Special Report: Changes in the Air
A look at key issues that could impact you in 2010
This year stands to be a challenging one for the trucking industry and its drivers.
As the nation waddles out of the worst economic recession in recent history and regulators and Congress return their attention to pending issues, the prospects for change in several key areas affecting drivers and owner-operators get greater. Following find point of view from industry parties on six key concerns. For more on pending regulatory and legislative changes, see the CSA 2010 safety compliance system cover story on p. 18.
Hours of service: The Obama administration, preempting a court ruling late last year, has put the hours-of-service rule back on the table for FMCSA review this year. While a final rule is on a timetable that will extend into 2011, a proposal may be available for comment by yearend.
Opinions in the industry are divided. “They’ve put it off for such a period of time that they’re not going to change it,” predicts hotshot boat hauler Daniel Audet, host of the Truckstar Internet radio show (see “Exit Only,” p. 82). “I do know many times drivers have contacted me and they’re on their 34-hour restart near their destination.” Audet points to the rigidity of the 14-hour window, as well, combined with loading and unloading time, often adding a extra day to what might have in the past been a one-day trip.
“The shippers’ products are taking a lot longer to get to market because of this,” he says. “The hours of service are affecting the gross national product, then, of this country.”
“Oh, brother,” says Transportation Business Associates President Jay Thompson. “I could put on my optimistic hat and say they’ll reconfirm everything.” In the end, he says, it depends on exactly how powerful the Teamsters lobby is, which favors a return to 10 hours of driving time and elimination of the 34-hour restart provision.
Agreeing with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Thompson also sees a return to allowing splitting sleeper-berth hours for teams as a necessary revision, however unlikely it might be: “If you don’t have the split sleeper kind of thing, what it does is people won’t stop when they’re tired. You can only do 11 hours in that 14 window.”
Fuel: After 2007-08 fuel prices approached crisis levels and stayed there for several months, the fall in prices through mid-2009 was welcome relief to many in the transportation industries. But in late September through October, prices rose 30 cents a gallon or more before leveling off, highlighting fears among many drivers of a repeat performance of late ’07 moving into 2010. “Up,” Audet said at the end of October when asked where he expected prices to go in 2010. “It shot up twenty-something cents in the last two weeks.”
After rising to No. 1 in the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2008 survey of American Trucking Associations member carriers on top industry issues, this year fuel dropped to No. 3. It was the fifth consecutive year, however, in which fuel was a top-five issue in the survey. Of concern, primarily, was price volatility, which makes carrier and driver business prospects unclear from day to day. According to the survey, “respondents indicate that recent fuel price declines are likely temporary; once the economy picks up, fuel demand will likely create upward pressure on fuel costs. The biggest agreed-upon fix among survey respondents was noted as increased government attention to/regulation of oil market speculators.
The Economy: “Inflation-adjusted crude ought to be around $35 per barrel, and we’re at $70,” Jay Thompson said in November. That added energy cost “comes out of consumer spending,” which drives demand in the trucking industry. If $70 is going to be the new norm, he adds, “consumer spending will be lagging for quite some time. The general income of people has to adapt to that different kind of a level. History repeats itself, and it adapts itself to today. Oil’s a little bit high now, and every recession we’ve had that I can remember, from the mid-70s on, you see spikes in oil prices driving recessions. Last year was this turbo spike as an indicator — we then went back down to $30-$40 a barrel for crude, but we’ve doubled that again.”
The wider economy and its related implications for freight demand was probably the No. 1 issue on every industry party’s mind in 2009. It was No. 1 in ATRI’s survey. If Thompson is right, the depressed situation will continue well into 2010. “Any time you double energy prices,” he says, “you expect an economic slowdown to follow. Our demand’s not going to come back” in 2010.
Recovery Act Road Spending Tops $20 Billion
The Federal Highway Administration crossed the $20 billion mark in approved obligations for highway, road and bridge projects, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced. Of the $26.6 billion available for federal highway and bridge projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more than 75 percent now has been obligated.
“Even though winter is right around the corner, highway and bridge projects are still getting under way, creating thousands of jobs and saving thousands more,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says. “The Recovery Act is helping repair America’s roads and bridges while putting people back to work.”
To date, nearly 8,500 highway projects have been approved, and nearly 5,000 are under way.
FYI — NEWS BRIEFS
NAFTA Trade Drops in September
Trade using surface transportation between the United States and Canada and Mexico was 20.2 percent lower in September than in September 2008, dropping to $57.3 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
National Diesel Prices Decline
The national average retail price of a gallon of diesel retreated for the fourth consecutive week, falling 12 cents over the period to $2.775 for the week ending Nov. 30, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
All regions tracked by DOE declined except one. The lone increase of 0.1 cent was in the New England region, where the price climbed to $2.869.
Volvo, Mack Engines Certified
Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks announced Nov. 16 their diesel engines have been certified by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board to meet the near-zero emissions standards that take effect in January 2010. Both Greensboro, N.C.-based truck makers are using selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to bring nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions down to EPA 2010 levels.
Daimler Commits to Western Star
Senior officials from Daimler Trucks North America — including new Western Star general manager Michael Jackson — recently confirmed that DTNA is committed to a long-term development plan and the success of Western Star. “Going forward, that includes establishing a separate identity for Western Star within the corporate structure at Daimler Trucks North America,” Jackson said. “We are here to stay and standing behind this truck brand.”
Peterbilt Receives Clean Air Accolade
Peterbilt Motors received the 2009 Clean Air Champion Award from the North Texas Clean Air Coalition (NTCAC) for the second consecutive year, as well as their Innovative Business of the Year Award, at the NTCAC Annual Awards presentation in Fort Worth, Texas. Peterbilt was chosen for the award for voluntarily working to lower the environmental impact of its products and manufacturing processes in the greater North Texas area.
TCA Names New Division
The Truckload Carriers Association, based in Alexandria, Va., will launch a new division to allow member carriers who operate open-haul equipment to meet with their peers to discuss problems, share ideas and seek solutions unique to their specialized area of operations. The open deck division will maintain the same dues structure as TCA’s refrigerated division, which is based on a carrier’s truckload revenue.
Trucker Sick Days Increase
While the number of truckers off work because of illness or injury remained stable between 2007 and 2008, the median number of days truckers were off work because of health issues increased from 15 to 17 days from the previous year.
Jan. 18-21, Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week, The Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas. (708) 226-1300, http://www.hdaw.org
Jan. 24-28, Cooperative Hazardous Materials Education Conference, sponsored by Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), Hyatt Regency San Antonio. (202) 775-1623, www.cvsa.org.
If you have a trucking event you would like to publicize, send information six weeks in advance to Truckers News Events Calendar, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Truckers News makes no guarantee that information submitted will be published.
Diesel Price Watch
Prices are the average, self-serve, cash at truckstops November 1 – 30, 2009
NEW HAMPSHIRE 2.75
NEW JERSEY 2.72
NEW MEXICO 2.78
NEW YORK 2.96
NORTH CAROLINA 2.74
NORTH DAKOTA 2.86
RHODE ISLAND 2.83
SOUTH CAROLINA 2.60
SOUTH DAKOTA 2.75
WEST VIRGINIA 2.87
Source: T-Chek Systems Inc., Eden Prairie, MN.
For more information, (877) SOS-CHEK or www.tchek.com
*Some prices may not include certain state taxes
Randall-Reilly Announces Promotions
Randall-Reilly recently announced the promotion of Max Heine, formerly editorial director of Overdrive and Truckers News, to editorial director of the owner-operator/driver group.
In his new position, Heine will set direction for and oversee editorial operations for the group, which includes Overdrive, Truckers News and Custom Rigs magazines. Heine also will set direction for the group’s product extensions, which include digital properties, special issues and numerous live and virtual events.
Heine joined Randall-Reilly in 1999. During his tenure, Heine led Overdrive to two Folio Gold Editorial Excellence Awards, along with numerous awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and several Jesse H. Neal Award certificates. Most recently, he was instrumental in the launch of Custom Rigs magazine.
The company also promoted Jack Roberts from executive editor of Commercial Carrier Journal to executive editor of the company’s Trucking and Construction Divisions. In his new position, Roberts will cover equipment issues for all monthly Randall-Reilly trucking and construction publications, including CCJ, Overdrive, Truckers News, Truck Parts & Service, Successful Dealer, Equipment World and Better Roads.
Long-time Equipment Editor John Baxter will continue his contributions to Overdrive, Truckers News and CCJ.
Roberts is the recipient of numerous editorial excellence honors, including a Jesse H. Neal award, Jesse H. Neal finalist, three Robert F. Boger awards from the Construction Writers Association and several ASBPE awards.
Class-8 Truck Orders Jump in October
FTR Associates released preliminary data showing Class 8 net orders for all major North American OEMs totaled 21,792 units in October, reflecting a definite upsurge in order activity.
October’s order volume is a 104-percent increase over September and a 117-percent year-over-year increase. For the last three months, Class 8 orders were received at an annualized rate of 172,300, significantly better than early 2009. The figure includes orders for the United States, Canada, Mexico and exports.
“All indications are that the October increase is due to the filling up of remaining 2009 production slots for trucks with the older 2007 engine technology and to avoid the new 2010 engines, which, due to tighter emissions standards, will be more expensive and will employ new technology,” said FTR President Eric Starks. “Significantly, the order activity was broad-based among the OEMs from fleets of various sizes and did not appear to be dealer restocking.
“We are encouraged that fleets have developed enough confidence in the economic recovery that they have been willing to make such commitments at this time,” Starks said. “However, we believe this is a temporary situation that may actually take orders away from early 2010, so our forecast for next year remains very conservative until we see economic activity to support solid orders going forward.”
FMCSA Fields Medical Questions
In a December meeting conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Office of Medical Programs aimed at coming changes to medical certification regulations of commercial drivers, the agency’s Chief Medical Officer Bennise Lester and medical programs chief Elaine Papp both repeatedly emphasized the case-by-case nature of most areas of medical disqualification.
“The primary concerns are the driver’s physical ability to function while operating a commercial vehicle,” said Papp in response to a question about a potential federal cap on the age of commercial drivers. “Medical requirements should be performance-based and not linked to age. We’re not looking at making any changes based on age at this point.”
Similarly, regarding the subject of Body Mass Index, a measurement which expresses the ratio of fat to muscle in an individual — a BMI number above 30 is considered to indicate obesity — FMCSA medical programs director Mary Gunnels said BMI would not be a factor by itself in any testing mandate for conditions associated with obesity, such as sleep apnea. She, Lester and Papp all stressed it was just “one among many measurements associated with determining obesity.”
FMCSA’s Medical CDL program, set for full implementation in January 2012, feeds medical certification data directly to the CDL Information System database. Combined with a reporting requirement for approved examiners linked to the medical CDL, it will be much harder for drivers whose certifications have been disqualified or lapsed to slip through the regulatory cracks.
Disclosure requirements placed on drivers upon any change in health that could affect medical certification (for instance, deteriorating vision), also will be more easily enforced by FMCSA the more information is gained from medical examiners.
Oregon Tops Driver OOS List
Oregon leads the nation for the highest driver out-of-service rates, while Nebraska is top nationally for truck out-of-service rates, according to industry publisher J.J. Keller.
The Washington-based safety and compliance company ranked the categories for interstate trucks and drivers for 2008.
California, which Overdrive magazine readers have ranked annually as the strictest for inspections, did not make the top 10.
The top states for driver out-of-service rates are:
1. Oregon — 15.92%
2. Connecticut — 13.74%
3. Arizona — 13.58%
4. Wyoming — 12.02%
5. Utah — 10.95%
6. Minnesota — 10.86%
7. Idaho — 10.76%
8. Georgia — 10.04%
9. Maine — 9.81%
10. Arkansas — 9.56%
States with the highest out-of-service rates for interstate trucks:
1. Nebraska — 36.71%
2. Connecticut — 36.06%
3. Utah — 35.18%
4. Colorado — 34.82%
5. Missouri — 31.32%
6. Arizona — 31.23%
7. Idaho — 29.47%
8. Delaware — 29.04%
9. Louisiana — 28.95%
10. Wyoming — 28.87%
DOT and FCC Teams to Target Distracted Driving
The U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Communications Commission announced Nov. 4 they are launching a joint effort to evaluate technologies that may help curb distracted driving.
The DOT-FCC partnership will also include outreach efforts to educate the public about the dangers of texting while driving, talking on cell phones while driving and other distracting behavior that can lead to accidents.
“We must put an end to distracted driving, which is costing lives and inflicting injuries across the nation’s roads and railways,” DOT Secretary Ray LaHood told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “I welcome this collaborative effort to eliminate the increasingly deadly practice of distracted driving. Changing this ingrained behavior will require us to develop creative solutions using both technology and education.”
Officials from the DOT and FCC will establish a working group to evaluate technology-based solutions to the problem of distracted driving and will coordinate consumer outreach and education.