FMCSA adopts minimum training rule

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USF Corp. announced May 23 the immediate shutdown of its USF Red Star operating company due to a job action initiated by the Teamsters on May 21 that “had triggered a loss of customers and revenue to a point where Red Star would never be able to recover.”

Preliminary numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate 4,942 truck-involved fatalities in 2003, a 0.9 percent increase over 2002.

Heartland Express has ordered 2,800 International 9400i trucks to replace its current fleet over three years. Deliveries began in May and will continue through the end of 2006. The trucks will be powered by Cummins ISX and Caterpillar C-15 engines.

State of Virginia will bar large trucks from the left-most lane of I-81, effective July 1. The new rules do not apply to buses or commercial vehicles when exiting on a left exit.

New York has opened its fourth truck stop electrification site at the Wilton Truck Plaza on Interstate 87. The 20-unit site uses a shore power or on-board system similar to the hook-up systems seen at marinas and recreational vehicle parks. The plaza is off Exit 16 of I-87.

U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Chattanooga, Tenn., will begin construction of a 50,000-square-foot office building within six to 18 months in Silverdale Industrial Park. The project will add up to 500 new jobs. U.S. Xpress plans a second phase of construction on the same property within five to seven years.

Illinois’ loss in truck registrations has been gained by bordering states, which blames the migration on Illinois’ high charges. Under the International Registration Plan, Illinois interstate truck registrations have dropped by more than 25,000 in the last three years due to the state’s higher registration fees and recent loss of tax exemptions, says the Mid-West Truckers Association. Neighboring states, including Indiana and Missouri, have witnessed a sizeable increase in registrations.

U.S. Office of Inspector General is auditing safety inspectors and facilities at the United States-Mexico border. Congress requires the OIG to periodically review the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s border operations to make sure it is in compliance with hiring and training inspectors, providing inspection facilities and developing safety procedures for Mexican carriers.

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The National Private Truck Council presented leadership awards at its convention in Atlanta last month to individuals who have made significant contributions to NPTC, their profession, and the private trucking community:
· Ralph Benson, president of Sentinel Transportation in Wilmington, Del. – Private Fleet Executive of the Year;
· Kevin Connors, CTP, of ConAgra Foods, Omaha, Neb. – Fleet Safety Professional of the Year;
· Ken Higgins of J.F. Fick, Fredericksburg, Va. – Fleet Member of the Year.

Shell Rotella SuperRigs Truck Beauty Contest will be held June 24-26 at the Bosselman Travel Plaza in Grand Island, Neb. Participants compete for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes, and 12 trucks will be selected to appear on the 2005 Rotella SuperRigs calendar.

A mere 13 years after Congress required a rulemaking to adopt minimum training standards for entry-level drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has done so. FMCSA last month issued a final rule adopting the proposal it issued last August for entry-level drivers to receive training in four areas – medical qualification and drug and alcohol testing, hours-of-service rules, and wellness and whistleblower protection. The rule does not require any particular duration for each driver’s training, but FMCSA estimated 10.5 hours.

FMCSA tweaked its proposal in a few areas, but the most significant change was in the definition of an entry-level driver. In the notice of proposed rulemaking, the agency proposed to require all drivers with less than two years’ experience operating commercial motor vehicles with commercial driver’s licenses to undergo training in the four specific areas. The American Trucking Associations and others recommended a one-year threshold instead, saying it would reduce the economic burden of the rule without sacrificing safety.

In addition, the proposal included a grandfathering clause for drivers already driving when the rule is adopted, provided they had at least one year’s experience. By adopting one year rather than two as the definition of entry-level, the grandfathering clause no longer would be necessary.

FMCSA agreed with ATA’s proposal, saying “safety will continue to be served by allowing only one year of experience rather than two years of experience.” The agency added that the rule would be much simpler for employers to follow. Drivers with less than one year of experience as of the July 20, 2004, effective date must receive training within 90 days of the effective day – or by Oct. 18, 2004.

Among the minor changes made to the original proposal are training in the recent modifications regarding cardiovascular and diabetes requirements for driver qualification, as well as training in what offenses and actions lead to disqualification.

FMCSA estimates the first-year cost of the rule to be about $26 million, with annual costs thereafter to be approximately $14 million. For a copy of the final rule, visit this site and search Docket No. 2199.

ATA seeks faster driver records checks
Allowing past employers of truck drivers up to 30 days to provide driver safety history information will undermine the safety benefits of a new regulation specifying the minimum information new employers must seek, the American Trucking Associations said in late April. ATA has asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to reconsider that timeframe and require instead that information be provided within five business days of a request.

FMCSA issued the final rule on driver safety performance checks in late March. (See “Tighter rules for driver records checks,” CCJ, May 2004.) The agency chose to allow 30 days for a response principally to lessen the burden on small businesses.

The 30-day timeframe, ATA says, will compel many carriers to hire drivers on a conditional basis rather than potentially wait more than 30 days to obtain and review the required information. Trucking companies would need to invest considerable time and expense providing new-hire and safety-related training “that could prove to be eventually pointless and better directed elsewhere,” the association told FMCSA. A company could learn that certain drivers should not have been hired due to the safety risks they pose, possibly putting the public at risk.

The extended waiting period could have unintended economic effects on all sectors of the trucking industry including small business, ATA says. The industry already faces a chronic driver shortage, which could be exacerbated by the upcoming requirement for background checks for CDL holders with hazardous materials endorsements. “A delayed screening process of 30-plus days could result in belated rejection of unqualified drivers and restart of another 30-plus-day cycle in the hiring process, and possibly even other repetitions of the cycle.”

On the other hand, choosing to wait the full 30 days before hiring would have a particularly significant impact on smaller carriers because a single empty truck represents, on a percentage basis, much more lost revenue than it does for larger carriers, ATA argues. The association recommended that if FMCSA remains concerned about a five-day response period it could provide for an additional five-day hardship extension.

On a separate issue, ATA also suggested to FMCSA that the liability protection language in the rule might not be sufficient to protect employers from the full range of litigation that could arise from disclosure of information on drivers. The association suggested that it might seek reconsideration at a later date.

For more information on the rule and ATA’s position for reconsideration, visit this site and search Docket No. 2277.

Supreme Court rejects air agency’s vehicle purchase rule
The U.S. Supreme Court in late April ruled in an 8-1 decision that the local air regulatory agency for the Los Angeles area cannot require that fleet operators in the region purchase only vehicles specified by the agency as acceptable. Previous laws and court rules have made it clear that state and local agencies are preempted by federal law from specifying what vehicles can be built or sold, provided those vehicles are federally approved and certified for sale in that state.

In Engine Manufacturers Association vs. South Coast Air Quality Management District, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said that “treating sales restrictions and purchase restrictions differently for preemption purposes would make no sense. The manufacturer’s right to sell federally approved vehicles is meaningless in the absence of a purchaser’s right to buy them.”

SCAQMD’s fleet rules barred the purchase of many types of new vehicles, including diesel-fueled trucks and buses, that otherwise met all federal and California emissions standards and were certified for sale in California. The rules affected operators of transit buses, school buses, sanitation trucks, airport shuttles and taxis, street sweepers and heavy-duty utility trucks when they replaced or added vehicles to their fleets of 15 or more vehicles.

SCAQMD argued that because the rules regulated vehicle purchases, not sales, they were not invalidated by the federal Clean Air Act’s prohibition of state and local emission control standards applicable to new motor vehicles.

“The Court’s decision confirms the fundamental point that we have tried to make clear to the SCAQMD all along – local agencies cannot adopt emission control programs that dictate the types of new vehicles that can be bought or sold,” said EMA President Jed Mandel in response to the decision. “Today’s opinion clearly recognizes and affirms the intent of Congress to establish a national program governing emissions from mobile sources including trucks, buses, and cars.”

The Supreme Court may not have seen the last of this litigation, however. In response to the decision, SCAQMD said it would “pursue all possible efforts to implement measures to reduce toxic and smog-forming air pollution.”

SCAQMD acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s ruling preempts it from implementing rules for purchases of new vehicles. But “the court left the door open for fleet rules governing leased and used vehicles, and rules that ‘can be characterized as internal state purchase decisions,’ which may well encompass more than publicly owned fleets.”

Most of the vehicles covered by the fleet rules are operated by government agencies or are contracted to such agencies, SCAQMD said. The agency said it is determined to continue implementing the rules for publicly owned fleets. “We will also consider asking the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow us to continue to regulate privately owned fleets,” said Barry Wallerstein, SCQMD’s executive officer.

EMA’s Mandel argued that the case represented a jurisdictional battle between national and local vehicle standards and was not about clean air. “Importantly, there will be no adverse air quality effects that will result from the Supreme Court’s decision,” Mandel said. “The fact is that the diesel engine technologies that the fleet rules attempted to ban are just as clean and low-emitting as other available technologies.”

Blood pressure guidelines kick in Sept. 30
Recommended criteria for judging acceptable blood pressure levels for truck drivers are about to get tougher. In October 2002, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Cardiovascular Medical Advisory Panel adopted new guidelines, which were barely noticed by the industry until early this year. Medical examiners can use the new cardiovascular guidelines now, but they will not appear on the medical form until its Sept. 30 revision.

After Sept. 30, an examiner may use other guidelines to determine whether a driver’s blood pressure makes him unfit to drive. But if the new criteria are not applied, “the medical examiner should document other best practice guidelines and/or data to support his or her decision,” says FMCSA spokesman David Longo.

Instead of the current two stages, the new guidelines address three stages of hypertension that can trigger disqualifications:

Stage 1 covers 140/90 mmHG through 159/99 mmHG, which is a 20-point change in the systolic pressure from the current threshold of 160. If a driver tests at this level, a driver can be certified for only one year. After that, if readings stay within that scope, the driver will be issued a one-time, three-month recertification, during which the hypertension must be treated so that it remains at or below 140/90 mmHG.

In Stage 2, if a driver’s blood pressure is 160/100 mmHG to 179/109 mmHG, the driver will be issued a one-time, three-month certification. Once the hypertension is under control – at 140/90 mmHG or less – a driver will be issued a one-year certification from the date of the initial exam, and thereafter be recertified on an annual basis as long as blood pressure remains at or below 140/90 mmHG.

In Stage 3, if blood pressure is above 180/110 mmHG, a driver will be disqualified until he is treated and his blood pressure remains at 140/90 mmHG or less. He will then be given a six-month certification from the date of the initial examination and recertified every six months.

A copy of the 164-page report, “Cardiovascular Advisory Panel Guidelines for the Medical Examination of Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers,” is available in PDF format at this site.

EPA adopts nonroad diesel rule
Beginning in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency will require dramatic reductions in emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from construction, agricultural and industrial diesel-powered equipment. Under EPA’s Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule, all but the very largest diesel engines will be required to meet both NOx and PM standards by 2014.

Engines of 750 horsepower or greater will have an additional year to meet the standards.
In a related action, EPA last month issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking indicating its plan to pursue new emission standards for diesel engines used in locomotives and marine vessels. Without new standards, EPA projects that railroad and marine diesels will cause some 27 percent and 45 percent, respectively, of total NOx and PM pollution coming from mobile sources.

For more information on EPA’s clean diesel programs, including the Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule, visit this site.

HHS plan could affect drug testing
The Department of Transportation said a proposed change to Department of Health and Human Services drug testing guidelines, if approved, could eventually mean changes in DOT’s drug testing procedures. DOT officials issued a notice in the May 13 Federal Register to call attention to an April 13 Federal Register notice issued by HHS.

HHS proposed setting guidelines for testing hair, sweat and oral fluid specimens in addition to urine specimens. It also proposed guidelines for using on-site tests to test urine and oral fluid at the collection site and requirements for certifying instrumented initial test facilities. Finally, it would add standards for collectors, on-site testers and medical review officers.

Although HHS guidelines don’t automatically translate precisely into DOT drug testing procedures, DOT noted in its Federal Register notice that there is a close link between the two. DOT adopted its drug testing rules based on HHS guidelines, and since 1991, DOT has been required by statute to incorporate changes in the HHS guidelines into testing procedures for transportation personnel holding safety sensitive positions. Federal law does allow DOT to tailor HHS guidelines to its program, however.

CCJ Equipment Demand Index
Texas tops in July

Expect Texas to be a rich source of spot-market loads for both van and flatbed freight in July, according to the CCJ Equipment Demand Index. In July 2003, Texas led all states in van searches; the state did not hold the top spot in two previous years. In July 2001 and 2002, Texas ranked fifth.

For flatbed demand, Texas also was tops in July 2003. The state’s dominance in July spot-market freight is more consistent for flatbed freight than for vans. Since 2001, Texas has held either the first or second spot.

California took first place for reefer demand in July – a spot the state has held for three consecutive years. Texas was a distant second, trailing California with 54 percent fewer reefer searches.

The index, based on equipment searches performed by TransCore customers, shows the top 15 states spot market truck demand in the three most common equipment types: dry vans, flatbeds and refrigerated units. The index is intended to help fleet operators identify opportunities for backhaul and other spot-market freight in the month after its publication.

Roadcheck to include seat belts
In keeping with the Department of Transportation’s campaign to increase safety belt usage among truck drivers, the upcoming three-day Roadcheck effort will focus more attention on the issue than in the past, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration official said last month.

“We will be putting guys on overpasses looking for seat belt use,” Charles Horan, FMCSA’s director of enforcement and compliance, told attendees at the National Private Truck Council annual meeting in Atlanta.

Motor carrier safety rules require use of safety restraints (Sec. 392.16), but a recent DOT research effort found that only 48 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers use them. By comparison, an estimated 79 percent of automobile drivers use seat belts.

FedEx officials said recently that the company would begin spec’ing orange safety belts to make it easier to determine whether truck drivers are using their belts. Other carriers, including NPTC member Praxair, have used orange seat belts for many years.

“I’m going to get me a can of orange spray paint,” quipped Bruce Perkins, chair of NPTC’s Safety Committee and head of a small private fleet operated by Red Lion, Pa.-based Yorktowne Inc.

Roadcheck, a nationwide truck safety and compliance event sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, is scheduled for June 8-10.

SAE symposium to address safety, security
The Society of Automotive Engineers is hosting a symposium Dec. 1-2 in Phoenix to explore heavy truck technologies that are available to promote safety, ensure security and enhance efficiency. Presenters from industry and government will discuss various technologies related to engine control, vehicle/trailer/cargo tracking, communications, driver-vehicle interaction and efficient movement of freight. Among the topics being considered for the symposium are:

  • Onboard computers that include on-board and remote vehicle shutdown and fuel optimization capabilities
  • Adaptive cruise control and driver warning
  • Mobile communications, vehicle tracking, GPS and geofencing technologies
  • Emergency notification, panic buttons, anti-cargo theft, anti-hijacking systems
  • Driver ID verification and authentication, smart ID cards, biometric identifiers
  • Trailer and cargo tracking systems, smart containers, electronic tags, sensors, RFID
  • Closed circuit video
  • Vehicle on-board radar, lane departure notification, rear collision warnings, roll stability
  • Human factors considerations in using on-board technologies
  • Dynamic routing
  • ITS and traffic congestion
  • Border crossing issues
  • Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CIVSN) deployment
  • Electronic roadside inspection

SAE members registered by Nov. 12 pay $715. Non-members pay $815. For more information, visit this site.