systems that have HOS-related features installed.

With these ELD regulations set to affect 3.1 million trucks, finding the appropriate MRM or telematics solution will be critical for most fleets. 2017 will also see the growth of the trucking sector surpass that of the local service and delivery fleets.

Today, hardware solutions are also seeing wide adoption. Now you can find driver interface devices that can be connected either through the data bus in the vehicle’s hardware, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or other means.

From Cost to Value

For many, reading this brings to mind the inevitable question: What about cost? While there are definitely large, dominant fleet telematics and MRM providers, new companies have recently hit the scene and are capably holding their own.

It’s these newer providers that are increasingly bringing low-cost solutions to market. In some cases, this undercutting of prices has forced the established players to lower theirs.

Now the focus turns from lowering cost to adding value. Sure, you can start a race to the bottom on price, but what about the features fleets need to get the job done?

Fleet managers are now looking for more than just GPS fleet tracking. Of course, simple fleet management solutions can be delivered at low cost, features like behavior monitoring or fuel card integration provide added bang for the buck.

The more features are added, the more revenue per unit increases. Countering the competition in this way sets the stage for real innovation in the product space.

Customized to Your Need

As providers begin to differentiate themselves within the MRM and telematics spaces, they are also focusing on customizing their solutions to the needs of their fleet customers, and not the other way around.

Let’s say you’re a utility fleet that needs to integrate your maps of a particular facility with in-vehicle tracking services. A provider might then offer tracking, geofencing and possibly arrival and/or departure time monitoring.

In the end, the best way to see these technologies grow is through ensuring fleets see a positive return on their investment, and not just in the bottom line. Fleets should expect to see gains in productivity, safety and security, as well as efficiency.

How Can Trucking Companies Prevent Tire Violations

Well, the news is in, RoadCheck 2016 has officially passed. In case you don’t know, RoadCheck is a program put on by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance every year for the past 29 years.

During the two-day period, almost 10,000 CVSA-certified local, state, provincial, territorial and federal inspectors across all of North America perform inspections on large truck and busses. Each year the group puts particular emphasis on a particular aspect of the check. This year, they focused heavily on tires. Were you prepared?

They measured tire tread depth, tire pressure, overall condition and a visual inspection to ensure items were not lodged between dual tires. Things like bulges and cuts received particular attention. Fortunately, it’s easy for you to avoid tire-condition violations. If you know what to look for, they are usually pretty easy to spot.

What to Look For

The fact is, there are more than a dozen tire-related violations contained within the CVSA’s Out-of-Service handbook, and you could be hit for any number of them. At least a half dozen finds themselves at the end of an inspector’s pen with predictable regularity.

One such example is those related to tread. They include:

  • Casing separation
  • Extremely worn tread
  • Visible cords or belts
  • Tread depth below the minimum standard
  • Air leaks
  • Sidewall damage
  • Bulges
  • Cuts
  • Deformities

While tire inflation used to be an issue, it is no longer. The American Trucking Associations requested the FMCSA remove the rule from the book, so they did. A victory, in this case.

The main reason for this is that coming up with a definition of “underinflated” that would work across the board for all applications, truck models and types, would be incredibly difficult to do. Because of how complex the issue was, the rule was stricken from the book.

A flat tire could cause you problems, however. If the tire has separated from the wheel, or is shredded at all, of course it will be considered flat.

If a tire appears soft, it could still be measured. In this case use the simple formula of 50 percent of what is printed on the sidewall of the tire. If the tire is measured to 120 psi, then anything below 60 would be considered flat and could be placed out-of-service.

Other Considerations

For 2016, a new violation was added, perhaps to account for the one that was removed. Now you must watch for items lodged between a dual set of tires. This includes anything from rocks to road debris. If the object is in direct contact with your tire sidewalls, it would be considered a violation in the rulebook.

While some violations only result in fines, others can put you or your vehicle out of service. No matter how you look at it, you could be out of pocket for a while you wait for the vehicle to be serviced. Never mind the few CSA points you’ll get out of the deal.

Whether you were caught in the RoadCheck, or whether you are simply running your loads out on the road, there are quick and simple ways you can ensure your tires are in good working order. First, check out this good, common-sense list compiled by the CVSA to help you ensure your equipment is in good working order.

Other than that, always make sure you are looking for unusual wear patterns. Anything from feathering to cupping should warrant the attention of one of your fleet technicians.

Also make sure you are staying on top of your wheel alignments. A correctly aligned truck is not only good for your tires, but it can have a measurable impact on fuel consumption.

Finally, ensure you aren’t running mismatched tires. Incorrect matching diameters can create problems like scrubbing patterns for the smaller tire.

In the end, make sure you are always keeping a close eye on your tires. You don’t need a RoadCheck to ensure you are staying safe on the road.

Unanswered Questions on ELD Usage

For some, the need for electronic logging devices (ELDs) comes with a list of unanswered questions. Many believe the devices aren’t completely necessary, although for larger fleets ELDs help make back office duties run much more efficiently.

Others point to the potential fuel savings brought on by ELD use, but are there other, more effective ways to reduce idling, speed, safety gains or unnecessary miles? Perhaps, but that may not be the full story.

The fact is, the hours-of-service rules likely cause accidents not because of anything the ELD can fix, but because truck drivers are forced out of their natural rhythms and sleep patterns.

Another point of contention lies in parking issues. It is likely many HOS violations happen because the operator finds a hard time finding a place to rest during their mandated downtime. As they drive and drive to find a spot, they may be going over hours. The expectation is that an ELD will only make it worse.

Does No Paper Make Up for It?

Of course, having a lot less paperwork with no logbooks to manage is definitely a big draw for both company drivers and owner-operators. But are the benefits on the front end outweighed by the potential costs?

While dispatchers should never ask operators to stretch the numbers, just as operators should not want to fudge them, where is the margin for those who, say, can’t find a place to park in that moment? Is there enough flexibility built into the system?

Beyond questions of what may arise on the fly, other questions come in other forms, one such being what operators do when they have to rent a truck.

What If It’s a Rental?

Trucking experts know quite well that the December ELD implementation rule will not be a simple matter of getting rid of the old to make way for the new. There are hiccups that will arise as companies cope with the new paradigm.

In fact, the Truck Rental and Leasing Association was reportedly “disappointed” when their recommendation for a rental vehicle exemption rule as not accepted by the FMCSA once the final rule was published.

The main concern lies in what trucks rented to different businesses and commercial customer types will do when renters have varying ELD log requirements. Another consideration is in how managed the data that ELDs produce. With different technologies and different platforms working together, the FMCSA has provided no clear guidance on who does what.

Who Does It Effect?

While it must be noted that the majority of rental companies would be exempt, due to their 100- and 150-mile radius, there is a certain percentage who would fall under the regulation’s umbrella.

What this does is require every truck in a rental fleet to be retrofitted with ELD technology, whether or not the customer needs to utilize it. Having to deal with ELD data generated by different platforms makes it crucial for a motor carrier to find the right telematics partner.

The expense required to retrofit vehicles and find the time or partner to analyze the data is not small, and it is likely some smaller rental companies may not survive the change. There are some questions to consider, however, before selecting an ELD solution:

  • Does the ELD mandate limit the technology available under compliance?
  • Will you get reliable and easy access to applications and reports that will be able to offer you actionable data on improving your fleet’s safety parameters and operating performance?
  • Will you be provided with an actionable growth path in order to get the most out of the predictive analytics and diagnostics mechanisms?
  • Will you be provided with the resources and understanding to get through the technological hurdles without leaving your fleet scrambling for other outside help?

Of course the thought of fully integrating with the ELD mandate can seem overwhelming, hopefully some of these hanging questions will be answered. With time left, how will organizations plan for the change?

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