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Trucking Braces for New Environmental Protection Agency Regulations

As the administration continues to focus on efforts to combat climate change, President Obama has added emission rules for big-rigs to the agenda.

Some time ago, the president gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the go-ahead to develop new rules designed to improve fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions for heavy-duty trucks. Now the industry is looking to see whether smaller fleets can meet the standard without going out of business.

The New York Times has come out saying they already know what the proposed rule will be, although it has not yet been published to the agency’s register. According to their report an official notice could come any day now. Although the exact number may not yet be known, let’s take a look at the signals we’ve been getting from the agency to date.

New Governmental Regulations

Although many at first assumed these regulations governed only the truck and the engine, the EPA has also added emission regulations for trailers, fairings and rolling resistance. According to one administration official, the unveiling will be a “big rule” that contains so many different components, it easily could be broken down into separate regulations by themselves.

While there is much anticipation of this new rule, it won’t actually go into effect for another four years. In 2011, the EPA outlined rules for vehicle model years 2014 – 2018. This new rule will govern vehicle model years “post-2018,” likely through 2027.

The government has reported that these changes will reduce petroleum consumption by more than 530 million barrels of oil and reduce carbon emissions by 270 million metric tons.

Current long-haul truck fuel economy averages are in the neighborhood of 5.5 to 6 miles per gallon (mpg). The 2011 rule pegged the standard to a 20 percent savings. The final number for later years is set to have heavy-duty commercial trucks increase their fuel economy by as much as 40 percent through 2027, when compared to 2010 levels.

These new heavy-duty truck rules are in addition to a bevy of hotly contested emissions rules the government is instituting for power plants, dubbed the Clean Power Plan. The president is using emissions reductions as a key final part to his second-term legacy-building efforts.

From Trucking’s Perspective

Fleets have been moving to greater efficiency for some time now. One truck from the 1970s belched out more carbon emissions than 67 of today’s trucks running at full throttle. While more can always be done, trucking wants to make sure jobs and commerce aren’t threatened by regulation.

As Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) Representative Scott Grenerth pointed out, there are two main concerns that industry has regarding the rule. “The cost of the truck, and reliability of the truck – that’s the bottom line,” he stated.

After traveling to Washington, D.C. last month to meet with the White House budget office, Grenerth came away saying reliability and downtime for truck repairs were the focus. They also discussed a cost-benefit rule and how to mesh emissions goals with fuel economy standards.

Glen Kedzie, environmental counsel for the American Truck Associations (ATA), while saying he has no idea what the eventual rule will be, conceded that the EPA has done an extreme amount of outreach to win over industry insiders. In his own words it has been “a lot more than I have ever seen on a rule.”

Even so, Kedzie is not without reservation. These regulations are broad in their scope and carry major implications for the trucking industry.

“A truck is a mobile office,” he went on to say. “It’s a cog to keep this economy moving along. The EPA is dealing with this economic aspect here. They have to be careful not to make the standards cost prohibitive.”

Observers are suggesting that the EPA will take a bit longer than The New York Times posited to issue the new truck standards. As the trucking industry holds its breath, only time will tell what the final rule will be. When it hits, you can be sure we’ll report on it.

Trucking Update from Washington

Congress met on April 29th to discuss issues affecting truck drivers and the trucking industry. The title of the hearing was The Future of Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety: Technology, Safety Initiatives, and the Role of Federal Regulation.

The congressional hearing covered everything from hours of service to CSA scores to entry-level driver training. Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association’s (OOIDA) Danny Schnautz spoke on behalf of his group, while the American Trucking Association (ATA) was represented by Tom Kretsinger.

What the congressional hearing showed is that Washington still has a long way to go in squaring government regulation with the needs of the trucking industry. At times the hearing grew heated on both sides, with passionate points and counterpoints being lobbied back and forth.

From Trucking’s Perspective

In his testimony, Schnautz, who is an operations manager for a national freight line, explained how burdensome regulatory actions and technological “solutions” run amok are affecting the industry. The shadow of government mandates and ever-changing rules can hinder small businesses and push longstanding safe drivers and carriers out of business.

“The current focus on technology initiatives actually hinders safety by placing more pressure on drivers when they are already caught between a regulatory rock and an economic hard place,” Schnautz said.

In his expansive testimony Schnautz tried to convey that technology can never be a substitute for skilled, professional truck drivers. He states that the focus on an alert system, rather than drivers making real-time safety decisions, degrades the skill of the truck driver and de-values the entire supply chain.

From Washington’s Perspective

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, convened the meeting. After the opening hearing, he didn’t waste time jumping right into the issues. His first target was the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Graves stated that he is concerned about the agency’s rapid growth since it was created in 2001. “While I support a strong safety program,” he began, “we need to ensure that funds are being spent on initiatives that will move the needle in terms of reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities on the nation’s highways.”

One of the initiatives that Graves mentioned as a solution seeking a problem was the push to increase insurance requirements for motor carriers. Brian Scott, who spoke on behalf of the United Motorcoach Association stated that raising insurance requirements on carriers would surely put some out of business.

Assessing Regulatory Burdens

For much of the session, subcommittee members focused their questioning on rules recently outlined by the FMCSA, with hours of service being the most talked about. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., said that the hours of service rule “actually made the world less safe for people in your industry.”

Speaking on behalf of the ATA, Tom Kretsinger highlighted how micromanagement of truckers’ hours can end up with “laws of unintended consequences.”

The final target for committee members was the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. Schnautz testified that “under its current methodology, CSA inaccurately paints small carriers as unsafe, reducing access to business and opening them up to misguided enforcement activities.”

Even law enforcement got in on the action, as Idaho State Police representative Captain Bill Reese endorsed legislation to remove CSA data from public view. OOIDA also backed this view, saying some of the data doesn’t have real bearing on a fleet’s ability to carry out safe operations.

Not All Bad

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., stated that she was pleased to see the industry and FMCSA working together on rules for entry-level truck driver training programs.

“More robust driver training is something Congress has directed DOT to consider for nearly 25 years,” she said. “The first directive was in a bill in 1991. To say this rule is overdue is putting it fairly mildly. I hope this new Entry Level Driver Training Advisory Committee can facilitate a rule that all parties can agree on,” she concluded.

Even though there was some good and some bad on both sides, the hearing highlighted a glaring deficiency between industry and government, and within government itself. As Republicans drive for less regulation, and Democrats more, which way this regulatory battle plays out is anyone’s guess.

How Prevalent is Truck Driver Harassment?

As the use of electronic logs increased last year, complaints of truck driver harassment have been increasing. Additionally, changing regulations have created an environment where fleet managers and truck drivers are constantly trying to adjust to changing policies.

Late last year the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) commissioned a study to determine if truck driver harassment was something worth looking at. The study was implemented as part of a directive from Congress to the FMCSA. The goal was to make sure the new rule on e-logs wasn’t resulting in driver harassment. Let’s take a closer look at the study and its results.

The Study’s Methodology

The company who was hired to complete the study interviewed 628 professional truckers at truck stops across the country. Out of that number, 341 used electronic logging devices. The survey period was from April 28 through May 20, 2014.

Around 70 percent of the truck drivers surveyed were company drivers. Another 29 percent were owner-operators. Of the company drivers, 80 percent used e-logs, while only 18 percent of the owner-operators did.

The surveyors spoke with drivers about interactions with their carriers and whether or not they considered those interactions to be harassment. A follow up question asked whether or not the interaction was tied to the use of e-log devices.

The research focused on fourteen separate interaction types, ranging from load schedule adjustments to discussions about fatigue, detention time and pay levels. The survey company also spoke with more than 800 office employees and fleet managers of carriers ranging in size from 50 to more than 1,000 trucks.

The Study’s Results

Over 10 percent of the truck drivers surveyed reported being asked or forced to drive while fatigued, falsify logs, or break other rules at least two times in a month. The study did not find a direct correlation between this number and those who used e-logs, however.

Almost 19 percent of truck drivers reported that their carriers routinely ask them to meet unrealistic load schedules, while another nineteen percent stated that carriers interrupt their off-duty time with repeated messages. More than twenty percent also reported that they were asked or forced to wait over two hours at a dock without being paid for it.

The survey also asked respondents to write down any type of interaction that they felt was harassing in nature. Some of those entries included:

  • “Disciplinary action.”
  • “Threats of firing.”
  • “Wake me up and tell me to get going and if I don’t answer they call the officers.”
  • “If you don’t do as they say, they won’t give you any loads.”

Despite these responses, researchers reported that the evidence does not support the conclusion that harassment occurs due to the use of e-log devices. The study shows that there are potentially thousands of interactions per day where harassment can occur, but doesn’t tie it to technology.

Fewer than 3 percent of the study’s participants directly linked driver harassment to the use of electronic logging devices. Almost all of the participants were okay with messages and interactions that addressed how to save time between loads, how to pay for truck driver delays, and asking truckers to take a break due to fatigue.

What’s Next?

For many, this isn’t surprising. The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) successfully challenged the FMCSA’s initial ruling on e-logs four years ago. Even so, the study is not perfect and has its own limitations.

One significant drawback is that all of the data in the study is based on information that is self-reported, rather than data drawn from independent observation. As a result, the possibility of biases due to memory, lack of a willingness to discuss sensitive topics, and varied perceptions of desirable behavior is very high.

Of course, with the end of the hours of service rule, the use of e-logs as a form of driver harassment is greatly lessened. As this study shows, however, the overall problem of driver harassment remains, whether technology is involved or not.

The Speed Limiter Mandate Debate

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has published its monthly update on what the rule making landscape is going to look like in 2015.

It’s been no secret that the agency has continually pushed out dates for proposed rules, despite assurances that they’re in the “final stages.” Looks like this year will be no different.

There are five rules that the agency has set final publication dates for:

  • Speed limiter mandate
  • Electronic logging device mandate
  • Safety fitness determination rule
  • Driver coercion prohibition rule
  • CDL drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule

Over the coming months, as we approach the final publication dates, we’re going to take a look at each rule individually. We’ll explain what the rule is, who’s for and against it, and what it means for the industry.

First up is the speed limiter mandate, set for a final publication date of April 16.

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The Speed Limiter Mandate

This rule is designed to function exactly as the name implies. It would specifically apply to trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds and traveling on roads that have a posted top speed of at least 55 mph. While the DOT has not commented on what speed these vehicles will be governed at, prior proposals have tossed around a limit of 68 mph.

Heavy trucks will be restricted by what is known as an Electronic Control Module (ECM), or “governor.” These devices use a series of electronic sensors to calibrate the vehicle’s speed and feed information to the engine’s computer. Once the vehicle reaches a pre-determined speed, the computer restricts the air-flow and amount of fuel being delivered to the engine.

Who Supports It?

Nine carriers, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), and the advocacy group Road Safe America brought the original petition requesting a speed limiter mandate back in 2006.

Their petition highlighted studies showing that large trucks moving at high rates of speed have far longer stopping distances. Included in the petition is a study reporting that 73 percent of fatal accidents involving large trucks happen on roads with a posted speed limit of 55 mph or higher.

They go on to state that a speed limiter mandate would eliminate approximately 1,100 fatal crashes per year and that investment cost for carriers would be negligible, considering most large trucks already have inactive limiters on board.

The petition also included a piece of DOT research entitled “The Large Truck Causation Study.” In the study the DOT looked into the major reasons for fatal accidents involving large trucks and found the following:

  • Loss of vehicle control, such as a tire blow out
  • Vehicle failure, such as an engine problem or loose hood
  • Another motor vehicle entering the truck’s lane
  • Poor road conditions, either from bad road maintenance or inclement weather.
  • Traveling too fast for road conditions
  • Cargo shifting
  • Lane drifting
  • Driving off the road
  • Improper navigational maneuvers, such as during turns or going through intersections
  • Fast approach to a stopped vehicle
  • Highway obstructions
  • Driver fatigue

In their final argument the alliance of industry and advocacy groups pointed to this study and deduced that many of these causes can be directly related to high rates of speed. They advocate that by installing limiters, these risks could be mitigated.

Who’s Against it?

While most of the industry and interest groups come in on the side of the rule, there are those who don’t. One of the most vocal critics has been the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).

The OOIDA argues that not allowing speed differentials will actually lead to more collisions. After all, how will trucks that are all governed similarly pass each other on the road? Since most studies show that car drivers losing patience with slow moving trucks cause most of the fatal collisions involving large trucks, ensuring the roads are filled with slow moving trucks does nothing to decrease the problem.

If successful, they state that the proposal could also open up new avenues of inquiry and opportunity in civil and insurance litigation.

They also note that large trucks are not over-represented in fatal accidents. In fact, large trucks only represent 3 percent of all vehicles on the road, yet they drive 9 percent of all miles driven and are involved in only 11 percent of all collisions resulting in a fatality.

With everyone having taken a side and the arguments coming into clear focus, all eyes rest squarely on the government. Will the rule actually be published in April, or will we see yet another delay? Furthermore, what will the final limiter speed be? Stay tuned!

The Hours of Service Rule is Successfully Rolled Back

Congress’ 11th hour Hail Mary pass to avoid a government shutdown not only kept Uncle Sam’s doors open, but also successfully rolled back the hours of service regulation for truck drivers.

As we reported last week, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine had inserted language into the government spending bill to suspend the requirement that a driver’s 34-hour restart include two early morning rest periods. It was debatable at the time whether or not the spending bill would pass, but in an effort to avoid a government shutdown, congress eked it through and actually got something done.

Industry Approves

For the past 18 months the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have been lobbying congress hard to change the hours of service rule. They argued that it had the unintended effect of ensuring the bulk of truck drivers were on the road during the most congested times.

                                                                                                    

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In a statement ATA President and CEO Bill Graves stated that “we have known since the beginning that the federal government did not properly evaluate the potential impacts of the changes it made in July 2013. Now, thanks to the hard work of Senator Collins and many others, we have a common sense solution. Suspending these restrictions until all the proper research can be done is a reasonable step.”

Graves went on to highlight statistics that show the average drivers works a little more than 50 hours per week and only 2 percent work more than 61 hours. Additionally, he stated that “before the rule change in 2013, large truck-involved crashes fell 27 percent over ten years.”

The OOIDA similarly released a statement saying that “small business truckers know from personal experience that current restart restrictions compromise safety by forcing them onto the roads during the most congested and dangerous hours of morning traffic… our members thank Senator Collins for her commitment to safety and tenacity in fighting for sound policy.

Even trucking research firm FTR Associates released an estimate just before the bill passed saying that they believe there will be a 2 percent jump in productivity if the hours of service rule is suspended.

What Happens Now?

Once President Obama signs the spending bill, it will mean that carriers and drivers around the country will have to make immediate adjustments to stay in compliance. One thing they can expect is a large variation in levels of enforcement nationwide.

Steve Keppler, head of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance stated that “people can’t just turn on a dime when something like this takes place.” As usual, the bipolar nature of congress is creating a new kind of headache for industry.

Since state representatives enforce state law alongside federal law, the reversal of an original rule will cause widespread adoption disparities, as Keppler goes on to explain in saying “we’re likely to see inconsistency and uniformity issues for a while – that’s got implications for data quality and CSA.”

Back in November we outlined how the electronic logging device debate was heating up. Expect that topic to now come back into focus as current e-log applications programmed for 2013 rules end up flagging drivers for violation if their restart period doesn’t match the current, and soon to be suspended, hours of service rules.

Beyond potential device re calibrations, the new law will require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) to perform a “naturalistic study” of the restart rule to properly determine what kind of real world impacts it will have on carrier operations. According to the language in the bill the study must be overseen by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) inspector general.

The law specifically states that the two rules in question will not go back into effect until the FMCSA completes the aforementioned study and can prove to congress that the rules “provide a greater net benefit for the operation, safety, health and fatigue impacts” on drivers.

Though the shifting political winds provide little permanent comfort to the industry, the results of Washington’s latest battle will have a lasting impact on the trucking industry.

The provision in this year’s spending bill will only last unto the next. Will the desire of congress remain same twelve months from now? Stay tuned.

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