Regulations du jour

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How up-to-date are you on regulations the government is cooking up that could affect your operation? At last month’s meeting of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations, Larry Strawhorn, ATA’s vice president of engineering, delivered his customary update of government regulatory activity. Here are three major topics that you should definitely be aware of:

Black boxes
We’re still a long way from rulemaking that would require the use of vehicle event recorders in commercial vehicles, says Strawhorn. But when there’s smoke in the kitchen, fire can’t be too far behind. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is training its inspectors to read data from these devices, and it’s unlikely that they’re doing it for fun.

The Administration is also teaching inspectors about other black boxes that can provide data on vehicles. In the future, says Strawhorn, expect officials to look at the output from devices like engine electronic control modules.

ATA’s position is that any mandate should be limited to devices that record vehicle, not driver, activity. And if event recorders eventually are required, ATA would want them on all vehicles, not just trucks.

Think about it. Say one of your trucks rear-ended a car, and the event recorder showed that your truck was going five mph over the speed limit, and there were two erratic steering events and a heavy brake application before impact. Looks bad, doesn’t it?

What the truck’s event recorder wouldn’t show is that the passenger-car driver might have been going 15 mph over the speed limit, cut the truck off while trying to get to an exit ramp from the wrong lane and hit the brakes when he found the exit ramp blocked with traffic. Your truck driver swerved and braked to avoid hitting the passenger car, and your company was rewarded with a lawsuit.

Or, as Strawhorn points out, the event recorder might have shown no brake application because that part of the event-recording system wasn’t working properly. The scenario looks even worse.

“Analyzing only commercial-vehicle data creates a distorted accident picture,” he says. “All vehicle owners and lessees should be protected against the misuse of vehicle-generated data.”
Other elements of ATA’s policy on event recorders include strong recommendations that reasonable privacy and controlled access to data must be assured, and that standards be developed for data reliability, and for conditions under which devices will operate.

Trailer conspicuity
Per Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation 393.13, the retrofit of reflective materials to trailers built prior to December 1, 1993, must now be complete. Exceptions include container chassis, which must be retrofitted by December 1 of this year. Exempt are storage trailers that are moved on the highways empty.

Unfortunately since the mid-1980s many fleets have been using conspicuity treatments, whose placement or patterns don’t necessarily conform to new regulations. These operators were required to replace the reflective materials they voluntarily installed to improve safety. Effectively, the rule has penalized carriers that demonstrated an extra level of safety consciousness. Sometimes it seems that no good deed goes unpunished.

Given the positive results of its research into the safety impact of reflective materials, says Strawhorn, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is likely to consider a new and in-service tractor retrofit requirement.

Load securement
FMCSA reportedly is poised to issue a final rule with specific requirements for: logs; dressed lumber and similar building products; metal coils; paper rolls; concrete pipe; intermodal containers; automobiles and trucks; equipment and machinery; crushed vehicles; roll-on/roll-off and hook-lift containers; and large boulders.

Strawhorn advises affected fleet operators to visit, and use search number 2289 to compare their load-securing practices to those in the proposal.

Paul Richards is editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail