One change that could ease some pressure on trucking companies is the new FMCSA rule that went into effect March 22 that will allow truck drivers who do not satisfy certain vision requirements with one eye or another to still be qualified to drive a big rig. Currently, these truck drivers cannot operate in interstate commerce without an exception from the FMCSA.
Still, that doesn’t mean just every truck driver with vision problems will be allowed behind the wheel. Before being medically certified to drive, an evaluation must be completed by a trained and licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist. The truck driver then needs to meet with a medical examiner to have a physical examination. This will determine whether the truck driver meets the alternative vision standard and the FMCSA’s normal fitness standards.
To meet the physical qualifications, a truck driver must have at least 20/40 vision in the better eye and a field of vision of at least 70 degrees on the horizontal meridian. They must also be able to adequately recognize traffic color signals and have a stable vision deficiency. If it appears their vision problems will continue to degrade over time, this may be a problem.
FMCSA Proposed Decrease in UCR Fees
Another plus for the trucking industry, the FMCSA has proposed reductions in the annual registration fees states collect from trucking companies, brokers, and freight forwarders. These fees fall under the Unified Carrier Registration Plan and agreement for 2023 and beyond. So, this isn’t necessarily change trucking companies must worry about now.
The proposed reduction in fees for next year’s registration period would reduce what truck drivers and trucking companies must pay by around 27%. Depending on how many trucks you operate, you could see savings in the tens of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars. There is a precedent here. In accordance with U.S. Code, UCR fee adjustments must be requested when annual revenues exceed the maximum allowed. This thanks to the passage and implementation of the new INVEST in America Infrastructure Bill.
As potential truck drivers evaluate whether they want to enter the sector and become a truck driver, they evaluate all options of working for a fleet. Whether it be home time or benefits, they make careful evaluations. Part of those evaluations include costs to them. As UCR fees adjust, it makes the trucking sector look more desirable for potential owner-operators.
FMCSA Sets its Sights on Speed Limiters
We’ve been talking about speed limiters for a long time. It’s been a topic of debate in the trucking sector for a long time. Now, the FMCSA might actually make some moves. Federal regulators have put forth a plan to propose a speed limiter using electronic engine devices by 2023. In a notice of intent to solicit comments on the topic, the proposed rulemaking is now live.
The notice specifically states that the FMCSA intends to:
Motor carriers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater, that are equipped with an electronic engine control unit (ECU) capable of governing the maximum speed be required to limit the CMV to a speed to be determined by the rulemaking and to maintain that ECU setting for the service life of the vehicle.”
The FMCSA proposes that CMVs involved in interstate commerce with gross weights of 26,001 pounds or more must have a speed limiter installed. Speed determines the rule. There will be a 30-day period of public comment before they publish the rule in the federal register.
The FMCSA Has Been After Speed Limiters for a Long Time
The fact is the FMCSA has been trying to implement speed limiters or a long time. They have released fact sheets purporting to claim that crashes that involve big rigs are generally the result of high speed. They state that a carrier-based approach should provide an opportunity for fleets to get ahead of the rule before it goes into full effect in 2023.
But how will the law be implemented? Federal regulators have considered taking a motor carrier and an OEM approach. They hope that collaboration between carriers, OEMs, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will create better synergies to ensure speed limiter technologies get buy-in from truck drivers. They also want to ensure trucking companies don’t suffer violations.
As usual with controversial changes like these, the trucking industry has shown a mixed reaction. The American Trucking Associations has welcomed the news. The ATA has been a longtime proponent of a speed limiter rule. They state that the rule is in line with their views that using speed limiters in conjunction with other safety technologies will significantly reduce roadside crashes and other safety accidents.
And as with so many of these debates, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) strongly disagrees. They say limiting speed would simply lead to more interactions between passenger cars and big trucks. Why? Because passenger cars try constant passing maneuvers. They point to studies that show a higher variance of vehicle speeds in traffic flow increases the chance of an accident. Could speed limiters be a reason truck drivers decide not to enter the industry? Perhaps.
FMCSA Makes Driver-Assist Technology Easier to Install
Now, this is one trucking companies should be able to use to generate prospects for their recruiting efforts. New, younger recruits appreciate the idea of using advanced technology in their jobs. And now the FMCSA has approved a petition by Daimler Trucks North America. The request was to increase the area on the interior of the truck cab windshield where certain vehicle safety technologies can be mounted. The new rule also expands what the FMCSA’s definition of “vehicle safety technology” actually is.
The specifics are in the measurements. The FMCSA was asked in 2019 to increase the distance below the upper edge of the area swept by the windshield wipers within which certain driver assist systems can be installed. The mount change expanded from 4 inches to 8.5 inches. With the change in the rule, trucking companies no longer have to apply for temporary exemptions. These had become a cumbersome process and resulted in companies being unfairly excluded.
Under the existing definition, vehicle safety technology is defined to include performance, behavior, incident management, speed, lane departure, collision mitigation, transponder, and active cruise control systems. Expansion of this room allows safety technology vendors to add even more technology to the area under the windshield. The new definition also expands what can be defined and added when it comes to brake assist, camera, GPS, cameras, lidar, radar, and other sensor and video systems.
FMCSA Incorporates New HHG Recommendations
In more news on FMCSA moves, they recently announced they are incorporating certain recommendations from the Household Goods Consumer Protection Working Group into the Transportation of Household Good regulations.
The agency isn’t making any huge waves here. In essence, they say the changes will streamline documentation requirements and increase efficiency for companies that transport household goods by interstate. They also want to improve consumer education and increase protection for individual shippers.
There is a lot of technical talk in the regulation about binding agreements, estimates, and more. It is likely these changes will impact fleet managers and back-office personnel much more than they will impact truck drivers or retention efforts. It is important to note, however, that FMCSA regulations sometimes have unintended consequences. Will there be any for this change or any of the others we mentioned? Only time will tell.
For now, the FMCSA has been very busy recommending new rules, regulations, and letters of intent. We invite trucking companies and other stakeholders in the transportation sector to make their voices heard. The FMCSA asks for comments and implements these changes.