DALLAS — Ray Martinez, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, asked attendees at Omnitracs’s user conference to “please prepare” for the December transition from AOBRDs to ELDs “now, if you have not done so.”
Speaking at the conference’s opening session, Martinez noted that 2019 is a critical year for ELD implementation and that putting it off does not help either the industry or the regulators.
But while the Congressionally mandated switch to ELD from AOBRDs is good news coming out of the law. “We do believe it will have a positive impact on industry efficiency and highway safety,” he said, citing figures that show decreases in out-of-service violations – as much as 50% in the last year or so.
Plus, the data generated by ELDs “opens the door” for the FMCSA to provide more flexibility by highlighting areas in the current HOS rules that may need to be improved. The data from ELDs “helps us explore that,” he said. “We appreciate the commitment of carriers and drivers to see this through."
He said the agency had conducted listening sessions across the country on the issue. “We came in with ‘what do you think?’” As a result, FMCSA received over 5,000 specific comments. “We were very pleased with that. It provides guidance for possible HOS rule changes."
He said he was pleased to report they were moving forward with a proposed rulemaking. And while he said he couldn’t announce anything on that today, he was “very encouraged about the prospect of moving forward.”
Martinez said he understands the FMCSA in the past may not have been open to communication. “That’s a big problem. Yes, we are a regulatory agency, we enforce rules, but if the way you regulate doesn’t make sense to the ones you regulate, you lose something. We are not just here to talk, but to engage.”
Technology continues to play an important role in safety, he said, but that “we are not developing technology ourselves, we know that is happening in the private sector.” That’s why the agency engages with technology providers. Exploring ways we to harness technologies in transportation is an important tool for the agency.
As for the FMCSA itself, he said “we are only 1,100 people spread out in every state.” Since its formation in 2000, the agency has worked to ensure that freight and people move safely by providing oversight. The agency regulates over a half-a-million carriers and 4.7 million active CDL holders.
FMCSA can’t do its job without its partnership with state agencies. “We work through our state partners,” he said, supporting over 13,000 state commercial vehicle inspectors and providing grants to help state DOTs improve their technology. “This is the way we carry out our mission.”
“We believe the new technologies can help here. We want to strike the right balance between technology and safety enforcement.”
He described the philosophy in some state capitals as one where if you want to get to safety you need more laws and more regulation. “I think there’s a different tack. I want to be a promoter of using technology to get to more safety,” and not necessarily more regulation.
There will always be enforcement, he said, but there also needs to be more engineering in terms of new technology that makes vehicles safer and helps drivers.
On autonomous trucks, Martinez acknowledged they are a long way from seeing widespread adoption, but the FMCSA has to make decisions now on what can be tested and what can be used on the roadway. “We know that full integration of autonomous CVs will take a while to come.” But the agency “will no longer assume that a CMV driver is always a human.”
We wont see this anytime soon, he said, but the technology is moving forward and FMCSA has to keep abreast with that.