When asked what types of changes the industry might expect in Hours-of-Service rules, Joe DeLorenzo demurred. “All I can say is, I can’t get into where we are with time frame.” DeLorenzo, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s acting associate administrator for enforcement, said the agency was working through the many comments it had received, which he described as “helpful.”
But he said as far as when such changes are actually put into place is unclear. “The way the rulemaking process works at this point, we plow through the comments and then make a determination of what changes there will be,” he explained. “The goal with this rule is to provide some flexibility. I think we are well on the way to doing that.” A panelist for a Feb. 17 session at the Omnitracs Outlook 2020 meeting in Las Vegas, DeLorenzo noted that he feels the process is moving rather quickly.
Mile Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, said that from the Canadian perspective, flexibility was a key, within limits. Also participating on the panel was Terry Wirachowsky, director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s roadside inspection program. She said she thought changes to the mandatory 30-minute rest period would be helpful and provide some flexibility. As is, the rule is “problematic,” she said, and difficult to enforce at roadside.
DeLorenzo added that he thought “a rule that makes everybody a little unhappy is probably the best,” and compared developing HOS to threading a needle. “Our goal is to provide flexibility while maintaining safety. But the agency has to understand that traffic and infrastructure are much different than they were when the rule was first developed.”
As what the agency has seen since the ELD mandate, DeLorenzo said that when the rule went into effect, HOS daily and weekly limit violations went down. But after dipping at the same time, false log violations have ticked back up, primarily he thinks because roadside inspectors are learning what to watch for.
He said it would probably be another year before the roadside inspectors in each state are really up to speed with ELD reporting and what kinds of things to look for. “When it comes to data transfer, the best way is through the web service, DeLorenzo added. “Not sure why they did the email transfer the way they did it.”
In Canada, the ELD mandate doesn’t take effect for another 16 months, but unlike as there was in the U.S., there will no grandfathered period for truckers currently using automatic onboard recorder data recorders.
That’s not a bad thing, Wirachowsky said. The two-year grandfathering period in the U.S. created problems for roadside inspectors because often neither the inspector nor the driver was sure which type of device was in the truck. In addition, in Canada AOBDRs are not as widely used.
The panel also discussed the impact of the federal drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule and the impact of legalized marijuana on the industry in terms of driver retention and the driver shortage. DeLorenzo said that while states may legalize marijuana use, the FMCSA and the federal government as a whole still consider a positive test for marijuana to be a disqualification. In Canada, marijuana is legal throughout the country, but still prohibited for drivers. Millian noted that there is no mandatory drug testing in Canada, but that his association supports testing.
As for what might be on the regulatory horizon, DeLorenzo said, “You’ve seen over the last few years is that things are changing quickly, and I don’t think that will change.” And the speed of technological change will also have an impact of future rulemaking. He added that he didn’t think the agency had “come to grips” with distracted driving, but that could change as a new transportation authorization bill makes its way through congress. “That’s when many changes come about,” he said, with the authorization bills often including congressional mandates for FMCSA to create rules to address certain issues.
As Wirachowsky noted, the industry itself often comes up with technologies that eventually find their way into the rule books. She cited AOBDRs as an example, with many fleets deploying those technologies well before rules were created around them. “It’s easier for governments to make rules when 60% to 70% of the industry is already doing it,” she said.