Although full implementation of the electronic logging device mandate is yet months away, data gleaned from currently ELD-compliant operators is already informing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s plan to propose changes to the bedrock hours-of-service rule, stated FMCSA Ray Martinez in his upbeat address to members of the Truckload Carriers Association on March 12.
“A benefit of the ELD [mandate] is the opportunity to review hours of service, said Martinez, speaking at TCA’s Annual Convention here at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas. Noting that preliminary ELD data shows reductions in HOS violations, which means less fatigued and safer drivers, he said those positive results have “put a spotlight on something [HOS] that really has not been looked at in 15 years,” highlighting where changes to the rule may be warranted.
The point being, he said, that as that time has passed, “Commerce has changed. Technology has changed. And your business has changed. So, we put out an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking [aka “a pre-rule”] to ask questions and take comments on four areas of the HOS rule [under consideration for revision by the agency].”
When the pre-rule was issued back in August, FMCSA said it came in response to “widespread congressional, industry, and citizen concerns and seeks feedback from the public to determine if HOS revisions may alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads.”
At that time, the agency noted that while compliance with the ELD rule had reached “nearly 99% across the trucking industry,” it put focus on HOS, “especially with regard to certain regulations having a significant impact on agriculture and other sectors of trucking.”
In Vegas, Martinez reported that the HOS ANPRM has already generated 5,200 comments. “We put it out there to get unvarnished comment. And boy, did we,” he said with a smile. He then praised the participants, remarking that “getting over 5,000 comments is significant, including the quality [of thought] and thoroughness that were expressed.” He said the comments focused heavily on known pain points with HOS, including the 30-minute rest break and sleeper-berth provisions of the rule.
Martinez said the agency was continuing to evaluate the comments and is “very close” to deciding whether it can “move forward with an NPRM that would provide definitive text” to launch the next phase.
As that work goes on, he stressed that the agency seeks “to maintain safety while keeping uniform rules as much as possible for motor carriers and drivers whenever we can. Uncertainty is not good for the industry and not good for the enforcement community.”
Turning to other recent developments at FMCSA, Martinez reminded the audience that the long awaited final rule to establish a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse for drivers will take effect at the top of next year. He noted that the aim of this database effort is to identify commercial vehicle drivers who have committed drug or alcohol violations and make them ineligible from returning to duty.
Martinez also urged carriers to sign up for the agency’s crash preventability pilot program. Launched last summer, this demo program will enable carriers to dispute the determination of certain truck crashes as “preventable.” The program could result in improved Compliance, Safety, Accountability scores for carriers, if the agency reclassifies the cause of crashes previously deemed preventable.
He said his hope is for the demo project to generate enough data that “we can move forward and build it out. When this pilot concludes, I’d like to make it permanent and include the removal of incorrect adverse determinations from the Safety Measurement System.”
Martinez also advised that the agency is working on an ANPRM ‘to gain comments on advanced driver-assistance systems,” such as collision-mitigation systems. “This will be issued in late spring and we’re seeking your input.” He said the gist of this pre-rule will be to encourage the “voluntary adoption of collision-mitigation and other advanced safety systems.”
Wrapping up, Martinez applauded the TCA for its known stance on safety issues, remarking that the “culture of safety” of member companies “moves the needle forward. FMCSA is committed to putting safety first,” he added, “but we all ‘own’ safety—government, industry, and other motorists.”