Trimble in.sight attendees got an update on regulatory "hot topics" for trucking, including hours of service, drug testing, and more. At a Sept. 16 session during the Houston, Texas, event, Dave Osiecki, president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, gave an update on where several regulatory changes currently stand.
Two of the items have already have had final rules issued, and are expected to become part of the regulatory landscape in the near future. Those rules include one establishing a CDL drug and alcohol clearinghouse and one involving entry-level driver training.
1. Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse
The drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule was finalized at the end of 2016 but was put on hold by the new presidential administration for further review – something that is quite common when administrations change, Osiecki said. That rule looks to be finally moving toward implementation, as it has strong backing within the trucking industry. A website, clearinghouse.fmcsa.gov, was established by FMCSA in February, and users may start registering and setting up accounts in October, with implementation of the rule beginning Jan. 6, 2020.
All parties involved in the drug and alcohol testing process for CDL holders will be required to register, including motor carriers (employers), consortiums/TPAs, service agents, medical review officers/substance abuse professionals, and drivers – at least most of them over time. Not every driver will have to register (those who are long-time employees and who have never failed a drug/alcohol test probably won’t be required to register.)
Beginning Jan. 6, carriers will be required to query the system when hiring and annually for all current CDL holders in their employ. Carriers will conduct a limited query first, which only tells them if there is a record in the database on that driver. If the query comes back ‘yes, there’s info,’ then a full query is required.
Driver consent is required to query the database. That can be a consent form included in the application packet for limited queries, but for full queries, drivers must give their consent through the clearinghouse. Queries are $1.25 each – there are bundles offered, but there is no price break. Carriers have to have money in their account before they can query. There is a no-limit annual fee of $24,500, but only a few carriers in the country would need the unlimited plan.
Carriers have three business days to report violations, including refusals to be tested.
As with most FMCSA regulations, there are record-keeping requirements. A record of each query and information obtained from the clearinghouse must be kept for three years. For the first three years, employers must both query the clearinghouse and conduct manual queries an applicant’s former employee, since it will take some time for the database to be populated with data. After Jan. 6, 2023, employers must only use the clearinghouse.
While many trucking companies have pushed for such a system to prevent drivers from not disclosing violations when applying for a job, there will likely be some impacts. For one, there will be more costs and added administrative burden, and it could result in a slower hiring process. In addition, FMCSA has proposed to delay implementation for state CDL licensing agencies.
2. Entry-Level Driver Training
An entry-level driver training rule was also caught up in the administration change. It is slated to take effect in February 2020 and requires new training rules applicable to those applying for a CDL, CDL upgrades (from Class B to Class A, or instance) or for S/P/H endorsements.
Those seeking a CDL are required to obtain training from a certified provider in order to take a CDL skills test.
This rule also requires CDL training providers to register with the FMCSA’s training provider registry (TPR). Training providers registered must deliver FMCSA’s required curriculum. Osiecki said the likely impacts of this rule could include raising the “entry bar” for new drivers, which could affect the supply of drivers. The training is likely to be more expensive as well.
What’s uncertain, he said, is whether the rule will result in a higher level of professionalism or improve safety.
Among the items that have been proposed but may or may not come about are proposed changes to the HOS rules, changes to the Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement system, and an under-21 driver initiative.
3. Hours of Service Rule Changes
A proposed rulemaking on these changes was released in August and is now in step 2, of the process, Osiecki said, which would be notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). That would be followed by steps 3 and 4 – issuance of a final rule and then litigation. That means that for now, “it’s just a proposal,” he said.
Among the changes are adjustments to the 30-minute rest break rule, changes to the sleeper berth rule, a change to the 14-hour running clock rule that would allow it to pause, or stop, between 30 minutes and 3 hours for break time, a change in the short haul-driver exception to 150 air miles and 14 consecutive hours versus the current 100 air miles and 12 consecutive house. Osiecki said that if that particular change goes through, it could allow more drivers to be exempt from the EDL rule. Also, among the changes is proposal to extend the 14-hour on-duty window by two hours due to adverse driving conditions.
Many of these changes could end up being part of the HOS rule, he said, but a few may not make the cut. As he noted, politics drives policy making and that is especially true with HOS rules as there are strong constituencies on both sides of these changes. He predicted a minimum of six months before a final rule would be issued.
4. CSA Changes
The CSA has been around for some time, Osiecki said, and has been plagued by problems from the beginning. An independent study in 2017 recommended wholesale changes with a new scoring model needed.
A revised model may have fewer BASICS, he said, and predicted that the industry probably would see a new CSA that focuses on violations that matter in terms of safety as opposed to those that don’t, such as paperwork violations. While such violations could still result in a citation, they would be included in the CSA score, he predicted.
5. Under-21 Driver Initiatives
Osiecki said he does not see this as a near-term reality. There is a pilot program that allows 18- to 20-year-old drivers with military driving experience to obtain CDLs. He doubts Congress will act on a broader change, instead opting to let the FMCSA continue its pilot project.
He noted that “trucking has been down this road before” and he thinks it’s been a dead-end. A better solution would be a graduated CDL that has limitations and restrictions, as those imposed in some states on auto drivers between 16 and 18 years old, with the limits gradually increased as the drivers gain experience.