What’s Happening with Transportation Regulations?

Transportation regulations are a hot topic of discussion these days, with Hours of Service (HOS) arguably getting the lion’s share of attention. But there are other regulations that will certainly impact the transportation industry in the coming years, such as Electronic Logging Devices and Minimum Carrier Insurance Requirements.

Jason Craig, Manager of Government Affairs at C.H. Robinson, was my guest on Talking Logistics recently, where he provided an update on various transportation regulations and the potential impact for shippers and carriers.

We started the conversation talking about the Highway Trust Fund, which at the time was on the verge of running out of money (yet again) as Congress debated various funding mechanisms. Congress ultimately passed a short-term fix, but watch this short clip for Jason’s perspective on the various funding proposals (such as Vehicle Miles Traveled) that will certainly get debated again in early 2015 when the money runs out again.

Jason also provided an update on Hours of Service, specifically what was happening with the 34-hour restart rule. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:

This is a debate that always has twists and turns, and it’s hard to keep track of them for sure. So to summarize where we’ve been, in July of [2013] some new rules kicked in after a year’s notice from FMCSA [including the 34-hour restart rule]…There was quite a bit of opposition to it last fall, and we’ve seen that opposition continue. Many carriers have seen a decrease in productivity per driver, and drivers, more importantly, have seen a decrease in take home pay because of this. [The rule] was challenged in court pretty vociferously by a couple of industry associations, and that challenge was resolved and the rule was allowed to stand. So that’s done, and it’s important to note that for the first time in a long time, this is not in court. Now the issue is does the Senate or House or President weigh in on this.

One of those twists and turns was the tragic highway accident that occurred in June involving a Walmart driver, which critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed fellow comedian James McNair. What impact did this accident have on the debate?

In the Senate, Senator Collins had an amendment that passed out of committee, but then it got bottled up on the floor, and part of it, unfortunately, was the news of the Tracy Morgan crash in New Jersey. Senator Booker from New Jersey held up that bill from getting any further. So that’s suspended right now.

What is really interesting…is that former [FMCSA] administrator Annette Sandberg sent a strongly-worded letter to leaders in the Senate saying, [in effect], “Hey, don’t confuse the issue…that Walmart crash with Tracy Morgan would have happened under the old rules”…I just read that the NTSB has released a part of the crash report and that the driver was going 20 miles over the speed limit; he was also within his hours of service, driving a little over 9.5 hours consecutively, and within the 14-hour clock, a little over 13 hours.

So again, details are very tough to pin down and get people to focus on; the reality is there was a large truck crash, there’s going to be a lot of public outcry. Is it going to influence the debate? Absolutely, it already has. We’ll see where it goes. The reality is that [the 34-hour restart rule] has been in place for a year, and it’s pretty tough to rescind a rule that’s been in place [that long].

We also discussed another regulation that’s getting a lot of attention these days: electronic logging devices. A few months ago, the American Trucking Associations called on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration “to swiftly issue a mandate for commercial truck drivers to use electronic logging devices to monitor their compliance with hours-of-service requirements.” Where are we today with ELD regulations? Watch the short clip below for Jason’s response:

“A significant issue in this [ELD] debate has been driver harassment,” explained Jason. “The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) made a very strong case that drivers could be harassed if they voluntarily made an assessment that they, [for example], were up the night before and didn’t get any sleep and were sick, and maybe they’re 7 hours into an 11 hour run and they deem themselves a hazard to the highways and take themselves voluntarily off the road early, without exhausting their 10 or 11 hours. What FMCSA didn’t take into account was how to protect drivers from their dispatcher calling them and saying, ‘Hey, I know you got 3 hours left, you’re shutting down, [but] you need to drive those 3 hours’ and pressing them [to get back on the road]…There was a court case that said ‘FMCSA you need to throw out this rule and start over,’ and that has absolutely influenced the debate.”

In closing, I asked Jason if there were any other regulations or developments worth keeping an eye on, and this one caught my attention (emphasis mine):

Another big issue that I’m seeing more and more talked about in the background is detention time. It was interesting that [President Obama’s] transportation bill outlined a pretty interesting fix for detention time, which a lot of people recognize as a significant issue in the industry. What they outlined there was that part of the issue is that drivers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and paid per mile for the most part. What they proposed is that if drivers are waiting that they get paid a minimum wage per hour and when they’re actually driving they get paid per mile. That would be one potential way to address the issue of detention time. What kind of ripple effects would it have across the industry, I don’t know, but detention time is an issue that reminds all shippers to take a look at their dock practices. It’s always good practice to get carriers in and out as quickly as you can, especially in this type of market, and be a shipper of choice…”

I encourage you to watch the rest of my conversation with Jason for additional insights on this important and ever-evolving topic, including his comments on what’s happening with Minimum Carrier Insurance Requirements and what actions shippers and carriers should take today to prepare appropriately for these pending regulations and changes. After watching, post a comment and share your perspective!