Report: Driver data could go public

A report to Congress says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants authority to release driver safety data. Doing so would, in effect, reverse FMCSA’s earlier stance that drivers would not be publicly ranked under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

The agency is seeking increased regulatory authority over drivers via the next highway reauthorization bill, according to a February Government Accountability Office report to Congress on CSA progress. If FMCSA “gains this authority,” the report reads, “the agency plans to make driver safety data public.”

Asked if the intention was to create a public driver ranking system similar to the agency’s CSA motor carrier percentile ranking system, FMCSA spokeswoman Candice Tolliver said, “The Department of Transportation is committed to working with Congress to address this issue.” Requests for clarification went unanswered.

The agency intended years ago to go public with driver data, said John Hill, FMCSA administrator from 2006 to 2008. “We wanted to make sure there was authority to do so, and so would minimize any lawsuits that might arise from some interested party that would not agree with rating drivers.”

A source within FMCSA, speaking off the record, stressed that making public the driver percentile rankings in the Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories of the Driver Safety Measurement System (DSMS) “has always been the long-term vision.”

Currently, drivers are not ranked against their peers in the BASICs. Data from their inspections is accessible officially only by prospective employers through the Pre-Employment Screening Program.

When FMCSA initially presented CSA to carriers and drivers in 2009, information about the DSMS was not differentiated from the Carrier Safety Measurement System (SMS) in the same way it is today.

FMCSA has contended the DSMS is an internal tool that will be used only by FMCSA staff during carrier investigations. “Under CSA, individual CMV drivers are not assigned safety ratings,” says the CSA website, csa.fmcsa.dot.gov.

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FMCSA’s May-released draft 2011-2016 regulatory goals plan makes no specific mention of the DSMS. The plan does refer to continuing development of “a methodology to assess the safety fitness of drivers to further identify unsafe drivers who should not be in the industry.” That process is not mentioned, however, in the anticipated outcomes listed in the strategic plan, suggesting achieving the goal could be more than five years away.

— Todd Dills


NORTH AMERICAN CLASS 8 truck orders for June are projected at more than 20,000 units for the eighth straight month, according to ACT Research Co. and FTR Associates. FTR preliminary data show June Class 8 truck total net orders for truck makers down 9 percent from May. June orders were 33 percent higher than the same month a year earlier.

USED TRUCK SALES dropped about 15 percent in May from April, due to a lack of available inventory, according to ACT Research Co. ACT also reported U.S. trailer net orders fell 9 percent in May from April, the second consecutive monthly decline for the industry.

DRIVER TURNOVER in long-haul increased in the first three months of the year, according to the American Trucking Associations. At large truckload fleets, the annualized rate rose to 75 percent in the quarter ended March 31. Turnover at small truckload fleets rose one percentage point to 50 percent in the first quarter, the highest point since third quarter 2008. Less-than-truckload fleets increased to 8 percent from 6 percent the previous quarter.

U.S., Mexico sign trucking deal

U.S. and Mexican officials have signed an agreement to end the cross-border trucking dispute under which Mexican carriers could be granted provisional operating authority soon.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes Dionisio Arturo Pèrez-Jàcome Friscione signed a Memorandum of Understanding July 6.

FMCSA’s cross-border pilot program mandates Mexican carriers meet all U.S. motor vehicle safety standards. FMCSA will provide and pay for electronic onboard recorders to track hours-of-service compliance at a maximum cost of $2.5 million.

For Mexican program participants, the agency will review the complete driving record of each driver and require all drug testing samples to be analyzed in U.S. labs. It will assess drivers’ comprehension of English and U.S. traffic signs.

Mexico will provide reciprocal authority for U.S. carriers to engage in cross-border long-haul operations in that country. Neither nation can engage in domestic carriage of goods point-to-point in the other country.

The memorandum does not apply to hazmat carriers or carriers engaged in the cross-border transportation of passengers.

Mexico agreed to a phased-in lifting of retaliatory tariffs imposed on many U.S. goods following Congress’ vote to end a previous program in March 2009.

Following the agreement announcement, Rep. Peter DeFazio filed a bill to limit the administration’s authority to “unilaterally decide how and when to open the U.S.-Mexico border without input from Congress.” The Oregon Democrat’s bill would also limit use of the Highway Trust Fund to pay for EOBRs for Mexican truckers.

The American Trucking Associations, business and farming organizations have supported the cross-border program. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Teamsters and some safety groups have opposed it.

OOIDA President Jim Johnston said it will hurt U.S. trucking jobs and place an undue burden on taxpayers, and he blasted the DOT’s pledge of transparency to the public over the program.

The three-phase pilot program requires Mexican carriers to have provisional authority for an 18-month minimum. Carriers that participated safely in the previous cross-border program will receive credit for that time and will not to be subject to Stage 1 inspections.

— Jill Dunn

Broker regulatory bill reintroduced

For the second year running, Congress is considering a bill trucking and broker organizations say will mitigate unscrupulous broker practices.

On June 24, U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., introduced the “Fighting Fraud in Transportation Act,” after working on it with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, American Trucking Associations and Transportation Intermediaries Association.

Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, said current law provides too much opportunity for fraud. “Too often, we’ve seen deceitful brokers get away with collecting payments from shippers, but cheating truckers out of what is rightfully theirs,” he said.

TIA, the third-party logistics association, said the federal broker bond requirement has been $10,000 since the mid-1980s. In recent years, some transportation associations pushed for requiring escrow accounts and upping bond to $500,000, while there was a Congressional move to demand brokers disclose profit margin on invoices.

The trucking and broker industries compromised with a $100,000 bond requirement and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator would have the option of reconsidering that amount every five years.

The bill would demand the U.S. Department of Transportation establish an annual screening of registered motor carriers, brokers and freight forwarders and list only those with current operating authority.

If the legislation is enacted, companies would have up to four years to comply with new regulations that:

• Increase requirements and disclosures for seeking broker or freight forwarder authority.

• Clarify that carriers need separate broker or forwarder authority and bond to broker freight. 

• Establish significant penalties for violating broker regulations.

• Set strict guidelines on companies that provide and administer brokers with surety bonds.

The bill, H.R. 2357, was referred to the House transportation committee. TIA stated the bill could be attached to a more comprehensive transportation-related bill.

— Jill Dunn


TRUCK TONNAGE DECLINED 2.3 percent in May from April on a seasonally adjusted basis, as measured by the For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index from the American Trucking Associations.

TRUCKERS MAY TOUR Detroit Diesel’s Detroit manufacturing plant, have lunch and get free merchandise as part of a driver appreciation promotion for August, the engine maker announced. CDL holders should sign up 48 hours in advance and can register at www.DetroitDiesel.com by clicking on the “August is Driver Appreciation Month” icon.

FOR-HIRE TRUCKING JOBS increased by 4,400 positions in June following a revised 3,000 increase in May, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since the end of December, payroll employment in trucking is up nearly 27,000, according to preliminary BLS figures.

Carriers up the ante for owner-operators

As driver pools tighten, carriers are offering signon bonuses as high as $10,000 to attract owner-operators.

Several carriers have hiked per-mile and fuel rates, posted bonuses and reduced truck-lease payments to compete for operators or persuade company drivers to convert to ownership.

FFE Transportation has restructured its Drive-To-Own truck lease program by reducing weekly payments and balloon amounts and extending manufacturer warranty programs. In January the carrier launched a driver academy to train applicants looking for a CDL.

All-owner-operator Roadrunner Transportation Services is offering up to a $10,000 bonus spread over five quarters to experienced operators, says Mark Pluff, director of linehaul development. He says the bonus varies depending on lanes where the company wants to add power.

“We’ve gotten good response from a much higher caliber contractor,” Pluff says.

In August, small all-owner-operator carrier Christenson Transport is increasing contractor pay from 88 cents a mile to 91 cents and adding 5 cents a mile for East Coast routes. The Springfield, Mo.-based carrier offers a $3,500 bonus that is paid by reducing truck lease payments by $75 a week, says Barry McGowen, vice president.

In February, Barr-Nunn Transportation increased its Pure Pay base rate for owner-operators 3 cents a mile to $1 a mile and 10 cents a mile to 80 cents empty, says Jeff Blank, director of recruiting. The carrier also offers a program that pays on length of haul.

“We’ve probably realized a 15 percent increase in our recruiting this year,” he says.

On June 1, Jacobson Companies of Des Moines, Iowa, increased new operator pay to 95 cents a mile from 93 cents, while also raising existing operator pay by 2 cents a mile. That followed a February increase in the carrier’s sign-on bonus for contractors to $2,500 from $1,000, says Joe Santone, a vice president.

“Over the last 45 days, our recruiting is up about 20 percent,” Santone said. Among other owner-operator pay developments at carriers:

• Schneider National last March increased van operator pay 5 cents to 95 cents a mile (92 cents plus 3 cents quarterly performance premium).

• At Transport America, all owner-operators on July 3 began receiving a 2 cent increase to 93 cents for all paid miles.

• In March, American Central Transport jumped its owner-operator pay to 98 cents for loaded miles and 90 cents for authorized empty miles.

— Max Kvidera

Trucking reps knock hours plan

Trucking executives told a U.S. House subcommittee hearing that the proposed hours of service revision would be costly and unproductive.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposal would reduce the daily driving limit, decrease the maximum on-duty time limit, require mandatory breaks and change the current 34-hour restart provision. Small Business Committee Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations Chairman Mike Coffman, R-Colo., convened the hearing to explore its potential impact.

Truck-related crashes have dropped more than 40 percent since the current HOS rules were implemented in 2003. But the FMCSA created the “complicated and cumbersome” notice of proposed rulemaking based on outdated truck-related crash data, Coffman said.

“Even more disturbing is that it is estimated that there will be a cost of $2.5 billion annually on the industry if the proposed hours of service regulations are finalized,” he said.

James Burg, president of James Burg Trucking Co., said the proposal would restrict productivity and increase congestion and emissions. It would force Burg to add drivers and trucks, making it necessary for his 75-truck Michigan-based company to try and increase retained earnings by between 20 and 25 percent.

Paul James, president of Colorado-based Rex Oil Co., testified on behalf of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. His drivers are home every night and the proposal should not apply to short-haul drivers, he said.

In 2009, safety and labor groups challenged the current HOS rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals granted the parties’ joint motion to hold the case in abeyance, pending the issue of a new HOS proposal.

“If the FMCSA promulgates a new rule that is substantially different from the 2008 rule, that may obviate the need for judicial review of the current rule,” the court stated.

— Jill Dunn

Roadcheck finds 14% using e-logs

The three-day Roadcheck 2011, a nationwide driver and vehicle inspection event, this year queried drivers on their use of electronic logging devices. The technology was being used by 14 percent of drivers, said the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which conducted the June 7-9 Roadcheck 2011.

More fleets have begun using electronic onboard recorders with the advent of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

Inspectors at 2,550 locations across North America performed 70,712 truck and bus inspections June 7-9. Inspectors focused on the North American Standard Level I inspection, motorcoach inspections, hours-of-service log books and household goods carriers.

Log book violations led overwhelmingly in driver violations cited, accounting for half of all driver out-of-service violations.

This year’s event produced the lowest out-of-service rates since Roadcheck began in 1991, CVSA said.

The overall vehicle compliance rate was 80.7 percent, compared with 80 percent in 2010. The overall driver compliance rate of 95.8 percent compared with 95.6 percent from last year.

For NAS Level I inspections, the compliance rates were up to 77.2 percent for vehicles (76.7 percent in 2010) and 96.3 percent for drivers (unchanged from 2010). In addition, there were 296 fewer safety belt violations in 2011 (863 vs. 1,159 in 2010).

Hazardous materials inspections resulted in a vehicle compliance rate of 82.1 percent versus 83.7 percent in 2010. The driver compliance rate of 97.5 percent was unchanged from the previous year.

— Staff reports

Rest area commerce bill opposed

A coalition of highway businesses has opposed a bill it says threatens thousands of businesses operating at exits along the nation’s Interstate Highway System, jeopardizing the jobs of more than 2 million Americans.

The legislation, authored by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), would permit states to sell food and fuel from interstate rest areas.

The Partnership to Save Highway Communities says Kirk’s legislation would pull the rug out from under the nation’s interstate-based fast-food franchisees, convenience stores, gas stations and truck stops at a time when the businesses are just starting to see signs of recovery from the recession. It would also decrease sales tax revenue for city and county governments by taking sales away from those businesses.

“This legislation does nothing more than grant state governments a monopoly directly on the interstate shoulder or median,” said Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of NATSO, a member of the coalition representing truck stops. “The right-of-way location of the commercial rest areas gives the state a major advantage over the businesses at the exit.”

Kirk hopes his legislation to remove federal restrictions on private-public partnerships would encourage privatization to create more money for transportation projects nationwide, saying his plan could spur more than $100 billion to build new highways, railroads, public transportation, airports and ports.

— Staff reports


SURFACE TRANSPORTATION TRADE among the United States, Canada and Mexico rose 12 percent to $74 billion in April compared with April 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

THE NATIONAL Transportation Safety Board has announced its new list of the most critical transportation issues that need to be addressed to improve safety. This year’s action items are: Address human fatigue, require safety management systems and require image and onboard data recorders.

IRS delays new HVUT forms

The IRS has not published Form 2290 for reporting Heavy Highway Vehicle Use tax for the period that began July 1.

The transportation funding bill that governs this annual tax on vehicles with registered gross weights equal to or exceeding 55,000 pounds expires Sept. 30, forcing the agency to wait on the new law.

Currently, truckers can still pay their 2010 excise tax, get their 2011 tags and register new or used vehicles.

U.S. regulations allow states to register a heavy highway vehicle when the owner applies during July, August or September. “If you have your receipted Schedule 1 for the previous year’s taxable period, in this case, July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, states can accept it as proof of payment,” the IRS stated.

States must register newly acquired heavy highway use vehicles without proof of tax payment if presented with the original or a photocopy of the bill of sale. This only applies if the vehicle was bought during the 60 days before the date the state receives the application for registration.

Taxpayers who no longer have their Schedule 1 for the taxable period July 1, 2010, through June 30, can call the Excise Tax division at (866) 699-4096 to get a copy.

More information on HVUT is available by calling (800) 829-4933.

— Jill Dunn

State diesel tax rates change

On July 1, Connecticut increased diesel taxes 6.6 cents a gallon.

Nebraska’s fuel tax dropped 0.1 cent per gallon through December, said Larry Johnson, president of the Nebraska Trucking Association.

On June 23, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal suspended a 1.6-cent-a-gallon fuel tax increase set to begin July 1. The increase is delayed through Dec. 31, and the rate remains at the May 1 rate until at least year’s end.

North Carolina increased its diesel tax 2.5 cents a gallon, while Maine raised its tax 1/2-cent a gallon.

— Jill Dunn

Tax credits sought for electric trucks

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl introduced legislation to provide tax credits for buying hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric trucks, and idling reduction devices.

The Wisconsin Democrat’s bill, the Hybrid and Electric Trucks and Infrastructure Act, was referred to the finance committee with one co-sponsor.

The tax credits would include application to trucks with a gross vehicle weights in several classes, including vehicles weighing more than 33,000 pounds. The maximum credit is $24,000.

The bill also creates a tax incentive of up to $3,500 for anti-idling infrastructure and anti-idling devices installed on trucks, which would expire before 2014. The credit for infrastructure, for example, would apply to truck stops installing electrification units.

Finally, S.1285 would extend the tax credit for recharging and refueling infrastructure for plug-in and alternative fuel vehicles.

Kohl introduced a similar bill in 2009.

— Jill Dunn



FMCSA inspector charged with bribery

A federal court indicted a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration border inspector for allegedly taking a bribe in exchange for providing a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance decal for a truck without inspection.

On June 8, a U.S. District Court grand jury indicted Eric Hernandez, a safety specialist for the FMCSA. The Laredo, Texas, court charged he sold a driver a Level I CVSA sticker knowing the vehicle lacked the corresponding inspection.

State and federal inspectors issue the CVSA decal to trucks passing roadside or periodic inspection.

An indictment is a grand jury’s formal charge that it found sufficient evidence the defendant committed the crime to justify a trial. The investigation is ongoing.

— Jill Dunn

Navistar sues EPA again over SCR

Navistar has filed another lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support its exhaust gas recirculation-only engine against competitors that use selective catalytic reduction technology to meet 2010 diesel exhaust emissions regulations.

Navistar opted to use in-cylinder EGR technology to meet current standards in conjunction with banked EPA credits for meeting and exceeding pre-existing emissions regulations in effect prior to the 2010 regulations.

In the suit filed July 5 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Navistar alleges, with research from a contractor and the California Air Resources Board, that nitrogen oxide emissions skyrocket when drivers don’t keep diesel exhaust fluid topped off. This renders EPA’s rule “irrelevant” altogether, Navistar says.

Navistar accuses EPA Director Lisa Jackson of failing to uphold the Clean Air Act and her agency of failing to protect public health.

Navistar spokesman Stephen Schrier said the lawsuit is about ensuring level competition in the heavy-duty truck market. He notes that testing done by Navistar shows that operators can “defeat” SCR systems by adding water to the system instead of DEF, allowing trucks to operate in violation of 2010 emissions regulations.

“The complaint is frivolous,” said Brandon Borgna, spokesman for Volvo Trucks.

John Walsh, spokesman for Mack Trucks, said, “Their complaint has no merit, and we intend to file a motion to intervene.”

Navistar previously had sued both EPA and CARB over their acceptance of SCR technology without stronger measures to prevent engine operation without DEF or an operational SCR system. The truck maker last year settled both lawsuits by garnering a commitment for further review.

In June, EPA updated its guidance for truck engine certification, calling on SCR engine makers to continue developing warning systems that alert drivers when the truck’s DEF tank is nearly empty or filled with a liquid other than DEF.

— Jack Roberts

New state laws affect owner-operators

Trucking-supported changes affecting owner-operators and workers’ compensation became law last month in Tennessee, while similar legislation will soon become state regulations in Pennsylvania and Maine.

Tennessee’s new law, SB 932, excludes unemployment compensation for leased operators and owner-operators contracted to common carriers while engaged in interstate commerce.

Pennsylvania’s independent contractor definition under workers’ compensation will broaden Aug. 29 when HB 440 becomes effective. It will allow sole proprietors, partners of partnerships and limited liability company officers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance.

The Maine Motor Truck Association had requested legislation to determine if someone is an independent contractor for purpose of workers’ compensation.

In September, LD 1099 takes effect, which will define Maine contractors through several factors, including if compensation is based on factors directly related to the work performed, such as mileage-based rates. The contractor also substantially must control the means and manner of performing services and be responsible for a significant amount of operating expenses and maintenance.

The sponsor of a California bill to bar owner-operators from working ports ordered the bill, AB 950, to the inactive file on June 2.

— Staff reports


CONNECTICUT. Construction is under way on the I-95/I-91/Route 34 Interchange to accommodate the new 10-lane Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, or Q Bridge, under construction. The interchange, to be completed in 2016, extends one mile on I-95 from Interchange 46 to about East Street.

KANSAS. Speed limits on divided four-lane highways in the state have been increased to 75 mph from 70. The more than 800 miles covered under the new law include most of the Kansas Turnpike from the Kansas-Oklahoma border to Kansas City, Kan., and rural sections of interstates 70 and 35. Neighboring states Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma are among states that have 75 mph speed limits on rural Interstates.

KENTUCKY. Drivers can take a new parkway to avoid a clogged 9-mile section of U.S. 41-Alternate near Hopkinsville. If traveling westbound on Interstate 24, continue to the new exit 82 to the Edward T. Breathitt Pennyrile Parkway and head north. If southbound on the parkway, do not take exit 7 because the parkway now continues south.

LOUISIANA. Funding has been arranged to extend I-49 north of Shreveport to the Arkansas state line. Construction is scheduled to begin next summer and work on the final segment is scheduled to start by summer 2013. Construction could be complete by 2016.

MAINE. The speed limit has been raised from 65 mph to 75 mph along 90 miles of I-95 from Houlton to Old Town.

OKLAHOMA. Traffic on Interstate 44 and the Will Rogers Turnpike will be disrupted into next summer for construction projects. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority plans to repair 4.5 miles of pavement and replace the Five Mile Creek Bridges. Traffic on I-44 will be limited to a single lane in each direction from near the Missouri state line to Mile Marker 325 in Oklahoma. During the first phase through November, lane reductions will begin just west of Exit 1 in Missouri.

NEVADA. The state, the 34th to do so, will prohibit talking or texting on a cell phone while driving, beginning Jan. 1. Law enforcement will commence warnings Oct. 1. Fines will be $100 for the first offense, up to $200 for the second offense and up to $250 for the third offense.

NEW MEXICO. A rule change provides special permits to operate overweight trucks up to 96,000 pounds for specified breakdown loads within six miles of a port of entry on the Mexican border. Commercial vehicles in Mexico operate under different weight limits from trucks operating in New Mexico.

OREGON. A statewide idling law takes effect Jan. 1. Commercial vehicles are limited to five minutes an hour of idling on property open to the public, though there are exceptions for outside temperature and other variables. Violators will face $180 fines.

TEXAS. Highways speeds as high as 85 mph have been signed into law in the state. One new law allows highways built after June to post an 85 mph speed limit as long as engineering supports the speed. Another new law ups to 80 mph the speed limit for all vehicles on 520 miles of Interstates 10 and 20 in West Texas. Speed limit on most rural highways is 75 mph.

WISCONSIN. The state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services is targeting owner-operators and small fleets for grants covering half the cost of idling-reduction equipment. Applicants must be based in the state and pay at least half the cost of each idling-reduction device. Trucks must have a 1999 model year or newer engine.