DOT sends onboard recorder proposal to White House

In August, the U.S. Department of Transportation submitted for White House review a long-awaited document on the use of electronic onboard recorders for hours-of-service compliance. The precise scope of the proposal was unknown, but sources called it a comprehensive package that would encourage wider adoption of recorders. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” says a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. What that means is unclear. The proposal might treat fleets differently by size or by type of cargo, for example.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking almost two years ago in response to a federal appeals court decision that criticized the agency for failing to seriously consider mandating recorders.

The White House Office of Management and Budget has no formal deadline for completing its review. But the Bush administration is under pressure to show substantial progress as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia considers a second round of litigation on the hours revisions adopted last year.

After announcing that “severe corrosion” of its Alaska pipelines would force an unprecedented shutdown of the eastern half of the Prudhoe Bay oilfield, BP looked at options for safely continuing operations on the west side, where 120,000 barrels of oil continued to be produced per day.

Even a partial shutdown could last for months. If the entire oilfield were to go offline, U.S. crude oil production would be cut by 8 percent.

After BP announced the shutdown, oil prices shot up to $77 a barrel, an ominous sign for pump prices. The national average price of a gallon of diesel, which already had surpassed $3 that week, remained above $3 through press time.

In the east, BP decided Aug. 8 to replace 16 miles of pipeline that carry crude from the wells to the main pipeline.

Arkansas and Colorado are the latest states to restrict smoking in enclosed public places, including truck stops, amid concern about secondhand smoke effects.

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The Colorado act prohibits smoking in almost all indoor areas, including most places of employment, food service establishments and bars. The Arkansas act prohibits smoking in most public places and workplaces with three or more employees, except establishments open only to people 21 and older.

Seventy-five percent of Arkansas residents do not smoke, says state Rep. Sid Rosenbaum, who co-sponsored the bill in that state. “Smoking in the United States, from what I’ve seen, is actually on the decrease,” he says.

The law won’t hurt truck stops, restaurants and bars, Rosenbaum says. Some report increased business because they can free up smoking tables for other customers, he says.

John Ponczoch, director of restaurant operations for Petro Stopping Centers, disagrees. Business at Petro locations along state borders, such as West Memphis, Ark., certainly will be affected, Ponczoch says. “If the individual wants to smoke, he’s going to go to a smoking facility.”

In a fall 2001 survey, 40 percent of customers at Petro’s Iron Skillet restaurant said they smoked, and 60 percent said they would avoid a smoke-free restaurant. Only 18 percent said they preferred a smoke-free restaurant.

Statewide smoking bans are easier to handle than city ordinances, says David McClure, director of marketing for Petro Stopping Centers. When Laramie, Wyo., passed a no-smoking law, customers of the local Petro simply started going to the truck stop at the next exit, McClure says.

Owner-operator Conway Sowell says he takes his business only to truck stops where he can smoke inside, but Shawn Hoover of Rockford, Ill., says that’s not true for him. “I just smoke outside.”

An admitted smoker, Jon Easterling, an owner-operator from Brandon, Miss., says cigarettes should be completely banned. “There’s nothing good about smoking.”

Some form of no-smoking law can be found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to a 2005 American Lung Association report.

Fourteen states – Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – prohibit smoking in enclosed public places or workplaces. Florida prohibits it in workplaces and restaurants, Idaho and Utah in restaurants only.

Federal officials are warning more than 81,000 Florida CDL holders that their personal information was compromised when a laptop used in investigating fraudulent licenses was stolen from a government vehicle.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General’s office issued letters Aug. 9 that informed CDL holders their information was among that of 133,000 Florida residents listed on the laptop.

The laptop’s databases included names, Social Security numbers, birthdates and addresses of 80,667 Miami-Dade County CDL holders and of 491 CDL holders who received licenses from the Largo licensing facility near Tampa.

The laptop did not include financial or medical information, and the thousands of CDL holders on the list were not under investigation; suspicious licenses merely were being checked against that list.

Miami-Dade CDL holders who obtained their licenses after April 2003 and those who obtained their CDLs from the Largo facility after July 2005 are unaffected.

The letters recommended that affected CDL holders contact one of the three major credit reporting bureaus and request that a fraud alert be placed. They should monitor bank and credit-card statements and ask their bank to monitor suspicious activity.

They also should be wary of anyone claiming to be from the federal government who asks for personal information or verification of it. Such contacts should be reported to (800) 424-9071.

The U.S. Senate last month confirmed John Hill as the new administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Hill, who has been with the agency since 2003, replaces Annette Sandberg, who left the agency in March. Hill previously was FMCSA’s assistant administrator and chief safety officer.

Most of his career – 1974 to 2003 – was with the Indiana State Police, including stints as commercial vehicle enforcement commander.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has selected HMSHost, a provider of food, beverage and retail concessions to travelers, to redevelop 18 travel plazas. The 30-year contract could be worth $3.5 billion, the company says.

HMSHost plans to spend more than $100 million revitalizing the turnpike travel plazas with new, larger buildings. Travel centers will include restaurants, full-service convenience stores and larger, touch-free restrooms with more lighting. Other improvements will include picnic areas, security systems and landscaped grounds with pet walking paths.

The service plaza redevelopment will be phased in during the next five to six years.

After 12 tons of cement ceiling panels fell on a car July 10 in Boston’s I-90 connector tunnel, it and the Ted Williams Tunnel were closed, causing massive traffic jams.

There was no immediate timetable for when the Big Dig tunnels will reopen completely, according to a spokesman for Gov. Mitt Romney.

Tests on the ceiling panels indicated “a system failure of the epoxy adhesive in the I-90 connector tunnel,” says spokesman Ryan Williams. New bolts will be installed to help support the remaining panels, Williams says.

An initial inspection of the Ted Williams Tunnel by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority declared it safe for use, but the governor’s office decided otherwise, Williams says.

Matthew Amorello, chairman and CEO of the Turnpike Authority, resigned a few days after Romney announced his intention to fire him.

Canadian and Mexican truckers now must undergo a federal background check before transporting placarded hazmat loads into the United States.

In keeping with previously announced plans, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration published an interim final rule last month declaring that Canadian and Mexican truckers may use Free and Secure Trade (FAST) cards as acceptable credentials to transport hazardous materials in the United States.

FAST is a cooperative effort among U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the governments of Canada and Mexico that allows known, low-risk drivers and carriers to expedite the processing of commercial shipments at U.S. borders.

TSA concluded that the FAST background records check for commercial driver applicants is similar to that required for domestic hazmat drivers and that acceptance into the FAST commercial driver program is sufficient to meet the cross-border requirements.

The interim rule began Aug. 10, but the agency is taking comments on the action through Oct. 6. For a copy of the interim final rule, go to this site and search Docket No. 25541. For more information on the FAST program, go to this site. More information is available on the Hazmat Threat Assessment Program at this site or by calling (877) 429-7746.

The Truckload Carriers Association is accepting applications for the Company Equipment Driver of the Year and Independent Contractor of the Year awards for 2006.

These awards allow carriers to honor drivers who have exemplary safety records and who have achieved excellence in their trucking careers. Winners receive prizes from industry sponsors.

The Independent Contractor of the Year contest, sponsored by TCA, Overdrive and International Truck and Engine, rewards owner-operators based on their ability to run a successful business, operate in a safe manner and enhance trucking’s public image. The winner’s prizes include a new International tractor.

The Company Equipment Driver of the Year contest, sponsored by TCA and Truckers News magazine, recognizes drivers based on safety, work history and past recognitions.

Both awards are open to over-the-road drivers who have driven at least 1 million consecutive, accident-free miles and work for a TCA member company.

The winners will be announced during TCA’s convention in March in Las Vegas. The application deadline is Oct. 23. The online form is at this site.

ArvinMeritor no longer will manufacture Meritor manual transmissions, effective January 2007. The company says it will place greater emphasis on marketing FreedomLine automated manual transmissions by ZF of Friedrichshafen, Germany.

ArvinMeritor says it will honor all current manual transmission orders and all orders received prior to September 2006, provided they are to be delivered no later than January 2007. The company also will continue to support its manual transmissions with parts and service.

Production of FreedomLine transmissions will remain in ArvinMeritor’s Laurinburg, N.C., facility. The manual-transmission work force will be absorbed into production of other components.

A study of 326 large U.S. trucking companies found truckers are dissatisfied with per-mile pay, which does not allow them control over their performance, researchers say.

Alternative pay systems, such as hourly or yearly salaries, could improve driver turnover rates, the researchers say.

Nina Gupta, University of Arkansas management professor, and colleagues found that in addition to working conditions and lack of home time, many truckers are unhappy with their per-mile payment method. Drivers at 75 percent of the companies listed “not enough driving hours/runs scheduled” as a problem.

“It’s not that drivers are not paid enough per mile,” Gupta says. “It’s the total number of miles that’s a problem. Many drivers are frustrated because they don’t have control over the number of miles they drive. Because they’re paid by the mile, they want to keep rolling.”

Long-haul drivers average four trips home a month and usually work for truckload carriers, which represented 56 percent of the companies studied, researchers say. In general, truckers quit truckload and special-commodity carriers at a higher rate than they quit less-than-truckload carriers, researchers say. Many LTL drivers are paid a salary rather than by the mile.

Driver turnover averaged 28 percent among all companies in the study. Additional factors that lead to turnovers included problems with supervisors, pension plans or the lack thereof, and annual performance appraisals, especially if the appraisals were seen as purely subjective, the researchers say.

The study suggested that drivers would be happy with computers and other technology that would increase communications not only between drivers and supervisors but also between drivers and their families.

Language inserted by a committee into the Senate version of the U.S. Department of Transportation appropriations bill (H.R. 5576) would delay the repeal of the Single State Registration System until Jan. 1, 2008, or one year beyond the current sunset of the program.
Another provision would restore DOT’s obligation to regulate freight forwarders and property brokers. Both provisions would modify last year’s highway legislation.

In 2005, Congress ordered the SSRS repealed, effective Jan. 1, 2007, and replaced with the Unified Carrier Registration system. But DOT did not name members of the UCR board of directors until May 2006, making implementation by Jan. 1 very difficult. In its first act, the UCR board called for a one-year delay in SSRS termination.

“Repeal of SSRS is premature given that progress on instituting the UCR has been insignificant,” the Senate Appropriations Committee said in its report.

If SSRS expires before UCR is implemented, states could lose $100 million in registration fees.

The American Trucking Associations last month introduced a membership benefit aimed at generating greater purchasing power for small motor carriers.

Through the ATA Small Carrier Program, for-hire fleets earning $11 million or less in annual revenue and private fleets with 100 or fewer trucks can enjoy discounts and monthly rebates for services and for products such as fuel, tires and equipment.

Participants will receive rebates of up to 3 cents per gallon for fuel purchased at more than 500 truck stops. For a 10-truck fleet, these savings total $5,400 per year, according to ATA.

Small carriers who join ATA under the new program also will be able to receive rebates of up to $1,000 on new and used trucks. Additional discounts will be offered on tires, parts, mobile communications, technology, insurance, legal services, office supplies and lodging.

Portland, Ore., next year will require all diesel sold in the city to contain a minimum of 5 percent biodiesel and all gasoline sold in the city to contain at least 10 percent ethanol. The change takes effect July 1, 2007.

Fuel vendors violating the ordinance will receive a written notice and a penalty, which can be appealed. First offense is a $5,000 fine; subsequent violations are $10,000.

The ordinance requires Randy Leonard, Portland’s public safety commissioner, to form an implementation group comprised of fuel industry representatives, biodiesel feedstock growers and customers. The commissioner will review the group’s recommendations and report them to council by mid-November.

City-owned diesel vehicles will be required to use fuel with a biodiesel content of more than 20 percent.

Truckers wanting to further their education while earning a living have a new option designed for their lifestyle.

TransMarkets Technologies, a software and e-commerce provider to the trucking industry, and Chattanooga State Technical Community College announced July 17 the launch of InCab University.

“Using any Internet-enabled PC or laptop, drivers can receive education without ever having to step inside a classroom,” TransMarkets CEO Craig Fuller says.

InCab University is an online and on-demand accredited associate degree and certificate program offered through Chattanooga State. Drivers can start courses anytime and have 16 weeks to complete them.

InCab University courses began Aug. 15, with 26 choices available. Course offerings will expand to more than 100 by early 2007.

Cost is approximately $250 per course hour, Fuller says. Financial aid is available through Chattanooga State.

For more information, visit this site.

Kenworth will install the new Paccar PX-6 and PX-8 medium duty engines in its conventional Class 6 and 7 vehicles beginning in 2007.

“The new Paccar PX-6 and PX-8 medium duty engines are an exciting, major product addition,” said Bob Christensen, Kenworth general manager and Paccar vice president, in a written statement. “The new Paccar engines will provide customers with an integrated engine and chassis solution to complement Kenworth’s outstanding T300 Class 6 and 7 vehicles.”

The 6.7-liter Paccar PX-6 engine will be offered in both Class 6 and 7 configurations. It will range from 200 horsepower to 325 horsepower and 520 ft.-lb. to 750 ft.-lb. of torque.

The 8.3-liter Paccar PX-8 engine will range from 240 horsepower to 330 horsepower and a torque range of 660 ft.-lb. to 1,000 ft.-lb., in addition to a 360 horsepower version for emergency vehicles. The engine will be available in the Class 7 configuration and the tandem axle Kenworth T300. The engine comes with a two-year, 250,000-mile warranty.

PETRO STOPPING CENTERS has installed free blood pressure monitors at most of its locations. The federal government now mandates blood pressure of 140/90 or below in order to maintain a CDL; the old standard was 160/90. Each year, 75 percent of trucker deaths are attributed to high blood pressure and heart-related diseases.

RETAIL CONTAINER TRAFFIC is expected to set a record pace through September, according to the August Port Tracker report, issued by Global Insight on behalf of the National Retail Federation. June 2006 was busier than the fall 2005 peak, set in October.

REFORMULATED OILS to meet the new API CJ-4 oil specifications for the 2007 diesel engines have been introduced: BP’s Castrol Hypuron and Conoco-Phillips’ Guardol ECT. Chevron, Citgo, ExxonMobil and Shell announced their reformulations earlier.

CON-WAY announced that it is leaving the expedited business, selling that part of Con-way Expedite & Brokerage to Panther Expedited Services for between $7 million and $8 million. The brokerage division will remain part of Con-way Transportation. The acquisition expands Panther’s expedited network to nearly 1,900 vans and trucks.

TRUCKER CHRISTIE BUNDREN of Allen, Texas, was hijacked July 23 at the Pride Fuel Stop in Fairview, Texas, and held hostage during a three-hour chase. Bundren, 51, ran to safety after troopers shot out the truck’s radiator and tires. Samuel Scott Jones, 32, of Dallas, was charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault.

NEBRASKA temporarily lifted hours-of-service restrictions for diesel haulers amid a midsummer diesel shortage. Decreased refinery production during the conversion to ultra-low-sulfur diesel coincided with peak agricultural demand and a severe drought that resulted in heavy crop watering.

NORMAN MINETA, former U.S. transportation secretary, is now vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton, an international public relations and lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C.

THE TRUCK TONNAGE INDEX fell 0.7 percent in June, the first decrease in three months, the American Trucking Associations reported. Year-to-date, the index was down 1.9 percent from the same period in 2005.

THE TRANSPORTATION SERVICES INDEX for freight decreased 0.5 percent in June, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported. The freight TSI for June 2006 was 0.3 percent higher than in the same month last year. This was the fifth consecutive June-to-June increase.

LOVE’S TRAVEL STOPS has a new location, its 121st, at Exit 189 from I-44 in Rolla, Mo.

CONNECTICUT. The state has posted signs warning truckers to be cautious coming down Avon Mountain on Route 44, where a runaway dump truck killed four people in 2005.

NEW JERSEY. Law enforcement is cracking down on truckers illegally in the left lane on a three-lane stretch of Route 17 in Paramus.

NEW MEXICO. Hauling fuel to the Portales airport will be easier via a new access road to the fuel farm. The city hopes the road will be completed by year’s end.

OREGON. Nine bridges are being replaced and two others repaired on a 68-mile stretch of I-5 in Douglas and Lane counties. For updates, visit the state DOT website.

PENNSYLVANIA. Expect lane restrictions on I-79 between exits 54 (Bridgeville) and 60 (Crafton) through the fall.