FMCSA to press states on CDL program compliance

|November 12, 2014


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is seeking approval for an information collection request in which it plans to question states on their progress of complying with Congressionally required upkeep of CDL-issuing agencies.


FMCSA to survey new CDL holders for long-awaited driver training rule

The agency announced this week its intentions to survey recently licensed truck operators as part of the data gathering process in producing an entry level …

The 2012 highway funding act MAP-21 requires states to submit to the Department of Transportation actions they plan to take to “address any deficiencies in [their] commercial driver’s license program, as identified by [the DOT] in the most recent audit of the program,” according to a Federal Register entry scheduled for Nov. 13 publication.The MAP-21 stipulations are aimed at state agencies’ notifications and record-keeping of testing, licensing, violations, convictions and disqualifications, FMCSA says.

States must submit their plans by Sept. 30, 2015.


‘If you can’t shift, you can’t drive!’ — Readers react on transmission transition in driver training

Is more uptake of automatic transmissions the future of the industry? Most readers weighed in on the side of manual learning in driver training, but …

The agency is accepting public comment on the request before sending it to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for approval.The agency will start collecting public comments Nov. 13 on Use the Docket Number FMCSA-2014-0133 to find the docket and to comment. Comments will be accepted for 60 days.

For the information request its seeking approval for, FMCSA says it will send each state a spreadsheet or PDF that state licensing agencies must complete and return.

States must note deficiencies discovered in the most recent DOT audit of their agency and give a detailed plan on how they can come into compliance, FMCSA’s notice says.

NTSB says FMCSA oversight, hands-free phone usage to blame for violent 2013 crash (with video)

|October 23, 2014

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration should restrict the hands-free use of portable electronics and lapsed in its oversight of a problematic carrier, according to a recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board, who says both factors contributed to a May 2013 truck/train crash that caused a train derailment that led to an explosion.


NTSB says investigations ‘raise serious questions’ about FMCSA, asks for audit of agency

In light of four deadly crashes that it has investigated within the past year, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended to DOT head Anthony …

NTSB released its report Oct. 22, saying the driver of the tractor-trailer that hit the train was distracted by a hands-free phone conversation.“Current laws may mislead people to believe that hands free is as safe as not using a phone at all,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “Our investigations have found over and over that distraction in any form can be dangerous behind the wheel.”

FMCSA oversight, however, also contributed to the accident, NTSB says. Its report concludes that the carrier had shown a “consistent and serious pattern of noncompliance” with federal safety regulations and that FMCSA was aware of the problems but failed to “take adequate steps to ensure” compliance.

“We continue to be concerned with FMCSA’s new entrant program,” Hart said. “Problem operators keep falling through the cracks.”

NTSB last year called for an audit of FMCSA and its regulatory oversight, saying the agency consistently allowed problematic carriers to slip through the cracks, leading to several deadly crashes.

Government shutdown? Not for FMCSA, trucking regs

October 01, 2013

Enforcement of trucking regulations and the operation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will not be affected by the federal government shutdown that began Oct. 1, says the Department of Transportation in its shutdown plan. The federal government went into a partial shutdown at midnight after Congress failed to pass a bill funding the government by the Oct. 1 appropriations deadline. 

Analysis: Let’s not forget — Highway funding bill expires in just 365 days

FMCSA, along with the Federal Highway Administration, is funded by the Highway Trust Fund and multi-year appropriations bills, like the MAP-21 highway funding law, meaning the two agencies do not rely on Congress’ annual appropriations for funding. The DOT’s shutdown plan says FMCSA “has sufficient balances of liquidating cash to operate for a limited period during a lapse of annual appropriations,” and that the operations for both FMCSA and FHWA will “continue as normal.” Moreover, none of FMCSA’s 1,102 employees are being furloughed, and none of the FHWA’s 2,914 employees will be furloughed, DOT’s plan says. However, 18,481 of the DOT’s 55,468 employees will be furloughed, the document says.The shutdown is the first since 1996. The main hang up for legislators is the Affordable Care Act (also called “Obamacare”), and the House has passed several bills that either strip the law of funding or delay key provisions of the bill, including the individual health insurance mandate.

On the day the government shutdown began, the key provision within the ACA was put in place with opening of the online health insurance exchanges — read more about accessing them to explore coverage in this link.  

The Senate, whose bill includes no changes to the healthcare law, has rejected the House’s attempts to thwart Obamacare. President Barack Obama has also said he would veto any bills that delay or defund the law.Drivers on federal shutdownOn Overdrive‘s Facebook page Sept. 30, drivers responded in numbers to a question probing the potential impact of the shutdown on the trucking industry. A question posted there asked for recollections of the last such shutdown in 1996, with the overwhelming majority of on-topic respondents recalling no effect on their operations whatsoever other than some rest areas losing and a couple plus-sides: “For trucking in the D.C. Area it was great because you had less traffic,” wrote Rob Touchtone, “such as I am seeing today. So this tells me that our government is too big. Time for them to shrink in size and maybe pay for their own health care.”


Stephen Massatt likewise noted “half as much traffic in downtown Chicago with all the government workers home. Let’s keep it that way.”Hal Kiah, furthermore, noted the 1996 shutdown didn’t bother his operation “one bit,” but he urged lawmakers, particularly on the Democratic side, to once and for all tamp down their spin machines and find common ground:  ”The White House and Senate are blowing this whole mess out of proportion. Do I want a shutdown? Not really, but I’m not going be handed a bag of manure from them either, with the lies about how it is going to affect those receiving [Social Security], Medicare or anything else!… They should agree to either de-fund the healthcare mess, or delay it for a year until they get all the bugs worked out of it. Then, if they can’t … de-fund it and repeal it!”

You can find more in this story on readers’ reactions to the health care law. 

Agency stops enforcing break requirement for short haulers

| August 07, 2013


hours truck stopThe Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced it is no longer enforcing the mandatory 30-minute break required by the current hours of service rule in light of a court ruling last week that vacated that portion of the rule.

The agency said that as of Aug. 2 the break, which was required after eight on-duty hours for all drivers, will no longer apply to short haulers, which are defined as all drivers (including CDL holders) who operate within 100 air-miles of their normal work reporting location or non-CDL drivers who operate within a 15o-mile radius of the location where they report for duty.

All other portions of the current hours rule were upheld, including the rule that a driver’s 34-hour workweek restart include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and the limit of using the 34-hour restart just once per 160 hours.

The undeclared war on owner-operators

July 30, 2013

Why would our government make war on one of the most productive and safest groups in the transportation sector?   While there is no declared or undeclared war on owner-operators and independent drivers by government, it sure feels like it for many of them.   How else can one explain the variety of laws, regulations, and rules that have come out or are pending that may adversely affect them?   The title of this op-ed for Overdrive by Colorado Motor Carriers Association President Greg Fulton, he says, is “a phrase that I heard from a frustrated owner-operator.”   Let’s look at what this undeclared war looks like.   First, we have the federal and many state governments seeking to redefine and reinterpret what constitutes an independent contractor in trucking and the relationship between motor carriers and owner-operators.   The independent contractor model and use of owner-operators in the trucking industry has  been in place for more than 50 years, and many of the owners of the largest trucking companies in the country started as independent drivers.   While this model is not perfect, it has generally worked well for both independent drivers and companies.   Now we have a number of states pushing for these owner-operators to be considered employees instead of independent contractors.   This concept fails to recognize that there are thousands of employee-driving jobs available across the country that these talented individuals could accept. Instead, they choose to be  owner-operators because of the freedom it provides them and the opportunities (and risks) of being their own boss and running their own small business.   Unfortunately, this push by some state governments and other interest groups has had a chilling effect as some companies reconsider the use of owner-operators for fear that they may be subject to unwarranted investigations and fines.   In the end this push by government acts to limit the opportunities for owner-operators and independent drivers.Second, there are the new hours of service (HOS) rules, which have disproportionately affected many owner-operators.   The timing of these rules is particularly frustrating as those independent drivers, who recently survived the country’s worst recession in our generation and are still struggling, now face another  blow to their financial well-being.   Probably even more vexing is that the new rules are not based on sound science and offer little benefit in their eyes in the way of safety.While the new HOS rules are disconcerting, more regulations are on the way. The recent federal highway reauthorization (MAP-21)  requires FMCSA  to complete 29 new safety regulations within 27 months.   Included in this list are several that will affect owner-operators, including rules for electronic logging devices, a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results, new guidelines for safety inspections and others. While many of these proposed regulations and rules may have value in improving safety, the sheer volume of them will pose a further challenge for owner-operators in the way of costs and trying to stay compliant.   Third, the changing standards for vehicles have increased costs while posing a challenge in reliability.   The 2014 engine standards are estimated to increase costs for a tractor by thousands of dollars. Based on the fact that large fleets buy significant numbers of new trucks, their costs will be substantially less per truck than those of an owner-operator buying one vehicle. Unfortunately, these new engines come on the heels of the 2010 models, which have had their share of problems from a reliability standpoint.   New standards for brakes and other safety features will further push up vehicle costs in the near term, creating an even greater cost gap between owner-operators and fleets.   Finally, there is the staggering number of new state and local regulations targeted at trucking.   These include local air quality regulations, idling standards, parking restrictions, noise ordinances, new fees and etc.   The changes created by these new regulations are usually poorly communicated to the trucking industry and even more so to independents.   In many cases, the fines for violating one of these laws can be very steep, as local governments equate big trucks with big income.   In many cases independents only find out about a new regulation after they have been fined for it, which may wipe out the entire profit from a run for an owner-operator.How do we get to a truce in this undeclared war? As in any battle, one stops firing the weapons.   In this case, the weapons happen to be regulations and laws that are ill-considered and lack input from the people most affected.   We need the government at all levels to “disarm” by curtailing new regulations and rules and reconsidering some of the existing ones, such as the new hours of service.   Owner-operators and independent drivers have helped to build the trucking industry in our country into the most efficient freight operation in the world.   Let’s not strangle these industrious and hardworking individuals with voluminous rules which are long on paper and short on benefit.

How to DataQ: 9 tips

Speaking at the big Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance meeting, ongoing this week in Louisville, when Indiana State Police DataQs coordinator Michael Wilson ended his run through various tips for making a successful DataQs request for data review (or RDR) in the event of an erroneous inspection or violation or an incorrectly assigned crash, more than one carrier rep in the audience asked about a particular kind of situation. Both reported drivers receiving out-of-service violations for operating without corrective lenses (or, yes, their eyeglasses) after having taken them off when the officer stopped them. While Wilson’s tips (below) make the whole DataQs process sound neat and tidy, ultimately, he said, “There are always two sides to everything.” If the officer sticks to the story, saying he actually “observed the driver driving” without glasses, “we’re stuck.”

For more on the revamping of the DataQs website, see this story from April 22.

If you missed the news yesterday, the DataQs website, at least, is getting a makeover to make it much more user-friendly for both carriers and drivers. Find that news here.

In the meantime, here’s  a run-through the basics of Wilson’s presentation, with some helpful tips on completing a successful challenge/RDR through the FMCSA’s DataQs system.

1. Make the request as timely as possible. While there is no time limit on challenging a piece of information contributing to your CSA scores/profile, getting the challenge in before two years is up, when it falls off the CSA radar — three years if you’re a leased owner-operator or company driver and your carrier hasn’t done it already — is a no-brainer.

2. Specify the correct RDR Type. Wilson’s office spends no small amount of time, he said, correcting RDRs even at the initial submission level. From the get-go when inputting your RDR, make sure you select the appropriate action type, delineating that it has to do with a particular violation, an inspection, crash, etc.

3. Provide the accurate report number. This refers to your inspection report — giving the accurate number will help Wilson or other appropriate reviewing state agency determine whether “this inspection or crash actually [belongs] to my agency. Is this a valid report number? Can I find the report?”

4. Provide a clear and detailed explanation of what you want reviewed. In the event that the initial category is insufficient to cover the full scope of what is needed in your review, use the section for explanation to elaborate on problems. As Wilson put it, “One of the things we’ve noticed is that sometimes a review request will ask about one thing, but two or three other things are incorrect on the report. We’re going to correct them all…. We have just as much interest in ensuring all the data on that report is as correct as possible. Indiana takes several steps to review all of our data quality – we want to minimize any negative impacts on you.”

5. Provide as much possible supporting documentation that is valid and relevant. Pictures documenting a supposed maintenance violation, for instance, time-stamped if possible. In events where a violation or inspection is wrongly assigned to your own DOT number or the wrong driver, providing bills of lading, truck registration documents and/or driver’s license, rental or lease agreement copies may be appropriate. Wilson called this “one of the most important things that you can do to help us resolve an RDR. Without it, we’ll have to do a lot of fishing.” If what is being disputed is a violation coupled with a state citation that a judge overturned in court, whatever evidence was presented to the judge to have it thrown out should be provided to the feds as well.

6. Keep RDRs professional and detailed. 

7. Make factual statements. Whenever possible, stick to the facts of the case without injecting opinion/emotion into the request.

8. Ask for additional time as necessary. Wilson reported coming back to carriers often requesting additional data, a common practice being to give the carrier or driver a time limit in which to get the data. If you need more time, he noted, however, simply fire off an email to the reviewer to let him or her know you’re working on getting the data. “We want to make sure,” he said, “we’re not just sitting doing nothing for extended periods” to get data problems resolved in a timely manner.

9. Follow up as appropriate. It is your right to appeal any final decision made by a state’s DataQs handler. Two states, Arizona and New Hampshire, have set up official boards with industry representatives in addition to law enforcement reps to review these appeals, said Wilson. The remainder of states handle them less formally, but “we will re-review your information. For secondary review, we have a large number of staff with a lot of experience.”

If you’ve gone through this process yourself, I imagine you have more in the way of helpful advice — please share here in the comments.

FMCSA issues guidance on breaks in on-duty time

| July 12, 2013

tuck stop

In a language clarification from the 1997 guidance on hours of service rules, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is issuing Friday, July 12, an updated version of regulatory guidance concerning breaks for drivers.

The guidance comes on the heels of the July 1 effective date of hours of service rule changes and clarifies guidance it says has an “effect of discouraging drivers from taking breaks during the work day, or documenting such breaks in their logbooks.” Among other changes, the new regulations require drivers take a 30-minute break every eight hours on duty.

The two new conditions that FMCSA says must be met to record meal and other routine stops made during on-duty hours as off-duty break time:

(1)”The driver is relieved of all duty and responsibility for the care and custody of the vehicle, its accessories, and any cargo or passengers it may be carrying.”

(2) “During the stop, and for the duration of the stop, the driver must be at liberty to pursue activities of his/her own choosing.

The 1997 guidance includes requirements for written instructions from a drivers’ employers concerning breaks and are inconsistent with FMCSA rules, the agency says. The new guidance, says the agency’s notice, attempts to make clear to carriers that they do not need to provide guidance to drivers — written or verbal — regarding specifics as to when and where they can take rest breaks.

“While FMCSA has not received any requests for clarification of the guidance, the agency believes it is out-of-date and no longer provides practical assistance to motor carriers attempting to achieve compliance with HOS rules,” says FMCSA’s notice.