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Safety & Accident

Impact of FMCSA Regulations on Medium-Duty Fleets

July 2014, Work Truck - Feature

by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

There are myriad regulations affecting work truck fleets, particularly those that operate vehicles of 10,001-plus pound GVWR. These trucks and their drivers must comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s regulations, and have their compliance tracked by the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.

And, the regulations and the CSA are ever-evolving.

Work Truck asked industry subject-matter experts and fleet managers to find about how several of the soon-to-be implemented and on-the-horizon regulations will affect medium-duty fleets.

Adding the Medical Credential to MVR
According to Tom Bray, transportation editor for J.J. Keller, among the biggest changes to the safety regulations are the CDL federal card merger.

“As soon as the driver passes a medical exam, they have to take their medical card to their state and certify what type of driver they want to be — interstate or intrastate — and then provide the medical card to the state,” Bray explained. “Then the state adds it to the driver’s MVR. After next year this will be kind of nice, because drivers won’t have to physically carry their medical card on them. It’ll be right on their MVR electronically. So when an officer does an inspection or traffic stop with them. All the officer will need is the license and he can immediately check his license and see that he has the right class and endorsements and he’s medically qualified. It’ll be right on that report the officer gets.”

While there is a convenience factor involved, Bray noted that there is a pitfall that fleets have been discovering.

“Once a driver is in the system, if he lets his health certification lapse and he doesn’t re-certify and doesn’t get a new medical card, the state will downgrade his CDL. And, what that means is that he can’t operate a vehicle that requires a CDL anymore,” Bray said. “It’s a change that the industry has got to get used to. Companies are used to having a copy of the medical card in their drivers’ qualifications files and look at it and see that the driver is due for their annual medical exam. With everything being switched over to the MVR, it’s causing change pains for companies.”

For Steve LaPorte, fleet manager for Iron Mountain, which operates throughout the U.S. and Canada, the addition to the health certification to the MVR is nothing new. He’s already experienced a similar change for his drivers and fleet assets working in Canada. The company has a third-party administrator that helps it keep track of the drivers’ credentials.

“There are several extreme benefits with this program — which I instituted 12 years ago — so we receive tickler notices whenever a driver is due for a physical 60 and 30 days ahead of the deadline, so there’s no surprises. We should be in a position to respond. We know the states that are ahead of the game. What we’ve done is tell the drivers that they have to go to the DMV and register with this,” he said.

The biggest issue has been less with the drivers than with the state DMV offices, according to LaPorte. He noted that no two states are at exactly the same point in implementing the CDL federal card merger.

“Some, like California, have been right on it. It’s been very smooth in California. Other states, it’s almost like it’s a 10-to-midnight awakening and they’re very far behind,” he said. “You can’t tell in all the MVRs if the driver has complied. As a motor carrier, you’re supposed to check to see if they’ve complied, but there’s no consistency in how it’s demonstrated, and, in some instances, it isn’t updated, so you just don’t know, so you’re shooting in the blind. So, you have this requirement that has been enacted and there’s a lot of jurisdictions are just not prepared. The deadline has been pushed back once. I don’t know if it will again.”

Getting Physicians Certified
Going hand-in-glove with the requirement that CDL drivers submit their credentials to state DMVs is that the physicians who perform the driver physical exams must now be certified to do so.

Bray of J.J. Keller explained that the rationale behind this change was the fact that there were drivers who were being passed as fit, but who had serious medical issues that should have precluded them from having a medical card.

“For years you didn’t have to have any qualifications as a medical professional to do DOT physicals. Anybody could do it. If you had an M.D. or were a nurse practitioner or had a license of a certain class or above, you could do a DOT physical,” he said. “After May 21, examiners have to be trained across the board. After that date you can only have a physical from a doctor who is on that registry. That’ll kind of take care of part of the problem with people who weren’t qualified getting a medical card.”

Turning Driver Logs Electronic
Perhaps the most controversial change that’s coming to fleets is the transition from traditional paper logs to electronic logbooks. No matter where an expert stands on the matter, there is one point that isn’t really up for debate — it’s not a question of if, but when the electronic logbooks will be implemented.

The current government guidelines covering electronic logs go back to 1988. The use of electronic logging devices is completely voluntary, though there are some advantages for fleets if they do use them.

“If you put these devices in, you get a couple of little perks when they audit you, they don’t check as many things because you have reliable electronic records,” according to Bray of J.J. Keller.

This may change very soon. In March the FMCSA issued a proposal that would require all drivers who currently fill out a daily log to switch over and use an electronic logging device.

“The term that gets tossed around is universal mandate,” Bray said. “The proposal has in it the technical requirements — what it has to do and what it has to capture, as well as the mandate that drivers use them — so it’s a pretty expansive rule. It’s huge. It’s going to affect 500,000-plus carriers everybody from those who operate 10,001 pound GVWR vehicle to the full-grown tractor trailers, because the way it’s structure, anybody who fills a log out will be covered by it.”

Bray said that the only arguments left are the exact dates and the technical requirements.

“It’s not an option, Congress has told the FMCSA that they have to do it and here’s the things you have to consider and here’s how you have to go about it and here’s what the device has to do,” he said. “Congress has given the FMCSA a pretty restricted road map. So, for them to throw their hands up and say ‘we’re not going to do this’ isn’t real likely. They get their money from Congress. A lot of it is congressionally mandated, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room. The FMCSA does have the option — because they’re actually writing the rule — about who exactly it’s going to apply to and what the exact technical specifications are going to be, so they have some latitude when they’re writing the rule.”

Once the rule is issued, there will be a two-month commentary period. Not surprisingly there are already differences of opinion about the use of electronic logs.

“When electronic logs go into effect, expect a big mess,” said Gregg Hodgdon, fleet manager of E.A. Sween, parent company of Deli Express.
However, LaPorte of Iron Mountain offers the flipside to what may be a deeply divisive issue.

“Personally I feel that it’s a really good thing for the industry on many, many fronts,” he said. “My experiences with electronic logbooks go back to the 1990s. I used to have it on several hundred tractor trailers with commercial drivers. Even with those rudimentary systems, once drivers got used to it, very few drivers like logs. They don’t like the paper in the cab, trip recording, etc. If you can go paperless, I think most drivers see it as a win. From the carrier perspective, I think it greatly simplifies your administration and improves your accuracy.”

In spite of their difference of opinion on the subject, both fleet managers are in the process of implementing electronic logbooks in their respective fleets.

Hodgdon said that E.A. Sween is piloting the use of electronic logbooks in small areas first and it has been a big transition for the company’s drivers.
LaPorte said that, due to the expense, he has been phasing in the electronic logging system — which is part of the company’s telematics solution — to all of its drivers regardless of the license time they possess. The process should be completed by the beginning of 2015.

While LaPorte has embraced electronic driver logs, he does see that there could be some challenges not for the fleets per se but their suppliers.

“The regulation requires a direct linkage between the engine data and the system itself,” LaPorte said. “Historically, that has been done through the J-Bus, and would continue to be so. Most of the systems use the Deutsch plug, which is a diagnostic system. And, that’s worked very well — there’s standard information flow. That’s not the issue. The problem is when you extend the market and the end user base to include medium-duty fleets, particularly in the lower vehicle classes — Class 3, 4, 5 — all of a sudden you have the OBD II port involved. It’s a very different componentry and information flow, and I think the industry has struggled with that a bit in terms of how to deal with that so that you can actually draw and use that information. I think that’s one challenge that suppliers have yet to recognize is that not everybody who keeps a log drives a tractor trailer or a Class 6 or 7 truck.”

LaPorte said that he thinks it may be an even bigger issue because of the high price of diesel. “Gasoline engines are becoming more prevalent, because the price of diesel has been remaining stubbornly much higher and the cost of diesel engines has been higher, so you’ve been seeing fleets in the lower vehicle classes going with gasoline, which means you’ll be dealing with data from the OBD II,” he said.

On the fleet side, LaPorte said the struggle will be how the logs will be installed in the cabin. He noted that there are a couple of options open to fleets. The first scenario is hardware that is purchased outright, depreciated, with the only ongoing cost being service fees. The second scenario is a variation on the first with the fleet using the same hardware as in the first scenario, but instead of paying for the equipment, pays a higher service fee — basically the model used in the cell phone industry.

A third option, which LaPorte refers to as “hardware light” would have drivers leveraging existing fleet or personal equipment such as a Motorola scanner or smart phone. Iron Mountain experimented with this latter approach.

“We experimented with a system like this and we had some ‘outages,’ so maybe it’s too soon to adopt this approach,” LaPorte said. “I think, in theory, it makes good sense, because there’s less equipment to install and remove and reuse. You have the disadvantage of how do you ensure the reliability of communicating between the systems.”

Making Regulations Pay Off
Kelvin Kohatsu, fleet administrator for Hawai’i Electric Light Co., adheres to all of the FMCSA safety regulations regardless of not being a U.S. DOT carrier transporting interstate commerce, and it has been a positive move for the 300-vehicle utility fleet.

While on the face of it no fleet on the island would be involved in interstate commerce, Kohatsu said that’s not how the Hawaii DOT sees it.
“The State of Hawaii DOT interpreted it that if you are going to be picking up and transporting goods from the dock and the harbors and airports, it is considered interstate commerce, so those who are doing that have to register with the U.S. DOT for the number,” Kohatsu explained.

While Hawai’i Electric Light Co. doesn’t fall under these rules, that could change, according to Kohatsu. “Talking with the FMCSA, they’re saying that they’re going to be requiring everybody to register — and I think it may be this year, so we’re going to be registering,” he said.

Even though it isn’t requiring the fleet to register, Kohatsu said that the fleet has been adhering to CSA 2010 since 2010. Hawaii fleets are required by the state to complete an annual eight-hour driver improvement course.

“We adhere to all the rules and during the classroom I talk about CSA and all the basics and all requirements that we need to know,” he said. “So, I tell them if and when we have to register, we are up to speed already. I tell them just keep doing what you’re doing because you’ll get great scores. I’m very happy with the way things are going.”

Kohatsu said there is a bit of grousing from time to time from the long-time drivers about having to repeat the CSA information. Kohatsu is undeterred telling them to “embrace change, man, it’s coming.”

This proactive implementation to CSA and safety in general has paid big dividends for Hawaii Electric.

“Last year we had 10 vehicle incidents in one year and the average cost was $250 per accident — we had 10 incidents that cost $2,500 and we travel 1.8 million miles per year,” Kohatsu said. “The hardest thing is what are we going to do in 2014?”

What’s in Store for the Future

Looking ahead, Bray of J.J. Keller sees a couple of changes coming up the pike that could directly affect all truck fleets.

“One thing that’s out there is crash worthiness,” Bray said. “A lot of the crash worthiness requirements don’t apply to anything over 10,001 pounds GVWR. Congress, for several different reasons, has looked at that and has said ‘justify it.’ They basically are saying why aren’t they there? The significance is that if they do look at it and find that regulations for cars are useful for trucks you’ll see NHTSA writing regulations on the work truck and big truck manufacturers saying that you have to comply with these as well. The big thing with that is the whole cost-benefit argument. It’s going to cost the manufacturers more to do some of those things. Would there be adequate benefit to justify it, so that whole argument would start up one way or another you’d see more costs to the vehicles as more things are being engineered into them for crash worthiness.”

The other issue is what Bray calls the new-entrant fleets and drivers, which will require new fleets covered under FMCSA to demonstrate they know the safety regulations prior to being issued a DOT number.

“That’s going to change some things particularly the work truck type of operations that are construction or landscape or route sales where they’re not true motor carriers so the knowledge base of the safety regulations just aren’t there,” Bray said. “They typically acquire that knowledge as they go. They get the DOT number and put it together on the fly. Well if they shift that they’ll need to have a lot of that knowledge up front.”

On the driver side of the equation, there will be more oversight when a business decides to transition a worker into a CDL driver position.

“There’s Congressional and court-mandated training for those people, and that’s going to make a difference, particularly for the work truck people, where a lot of times the person is your best whatever, but now he’s also going to be a driver because he’s responsible and we trust him to drive one of our vehicles,” Bray said. “If that’s going to involve a CDL vehicle, it may require additional hoops to jump through to get from that laborer position to a driver position.” 

How Does CSA Work?

Rolled out in late 2010, the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program established what the U.S. Department of Transportation referred to as a “new operational model,” which will use the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s and it’s state enforcement partners’ resources to more efficiently and effectively.

The CSA Operational Model has three components:

Measurement: CSA measures safety performance, using inspection and crash results to identify carriers whose behaviors could reasonably lead to crashes.
Evaluation: CSA helps FMCSA and its state partners to correct high-risk behavior by contacting more carriers and drivers. Interventions are tailored to specific safety problems as well as to the Safety Fitness Determination methodology.
Intervention: CSA covers the full spectrum of safety issues, from how data is collected, evaluated, and shared to how enforcement officials can intervene most effectively and efficiently to improve safety.

When it rolled out the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, the U.S. Department of Transportation developed a new operational model for enforcement.
When it rolled out the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, the U.S. Department of Transportation developed a new operational model for enforcement.

Comments

  1. 1. Phil Gardner [ August 01, 2014 @ 11:52AM ]

    While it is true that those who operate vehicles of 10,001-plus pound GVWR both trucks and their drivers must comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s regulations, and have their compliance tracked by the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, the drivers of those trucks that have a gross weight under 26,001 lbs. are not required to possess a CDL. Drivers of trucks under the 26,001 lb. are required to possess only a DOT medical card. The article does not make this clear and even some enforcement individuals have confused this point and issued tickets to a DOT rated truck driver for not possessing a CDL license.

    Great care needs to be taken with this merging of compliance issues making this distinction very clear to enforcement personnel whose understanding of the law is less than clear.

 

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