FMCSA to withhold SafeStat accident rankings

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed standards for onboard event data recorders (EDRs) in light vehicles if vehicle manufacturers choose to install them, but it issued no recommendation for heavy trucks. An EDR detects a crash and records certain information, such as speed or seat belt use, for several seconds of time before, during and after the collision. For more information, visit this site and search Docket No. 18029.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour last month signed legislation (HB 13) that enacts major reforms to the state’s tort system, including venue reform; a limit on non-economic damage awards against non-medical businesses of $1 million; joint and several liability reform; and protections against punitive damages for small and medium-sized businesses.

House-passed version of the Defense Department appropriations bill (H. R. 4200) would require an evaluation of whether and under what circumstances the department should not tender security-sensitive cargo to more than one motor carrier in a group of carriers that are under common financial or administrative control. A report is due by January.

Department of Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead is uncomfortable with the DOT’s plan to delay until May of next year a proposed rule requiring commercial driver’s license applicants to prove citizenship or legal presence in the country. Currently, CDLs must provide only a Social Security number, which workers with temporary work visas can obtain and use even after those visas expire.

American Trucking Associations is encouraging carriers to share online at this site their plans for celebrating National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, slated for Aug. 22-28.

Texas will expand a pilot program offering free wireless Internet at four rest stops to provide the service at all of the state’s 84 rest areas and 12 travel information centers. The Texas Department of Transportation is seeking proposals from vendors to supply free service for anyone already equipped with wireless Internet hardware. The state also plans to offer pay telephone-like Internet access at kiosks.

Louisiana’s legislature is considering a bill that would fine or imprison motorists who transform the left-hand lane of some highways into “rolling roadblocks.” The bill is designed to prevent drivers from lingering in the left-hand lane when driving outside city limits on highways with at least two lanes in each direction. First-time offenders could be fined $175 and jailed for 30 days.

In response to continued disparities among states regarding the timeliness, completeness and accuracy of crash data, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration this summer will temporarily remove from its public websites one of the four scoring components within SafeStat, FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg announced in a statement June 1. SafeStat is the safety data system FMCSA uses to help identify high-risk motor carriers. Because the accident safety evaluation area (SEA) score helps determine the overall SafeStat score, FMCSA is removing the overall score as well. The most comprehensive website for SafeStat data is the Volpe site.

SafeStat’s effectiveness in identifying high-risk carriers has been verified, “but the quality of the crash data used for the accident SEA does not meet quality standards at this time” for display on FMCSA’s websites,” Sandberg said. “Continued display of the accident SEA risks misleading public users of SafeStat.”

During the time the accident and overall SEAs are removed from public view, FMCSA and its State enforcement partners will continue to have access to all SafeStat scores to focus their enforcement efforts. Individual carriers will be able to access their own scores to help measure their safety progress.

Three remaining SafeStat components – the driver, vehicle and safety management SEAs – will remain publicly available. “These scores will continue to provide valuable help to carriers measuring their own safety performance, shippers determining a carrier’s reliability, and insurance underwriters assessing a carrier’s risk level,” Sandberg said. The underlying data for these scores are often more timely, accurate and complete because the data are collected by FMCSA or provided by states under controlled collection methods, she said.

Sandberg emphasized that the accident SEA and the overall SafeStat score will return to the system as soon as possible “when we are confident that the information provided is more reliable.” To ensure that reliability, FMCSA is:

  • Requiring states to describe their data collection and improvement strategies in all enforcement funding applications;
  • Implementing DataQs, through which carriers can file concerns about data that FMCSA and states collect;
  • Enhancing and expanding the Commercial Vehicle Analysis Reporting System, a crash data improvement and training grant program; and
  • Deploying a data quality map on the website to help states judge their current data quality. The data quality map shows color-coded state ratings for timeliness, completeness and accuracy for inspection and crash data.

Border opening clears legal hurdle
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is not required to evaluate the environmental impact of long-haul operations by Mexican motor carriers, the Supreme Court ruled last month. In a unanimous opinion in the case Department of Transportation vs. Public Citizen, the court declared that more study was irrelevant because FMCSA was in no position to stop the border opening, which had been ordered by President Bush.

Although the Supreme Court decision eliminates one hurdle, the border will not open immediately. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said DOT will continue working with Mexican authorities toward allowing long-haul truck and bus operations. “We are committed to a comprehensive approach to guarantee that trucks and buses operating within the United States are in compliance with all applicable safety and environmental standards,” Mineta said.

The American Trucking Associations praised the ruling, saying that the decision “represents another important step in the continued growth of the American economy and the trucking industry.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the parties to the litigation, slammed the decision. “By allowing the Bush Administration to move forward with its plan to open the border, this decision represents a setback for all who advocate for safe roads, clean air, and a secure America,” said Teamsters General President James Hoffa.

In a related development, the U.S. Office of Inspector General recently announced it is conducting an audit of safety inspectors and facilities at the United States-Mexico border. Congress requires the OIG to periodically review the agency’s border operations to ensure the agency has hired and trained inspectors, provided inspection facilities, and developed procedures for ensuring safety compliance by Mexican carriers.

Truck makers enjoying a big year
Manufacturers boost production, add jobs to meet demand

A rebounding economy, increasing freight volume, aging fleets and continued low interest rates are adding up to a banner year for truck manufacturers. After a prolonged period of sales detention, demand for heavy-duty trucks in the United States is shifting into overdrive. Truck buyers are placing orders at the fastest pace in years.

Analysts foresee a promising second half for truck makers and their suppliers, and the surging market is prompting North American manufacturers to expand or rethink production.

Freightliner has added a third shift and 593 new full-time jobs at the company’s truck manufacturing plant in Cleveland, N.C. The additional shift, scheduled to begin in mid-July, is required to meet increased production demands, says Rainer Schmueckle, Freightliner president and CEO.

The Cleveland plant, Freightliner’s largest manufacturing facility, has been increasing its output throughout the year and now will employ 3,600 people in the production of Class 8 vehicles. The new positions mean Cleveland employment levels are at their highest in five years. Freightliner has also added 100 full-time employees to its Gastonia, N.C., parts manufacturing plant. The facility now employs 875.

“The North American heavy-duty truck market continues its vigorous recovery,” Schmueckle says.

Mack Trucks plans to increase production at both its Macungie, Pa. plant, where it produces vocational vehicles, and at its New River Valley facility in Dublin, Va., where it manufactures highway vehicles. Strong order support and strength in the North American truck market account for the production increase, says John Walsh, Mack’s manager of trade press relations.

At Macungie, the average daily production rate was already increased from 58 units a day to 64 in early May. The plan was to further increase the rate to 72 by the end of June, and then again to 78 by late August. “We expect to add between 80 and 100 employees at Macungie as a result of these production increases,” Walsh says.

At New River Valley, the plan is to increase the rate from the current level of 36 units a day to 60 in late August. “The impact of this change to the plant’s work force is still to be determined,” Walsh says.

Volvo Trucks North America brought back a second shift to its New River Valley plant in May. “It’s a very strong order environment,” says Jim McNamara, senior manager of communications. McNamara singled out Volvo’s redesigned VN models. “We have gone from one shift producing 73 Volvo VN trucks to two shifts producing 112 total,” McNamara says. “That will go up slightly 60 trucks per shift in mid-August.”

Peterbilt also has increased production among its manufacturing facilities to fulfill orders for its medium- and heavy-duty trucks and tractors. “Peterbilt has adjusted, and will continue to adjust, employment accordingly to meet this higher demand,” says Dan Sobic, Peterbilt general manager and Paccar vice president.

John Fay, director of marketing for International’s Heavy Vehicle Center, credits the manufacturer’s product lineup and its North American dealer network for its recent success. “We’re strengthening our position for today and for tomorrow, with a dedicated focus on plant quality and efficiency, product enhancements to our existing product and a $300 million investment in our new linehaul product for 2007,” Fay says.

Steve Gilligan, Kenworth general marketing manager, called the current truck market “robust.” The manufacturer operates plants in Chillicothe, Ohio; Ste-Therese, Que.; and Seattle and Renton, Wash.”Customers seek higher resale value, superior quality, improved driver retention and reduced life-cycle costs,” Gilligan says.

“Freight tonnage is very healthy, and interest rates are still relatively low,” Gilligan says. “Truck fleets are replacing older equipment as concern over 2002 EPA-emission engines is fading and customers choose to purchase in advance of the 2007 emission standards.”

Findings included in the second quarter Fleet Sentiment Report, compiled by Chris Kemmer Marketing, show a strengthening demand for trucks and trailers for the remainder of 2004. Seventy-seven percent of fleets responding to a questionnaire said they plan to buy tractors in the next six months, while 69 percent indicated they would purchase trailers.

In April, Class 8 sales were up 33.3 percent over the previous month, according to the National Truck Equipment Association. In March, sales were up 90.4 percent over those in February.

U.S. truck sales should continue to climb through next year, says Steve Latin-Kaspar, NTEA market data and research. Latin-Kaspar has projected sales of 200,000 units this year and 250,000 in 2005. Those numbers are in line with 1999’s record high of more than 250,000 units, and well above the average of 150,000 for the last three years.

“We have a positive outlook for further improvement,” says Freightliner’s Schmueckle.
Dean Smallwood

Industry protests interstate toll proposal
Trucking organizations last month jointly objected to a proposal that would introduce tolls on the national highway system. The American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the National Private Truck Council and other trucking groups sent a letter June 14 to congressional members wrangling out differences between the House and Senate transportation funding bills. The American Highway Users Alliance, AAA and the National Association of Manufacturers and many other groups added their signature to the letter.

The letter’s authors stated that converting interstates to toll roads would result in drivers avoiding tolls by congesting local roads not suitable for increased traffic and that business located by interstates would lose money.

The cost of truck deliveries would increase for those businesses that use tolled routes, and the cost increases would have a ripple effect on the economy. Adding tolls when Americans already pay fuel taxes and highway user fees represents a form of double taxation, the groups concluded.

The writers support an amendment to the House transportation bill that endorsed tolls as a way to pay for new interstate highway capacity, but rejected mandatory tolls on the current system.

Congress has passed funding extensions since late September, anticipating agreement on a six-year transportation funding package. President Bush said he would veto legislation that exceeds his $256 billion proposal, but the Senate approved its $318 billion package by a large enough margin to defy his veto threat. The House version asks for $275 billion.

The bipartisan Conference on the Re-authorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century met for the first time June 9. Forty-two Republicans, 29 Democrats and one independent make up the conference, chaired by Republican Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe.

California considers diesel retrofit funding
By doubling California’s smog abatement fee to $12 per year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes funding a program that uses grants to help older diesel engines upgrade to cleaner-burning engines. Schwarzenegger’s June 15 announcement is part of his proposed budget plan that the Legislature is considering. He has said the plan would dedicate $68 million annually to improve air quality while lowering consumer costs for smog check requirements.

The proposal would allocate $61 million annually from California’s Smog Check Program to the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program. Since 1998, Moyer funding has been used to convert nearly 5,000 engines statewide to cleaner-burning engines.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, called the upgrade program a “win-win approach” because diesel retrofits result in better truck performance and cleaner air for California. “Diesel retrofits – broadly defined as replace, repair, refuel and re-power – are one of the most cost-effective ways to improve air quality,” Schaeffer said.

CCJ Equipment Demand Index: Illinois leads van demand

August ’03 ’02 ’01
Illinois 1 1 1
Ohio 2 2 2
Texas 3 5 6
Missouri 4 4 7
Indiana 5 7 5
Wisconsin 6 6 9
Tennessee 7 3 3
N Carolina 8 9 8
Kentucky 9 13 11
Georgia 10 10 10
Michigan 11 14 14
California 12 8 4
Arkansas 13 12 13
New York 14 11 12
Minnesota 15 15 19
August ’03 ’02 ’01
Texas 1 1 2
Arkansas 2 3 7
Ohio 3 2 4
Alabama 4 4 5
Illinois 5 8 6
Indiana 6 11 11
Georgia 7 9 9
Mississippi 8 5 10
Tennessee 9 10 1
Louisiana 10 13 15
N Carolina 11 7 3
S Carolina 12 6 8
Kentucky 13 14 12
Michigan 14 17 16
California 15 12 13
August ’03 ’02 ’01
Illinois 1 2 1
Wisconsin 2 5 2
Ohio 3 3 4
Missouri 4 4 5
Texas 5 6 6
California 6 1 3
Minnesota 7 7 8
Arkansas 8 9 13
Georgia 9 14 11
Michigan 10 12 14
Colorado 11 13 9
New York 12 11 15
Indiana 13 10 7
Kansas 14 17 23
Iowa 15 8 10

After holding first place in spot-market van demand for four consecutive months, Texas made way for Illinois in August 2003 and settled for third place, according to the CCJ Equipment Demand Index. Illinois traditionally has strong demand for vans in August, holding first place for three years in a row. Ohio came in second with 16 percent fewer van searches than Illinois.

For flatbed demand, Texas continued to maintain the top position, making it four months in a row for 2003. Historical data showed that Texas typically has strong demand for flatbeds in August, holding either first or second place. Arkansas was in second position with 30 percent fewer flatbed searches.

Illinois took first place for reefer demand in August, bumping first-place holder for the previous two months, California, down to sixth place. Data for the past three years showed that California traditionally has strong demand for reefers in August, placing no lower than third. Wisconsin came in second place with 29% fewer reefer searches.

The index, based on equipment searches performed by TransCore customers, shows the top 15 states

in terms of demand for trucks in the spot market in the three most common equipment types: dry vans, flatbeds and refrigerated units. The index is intended to help fleet operators identify the most promising opportunities for backhaul and other spot-market freight in the month after its publication.