Driving for Profit: Changes to US regulations in a holding pattern

When is an update not an update? When there is no new information to report, but a report must be made anyway.

That’s the unenviable position Dave Heller found himself in at the Driving for Profit conference. Heller is director of safety and policy for the US-based Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), and he was in Mississauga to talk to attendees about the US regulatory environment.

As Heller explained, much of what he had to say was nearly identical to what was said last year—not because the industry isn’t working to make improvements, but because of government delays.

“Everything is delayed,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for regulations for years. It continues to be a waiting game. The federal government is not moving quickly at all.”

According to Heller, that lack of movement means the issues the industry cares about fixing aren’t being addressed. He cited data from an American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) survey which identified the top ten critical issues facing the industry.

“What changed [on the list] from last year,” he asked as he introduced the list. “Nothing changed from last year. It’s the same list. Things have changed in order, but it’s the same list.”

Topping the list were HOS and CSA (see below for the full list) but just because they came one and two, doesn’t mean much in real terms. Just because these issues are deemed critical by the industry, that doesn’t make the government address them any quicker.

He said what was supposed to be a US federal government 10-year plan to rate drivers and remove the riskiest ones (known as the driver safety measurement system) from the highways has been delayed. An entry-level driver training mandate (ELDT) originally proposed by the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration  (FMCSA) was withdrawn. The creation of a national drug and alcohol clearing house is also on hold, as are regulations to deal with coercion (such as drivers being pressured to operate in a way that breaks the law). A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) about speed limiters, was originally expected in early 2014, but Heller says that will likely be delayed as well. The CSA crash weighting research plan, which was expected last summer, has also been delayed.

Even in areas where there seems to have been government action, Heller said progress isn’t really being made. For example, new HOS regulations (the fifth revision since 1995) came into place on July 1, 2013, but the government is still looking at HOS issues, including the 23-hour restart and the 168-hour count-back and conducting studies about the changes.

 “Hours of service, where are we going from here? First and foremost we have the 34-hour restart study the agency is conducting. And of course, as luck would have it, there’s a delay,” he explained adding the government “actually issued a rule before they knew the results of the 34-hour restart study—and before they could get the results of the 168-hour count-back, the rule that is actually causing issues for everybody in the industry, drivers and carriers alike.

“This was supposed to be out last summer, but here it is 2014 in January, and it’s not out yet. So it’s delays once again.”

Heller said there are other studies on the schedule, including one about the split sleeper berth ruling.

“FMCSA moving forward on split sleeper berth study. They are looking at greater flexibility in the sleeper berth.  Is it going to go back to a five and five split? Who knows?”

Still, despite the lack of government speediness on a large number issues, the changes that have been made seem to be having a positive effect on the industry.

Heller presented data that show significant safety improvements over the past few years. Some of the figures he presented were:

  • Drop in violations per roadside inspection (down 6.3% in 2012 and down 8% in 2011)
  • Drop in driver violation rates (down 7.6% in 2012 and 10.3% in 2011)
  • Drop in vehicle violation rates (down 7.7% in 2012 and 6.3% in 2011)
  • Drop in accidents per million miles (0.51 in 2010, 0.47 in 2011, 0.45 in 2012 and 0.45 in 2013).

“CSA is working. It’s doing its job and giving a roadmap for the agency to issue regulations,” he said.

The ATRI Top Ten Critical Issues

  • HOS
  • CSA
  • Driver Shortage
  • The Economy
  • Electronic Logging Mandate
  • Truck Parking
  • Driver Retention
  • Fuel Supply/Prices
  • Infrastructure/Congestion
  • Driver Health and Wellness

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