Regulatory Climate Explored at Zonar Conference

May 16, 2013

By Jim Beach

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Annette Sandberg, CEO of TransSafe Consulting and former FMCSA administrator.
Annette Sandberg, CEO of TransSafe Consulting and former FMCSA administrator.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a number of proposed rules scheduled for this summer, including establishing a drug and alcohol database, mandatory speed limiters and prohibiting driver coercion. However, proposals on electronic logs, entry-level driver training and safety fitness probably won't be unveiled as scheduled, according to a panel discussion May 15 during Zonar's inaugural user's conference.

Upcoming FMCSA rulemakings were discussed from the regulatory, industry and enforcement perspectives during the session at the Zone 2013 event in San Diego, with a panel consisting of:

  • Annette Sandberg, CEO of TransSafe Consulting and former FMCSA administrator;
  • Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy for the American Trucking Associations; and
  • Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

Among the upcoming rules discussed were:

  • drug and alcohol test database/clearinghouse,
  • speed limiters
  • electronic logging devices/supporting documents,
  • entry level driver training requirements,
  • prohibition on driver coercion, 
  • safety fitness, and
  • a rule dealing with patterns of violations.

Drug and Alcohol Database

A rule establishing a drug and alcohol database is slated for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking sometime this summer. The database/clearinghouse is something the industry has advocated for some time, as it allows carriers to know if potential drivers have tested positive for drugs or alcohol.

“It’s been a long road for this,” Abbott said, but there are a few concerns. For one, it’s unclear if third parties would have access to the database, and a number of fleets use third parties for driver qualification and drug testing administration. Another concern is that the database will take a long time to fully implement.

Speed Limiters

A proposed rule on speed limiters also is slated for this summer. The rule would require speed limiters on buses and trucks. Abbott said that rule is among the industry’s highest priorities for a number of reasons. Speed is the single most common reason for crashes.

Limiting speed, he said, would also reduce the severity of crashes and provide longer brake distances and extra room for evasive maneuvers when a truck comes upon an obstacle. The devices are relatively low cost and they would level the playing field between the fleets that monitor speed and those that don’t. Plus, it would reduce the black eye the industry gets from irresponsible operators.

Again, there are some concerns.

“Certainly speed kills, and that is something that is a top priority for enforcement agencies,” Keppler said. “But one of the challenges we are going to have is enforcement out in the field. What is a violation?” Would that be tampering with the device or tampering with the engine's electronic control module? “One of the things we are going to be watching for closely is that there are very strong tampering restrictions in the rule.”

Electronic Logs

A supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking on electronic logging devices is currently slated to be released in November of this year, but Sandberg said she expects it will be later than that.

“This rule has been kind of hanging out there,” she said. “We had a rule and it was thrown out by the court.” Two issues that have to be worked out in the rule are restrictions on driver harassment and certification for the devices --  formerly known as electronic onboard recorders, but the terminology has shifted to electronic logging devices, or ELDs.

Sandberg said there are likely to be additional delays, and a final rule is doubtful before mid-2014. Currently, ELD vendors are allowed to self-certify their devices. The new rule will require all vendors to undergo the same certification process.

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