AUSTIN, Texas – The head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) painted the picture of a federal government friendly to the trucking industry today, as he delivered a broad-ranging address for members of the American Trucking Associations.
“We all know trucking is essential to America’s economy,” Raymond Martinez said during a session at the group’s annual management conference and exhibition. And stressing that U.S. President Donald Trump has an “affinity” for the industry, he said there’s a need to consider the best ways to address research, rule making and enforcement.
“Can we do a better job in all those areas? Yes we can,” he said.
But Martinez added that such commitments don’t necessarily mean a greater regulatory burden.
There is a school of thought that more laws and regulations equate to improved safety, he said. “This is logical fallacy. It’s essentially regulation by the pound.” Rather than naming a bill after someone and passing it off to an agency department, “we need to do a better job of working with our regulated community to achieve the results that we all want.”
Against that backdrop, Martinez offered observations about an array of regulatory actions, ranging from electronic logging devices (ELDs), to the use of hair for drug tests, and improving the system used to establish CSA safety ratings.
December’s mandate for ELDs has certainly presented challenges, he said. “That was an interesting buzz saw to walk into.”
While the devices can reduce the number of drivers exceeding hours of service, everyone is still in a “transitional phase”, he said. But early results are promising. Since April, fewer than 1% of inspected drivers have failed to have an ELD if required, and hours of service violations are down 48% in the last year.
“ELD implementation has, however, given us an opportunity to turn and reexamine the underlying issue here – and that’s the current hours of service,” he said, noting that the hours of service regulations have not kept pace with changes in commerce.
A comment period on a related Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, one of the early steps in the U.S. regulatory process, closed as recently as Oct. 10, and Martinez hinted at changes that may be coming.
“We’re on the fast track,” Martinez said, as regulators pour over more than 5,000 public comments.
“We got some colorful responses,” he added to chuckles in the audience.
Meanwhile, a public comment period into California’s additional meal and rest breaks will close on Oct. 29, with the regulator denying any extension.
“I am very, very, very concerned about a patchwork system where every state decides on these issues,” Martinez said, stressing that the position is an issue of commerce and safety.
The state requires a 30-minute meal break for every five hours worked on shifts that last longer than six hours, and a 10-minute rest break for every four hours that are worked.
There are also limits to how the rules can be tailored for livestock haulers, he said.
“We’ve tried to listen and be as flexible within our authority I think we have a good line of communications with the associations that represent not just livestock haulers but agriculture businesses in general.”
Meanwhile, the FMCSA continues to explore the idea of allowing drivers under the age of 21 to work in interstate commerce. A waiver, for example, has been established for members of the military who choose to become drivers in civilian life.
“It’s a limited pool. We understand that,” Martinez admitted. But he stressed there are good younger drivers already operating in selected states. He also sees a difference between typical younger drivers and those who are looking to secure a licence to earn a living.
And he said that young drivers who begin their careers today should be confident that there will be work for a “very long time” despite talk about autonomous vehicles.
Martinez referred to the automation in the context of safety systems — and said it’s an important distinction. But so too did he reference the need for the U.S. to continue testing automated technologies.
“We’re not in a vacuum here. The United States has to continue to be a leader in this,” he said of work around the world.
As for those drivers who are on the road, Martinez said the FMCSA is in a “holding pattern” when it comes to the idea of using hair for drug tests, as it waits for guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But he confirmed that “fake urine” is being used to undermine today’s tests, and in some cases has been identified only because of problems with coloring.
So, too, is the U.S. committed to establishing a drug test clearing house as possible.
U.S. regulators are also looking to crack down on human trafficking, using tools such as the No Human Trafficking on our Roads Act. Those who use commercial motor vehicles in the trafficking would be banned from using such vehicles for life.
“The old slave market continues, believe it or not,” Martinez said. “This is a serious issue in this country.”
With a nod to upcoming mid-term elections, Martinez told the crowd that Trump has put his cards on the table as to where he wants the U.S. Department of Transportation to stand. He asked ATA members to keep that in mind as they consider their options.
The “dilapidation” of U.S. roads is a safety issue, he observed.
“Maybe after these midterms they can get serious and have a major infrastructure bill get through.”
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