FMCSA explores onboard recorders

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed to require manufacturers to install a four-tire tire pressure monitoring system that is capable of detecting when a tire is more than 25 percent underinflated and warning the driver. The new standard would apply to passenger cars, trucks, multipurpose passenger vehicles and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less, except those vehicles with dual wheels on an axle. For a copy of the proposal, visit this site and search Docket No. 19054.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as promised earlier this year, has temporarily removed the motor carrier accident safety evaluation area and overall SafeStat scores from its Analysis & Information Online website (http://ai.volpe.dot.gov). The agency said it is working with state partners to improve the timeliness, completeness and accuracy of large truck and bus safety data. Carriers still can access their own accident SEA and overall SafeStat scores, which also remain available to FMCSA and its agents.

California’s legislature passed a bill (AB 1009) to require that heavy trucks operating in the state, including Mexican-domiciled trucks, meet federal air emissions standards for the model year the trucks were manufactured. The legislation would require that the California Air Resources Board consult with the state highway patrol to implement inspection protocol for determining if the engines meet these standards by Jan. 1, 2006.

Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, in conjunction with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, plans to conduct a National Customs Automation Program (NCAP) test concerning the transmission of automated truck manifest data. A notice in the Sept. 13 Federal Register describes the test process, establishes eligibility requirements and invites public comment on the test, which will begin no earlier than Nov. 29.

Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. said it is expanding its Paragould, Ark., dry van plant to meet increasing demand. The plant’s second assembly line will cover about 80,000 square feet.

In a move to address a federal court’s concerns, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is seeking comments on a possible requirement that carriers use electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) to document their compliance with the hours-of-service regulations.

In an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) published Sept. 1, FMCSA noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had concluded that Congress required the agency to collect and analyze data on the costs and benefits of requiring EOBRs. FMCSA noted the upcoming ANPRM in an Aug. 30 motion for a stay of the court’s July 16 decision vacating the hours-of-service regulations. (See “FMCSA, others want current hours rules for now,” page 15.)

“Because our current regulations do not reflect the considerable advances in the technology used in current-generation recording devices … we seek information concerning issues that should be considered in the development of improved performance specifications for these recording devices,” FMCSA said in the ANPRM. “Our purpose is to ensure that any future requirements would be appropriate as well as reflect state-of-the-art communication and information management technologies.”

FMCSA is seeking comments on a number of issues, including:
*Synchronization of recorder to a vehicle operation parameter
*Amendment of records
*Duty status categories when the vehicle is not moving
*Ensuring that drivers are identified properly
*Reporting and presentation (display) formats
*Audit trail
*Ability to interface with third-party software for compliance verification
*Verification of proper operation
*Testing and certification procedures
*EOBR maintenance and repair
*Development of “basic” EOBRs to promote increased carrier acceptance
*Definitions of terms
*Potential benefits and costs
*Incentives to promote EOBR use.

The final hours regulations issued last year represented an about-face from the agency’s May 2000 proposed rule. In the earlier document, FMCSA not only proposed to mandate recorders, but it also used the supposed savings from eliminating paper logs to offset the proposed rule’s economic burden.

Responses are due Nov. 30. For a copy of the notice, visit this site and search Docket No. 18940.


FMCSA, others want current hours rules for now
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Aug. 30 asked a federal appeals court to keep the current hours-of-service regulations in place for at least six months – and probably considerably longer – while the agency works to address the court’s concerns. As CCJ went to press, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which vacated the current rules on July 16, had yet to rule on FMCSA’s motion to stay that mandate. Although organizations representing the trucking industry, shippers and law enforcement asked the court to keep the current rules in place until FMCSA completes a new rulemaking, Public Citizen, which challenged the new rules, opposed a stay.

Requiring the trucking industry to return suddenly to the old rules would “produce a potentially uncertain and problematic patchwork of enforcement obligations, resulting in significant confusion and substantially hamper enforcement” of the hours rules, FMCSA said.

After a three-judge panel of the appeals court vacated the hours regulations in July, it withheld the effectiveness of its mandate until Aug. 30 to allow the agency time to consider whether to seek a rehearing. FMCSA chose not to appeal the court’s decision to the full appeals court or to the Supreme Court. Instead, the agency asked that the appeals court keep the current rule in place while it considers revisions.

Preliminary data suggests that accident rates have decreased during the first six months in which the existing rules have been in effect, FMCSA told the court. Therefore, a stay of the mandate will not compromise safety, it said. The agency also pointed to steps it has taken to address the court’s decision. FMCSA said it had sent for publication in the Federal Register an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking information from interested parties regarding the costs and benefits of electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs). (See “FMCSA explores onboard recorders,” page 14.)

The agency also has modified a contract with the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences to require a literature review of the health implications of hours-of-service regulations, as well as a literature review regarding drivers’ hours-of-service and fatigue from 1995 to the present. That review is expected to take about five months, FMCSA told the court.

The appeals court raised strong concerns over FMCSA’s justification of several key provisions, including the additional hour of driving time, retention of split rest, adoption of a 34-hour restart and the failure to consider EOBRs. Technically, however, the court turned back the rules for one reason alone: the failure to consider the impact on drivers’ health as required by Congress.

FMCSA suggested that forcing the trucking industry to return to the old rules would reduce safety.

“The enforcement community and the trucking industry would, virtually overnight, be required to alter policies and procedures and retrain employees, in the face of uncertain standards,” the agency said in its motion for a stay. “In light of recent (albeit preliminary) data suggesting that accident rates have decreased during the first six months in which the existing rule has been in effect, a stay of the mandate will not compromise safety.”

FMCSA said a stay of six months “at the very least” would allow FMCSA to make an informed judgment, after receiving more information, as to the length of time that might be required to issue a new or revised rule. The agency said that at the end of the six-month period it would make a motion to the court on how to proceed.

Industry weighs in
Also on Aug. 30, groups representing motor carriers separately filed a motion for an indefinite stay of the court’s decision vacating current rules. “The instantaneous revival of the former HOS rules would cause chaos and would diminish highway safety. The trucking industry, shippers and the law enforcement community simply cannot convert from one HOS regime to another without a lengthy transition period,” the American Trucking Associations, Distribution and LTL Carriers Association and Truckload Carrier Association said in a joint filing.

The carrier groups argued that even a more orderly transition to the former HOS rules “would impose substantial and unnecessary costs on the trucking industry, shippers and the States – costs that are likely, in the aggregate, to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Based on a survey of members, ATA conservatively estimated the costs at $186 million just to switch back to the old rules. One of the assumptions behind that estimate is a large numbers of drivers who never completed training under the old rules. Werner Enterprises, for example, estimates that 4,000 of its drivers had little or no training under the old regulations. J.B. Hunt says that about 1,300 of its drivers did not drive before Jan. 4 and therefore have had no experience with the old rules. Another major cost factored into the $186 million is reprogramming information systems.

Shippers, inspectors support FMCSA
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance also filed in support of a stay, saying that bringing the old rules back during an interim period would substantially disrupt enforcement and compromise highway safety. CVSA, which represents state agencies that enforce regulations governing commercial vehicles, noted the different methods and varying lengths of time by which states adopt revisions to the motor carrier regulations. Immediately vacating the current HOS rule would result in differing HOS rules at the state level and affect uniformity in enforcement, the group said. CVSA also cited the cost and complexity of retraining.

Another major constituency affected by the court’s decision is the shipper community. Although shippers face additional stress under the current rules, they don’t want to turn back now – especially since they will have to change once again when FMCSA adopts a revised regulation.

The National Industrial Transportation League (NITLeague) told the court that it is concerned that “the actions necessary to comply with three changes to the HOS regulatory regime within only a few years will wreak confusion upon the transportation and logistics industry with considerable economic costs for the trucking industry and its customers.” And these costs will be incurred without an increase in public safety, NITLeague said.

The current HOS rules required companies to make changes on multiple levels of the supply chain in order to enhance the efficiency of their operations, NITLeague said, adding that the court’s mandate would require a second round of changes in less than a year and a third once new rules are drafted. “This could significantly disrupt the North American supply chain during a period of very tight transportation capacity.”

Safety advocates oppose
Public Citizen and its allies filed Sept. 13 in opposition to the request by FMCSA and the industry groups for a stay of the court’s mandate during rulemaking proceedings. Given the history of past hours-of-service rulemakings, the stay “likely would remain in effect for years,” Public Citizen said. “What FMCSA and the interveners seek is unprecedented in this Court, contrary to this Court’s local rules and not justified on the facts.”

A request for a stay also is inappropriate under the circumstances, Public Citizen argued. “This court’s four-part test for granting a stay rests on the assumption that the moving party desires to preserve the status quo pending further review of the court’s decision, not that the party will seek an indeterminate postponement of the consequences of an adverse court decision it does not intend to contest further,” the group said.

“Although FMCSA and the interveners complain that reverting to the old HOS rules for the next few years during proceedings on remand will be inconvenient, disruptive and expensive, they have failed to establish either irreparable harm or that the claimed injuries to the trucking industry or short-term wrinkles in state enforcement outweigh the costs and significant risks inherent in keeping the new, unlawful rules.”

Public Citizen emphasized that the rules invalidated by the court allow an additional hour of consecutive driving and nearly 30 percent more hours of weekly driving than the rules they replaced. “Because the agency never analyzed, much less justified, these substantial increases in daily and weekly driving hours from the standpoints of either highway safety or the health of the truck drivers, this court cannot assume … that it would be safe and healthy for already fatigued drivers to drive these additional hours for the next several years (or, for that matter, any interim period) while FMCSA decides what actions are necessary to revise the HOS rules and then conducts another rulemaking.”

If the court ultimately decides not to stay its mandate, it’s unclear precisely what would happen next. The court could provide further guidance regarding what options it has. But if the court simply says no, the rules in effect prior to Jan. 4, 2004, presumably would return immediately. But some observers believe FMCSA still could have some discretion, for example, to issue an interim final rule keeping current rules in place or to postpone the compliance date to allow for an orderly transition as it did when it adopted the final rule last year. It is unlikely, however, that FMCSA could appeal a denial of the stay to a higher court.
For news on the court’s decision on the motion for stay as it breaks, visit this site.


Highway Watch gets $21 million grant
The Department of Homeland Security plans to make a $21 million grant available for the American Trucking Associations’ Highway Watch program in March 2005. The agreement will help to expand the program, which provides training and a communications infrastructure so that transportation workers can respond in the event they or their cargo become the targets of a terrorist attack. The program also trains workers to report intelligence related to potential threats.


Truckers advised to watch CB language
The Highway Information Sharing and Analysis Center has warned that some recent CB conversations have been misconstrued by listeners, who reported what they thought was a security threat. Highway ISAC, operated by American Trucking Associations, advises truckers to be aware of the heightened security after Sept. 11 and not use words commonly associated with terrorist activity over these transmissions unless absolutely necessary.

The center advocates using “airport etiquette” and exercising some of the caution people use in airports, even if joking. Examples of potentially troublesome words are “bomb,” “explosives,” “dynamite,” “gun,” “kill,” “terrorist,” “blow up” and “attack.”
The warning is intended to prevent law enforcement from responding to misinterpretations and jokes. More information is available at this site.


TCA to hold maintenance seminar
The Truckload Carriers Association will hold a maintenance seminar, “Maintenance: Profit Center or Profit Drain,” on Oct. 19 in Chicago and on April 19, 2005, in Atlanta. Based on best practices developed through TCA’s Benchmarking 20-Group Program, the seminar provides hands-on techniques from carrier maintenance and dealer service shops. The seminar will address scheduling systems; repair order processes for service labor, parts handling and warranty; handling over-the-road repairs; and service management. The cost for one person to attend is $425 for TCA members and $525 for nonmembers. Discounts apply for additional attendees. For more information, visit this site or call (703) 838-1950.


CCJ Equipment Demand Index: Illinois is still the one
In November, expect Illinois to be your richest source of spot-market freight for dry vans. According to the CCJ Equipment Demand Index, Illinois has placed first or second in equipment searches during November. Van demand also is predictably strong in Ohio.

For flatbed demand, Illinois also was tops in November 2003, pushing Texas down to third place after a long dominance. Historical data showed that Illinois has been moving steadily up the ranks, from third place in 2001 and second place in 2002. Ohio ended up in second position with only 2 percent fewer flatbed searches than Illinois.

Wisconsin came in surprisingly as number one for reefer demand. Data for the past three years showed that it is not typical for Wisconsin to hold first place in reefer demand, as it has traditionally been held by California for this time of year. Arkansas came in at second place with 5 percent 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.


Study documents growth in congestion
Traffic congestion has grown considerably in cities of all sizes nationwide and probably will get worse, according to a recent national study. The Texas Transportation Institute, the research agency for the state’s transportation department and railroad commission, released its 2004 Urban Mobility Report last month. If recent growth rates continue, in 2012 medium urban areas will have congestion problems equaling what large urban areas had in 2002. In 2002, rush hour delays cost motorists an annual 46 hours, compared to 16 hours in 1982, according to researchers. They also noted idling during traffic jams uses up an annual 5.6 billion gallons of fuel.

This year’s congestion cost estimate for trucks is actually less than last year’s report. Study authors said the value per hour of truck delay used for the 2003 report was higher than the value used in 2004. They attributed this to trucking becoming more productive. Researchers had assumed trucking cost grew at the rate equivalent to the Consumer Price Index.

Tim Lomax, institute research engineer, said if growth continues without increases in funding and options, congestion will only mushroom. “To make real progress, it’s critical that we pursue all transportation solutions – short-range, small-scale projects and policies; mid-range efficiency programs; and longer-term, more significant projects and programs that require more planning and design time,” said Lomax, a study author.

This year’s research studied 85 urban areas, including all urban areas with a population of 500,000 or more.

Diesel prices hit record high
Maybe it’s the weather. Or terrorist threats. Or Russian politics. Whatever the reasons, rising diesel prices are making life difficult for American truckers. The national average retail price of a gallon of diesel passed $1.90 for the first time Sept. 20, rising 3.8 cents to $1.912, the highest average since the U.S. Department of Energy began tracking diesel more than a decade ago.

The factors driving the price up are many: Hurricanes Ivan, Frances and Charley shut down oil production in the Gulf of Mexico; oil giant Yukos is battling Russian tax collectors and has slowed production; there have been pipeline attacks in Iraq and general concerns about Middle East oil supplies; and Chinese businesses and motorists are consuming petroleum at new levels.

All of that is little solace, though, for truck drivers, who are paying 46.8 cents a gallon more than at the same time last year. While West Coast drivers are paying the most – an average of $2.088 a gallon in Washington, Oregon and California – truckers across the country are seeing record prices. Gulf Coast truck stops raised diesel prices by 4.2 cents for the week ending Sept. 20 as Hurricane Ivan played havoc with oil production and diesel deliveries.

The DOE said oil producers shut off more than 1 million barrels per day of crude oil production during the storm. Long-term effects should be muted, however, unless Ivan damaged oil-producing infrastructure, analysts said.

DOE analysts have been predicting lower prices for autumn as the summer driving season slows and additional oil – prompted by increases in production by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members – hits the market.