By Patrick Lantrip, Memphis Daily News
January 14, 2017
But after an especially unpredictable campaign season, all eyes are now on the president-elect to see what he’ll do next.
Because deregulation is expected to be on the horizon for the energy production and banking industries, stakeholders in other sectors are hoping for an opportunity to review their own regulatory processes.
And the trucking industry is no different.
But because the trucking industry runs the gamut from shipping giants with massive fleets like FedEx Corp. and UPS to the roughly 350,000 owner-operators on the roads, it can sometimes be hard to find a general consensus when it comes to what is the appropriate level of regulation.
“We see the new administration as an opportunity to have some of these issues revisited, or at least looked at from a fresh perspective,” Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said.
OOIDA, an international trade association that represents independent owner-operators, has more than 158,000 members throughout the U.S. and Canada who collectively own and operate more than 240,000 individual heavy-duty and small-truck fleets.
“We are in entity that represents people that are career truckers with decades of experience and decades of safe driving,” Spencer said. “Their highest priority is highway safety, and some of the biggest obstacles they have to achieving that are government policies.”
Because 56 percent of total carriers in the U.S. are single-truck enterprises, Spencer said a cookie-cutter approach is not conducive to such a diverse industry.
“The regulations were written one-size-fits-all for not only every trucking company but actually every entity or enterprise that uses trucks, and that includes agriculture, utilities, oil fields, timber,” Spencer said.
However, regulatory agencies such as the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Association, whose mission is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses, also place a high priority on highway safety, but often have different ideas as how to achieve this.
ELECTRONIC LOGGING DEVCIES
In 2015, FMCSA announced a mandate that required all commercial truckers to switch to electronic logging devices by the end of 2017 to ensure compliance with hours-of-service regulations designed to prevent driver fatigue.
The ELDs are expected to result in an annual net benefit of more than $1 billion by reducing the amount of required industry paperwork.
It’s also estimated the mandate will save 26 lives and prevent 562 injuries resulting from crashes involving large commercial motor vehicles on an annual basis, according to FMCSA.
“The ELDs are a very safety-oriented device,” Lt. Allen England with the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s commercial vehicle administrative office said. “The system itself dictates when the driver is supposed to take a break, gives them warning messages and gives alerts to the company, so the companies can track when a driver is approaching or about to exceed his hours or has exceeded his hours.”
One of the initial concerns drivers had with the mandate was the potential loss of hours, but England said that is not the case with most drivers who have already made the switch.
“The drivers will tell you they have actually gained miles in their day because they have to plan their time,” England said. “And by planning their time, it’s making them more efficient and keeping them on a schedule.”
However, OOIDA disagrees with the mandate, so much in fact that they are suing the FMCSA over it.
“While we sued the agency over their regulation, we’re not opposed to the use of any kind of technology that people want to use that they believe will enhance their operation for whatever reason,” Spencer said. “We do object to the mandate that basically equates a company that might have 14,000 trucks to one that has one. There is no comparison in terms of the cost and the benefits.”
And to further exemplify the diversity of opinions within the industry, Daniel Davis, an owner-operator based out of Savannah, Georgia ,who contracts with Dunavant Global Logistics Group, feels ELDs are great for the industry, bur certain details still need to be revisited.
“I love electronic logs. They keep drivers honest and safe – that’s pretty much the bottom line,” Davis said. “However, I feel like there should be a little bit more of a safe haven with the electronic logs.”
For example, Davis said he feels drivers who are near the end of their route when their drive time is up should have a window of leniency instead of being required to stop where they are.
“Other than that, electronic logs are great,” he said. “They actually take a lot of paperwork off of the driver and off of the carrier.”
In August, FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a mandate that would require all heavy-duty vehicles hauling more than 26,000 pounds to be equipped with a speed-limiting device.
In the proposal, the two agencies said they are examining the pros and cons of limiting speeds to 60, 65, and 68 mph, but will consider other speeds based on public input.
Officials said that the speed limiting devices could save an estimated $1.1 billion in fuel costs and millions of gallons of fuel annually.
“The ELD mandate was the big regulation that had the industry in an uproar prior to this,” England said. “Then the speed limiters came about.”
“They developed an algorithm that said, ‘at this speed, you would save X amount of lives,’ and each time you lowered speeds, you saved lives,” England said.
He said it’s hard to find a consensus on whether or not speed limiters will help or hinder the industry.
“Some would say it’s going to cause traffic jams on the interstate, because all of the trucks are running the same speed, and they can’t pass,” England said. “But we had representatives from Canada, which has speed limiters, who said it’s not causing that problem.”
On a personal level, England said he is on the fence the proposal, because he doesn’t have the data or experience to fully analyze both sides of the issue, but does feel the government will make a decision by year’s end.
“Unless the new administration says, ‘No, we’re going to axe it,’” England said. “But of course you never know with administration changes.”
HOURS OF SERVICE
A debate over when truckers may take their breaks and for how long was also a contentious topic of debate prior to regulators suspending certain provisions of the regulation in 2015, which is a rare topic that garnered near-universal support.
Currently, FMCSA allows commercial truckers to drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, however they may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
According to the regulation, truckers may drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes, and they may not drive after 60 or 70 hours on duty in seven or eight consecutive days, respectively.
Most importantly, a driver may restart a seven- or eight-day consecutive period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
Prior to 2015, FMCSA required two periods from 1 to 5 a.m., and home-terminal time, measured once a week from the beginning of the previous 34-hour restart.
“By eliminating your option of operating between 1 and 5 a.m., basically you eliminate time when a driver might want to utilize to operate through some of the most congested areas in the country,” Spencer said. “Drivers are going to try to get where they can with the least amount of traffic.”
Even though all drivers were limited on their flexibility, Spencer said that coast-to-coast truckers were effected especially hard.
“The 1 to 5 a.m. timeframe was actually based on the time standard of where you work out of, so that would mean a West Coast driver, his 1 to 5 a.m., would actually start at 4 a.m. on the East Coast.”
When it comes to the future of distribution and logistics, Dunavant Global Logistics Group chief operating officer Richard McDuffie would like to see more emphasis placed on infrastructure and less placed on legislation.
“I want to see less legislation, honestly,” McDuffie said. “And I want to see more investment in our infrastructure. We can’t compete globally if we don’t get our ocean ports more automated with better infrastructure and our highways and bridges improved.”
On the trucking side of the business, McDuffie said he would also like to see more tort reform in the future.
“I just feel like a lot of times you are seeing a lot of things thrown against a wall to see what sticks,” McDuffie said. “I Just don’t think that is a healthy business environment, and it’s causing our insurance rates to go up across the board in the trucking industry ,substantially.”
At the end of the day, McDuffie mentioned the one common reality all facets the industry share, even if they don’t always agree on the methods.
“The trucking industry as a whole owes it to the public to be a very safe and respectable business,” McDuffie said. “And I know we are making a lot of strides to do that.”