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US Trucking Regulatory Update

Washington, D.C.-based transportation law and policy attorney Richard P. Schweitzer, PLLC, recently provided attendees at the National Private Truck Council’s annual conference a rundown of the status of several U.S. trucking regulations:

As reported by Fleet Owner, they include:

34-hour Restart

Schweitzer touched on the U.S. Congress’ “fix” to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) 34-hour restart rule reverting to pre-July 2013 restart for commercial drivers’ hours of service.

FMCSA studied the 34-hour restart and found no significant improvement with the rule regarding driver health, fatigue, safety or longevity, he noted, and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General confirmed that finding upon review of the study.

“By the language in the fiscal year 2016 DOT appropriations bill, the 34-hour restart remains as-is, and we don’t have to talk about it anymore,” Schweitzer said. “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing, and I don’t expect there to be any further changes to the Hours of Service rules in the near future.”

Safety Fitness Determination

In March, FMCSA withdrew the Obama administration’s proposed rule on safety fitness determination standards and processes. The proposed rulemaking would have determined when a carrier is unfit to operate a commercial motor vehicle based on compliance investigations as well as on-road safety data.

The proposed rule would have established a system that instead of having three rating levels — satisfactory, conditional and unsatisfactory — would’ve been simply one rating of “unfit,” with everyone else presumed to be fit.

The problem with that, Schweitzer said, “is that you wouldn’t have known whether a carrier had actually been rated or not,” such as if a carrier didn’t have enough compliance reviews and roadside inspections to provide sufficient data to give the carrier a rating.

“So you’d have just assumed them to be safe, but that would not be a good assumption,” he noted.

Congress mandated a study looking “the underlying assumptions and conclusions reached in developing the current CSA program.”

One of the largest issues regarding the methodology that FMCSA includes in those scores crashes that were not the commercial motor vehicle driver’s fault.

“The expectation is that there’s going to be a fairly pointed report that comes out of NAS that’s going to look at some serious problems with the Safety Measurement System methodology,” he noted. That NAS report is expected sometime this summer, and FMCSA will come up with a corrective action plan within 120 days once it is issued.

Electronic logging devices (ELDs)

“The one final rule that everyone has to deal with this year is the electronic logging device rule,” he said. With the ELD mandate taking effect Dec. 17, 2017, with a few exceptions, commercial motor vehicle drivers who are now required to keep paper logs recording their hours of service will need to be using either an ELD or a device meeting older requirements for automatic on-board recording devices, or AOBRDs.

“All of that’s going into effect in December, but we still have a problem with short-term rental vehicles,” Schweitzer noted. The potential problem in that case — with “short-term” being defined as 30 days or less — is that fleets will need to rent a truck that could have an ELD system that doesn’t match their own, which is what their drivers will be trained to use.

Despite talk in some circles the Trump administration’s directive to roll back regulations might have an effect on the ELD rule, Schweitzer noted that he hasn’t heard of any move to push back the current Dec. 17, 2017 effective date of the mandate.

Speed Limiters for Class 7 and 8 vehicles

DOT’s proposed speed-limiting device rule for all new Class 7 and 8 vehicles has a much steeper hill to climb, according to Schweitzer.

“The question is whether to require carriers to use these speed-limiting devices, and if so, what speed you’re going to require them to set it at,” he said. DOT proposed setting upper speed limits of 60, 65 or 68 mph and sought comments on those or some other limit.

“Well, that’s really not a proposal — that’s just, ‘Give us some thoughts,'” Schweitzer contended. DOT’s proposed rule would only apply to new vehicles and would not require existing ones to be retrofitted — although that’s also a point on which DOT asked for comments. Several U.S. senators have requested that existing vehicles be included.

“What’s going to result from this? I think nothing, frankly,” Schweitzer posited. “This rulemaking came out of a proposal from [the American Trucking Assns.] and a number of motor carriers back around 2007. They thought it was good government at the time; they thought most carriers are using this anyway.

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