FMCSA's oversight of CDL compliance called into question

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Trucking news and briefs for Monday, July 19, 2021: 

DOT watchdog critiques FMCSA’s CDL disqualification oversight

The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, in an audit of FMCSA’s oversight of states’ actions to disqualify commercial drivers when warranted, found that the agency has gaps and other challenges in this area.

According to OIG’s report, states did not transmit electronic conviction notifications in a timely fashion 17% of the time, including 18% of 2,182 major offenses and 17% of 23,628 serious traffic violations. OIG also estimates that 11% of 2,182 major violations were not posted to driver records in a timely fashion, and 2% of the 23,628 serious traffic violations weren’t posted at all.

“While states did take action to disqualify CDLs when appropriate, with exceptions, FMCSA’s evaluation of paper conviction notifications is limited by states’ processes for recording and tracking convictions sent by mail,” OIG said. “Furthermore, FMCSA's Annual Program Review process lacks adequate quality control measures for verifying that state CDL programs meet federal requirements." The OIG also called states out for their own "noncompliance with federal CDL disqualification requirements," among other state actions that "pose challenges for FMCSA’s oversight.”

OIG noted that some states offered appeals to out-of-state drivers, overturned disqualifications, and backdated CDL disqualification periods, resulting in some drivers serving shorter disqualification time periods than federal law requires.

“While FMCSA has established annual program reviews to monitor state compliance, those reviews have gaps in the oversight of CDL disqualifications," OIG said. "These weaknesses may limit FMCSA’s ability to keep unsafe CDL drivers off the road and enhance public safety.”

OIG made seven recommendations to strengthen the agency's oversight, which FMCSA agreed to undertake: 

  • Improving requirements for states to record, track and maintain paper-based convictions.
  • Finalizing and implementing standardized operating procedures for conducting annual program reviews.
  • Modifying the annual program review checklist.
  • Finalizing/implementing a standard operating procedure for determining when a state is not making a good faith effort to mitigate compliance issues, and when to impose sanctions on noncompliant states.
  • Completing FMCSA’s review of the State Compliance Records Enterprise system.
  • Implementing improvements for managing states’ compliance issues and developing and implementing a process to segregate non-CDL holder convictions from all CDL Information System reports.
  • Developing and implementing a plan for coordinating with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to mitigate risks when states transition to new software systems.

Trucker shut down following multiple violations

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has effectively shut down truck driver Kalilu Koneh for various CDL violations.

Koneh’s records from the Texas Department of Public Safety show that he did not have any driver’s license in the past three years and currently, he is not eligible to obtain any type of driver’s license.

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Nonetheless, FMCSA says Koneh repeatedly operated a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce in, at least, January, February and June 2021. Additionally, he falsely indicated on his commercial driver application that he possessed a valid driver’s license, the agency notes.

On June 16, 2021, Koneh was notified of his positive test result for marijuana metabolites. Since marijuana is a Schedule I drug, Koneh is not qualified to operate commercial trucks. However, he continued to drive a truck in interstate commerce while disqualified, FMCSA said.

Additionally, in January, February, and March 2021, Koneh falsified records of duty status, according to FMCSA. On March 12-13, 2021, he operated a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce beyond the 11-hour driving limit and more than 14 hours after coming on duty.

Failure to comply with the provisions of the federal imminent hazard order may result in civil penalties of up to $1,928. Each day operating in violation of the agency's  order will constitute a separate violation and may result in a separate penalty, FMCSA said. Knowing and/or willful violations may result in criminal penalties.

New legislation intro’d to spur electrification in trucking

A group of Democratic legislators introduced this week a bill that would establish a rebate program to promote the purchase and installation of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles.

The Medium- and Heavy-Duty Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Act was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Sen. Alex Padilla (D-California), Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts), Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-California), Rep. Doris Matsui (D-California), Rep. Ann Kuster (D-New Hampshire), and Rep. Yvette Clark (D-New York).

If the bill were to become law, the Environmental Protection Agency would administer the rebate program to reimburse operators of public and private fleets for the purchase and installation of EVSE. The program would be authorized for $250 million for FY 2022-2025. Rebates for a private sector entity would be 50% of the capital purchase and installation costs up to $4,000 per networked level 2 charger and $100,000 per DC fast charger.

“Medium and heavy-duty vehicles are one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants in the United States, and this bill is an important step to fight our addiction to fossil fuels and ensure the right of overburdened communities to breathe clean air,” Markey said. “We need to clean up our freight sector now, or continue to see adverse health impacts and an ever-worsening climate crisis.”

Trucking conditions dipped in May but remain strong

FTR’s Trucking Conditions Index for May eased slightly from the record April reading of 16.82 to a still-robust 15.72, the firm reports.

Stronger freight rates would have pushed the index to a third straight record, but a swing in diesel prices from a slight positive in April to a negative in May, along with slightly weaker capacity utilization, offset those gains. The TCI is forecast to remain at double-digit positive readings through 2021 and to remain positive through 2022. However, this outlook depends on only incremental improvement in driver capacity in the near term.

“Market conditions in the flatbed segment appear to be stabilizing, but we do not have clear signs of the stress in the van markets easing,” says Avery Vise, FTR’s vice president of trucking. “The solid increase in for-hire trucking's payroll employment during June might be a hint that the market is peaking, but we expect considerable friction to remain in the supply of drivers at least into next year. However, one of the market stresses has been the unprecedented surge in small new trucking operations, which has added to market disruptions. With high diesel prices and truck insurance costs, we would expect many of those drivers to return to the security of larger employers once spot rates start falling significantly. This possibility along with the end of generous unemployment benefits represent risks in the outlook.”