Equipment Type

Unraveling FMCA Regulations

How DOT compliance and electronic logs will affect truck fleets

May 18, 2017

Some federal regulations can have the impact of a car slamming across an unseen speed bump. Other changes drip out unnoticed due to their insignificance or lack of impact. But this past December and January, key regulations applying to fleet managers were either modified or changed.

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals.

“Before now, the last truck fleet regulation with the greatest impact was implemented back in July 2013,” say Sean Garney, Director of Safety Policy, and Megan Bush, Safety Policy Manager, of the American Trucking Association (ATA). An hours-of-service provision in that law, called the 34-hour restart, required two consecutive off-duty periods from 1 to 5 a.m., and restricted its use to once every seven days, Garney says. “We operated under those restrictions about a year and a half, then Congress suspended them and asked the Federal Motor Carriers Administration (FMCA) to study the safety impact of those restrictions.” The results of the study were made public early in March 2017. The FMCA found that in almost all categories, the restrictions did not improve safety. Now, the industry is allowed to operate permanently under the simple 34-hour restart, meaning that drivers can restart their work clock after 34 consecutive hours off duty, according to Garney.

Monkeying around with the regulations unintentionally created a couple of problems. The big one was pretty surprising, Garney says, in that it began to shift truck traffic more toward daytime hours, increasing exposure to risk.

“Drivers found themselves operating among more vehicles, which potentially lowered safety,” Garney says. “If you are going to make changes in the law, then you have to take into account and fully understand the impact of those restrictions. In this case, the restrictions were based on a very small laboratory study that involved sleep patterns: One night’s sleep is better than split sleep is better than daytime sleep.”

Buddy Mauger, DOT Compliance Specialist, Henkels & McCoy Shared Services, talks about how the changes in the regulations translated into issues in the practical environment of the industry.

Safety Program Components

Identifying components necessary for a successful safety program “is a wide-ranging task,” says Sean Garney, Director of Safety Policy, American Truck Association . Among them are:

 

 

  • Compliance with DOT regulations;
  • Proper qualification of drivers;
  • Providing quality, continued training operations for drivers;
  • Quality vehicle maintenance programs to ensure the vehicle is safe; and
  • Including regular maintenance and post- and pre-service inspections.

“The troublesome requirements that looked good on paper, but proved unenforceable in reality, had to do with including the two rest periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. and the decision that the work week only could be reset every 168 hours,” Mauger says.

Those parameters didn’t last long, according to Mauger. They were suspended in December 2014 and eventually will be taken out of the regulation entirely. When you unravel all these regulatory knots you wind up with this, says Mauger: “For example, if companies in Philadelphia need to run up to New York, they do not want to do it at 6 a.m. during Monday morning rush hour.”

In this, a driver would previously have his 34 hours off from 4 p.m. to midnight on Saturday and all day Sunday. At 2:01 a.m. on Monday, he was eligible to drive again, so he would leave at 3 a.m., drive to New York, park, and wait in his sleeper until the business opened at 8 a.m. Then he would unload the truck and be on his way.

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When the law changed, Mauger says, drivers were not eligible to leave on certain days until 5:01 a.m., putting a lot more trucks on the road at rush hour. Another problem the change caused was that some companies started turning down those loads, says Mauger. “The old regulation let a company get two runs a day between Philadelphia and New York. Under the changed parameters, they could get only one run in per day.”

In Mauger’s opinion, the new hours-of-service change was thrown down the exit chute because there were no benefits found in the restrictions. He backs up that opinion based on his 23-year experience in law enforcement. “Today when I conduct compliance training sessions, I tell the guys, ‘I’m the one you didn’t want to see. Now I’m the one trying to tell you how to avoid trouble,’” Mauger says.

In addition to trying to figure out how to comply with fluid regulations, fleet managers have to prepare for implementation of electronic logging devices (ELD), a technology that ATA’s Bush says is expected to not only improve the data going to fleets, but also provide better information.

“ELD will automatically record certain information, such as compliance with hours-of-service regulations, which is the primary benefit of ELD,” she says. “You’re going to have a generic handle on a driver’s hours of service, which in the long run builds a safer safety program.”

Electronic logging should be no surprise to the industry, says Garney. “Requirements were finished in 2015, giving carriers a two-year window to adapt the technology,” he says. “Now we are coming up on the December 2017 deadline. However, some automatic devices have another two years to be upgraded.

“Either way there definitely will be a start-up cost,” he says. “Fleets now are thinking about what makes the most sense. In the meantime, it would certainly behoove more carriers to start meeting with electronic original equipment manufacturers to decide what type of device suits their fleet.”

ELDs differ from current trucking technology in that it not only tracks location the same as GPS, but also pulls information from the engine—such as power status, mileage, speed and motion—so law enforcers can see the time and distance a driver travels, says Bush.

“All ELDs contain GPS signals, but they don’t all have to have GPS the way you think of it, a navigational system, like the one in your car,” Garner says.

Naturally, one of the concerns that immediately came up was driver privacy. Bush says ELDs actually include certain location limits, “so that enforcement would only be able to see a driver’s location within a 1-mile radius while on-duty driving. If the driver is operating the vehicle for personal use, the location accuracy of the ELD is reduced to a 10-mile radius.”

Many ATA members designate the safety department to make sure they are in compliance with federal and state regulations. At Henkels & McCoy, it is the equipment department. The choice will depend on what the company goals and objectives are, what its core business is, and the size of the company, Garney says. In smaller businesses, he says, those decisions tend to be made by the owner or president. Also, the internal structure of the operation will play a part in who the wagon master will be.

“I can tell you in two words what the components of a good safety program are: education and training,” says Mauger. “That means getting out there and getting drivers and supervisors to understand why the regulations are important and why they have to comply with them.”

Mauger says his segment of the industry seems not to solely teach truck drivers, but rather teach drivers to use trucks as a tool.

“In utility service they don’t think of themselves as truck drivers, and to get them to understand that sometimes is an uphill battle,” he says. “[We have to get] a utilities service worker to understand that they are first a truck driver and, at the end of the day, they again become a truck driver. This is one of the biggest battles we have to face.”

Things can get complicated when you couple the training with the supervision and compliance, Mauger says, “and then [having] to know if these guys are doing it.”

“They may tell you they are,” he says, “but if that’s true, why did you get pulled over for inspection? Why do you have these violations? You put the policies and procedures in place for that. Those are the big parts of our DOT safety program, along with reducing scores and getting buy-in from the utilities service personnel.

“It’s not an easy job,” he says. “I tell people time and time again it takes somebody who the guys understand and respect to do it.”

Mauger’s words could well apply to federal-related regulations that lie ahead for the industry.

ATA is based in Washington, D.C., and Garney has this perspective to offer: “That’s a nearly impossible question right now. The agencies that regulate us are currently without leaders, and we are also, you might say, under a regulatory moratorium from President Trump. There are trickles of what might be, but as far as predicting what are going to be our big priorities this year or next year, [it] is harder than it has been in a long time.”

The previous Obama administration pretty well cleared its desk, Garney says, and “we are waiting to see [what happens to] a lot of things that are in the hopper.”

“Among them are speed limiters, which already exist on most newer trucks. There was a proposal that came out in the fall, but we’re not sure of how that will continue as a priority. Being discussed are things in the driver’s education arena that have been sort of slow-moving,” he says.

“Also, there has been talk of setting speed limitations on modules, which is a controversial rule,” says Bush. Driver health issues are also being looked at, she says, explaining that now drivers with diabetes are prevented from driving unless they receive an exemption from FMCA.

“At this time, there is a proposed rule to allow drivers with stable, well-controlled diabetes to drive,” she says. “Last year, an advanced notice of rulemaking on sleep apnea came out requiring data from the industry about its prevalence in the trucking industry and among the driver workforce.”

Due to all the uncertainties, Garney says, “at the end of the day we can’t predict the priorities.”

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