Agency focuses on driver harassment
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Feb. 10 announced its intent to move forward with its rulemaking about electronic onboard recorders and hours-of-service supporting documents by preparing a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking.
FMCSA also announced via the Federal Register steps to augment efforts to obtain comprehensive data to support this SNPRM, including:
* Listening sessions on the issue of driver harassment;
* Conducting research by surveying drivers, carriers and vendors regarding harassment issues;
* Tasking the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to assist in developing material to support the rulemaking, including technical specifications for EOBRs and their potential to be used to harass drivers.
Feb. 8, during a four-day meeting, MCSAC finalized a report on mitigating the use of EOBRs to harass drivers that provides suggestions to FMCSA. The document contained information MCSAC suggested the agency should explore in any rulemaking on EOBRs for hours compliance.
Following the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision last August that vacated the 2010 limited mandate for EOBRs for certain noncompliant carriers, the harassment issue may be the key consideration for the agency. The agency has expressed intent to devise a rule that mandates some version of electronic logging devices for virtually all trucks in interstate commerce.
Harassment issues relating to electronic logs cover driver relationships with law enforcement personnel and with carriers, tilting heavily toward carriers and favoring drivers’ positions in certain instances. MCSAC’s report noted, for instance, that “drivers should be able to save records of carrier contact with drivers.”
The committee spelled out the need for any EOBR regulation to avoid giving carriers what could be considered a harassment-enabling tool. “You cannot regulate bad management practices,” the report says. “You cannot prevent a carrier from pressuring a driver to do his/her job in a potentially unsafe way, yet that is the situation you want to avoid.”
The report suggests the agency “consider civil penalty sanctions as deterrents for harassment” and/or “seek out current regulations that appropriately address” any driver complaint that is made. Also suggested was FMCSA-led training for driver supervisors and law enforcement regarding what could constitute harassment.
Debate about limiting real-time, two-way communication with the devices ended with the committee in part divided on the subject of whether such fleet management tools should be required to be included in new standards for the devices. Both the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and Teamsters Union representatives on the committee, in addition to others, opposed requiring such tools to be a part of any electronic logging system.
“The fleet management system that could be incorporated into the [electronic logging device] could open the door to harassment,” a note in the report says.
Stephen Owings of Road Safe America, a safety advocacy group, proposed an item for inclusion that pointed out “benefits of EOBRs” to drivers relative to harassment by carriers. With EOBRs in use, the report stated, “Carriers are less likely to pressure drivers to drive beyond their maximum hours.”
OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer disputed Owings and anyone else “who thinks that EOBR data can’t be and isn’t changed in back rooms and in the systems that collect the data,” he said. “It does happen, and I think it probably will always happen.”
— Staff Reports
TRUCK TONNAGE as measured by American Trucking Associations’ For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 5.9 percent in 2011 over the previous year, which was the biggest annual rise since 1998. The seasonally adjusted index surged 6.8 percent in December from November. The December level was 10.5 percent higher than a year ago.
TWO PETERBILT TRUCKS won at the American Truck Dealers Commercial Truck of the Year awards at the ATD Convention and Expo. The Peterbilt 587 SmartWay conventional tractor won in the heavy-duty (Class 8) division and the Peterbilt Model 210 low cab forward won in the medium-duty (Class 3-7) competition. Nine trucks were nominated for the awards.
ATA asks to review hours rule
The American Trucking Associations Feb. 14 petitioned the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s recently published final rule changing hours-of-service regulations.
“The rules that have been in place since 2004 have contributed to unprecedented improvement in highway safety,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. “The law is clear about what steps FMCSA must undertake to change the rules and we cannot allow this rulemaking, which was fueled by changed assumptions and analyses that do not meet the required legal standards, to remain unchallenged.”
Last month, a Washington, D.C., appellate court dismissed a lawsuit that had sought changes in the existing HOS rule. The court issued the dismissal order in response to a request from the defendant Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the plaintiffs — the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Teamsters union, Public Citizen and the Truck Safety Coalition. The court’s Feb. 8 order stated the current rule, issued Dec. 22, “supersedes the rule at issue in this case.”
The revised rule requires two early morning four-hour rest periods with the 34-hour restart, and does not change the 11-hour driving limit during one shift. Drivers and companies must comply with the final rule by July 1, 2013.
Drivers also cannot drive after working eight hours without first taking a break of at least 30 minutes. Drivers can take the 30-minute break whenever they need rest during the eight-hour window.
— Staff reports
EPA investigates Navistar’s engine transition dating
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleges that thousands of Navistar Inc. engines sold as pre-2010 models were actually assembled during 2010 and are subject to fines up to $37,500 per violation for not conforming to 2010 emissions standards.
Navistar disputes the EPA charge, says spokesman Steve Schrier. “We firmly believe our 2010 transition was appropriate, and we will continue our discussions and cooperation with the agency on this matter,” he says.
“The bottom line is that Navistar will sell engines in 2012 that are fully certified in all 50 states,”
— Jack Allen, president of Navistar’s Engine Group
After the agency analyzed data Navistar submitted in response to EPA’s Nov. 3, 2010, information request, says a Jan. 30, 2012, letter to Navistar, it discovered Navistar claimed a 2009 model year for more than 7,600 heavy-duty diesel engines produced after Dec. 31, 2009. If fined at the maximum level, the total would exceed $285 million.
The letter, published on the trucking blog Commercial Motor, says EPA is investigating Navistar. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency does not discuss ongoing enforcement matters.
The letter says the engines were partially assembled in 2009. Financial analyst Stephen Volkmann, quoted by Reuters news service, said he believes that completion of engine assembly after an EPA deadline has been “standard industry practice,” so the EPA scrutiny could extend beyond Navistar.
In a separate action, Navistar learned in late January that it could face EPA penalties of about $1,900 per engine if its heavy-duty engines do not conform to 2010 model year nitrogen emissions standards.
Navistar diesel engines emit more grams of nitrogen oxide than their competitors› engines. But because Navistar exceeded the performance parameters set for earlier emissions reduction regulations, the company was awarded emissions credits by the EPA that allow production to continue.
The California Air Resources Board had issued a public letter to Navistar saying the company’s emissions credits for the MaxxForce 13 would expire Feb. 29. However, Navistar says it has submitted to EPA its MaxxForce 13 diesel engine, refined with an air management system and electronic engine controls, for compliance testing.
The company’s MaxxForce 11 and MaxxForce 15 engines were not included in CARB’s announcement and will continue to be sold using their existing EPA credits, said a Navistar spokesman.
“The bottom line is that Navistar will sell engines in 2012 that are fully certified in all 50 states,” said Jack Allen, president of Navistar›s Engine Group, during a Feb. 1 stock analysts’ meeting.
Navistar diesel engines use an in-cylinder exhaust gas recirculation technology to reduce exhaust emissions. Its North American heavy-duty engine competitors use selective catalytic reduction aftertreatment technology to meet the required emissions levels.
— Staff reports
FMCSA group recommends sleep apnea regs
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last month took a significant step toward potential regulation of the screening and treatment of drivers at risk for obstructive sleep apnea.
A joint committee of the agency’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and Medical Review Board adopted 11 recommendations that would, among other things, require all drivers with a body mass index (BMI) measurement of 35 or higher to be tested for sleep apnea.
Any rulemaking or guidance based on the recommendations would be put up for public comment, and a rulemaking would take years to develop, an FMCSA official said. He said drivers could expect the interim recommended guidance issued by the joint committee last December to come up for a 30-day comment period this spring.
The 11 recommendations stem from a January meeting of the group’s obstructive sleep apnea subcommittee, where seven key questions about the condition, its treatment and its relationship to highway safety were considered.
The central question in FMCSA’s possible regulation of the condition will be whether individuals with obstructive sleep apnea are at an increased risk for a motor vehicle crash compared with those who do not suffer from it.
The OSA subcommittee linked crash risk with sleep apnea largely by extrapolating data from studies on noncommercial drivers and one that involved commercial drivers that showed a range of increased risk.
The recommendations issued Feb. 6 would allow a 60-day conditional certification to be issued for drivers screened for testing due only to BMI. If determined to have apnea, those drivers would need to return to their examiner with proof of one week’s worth of successful treatment before being issued a 90-day certification pending further evaluation of treatment compliance. As long as they are being treated, those drivers would get no longer than a one-year medical certification.
A second group of drivers – those with an apnea-hypopnea index measurement greater than 20, who have reported experiencing excessive sleepiness during their major work period, day or night, or who have experienced a crash “associated with” falling asleep – would be denied the conditional certification.
A large amount of discretion would be given to individual health professionals in requiring drivers with BMI measurements lower than 35 to be tested and in issuing conditional certifications.
— Todd Dills
Mexican carrier violates U.S. leasing law
Grupo Behr, of Apodaca, Nuevo León, was found to violate U.S. leasing laws pertaining to Mexican carriers, said William Quade of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Enforcement and Compliance division.
Violation of the 1999 Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act’s Section 219 was found in the pre-authorization safety audit for carriers who would be part of the U.S.-Mexican cross-border trucking pilot program, he said.
Mexican carriers have been able to “lease to a commercial zone carrier because they could get commercial zone authority,” Quade said in a cross-border subcommittee meeting of FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. Section 219 was intended to end the ability for a Mexican carrier to lease trucks and drivers to a U.S. carrier for operations beyond the authority the Mexican carrier could get clearance for on its own.
The agency issued a notice to Grupo for violating Section 219, but pursued no civil penalties. “Our preliminary decision is to monitor the situation for six months to consider whether we should allow them into the program.”
Since the first Mexican truck crossing began the pilot program with Mexico in October, no violations were found in the eight inspections carried out in the nine crossings made, Quade said. Transportes Olympic of Monterrey and Moises Alvarez Perez, doing business as Distribuidora Marina El Pescador, of Tijuana, made the crossings.
Five other carriers are pending full results of PASAs and program acceptance. — Staff reports
Partnership plans natural gas initiative
Navistar Inc. and natural gas provider Clean Energy Fuels Corp. announced a plan to develop gas-powered medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks and a nationwide infrastructure to fuel them.
The plan includes financial incentives to enable customers to see a quick return on a premium of about $35,000 for the new technology, largely due to the price spread between natural gas and diesel.
“By the end of 2013, virtually every product we have will be available in natural gas,” said Jim Hebe, Navistar senior vice president for North American sales.
The Navistar-Clean Energy plan differs from other alternative fuel initiatives because it does not depend on government subsidies, said Daniel Ustian, Navistar chairman, president and CEO.
Clean Energy will invest $200 million to build liquid natural gas fueling facilities, said Andrew Littlefair, Clean Energy president and CEO. The company announced in January it expects to have 70 stations open by the end of this year in 33 states, many of them at Pilot-Flying J Travel Centers.
Opening of the first 150 stations through 2013 is planned to coincide with the introduction of Navistar’s new natural gas engines. Swift Transportation has been testing some of them, said Jerry Moyes, founder and CEO. “We like what we see,” he said. “There is a savings to it.”
Officials said the partnership will help accelerate the adoption of natural gas technologies by including incentives for those who purchase at least 1,000 diesel gallon equivalents of natural gas each month. At current prices, natural gas is about $1.35 a gallon cheaper than diesel. Clean Energy will guarantee fuel prices for five years at a significant reduction from diesel.
Navistar will continue to offer DuraStar and WorkStar vocational trucks with its natural gas-powered MaxxForce DT. For the regional haul and Class 7 and Class 8 vocational market, Navistar will offer the Cummins-Westport ISL-G in the International TranStar and WorkStar.
Navistar will continue work with Clean Air Power on the ProStar, WorkStar and PayStar trucks, powered by a diesel pilot injection LNG MaxxForce 13-liter engine.
— Max Heine
Defective part affects truck manufacturers
Paccar Inc. has recalled about 16,000 of its 2012- and 2013-model Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks equipped with a defective Bendix brake component. Production of Navistar International and Volvo Group trucks also was affected by the part.
The Paccar trucks were built between Jan. 31, 2011, and Jan. 19, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Paccar didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The agency said the trucks are equipped with Bendix ATR-6 antilock traction relay valves that may leak fluid in temperatures below zero degrees and result in continuous brake application.
The recall includes Kenworth models T660, T700, T800 and W900 and Peterbilt models 384, 386, 387, 389 and 587. Paccar will provide a free temporary repair until Bendix delivers a permanent remedy.
Navistar said it had delayed International truck production until a permanent fix is available, and the company predicted the valve problem will contribute to a loss for the quarter that ended Jan. 31.
After postponing deliveries of vehicles affected by the Bendix part defect in January, Volvo began using another valve to continue building trucks at its Virginia plant. Volvo is working with customers to repair trucks already on the road.
Bendix notified NHTSA of the defect in January after receiving customer complaints about brake issues. The company said a permanent fix was forthcoming. Bendix estimated the part problem affected up to 60,000 vehicles.
— Staff reports
U.S. CARGO THEFT incidents reported last year increased 8.8 percent from the year before, FreightWatch International said. The firm said 974 cargo theft incidents were recorded last year, with an average value of $319,000 per incident. Many other thefts aren’t reported. The top four states for cargo theft were California, Florida, New Jersey and Texas.
Shell describes new oil category
Development is under way on creating new heavy-duty engine oils to be ready by January 2016 that will be used in new truck engines.
A new oil category dubbed PC-11, or Proposed Category 11, will be developed to help engine manufacturers meet federal standards for 2014-2018 model year trucks, said Dan Arcy, global OEM technical manager for Shell Oil Solutions. The new category will cover improved fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Arcy is leading a team of oil industry technicians who will specify tests and standards for the category requested by the Engine Manufacturers Association.
PC-11, the first new category since CJ-4 was introduced in 2006, may include two subcategories, or separate oils, said Arcy. One will preserve heavier oil common in the industry now. The other will be a thinner oil better adapted to enhancing fuel economy while preserving durability.
Oil industry technicians will spend the next four years specifying standards to be ready for licensing by January 2016. Tests for the new oils will make sure they are durable and resist engine breakdown, while increasing fuel efficiency. But the lighter viscosity oil designed for fuel economy may not be compatible with older engines, Arcy said.
— Max Kvidera
SURFACE TRANSPORTATION TRADE between the United States and Canada in November rose 12.2 percent from a year ago to $44.3 billion, said the U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S.-Mexico trade gained 13.3 percent to $32.4 billion.
NATSO, the truck stop trade organization, says it opposes Missouri tolling Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City. In a letter to co-chairs of the state’s Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight, NATSO says both traditional tolling and public private partnerships including tolls hurt consumers and businesses near interstate exits. Missouri officials have said substantial repairs over I-70’s 250 miles could cost billions of dollars.
Court to rule on low-carbon fuel
States considering a Low Carbon Fuel Standard will be watching the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to see if it will overturn a lower court’s decision against allowing enforcement of the standard that opponents say will significantly hike fuel costs.
The appellate court has set an April 16 deadline for the California Air Resources Board to file its opening brief after the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California court refused to suspend judgments. The court also refused to suspend a preliminary injunction against CARB enforcing the standard.
Two years ago, the American Trucking Associations, refiners and fuel production companies filed suit against the board’s LCFS, which began last year and had been set to become significantly stricter in January 2013 and again in 2015.
Late last year, the Western States Petroleum Association and the California Trucking Association issued separate statements expressing concern over projected fuel cost hikes resulting from LCFS.
— Jill Dunn
CALIFORNIA. Electrical power pedestals will be added this year to six truck stops and travel centers along the I-5 corridor, including five in the state. The locations will be Flying J Travel Plazas in Bakersfield, Lebec and Lodi, and Pilot Travel Centers in Dunnigan and Weed. The installations will be part of the federal Shorepower Truck Electrification Project.
IDAHO. A bill by Sen. Jim Hammond (R-Coeur d’Alene) would increase interstate truck speed limits from 65 mph to 75 mph, matching that of cars.
MICHIGAN. State lawmakers are considering replacing the state excise tax on diesel with a wholesale tax. The tax would rise and fall depending on the pump price, but would be limited to a maximum 1 percent annual change.
NEW HAMPSHIRE. A bill would raise the speed limit to 70 mph from 65 mph on interstates. Where the interstate limit is 55 mph, the bill would increase the limit to 60 mph. The New Hampshire Turnpike limit of 65 mph would not change.
NORTH CAROLINA. State transportation officials are aiming to toll I-95 under a pilot program administered by the Federal Highway Administration. NCDOT would use toll revenue to widen and reconstruct the interstate. The agency held seven public meetings in February to receive comments on the proposed electronic system.
PENNSYLVANIA. A recent law requires CDL holders running interstate to provide a doctor’s certificate to state licensing offices. Possible suspension could result if the holder fails to certify by early 2014. The law brings the state in line with federal rules.
SOUTH DAKOTA. A bill would charge carriers a fee to pay for the electronic system that runs the state’s International Fuel Tax Agreement program. The bill would require truckers to pay $10 to set up an account and for renewal.
TENNESSEE. One lane of westbound I-40 near the North Carolina border has been reopened following the Jan. 31 rockslide that closed both westbound lanes. Transportation officials intend to keep a lane open during clean-up operations. A second phase to stabilize the mountainside is set to begin in late March. A 1,500-ton boulder was removed that could have fallen on the roadway.
WASHINGTON. A state House bill would reclassify port truckers, including owner-operators, as employees. The proposal would cover drayage truckers and contractors who drive on property of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Supporters say the state is missing out on tax revenue paid by employees, while opponents say the measure would undermine how trucking is performed.
Truce in truck weight debate
The American Trucking Associations and the Association of American Railroads are backing a truck weight limit freeze in the House transportation appropriations bill in hopes a unified front will hasten passage of the legislation.
The current funding bill ends March 31, the latest funding extension Congress approved after the last omnibus appropriations bill expired in 2009.
The House rules committee was expected to review the Republicans’ H.R. 7, or the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, in mid-February. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Feb. 3 had passed the five-year, $260-billion funding bill, which contained an allowance for states to opt for a 97,000-pound limit for single-trailer trucks with six axles.
Later, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voted to amend the bill to freeze weight and lengths during a three-year study on potential impacts of heavier trucks.
Congress hasn’t passed stand-alone bills to freeze or increase truck weights or lengths in recent years.
— Jill Dunn
U.S. SPOT MARKET loads on TransCore’s network declined 14 percent in December from November but were 25 percent higher than the previous year. Spot market capacity increased 9 percent from the previous month and 24 percent over a year earlier.
FOR-HIRE TRUCKING added 5,300 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Payroll employment in for-hire trucking was up by 51,500, or 4 percent, from January 2011. Employment is up 7.2 percent from the bottom in March 2010, but it remains 9 percent below the peak in January 2007.
CLASS 8 TRUCK total net orders for January were forecast at 24,900 to 25,200 units for all major North American truck makers, reports ACT Research Co. and FTR Associates. January orders were down 17 percent from December and 9 percent lower than January 2011, says FTR.