Regs, Raises and Recorders

By Randy Grider
[email protected]

We are now approaching the halfway mark of the first decade of the 21st century. What can trucking expect in the immediate future?

Obviously, some new changes are now upon us. First are the regulations governing hazmat endorsements (page 12). Beginning Jan. 31, drivers applying for new hazmat endorsements will have to undergo fingerprint-based background checks. But drivers renewing or transferring hazmat endorsements won’t be affected by the revised rule until May 31.

One interesting aspect of the regulations, which are designed to assess security threats of commercial truck drivers authorized to transport hazardous materials, is a change to the list of disqualifying offenses. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration removed simple drug possession but added the unlawful purchase, receipt, transfer, shipping, transport, import, export and storage of a firearm or explosives.

Sometime in the next few months we should hear word from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in regard to the hours of service. Officials with the agency say they are working on a much stronger version of the rule (page 13). They want a rule that can stand up to any legal action thrown its way.

And we feel quite certain that electronic onboard data recorders will somehow factor into the mix – possibly as a requirement for a preset future date. If this does happen, whatever parameters are set for their use are sure to be controversial. Many truckers fear onboard recorders might be used against them, such as with speeding and other traffic violations.

We feel using onboard recorders for anything other than compliance with hours of service would be intrusive. The only exception might be in the event of a deadly accident where truck drivers could prove they were not at fault.

Of course, compliance with the hours-of-service rule has to encompass a paperless log system. Again, a controversial subject, but one that in the long term might work out to the benefit of truckers. Pay close attention to the much-touted success of Werner Enterprise’s paperless log system. FMCSA just formally exempted the fleet from paper logs after a six-year pilot program (page 92). The agency could easily use Werner as its poster child for onboard recorders.

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Last month the Canadian Trucking Alliance announced it was backing mandatory use of electronic on-board data recorders (page 17). The group also withdrew its proposal for an 18-hour work shift for truck drivers. The desire to make Canada’s hours of service, which also are in a revamping stage, mesh with the United States rules could be a consideration in how that country’s new regulations take shape.

Another thing the industry has been promised this year is the first look at the new ’07 diesel engines. Most engine makers have pledged to have the new engines in the marketplace in 2005 for field-testing. Unlike 2002, they hope to lessen the chances of a widespread pre-buy by having more time to prove the reliability of their engines, which have to meet stricter emissions requirements.

Engine makers also are hoping that since particulate filters are the only big change from the ’02 engines, confidence in the technologies they use will be higher this time around.

With promises of higher wages and more freight, 2005 is shaping up to be a profitable and productive year for truck drivers. Hopefully, fuel prices will stabilize to ensure the industry’s rebound is indeed on solid footing.

Only time will tell if 2005 will be a pivotal year for trucking. But all the ingredients are there.

Good luck and stay safe in 2005.