The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stuck to its guns on hours of service, saying that the current rule will remain in effect while the agency addresses issues raised in a court order striking down two key provisions.

The 11-hour limit on daily driving and the 34-hour restart provisions were to have been struck from the rule on December 27, under an order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. On December 11 the agency announced that it has new information justifying the provisions and will keep them in place as it works on a final version of the rule.

A week later, however, Public Citizen asked the court to vacate the agency's decision and limit driving to 10 hours a day with no 34-hour restart, pending completion of a new rulemaking. Public Citizen is the lead group in an alliance that has been fighting the agency's approach to HOS reform.

There was no action by the court as HDT went to press.

Agency administrator John Hill said he expects to complete work on the final rule next year.

The agency built its decision in part on data gathered since the rule went into effect. The data show that the percentage of fatigue-related fatal truck crashes, compared to total fatal crashes, remained essentially the same after the rule went into effect in 2005, an indication that the 11-hour and 34-hour provisions have not harmed safety, the agency said.

New data also indicate that the 11th hour of driving has not led to any increase in the number of fatigue-related fatal accidents. A survey of 50,000 trucks in 2003 showed 13 fatal crashes in the 11th hour of driving, one of which was attributed to fatigue. The following year there were 16 fatal crashes in the 11th hour and none was attributed to fatigue. In 2005, when the new hours rule was in effect, there were 13 fatals and one fatigue-related.

"I think those are very important statistics," Hill said. "They show that there has not been a degradation of safety since this rule has gone into effect."

"There have been a lot of allegations and innuendoes about what this rule would do and how unsafe it was," he said. "I think what the data shows is that has not occurred. We have data now that supports the fact that 11 hours of driving with a 10-hour rest period really does combine for a safe operating environment."

In its commentary on the Interim Final Rule the agency said it has found no evidence that carriers are using the 34-hour restart to accumulate maximum hours per week. In fact, one survey showed that eight percent of drivers take 34 hours on their restart break, while 65 percent take more than 44 hours.

Carriers are using the 34-hour restart for "operational reality," Hill said.

Another reason to keep the rules, Hill added, is to maintain consistency as the regulatory process goes forward - for the sake of enforcement and to keep the freight moving.

The agency chose this route to avoid a "strong likelihood of confusion" regarding which rules would be in effect on December 27.

It said the court's decision could be read to mean that there would be no daily driving limit, or that the 10-hour limit would be back in effect and the 34-hour restart would be eliminated. No matter how the decision is interpreted it would certainly lead to confusion about which HOS rules are in effect, the result being poor compliance by carriers and inconsistent enforcement by police, the agency said.

"The Interim Final Rule allows us to have an uninterrupted safety regime in place while we gather comments," Hill said.

The administrator also tried to give a big-picture perspective on the hours-of-service conflict by point out that fatigue is not the most significant safety issue in the industry. He said the agency has data showing that it could reduce accidents by up to 33 percent with onboard technologies such as lane departure warning and collision alert systems. "These kinds of technologies prevent fatalities and crashes much more significantly than just the seven percent related fatalities we see in fatigue crashes today."

Trucking interests responded positively.

"FMCSA has made an important contribution to highway safety by keeping in force Hours of Service rules that have led to a reduction in deaths and injuries over the last several years," said American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves in a statement.

Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said OOIDA agrees with the decision. "We are pleased with having the uncertainty removed, but continue to have concerns about other hours-of-service related matters."

Craig was referencing OOIDA's petition to allow drivers to take their rest breaks off the 14-hour daily clock, and to change the sleeper berth provision.

[PAGEBREAK]FMCSA Is Testing Wireless Roadside Inspection

The people who enforce the truck safety rules have a big problem. They can't keep up with the trucks and drivers now on the road, and those numbers are only going to grow.

There will be no funding windfall from Congress, so the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is looking to do more with what it's got. Among the solutions the agency is considering: use wireless telemetry to inspect trucks as they go down the highway.

The agency reports that it has successfully tested the concept of using dedicated short-range communications to transfer data about key safety items such as driver identification, log information, CDL status and vehicle condition from a moving truck to a roadside facility. It is now moving into a pilot program to see how the system handles more vehicles and other wireless technologies.

The agency is betting that it can use wireless technology to dramatically increase the number of inspections without bringing commerce to a halt. More inspections will create a deterrent that will markedly improve safety, says Jeff Loftus, transportation specialist in the FMCSA Office of Analysis, Research & Technology.

Loftus uses an analysis of two different types of inspections to prove his point. Enforcement personnel conduct far fewer safety inspections than they do weight inspections - three million a year compared to 177 million a year. The results of that imbalance speak volumes: the violation rate for safety inspections is 73 percent, netting an out-of-service rate of 25 percent, versus a 0.29 percent violation rate for weight inspections.

Loftus acknowledged that the safety inspections numbers are skewed because the inspections are targeted rather than random. Still, he says, the likelihood of a weight inspection is vastly greater than a safety inspection, which creates a deterrence that shows up in the violation rate.

This observation prompted the agency's hypothesis that if it could conduct as many safety inspections as weight inspections, it could have a similar deterrent effect.

FMCSA Administrator John Hill, a proponent of the voluntary use of technology to improve safety, said, "With this technology we could probably do 170 million safety inspections a year."

Hill and Loftus spoke in a webinar on the project held in November. They said the agency and its partners successfully concluded a "proof of concept" test in Tennessee last August, in which data on a truck's onboard computer was downloaded to a receiving station as the truck passed by at varying speeds. The data also was downloaded to a police cruiser as it was parked and as it trailed the truck on the highway.

The transferred "Safety Data Message Set" included several types of information: identifiers such as the driver's license, the vehicle identification number, the carrier's DOT number and shipping document information; vehicle status, including tire pressure and weight, condition of the lighting and whether or not the driver had his seat belt buckled; and hours of service status from an electronic onboard recorder.

In the future, the agency expects to be able to expand that list with data about the truck's brakes, exhaust system, steering and suspension, among other things. In addition, back-office data such as the truck's inspection history, insurance coverage and driver history should be available to the trooper on the scene.

Giving the trooper the information to enforce the safety rules on the spot is only part of the concept. The data from the truck would flow to a back-office system for verification, archiving and further distribution. It would go to various enforcement offices where it could, for example, be used to update the carrier's and driver's safety rating or to issue a citation. It also would go to the carrier, where it could be checked for accuracy and used to address safety issues, and to the driver.

The agency sees this as one piece of a new "operational model" for truck and bus safety enforcement that it wants to start putting in place in 2010 - the agency refers to this as the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 project.

The current approach, which focuses on Compliance Reviews that are labor-intensive and time-consuming, cannot keep up, the agency has said. In the new approach, the agency's determination of a carrier's safety fitness would be independent of the Compliance Review and would be based on performance information such as traffic, hours of service or license violations, improper maintenance or a pattern of frequent accidents.

The key to making this work will be getting accurate and timely data, such as that from wireless roadside inspections.

The "proof of concept" was the first phase in the development of this new system. In the second phase, scheduled for the next couple of years, the agency plans to run a pilot test in Tennessee and perhaps other states as well, using as many as a dozen vehicles. It will look at alternate technologies, and at ways to add information to the Safety Data Message Set, such as brake adjustment and tire pressure.

There will be several key elements to the pilot, Loftus said. One will be to figure out how the data will support the new systems envisioned by CSA 2010. A second will be ensuring that the data transfer is secure and carriers' privacy is protected.

Also, Loftus said he is not convinced that dedicated short-range communications through transponders - the kind of technology now used for automated toll payment systems and the PrePass truck weight preclearance system - is necessarily the way to go. He said the pilot will look at geofencing systems that automatically collect data from the driver's GPS cell phone or an onboard satellite communications system.

If the pilot test works, the agency plans to move on to a field operational test in about 2010. That test, also scheduled for two years, will include multiple traffic corridors and regulatory jurisdictions and up to 100 vehicles.

A major issue, Loftus said, will be to get the industry to buy into the program.

"We really have to demonstrate that there are real benefits here," he said.

It is reasonable to believe that there would be significant safety benefits, he said, and he assumes that the ability to save time and improve management with the wireless inspection data would be attractive to carriers. But he wants to learn more about how carriers will look at the cost-benefit analysis, and will pursue that line of inquiry during the pilot test.

The cost-benefit question leads to a key point: if the system proves to work, will the agency require all trucks to have the necessary onboard equipment, or will it offer incentives for voluntary participation.

The early feedback from the industry is optimism tempered with caution.

"(Any) technology that streamlines or facilitates safety and compliance is a good thing for the industry," said Dan Murray, vice president of research at the American Transportation Research Institute. ATRI, the research arm of American Trucking Associations, has been participating in the wireless inspection project.

The concept would make life easier for safe carriers, increase targeting of marginal carriers and cut operating costs for carriers that comply with the rules, Murray said. He believes that if it proves out, carriers will be eager to sign on.

"But if the technology is being used to increase compliance and regulation rather than streamline and facilitate, we need some kind of benefit-cost assessment on new regulation and compliance," he said.

The industry needs more time to get familiar with what the agency is doing, he added. "We are in the very early stages of awareness. I think we need three to four years to understand how this fits into the safety and operating scheme of the industry, and then we can make some educated decisions about it."

Murray is bullish on the agency's CSA 2010 initiative - "one of the most exciting opportunities in the future for integrating productivity and safety," he said. "As a concept it is phenomenal."

[PAGEBREAK]

Wireless Will Shape Trucking's future, Says GE's Salvo

Some might find FMCSA's wireless roadside inspection idea a little too advanced or intrusive for comfort but the message from one big thinker is that telemetry is in its infancy and will shape the future of the industry.

The information age is ending and is being replaced by the "systems age," a wireless world in which machines, like tractors and trailers, have a brain that can make decisions based on local conditions and communicate with each other as part of a global network, says Joseph Salvo of General Electric.

Salvo, who has a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, is the director of the GE Telematics Center of Excellence and manager of the GE Pervasive Decisioning Systems Laboratory.

His team's research is focused on building a reliable and inexpensive system for gathering a lot of local data - everything from truck tire air pressure to how much freight is in a trailer - analyzing it on the spot according to management's instructions, and then sending the information where it needs to go for action or a decision. GE's VeriWise Asset Intelligence system is the product of that research.

Salvo said we are on the cusp of an explosion in the amount of data available to managers. "Every object that can be labeled will be," he said, and the Internet, which now supports 4.3 billion addresses, will move to a new protocol that supports 3.4 undecillion addresses (that's from nine zeroes to 38 zeroes).

Of course, as every fleet manager knows, data is worse than useless if you cannot make sense of it.

The solution, Salvo said, is "swarm intelligence" - decision systems that store, sort, validate and manage the data. With telemetry, and other technological developments, it is possible to decentralize decision-making by equipping the machine with the processing power to discern what's important, and communicate just that.

"Have objects make decisions rather than people having to review them," Salvo said. "Human consciousness evolved because it gave us the ability to predict the future. Machines can do likewise - they will have a simple consciousness and a limited ability to learn."

He used GE's VeriWise system as an example: a "brain" installed in the front wall of a trailer is linked to a satellite or cellular positioning or geofencing system for tracking, to remote devices such as inventory handhelds and RFID transponders, and by wire to onboard sensors. The onboard sensors detect motion and "wake up" the brain, report if the door is ajar, report on hook/drop and battery status, and with ultrasound keep track of how much cargo is in the trailer. GE is working on additional sensors to add to the VeriWise system: tire pressure, cargo damage, brake condition, and reefer status.

The brain can be programmed to evaluate this flow of data and process what is needed for a specific management purpose, ranging for example from better use of the trailer to improved billing to loss prevention. Only "actionable" information is transmitted from the trailer. A number of fleets - H& W Trucking, J.B. Hunt Transportation, Knight Transportation and Wal-Mart, for example - are using the system.

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