Court orders stronger entry-level training

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American Trucking Associations revised upward the industry’s total fuel costs in 2004 and its estimated fuel costs for 2005. Despite recent dips in fuel prices, the trucking industry will spend $87.7 billion in 2005, ATA said last month, up from the $85 billion projection in September. In 2004, motor carriers spent $65.9 billion on diesel fuel, up from the previous calculation of $62.6 billion.

Freight Transportation Services Index fell 0.6 percent to 111.8 in September from the August level of 112.4, falling for the third time in four months, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported. But the September index is 0.9 percent higher than September 2004.

U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has achieved improvements in state-generated truck crash data but that considerable improvements still are needed. GAO recommended that to ensure uniformity in awarding data improvement funds to states, FMCSA establish specific guidelines for assessing and awarding state funding requests. For a copy of the report, visit this site and search Report No. 06-102.

Arizona Trucking Association elected 2006-2007 officers, including Larry Woolson as chairman. Woolson is regional manager for System Transport, a nationwide flatbed and specialized carrier that is part of Spokane, Wash.-based Trans-System Inc. David Williams, vice president of Knight Transportation, is vice chairman. And Collin Stewart, president of Stewart Transport, is treasurer.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations governing minimum standards for entry-level truck driver training are inadequate based on the record developed in the proceeding, a federal appeals court ruled Friday, Dec. 2. But because the current rule “while plainly inadequate, may do some good, if it does anything at all,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is leaving it in place pending the completion of further rulemaking.

As required by a settlement with safety advocates, FMCSA in May 2004 issued long-overdue regulations implementing entry-level training requirements for drivers of commercial motor vehicles. The minimum requirements adopted involve only classroom education and in only four areas: medical qualification, drug and alcohol testing, hours-of-service rules, and wellness and whistleblower protection.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety challenged those regulations, however, saying that the agency ignored its own earlier recommendations about the need for more rigorous minimum training standards. Specifically, a major July 1995 report issued by the Federal Highway Administration – FMCSA’s predecessor – concluded that for any training program to be adequate it must include “on-street hours” of training.

The rule adopted in May 2004 “departed sharply from earlier agency recommendations,” the appeals court said. “The Adequacy Report determined that effective training for CMV drivers required practical, on-the-road instruction on how to operate a heavy vehicle. But FMCSA ignored this evidence and opted for a program that focuses on areas unrelated to the practical demands of operating a commercial motor vehicle.”

The appeals court agreed with Advocates that the sharp contrast between FMCSA’s earlier conclusions and the terms of the final rule show the agency’s actions to be “arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. “The agency, without coherent explanation, has promulgated a rule that is so at odds with the record assembled by DOT that the action cannot stand. Accordingly, we grant the petitions for review and remand the final rule to the agency for further rulemaking consistent with this opinion.”

For a copy of the appeals court ruling, click here

NHTSA seeks faster-stopping tractors
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed to reduce the required stopping distance for truck tractors equipped with air brakes by 20 to 30 percent, but the agency believes that the technology for achieving this performance exists today. And given that vehicles produced today are able to comply with proposed reductions in stopping distance by only modifying foundation brakes, NHTSA is proposing that truck makers comply within two years of a final rule.

While improved technologies like air disc brakes and electronically controlled braking are available, NHTSA says its research indicates that tractors would be able to comply with its proposed reduction in stopping distance through use of larger drum brakes. NHTSA estimates that 3 percent of existing tractors already comply with a 30 percent improvement versus the minimum standard.

A 20 percent improvement in braking performance would save an estimated 104 lives, while a 30 percent improvement is projected to save 257 lives, NHTSA said. Improvements of 20 to 30 percent also would reduce property damage by $32 million or $166 million, respectively.

Potential compliance costs depend on whether truck manufacturers chose larger S-cam drum brakes or more expensive disc brakes, NHTSA said. The agency estimates that a 20 percent reduction in stopping distance would cost the industry $14 million to $119 million, while a 30 percent reduction would range from $20 million to $170 million.

Weighing costs and benefits, a 20 percent reduction would produce net benefits of $320 million to $425 million, NHTSA said. A 30 percent reduction would produce net benefits of $994 million to $1.144 billion.

NHTSA is still considering changes to the required stopping performance of single unit trucks and buses using air brakes and of hydraulically braked vehicles over 10,000 lbs. GVWR and will address those following relevant ongoing research.

Comments on NHTSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking, which the agency says is based on current safety trend data and brake system technologies, are due April 14. For a copy of the NPRM, visit this site and search Docket No. 21462.

FMCSA denies Teamster bid on split rest
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has rejected a request that it reconsider the agency’s decision to eliminate most split rest in sleeper berths for team drivers. Meanwhile, FMCSA has granted a request from the American Trucking Associations for a rulemaking to consider whether a driver who is part of a team could record a two-hour period sitting in the non-driving seat of the truck as off-duty time if it were taken in conjunction with a consecutive eight-hour sleeper-berth period.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition for reconsideration on FMCSA’s decision to treat team drivers the same as solo drivers in the Oct. 1 final rule, which requires that drivers spend at least eight consecutive hours in a sleeper berth if they want to use the sleeper berth to shorten the 10-hour consecutive rest requirement.

“Although the sleeper-berth provisions of the 2005 rule will require most, if not all, team driver operations to revise their scheduling practices, the elimination of fragmented rest periods in the final rule ensures that drivers can obtain 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep during one sleeper-berth period,” FMCSA said in a letter to Teamsters General President James Hoffa.

For more information, visit this site and search Docket No. 19608.

Tonnage index up slightly in October
For the second consecutive month, the American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted for-hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 0.3 percent. In addition to the 0.3 percent rise in October, the September increase was revised down to 0.3 percent from the previously reported 0.4 percent. The index in October was 1.2 percent higher than a year earlier – the largest year-over-year gain since May of this year. Year-to-date, the index is up 2.0 percent compared with the same period in 2004.

Arkansas voters reject bond proposal
Arkansas voters last month defeated 60 percent to 40 percent a proposed highway bond authorization that the Arkansas Trucking Association had opposed vigorously on the grounds that it would take away citizens’ right to vote on future highway bond issues and on the debt those bond issues would create. A campaign committee formed by the Arkansas Trucking Association – Citizens Against No. 1 – had fought Ballot Question No. 1 aggressively through fliers, advertising on radio and television and news conferences.

“Our ATA president Lane Kidd and Bill Vickery, as spokesman for our campaign, are to be commended for a job well done,” said Vicki Jones Stephens, chair of both the trucking association and Citizens Against No. 1, as well as president of C.C. Jones Trucking in North Little Rock.

CCJ Equipment Demand Index: Ohio takes two
Ohio continues its top ranking with the largest demand for van freight in February, followed by Illinois with 1 percent fewer searches in February 2005, according to the latest CCJ Equipment Demand Index. This ranking has been consistent over the past three Februarys. Indiana is solidly in third place with 5 percent fewer van searches. Ohio, Illinois and Indiana all show strength in flatbed demand as well, as they do historically.

Illinois is comfortably atop the demand for reefer freight in February with 14 percent of all reefer searches. Texas is a distant second with 4 percent fewer searches, and Ohio is a close third.

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.