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Top 11 Trucking Stories of 2011

December 26, 2011

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As we near the end of 2011, it's time to take a look back at some of the top stories of the year. To do so, we looked at the most-visited stories on our website, Truckinginfo.com, and combined it with what HDT's editors saw as the most important stories of the year.
Following, in unscientific order, are the resulting top picks:

1. Hours of Service

•Almost a year to the day after the FMCSA released its proposed changes to the hours of service rule, last week the agency issued the final rule, keeping the 11 hours of daily driving but putting restrictions on the use of the 34-hour restart and requiring drivers to take a break during the day. As we predicted, neither safety advocates nor trucking interests liked it, meaning it will likely be back in court.

We ran our report on Truckinginfo.com's top stories of the year before last week's announcement of the new hours of service rules, but we're sure traffic is high, especially when you consider that the late 2010 announcement of the proposed changes made the Top 10 list on our 2011 web traffic report.

On a related note, EOBRs were in the news in 2011, with a decision that put the limited electronic onboard recorders rule scheduled for next June into legal limbo. FMCSA has decided it will not appeal a court decision vacating the rule but will address the court's concerns about driver harassment in a final rule. Over the next several years the agency will develop a mandate that will cover practically all carriers.

2. Mother Nature

When we looked at the most popular stories of the year on Truckinginfo.com, last spring's weather fury was clearly the winner, with stories on flooding closing major highways in Arkansas and Iowa, and the tornadoes in the South and in Joplin, Mo., taking up eight of the top 20 spots. At one point, we reported that the I-40 eastbound detour in Arkansas was more than 200 miles.

3. Foiled Terrorist Plot

Another top story in the spot news category was a report from Con-way Freight that it had helped foil a terrorist bomb plot. Con-way workers identified a suspicious package. The resulting investigation led to the arrest of Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a 20-year-old Saudi student studying in Texas, who was charged charged him with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Aldawsari allegedly was attempting to build improvised explosives and compiling a list of possible targets, including West Coast reservoirs and dams, nuclear power plants and the home of former President George W. Bush. In December, Aldawsari appeared in court.

4. The economy

It didn't make our Truckinginfo top hits, but there's no doubt the economy, which came back more slowly than we were expecting a year ago, was something often on the minds of truckers - who for the most part did better than you might expect, considering the sluggish economic growth.

At industry conferences and in numerous webinars, economic experts emphasized that it looked unlikely we would slip into a double-dip recession, and that factors such as a strong manufacturing sector were helping trucking outperform the macro economy. (For the most recent story, see "Recovery 'Normal,' Trucking Even Better."

5. Engines

As the recovery, albeit slow, prompted more fleets to start replacing the aging trucks they'd put off during the recession, some were faced with stepping up a full two steps in the EPA emissions ladder, having last bought trucks in an EPA-2007 prebuy. The latest diesels are incredibly clean-burning, but there's a hefty financial price to pay for that up front. A report new EPA proposed guidance on selective catalytic reduction systems was one of the most popular stories of the year on Truckinginfo.

At least early reports of 2010 reliability seem better than the 2007 engines, for which we are hearing many tales of poor reliability and high maintenance costs.

This year also saw the emergence of several innovative engine designs we may see in the future, including EcoMotors International's Opposed-Piston/Opposed-Cylinder engine, for which Navistar has signed a development agreement. This was in the top 10 stores on Truckinginfo, along with another engine-related story, the introduction of the NAT GAS Act, which would provide financial incentives for the purchase of natural-gas-fueled vehicles.

(Read more about the future of engines in the January issue of HDT.)

6. CSA

FMCSA's new Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety enforcement system saw its first full year in effect. The agency continues to refine the details, based on an analysis by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. (Watch for a Q&A with Schneider's Don Osterberg on the first year of CSA in the "Safety & Compliance department in the January issue of HDT.)

7. Fuel Economy Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency and and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted final rules setting first-ever fuel economy standards for commercial trucks starting in 2014.

Under the comprehensive new national program, trucks and buses built in 2014 through 2018 will reduce oil consumption by a projected 530 million barrels and greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by approximately 270 million metric tons. This program - which relies heavily on off-the-shelf technologies for the first stage - was developed in coordination with truck and engine manufacturers, fleet owners, the state of California, environmental groups and other stakeholders.

8. Cell Phone Restrictions

Interstate truck and bus drivers are prohibited from using handheld cell phones while driving starting January 3, under a final rule posted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. States will suspend a driver's commercial driver's license after two or more serious traffic violations. Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of $11,000.

9. Cross-Border Trucking

The United States and Mexico resolved their differences over long-distance cross-border trucking, agreeing on a limited pilot test that so far has

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