BRAMPTON, Ont. – The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) made its annual trek to Canada Nov. 20, offering a free half-day business conference, which included a broad update on U.S. regulatory issues.
David Heller, vice-president of government affairs with TCA, told a group of about 135 attendees that virtually nothing is moving through Congress, thanks largely to distractions such as the impeachment hearings and upcoming election. Most trucking-related regulations don’t have the legs to carry themselves, and must be piggybacked onto broader legislation such as an infrastructure bill. But those are stuck on the shelves due to the 2020 election and political gridlock in Washington, Heller explained.
However, he also acknowledged large truck fatalities are on the rise in the U.S., which will continue to see calls for further safety initiatives. Why are truck fatalities on the rise? Heller attributed it to an increase in miles traveled, as well as the increased penetration of smartphones. In 2016, 81% of people had a smartphone, up dramatically from just 2% in 2005.
“This is playing a major role in distracted driving,” Heller said.
One piece of legislation that has some momentum are proposed revisions to the hours-of-service rules announced earlier this year. The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is “fast-tracking” the legislation, but Heller warned it could still stall if it doesn’t get implemented before the election. And a change of administration could derail the changes altogether.
“If this doesn’t get done in the Spring – or possibly early Summer – as a final rule, there is an opportunity this doesn’t get done at all, depending on the results of the election,” said Heller.
A regulatory change that seems certain to proceed, is the move from automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs) to electronic logging devices (ELDs), which is to occur by Dec. 17.
“I’ll tell you now, if you are waiting to transition, you may be too late,” warned Heller. “Plan for hiccups, that’s your best approach.”
He cited data that showed 30% of fleets are not at all satisfied with their e-log device supplier, while only 12% are very satisfied.
“If you are expecting a smooth transition, you are most likely wrong,” Heller said.
This message was later echoed by Kerri Wirachowsky, director of roadside inspection programs with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA).
“I can’t emphasize enough, to do the switch now and go through those headaches you have to go through over the next month,” she said. “If there has ever been a year-and-a-half in my life in the enforcement community where inspectors have been very lenient, it is now.”
She said that’s soon to end. Currently many enforcement officers struggle to identify the differences between AOBRDs and ELDs, and are told to presume non-compliant devices are grandfathered ABORDs. That leniency will disappear Dec. 17 when AOBRDs are no longer accepted, Wirachowsky warned.
Heller praised Canada for its approach to ELDs, and its requirement for third-party certification of devices when the Canadian law is implemented in June, 2021. He said in the U.S. there are nearly 500 self-certified devices listed by FMCSA as acceptable, while only about a dozen have been banished.
“Third-party certification should be good for U.S. carriers,” he said. “It will help certify the ELDs we have in our market. It should thin the herd.”
ELDs are providing data that the trucking industry can use to hold shippers more accountable for detention time, and to highlight industry concerns over issues like a lack of truck parking.
“Data is the new oil,” said Heller.
Already, the data is identifying trends. For instance, the TCA has identified that wait times at shipper and receiver facilities are averaging 131 minutes. It has also identified the 10 worst U.S. cities for detention time.
“We now have ways to accurately track this, which we never have had before,” said Heller.
Unfortunately, the data also shows speeds are increasing, especially after a detention event. Drivers are now racing the clock, said Heller, and “speed is the number one cause of accidents on our highways today.”
The good news is, the FMSCA is finally paying attention to detention time.
“Why? Because of ELDs,” Heller said. “We are now telling a true story with the data generated by these devices.”
Infrastructure is another major issue in the U.S., and one that’s not being addressed, Heller noted. The U.S. now ranks 10th in the world in terms of infrastructure, and has 47,000 structurally deficient bridges. Talks of a US$2-trillion infrastructure bill in 2016 have vanished, with more discussion about “pay-for” plans, Heller explained. The TCA favors an increase in the gas tax, which hasn’t increased since 1993.
Canadian carriers must comply with the new drug-and-alcohol clearinghouse coming in the U.S. Registration is already available online for carriers and drivers. It will prevent drivers from hopping from carrier to carrier after skipping or failing a drug test, because all failures and refusals will be recorded in the clearinghouse.
“If you’re a carrier operating in the U.S., you will have to be part of this,” Heller said. While he doesn’t anticipate it having much of an impact on capacity, hair testing could do so, if and when it’s passed. And saliva testing is being allowed for government employees in the U.S., so that could also be coming to trucking eventually. These more stringent testing methods could increase failure rates.
Heller also raised concerns about the availability of CBD oil in truck stops. It’s not federally regulated, so it’s difficult to determine whether or not it contains THC and will lead to a positive drug test.
Another piece of potential legislation TCA is monitoring is a bill that would call for reinforced side guards on trailers. These reinforced trailer skirts would add about $2,000 to the cost of every new trailer and add up to 2,000 lbs. It would be “the most expensive rule ever pushed on the trucking industry,” said Heller, adding it only has 12 co-sponsors in the Senate and is not likely to proceed.
Another issue which will affect Canadian operators who cross the border is a bill that would raise the minimum liability insurance to US$4.9 million – up sharply from the $750,000 required today, which hasn’t been raised since 1980. “There’s no movement on the bill, but it is being talked about,” Heller said.