BRAMPTON, Ont. – There is no appetite in Washington to reduce trucking regulations, but there is great potential to make the regulations that trucking operates under more sensible.
That was the message Dave Heller, vice-president of government affairs with the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), brought to Canada during the Bridging Border Barriers conference Nov. 14. He said electronic logging devices (ELDs) are generating the data needed to fine-tune trucking regulations, including hours-of-service.
To lobby for fewer regulations when fatal truck crashes are trending upwards is the wrong approach, Heller said.
“Talking about reducing regulations is not the conversation you want to have right now,” he said.
Just four weeks after the ELD mandate became fully enforced in April, 96% of the U.S. trucking industry was in compliance, Heller said. The data being generated by the devices is allowing fleets to better track detention time and can be used by policymakers to design better regulations. The U.S. hours-of-service rules are currently under review, which Heller said was made possible by the implementation of ELDs.
ELDs, he said, “are providing a proverbial data explosion this industry has never seen before. It’s painting a more accurate picture of what drivers face on a daily basis…the data mined through ELDs is astronomical.”
When discussing regulations with lawmakers, “data is king,” Heller said.
Aspects of the hours-of-service rules that are under review, include: the mandatory 30-minute break, splitting the sleeper berth time, personal conveyance restrictions, and the ability to pause the 14-hour clock for up to three hours.
The CSA enforcement regime in the U.S. is also under transition, and will be morphed to incorporate the science of item response theory (IRT). Heller said CSA 2.0 may still present issues, such as geographical biases.
Another issue that’s prevalent in the U.S. and Canada is the shortage of qualified drivers. With rates increasing, Heller said carriers are being more selective about the carriers they service. He expressed some doubt about the industry’s ability to fill the void with younger drivers engaging in interstate commerce. A pilot program is underway that will allow 18- to 21-year-old military veterans to drive commercial vehicles across state lines, but few veterans within that age group have left military service.
“Can teenagers cure this problem?” Heller asked of the driver shortage. “It’s probably not the way to go. Getting teen drivers to operate in interstate commerce has been tried many times. The industry needs to get better at retaining the population of drivers we have now. That becomes the biggest issue out there.”
He also said autonomous trucks won’t solve the problem anytime soon.
“I stand before you today in 2018 and tell you, I don’t think we will see autonomous trucks in prevalence on our roadways until after I retire,” he said. “These things cost a ton of money. If there is a steering wheel and a seat, you’re going to need someone to sit there. If something happens to the truck you need someone there to take over in an emergency.”
There may be a push to mandate advanced driver assistance systems, such as collision mitigation systems, Heller said.
“Should we mandate this technology or wait on it, knowing the industry eventually comes around to adopting it if it works? If it doesn’t, we kick it to the curb,” he reasoned.
Another issue facing the industry on both sides of the border is the legalization of marijuana in Canada, and some states. There are now more marijuana dispensaries in the city of Denver than there are Starbucks and McDonald’s combined, Heller noted. States that have legalized pot have seen an increase in fatal crashes in which marijuana was a factor.
The U.S. is also struggling with an opioid epidemic, and carriers are pushing to use hair testing to detect drug use. The problem, said Heller, is that only seven labs in the U.S. provide hair testing and they all use different methods. They are also about twice the cost of traditional urine testing.
Infrastructure funding is another issue facing the trucking industry in the U.S. Heller said everyone agrees there’s a need to improve the nation’s roads and bridges, but no one can agree on how to fund it. In 49 of 50 states, Heller noted, vehicle maintenance costs from poor roads are higher than if a 25-cent fuel tax increase were to be adopted. Forty-four per cent of the major roads in the U.S. are in “poor or mediocre” condition.
The trucking industry is pushing for a fuel tax increase, but other options include: a vehicle miles traveled tax; tolls; public-private partnerships; repatriation (bringing foreign money back into the U.S. and taxing that).
“I can go on 50 Hill visits and each one will have a different opinion on how we’re going to pay for it,” Heller said.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies