Will paper logbooks become a thing of the past?

Will paper logbooks become a thing of the past?

Trucking will go into 2014 with two major safety proposals pending: electronic logs and a searchable database containing the results of driver drug and alcohol tests.

The logging proposal is awaiting clearance from the White House Office of Management and Budget. It was scheduled to be published before the end of the year but will not show up until next month at the earliest.

Details are under wraps but in general the proposal will call for near-universal use of elogs. It will set technical and communications standards for the devices, and it will contain prohibitions against fleets using the devices to harass drivers. It also will contain requirements for hours-of-service supporting documents.

The proposal has been years in the making at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The agency initially planned to require elogs just for habitual violators of the hours-of-service rules, to be followed eventually by the near-universal mandate.

But as they worked on the initial proposal the rulewriters found they still had complex technical issues to resolve. Then owner-operator interests sued to make sure that the final proposal contains protections against harassment.

Ultimately the agency decided to drop the phased approach and go straight to the near-universal mandate after working out the technical issues and doing more research on the harassment issue.

Throughout this process the agency has been working with trucking interests, elog suppliers, the enforcement community and safety advocates on the technical and communications details.

When the agency posts its proposal it will ask for comments. Carrier interests such as The Trucking Alliance and American Trucking Associations have strongly supported elogs, arguing that they will level the playing field for compliance with the hours of service rules. Owner operators have deep reservations about elogs, however.

Barring more rewrites or court action, a final rule is likely in 2014.

Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

This proposal, which also is at OMB, will create a national database containing driver drug and alcohol test results, a safety management tool that that trucking companies have been seeking for years.

The proposed rule will require employers to report positive test results and refusals, and prospective employers to query the database, with the applicant’s permission.

The idea is to give carriers a way to make sure that the applicant has completed the return-to-duty process, and to ensure that carriers are doing the required testing.

Details of the proposal still are not yet available but Congress spelled out what it wants the clearinghouse to do in last year’s highway bill.

The bill says that the database should be maintained by a third party contractor and should have security protections to ensure privacy.

Employers would pay a nominal fee to use the system. There would be no charge for drivers who are requesting their own information.

Employers would have to make sure that a driver applicant has been tested within the past three years. If the test was positive, the driver must have completed the required return-to-duty process. The employer also has to check if a driver refused to take the test. And the employer would have to check the database once a year after hiring the driver.

An employer would have to get the driver’s consent before looking at his record. The clearinghouse administrator would have to notify a driver when the clearinghouse has received a record, when a record has been modified or deleted, and when a result has been released to an employer.

Drivers would be able to make sure that their records are accurate, and could make updates if necessary. There would be a dispute procedure, including an appeal process.

The proposal was scheduled to be published in December and could show up any day. There will be a comment period, followed by agency review leading to a final rule perhaps in 2014.

Other Major Proposals Pending

Probably the biggest and most challenging proposal on FMCSA’s list is its effort to produce a standard for determining a carrier’s safety fitness.

This is the rule that will in effect codify the enforcement mechanism the agency started to establish with its CSA program (Compliance, Safety, Accountability).

It will use the data in the Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories to determine whether or not a carrier is fit to operate.

The agency has been working on this proposal since 2007. It is scheduled to hand it up to the DOT secretary’s office for review in January. From there it is supposed to go to OMB in February. Publication is scheduled for May.

Another important item is a joint proposal with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require 68 mph speed limiters on heavy trucks.

This is scheduled to go to OMB is February and be published in June.

The agency also is working on a proposal to test the trucking knowledge of would-be carriers, brokers and freight forwarders.

The proficiency exam has been on the agency’s to-do list for several years but Congress got the clock ticking in earnest when it included this requirement in last year’s highway bill.

The agency will hold the first in a series of listening sessions on the issue January 13.