House passes mandatory fuel surcharge.

Easing the burden?
House passes mandatory fuel surchare.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a mandatory truckload fuel surcharge as part of the major highway bill (H.R. 3) working its way through Congress. The provision was included in an amendment offered by House Transportation Committee leaders that was described in the Congressional Record as making “a number of adjustments and technical changes.”

The House previously passed a mandatory surcharge, but only as Congress was about to adjourn and when there was virtually no hope of final passage. This time, however, the provision is part of legislation that eventually will be signed into law by President Bush.

There is no guarantee that the truckload fuel surcharge will make it into the final version of the highway bill, however. If the Senate does not adopt the measure in its version, the surcharge will be subject to negotiation among House and Senate legislators who must agree on a single version of the highway bill.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has pushed for a federally mandated fuel surcharge for years, said Todd Spencer, OOIDA vice president. He noted that OOIDA was formed more than 30 years ago in response to rising fuel prices that put economic stress on independent truckers.

“Between 2000 and 2001, a quarter of a million trucks were repossessed, and this was directly attributable to their owners’ inability to cover the cost of fuel,” Spencer said.

As passed by the House March 10, the surcharge would be mandatory in “any contract or agreement, providing for truckload transportation or service involving a motor carrier, broker, or freight forwarder subject to jurisdiction under chapter 135 of this title that regularly provides such transportation or service.”

The legislation requires that any carrier, broker or freight forwarder using fuel it didn’t pay for – when an owner-operator provides actual transportation, for example – pass along the fuel surcharge to the person responsible for paying for fuel.

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The surcharge at a minimum would be the amount of the “increased cost of fuel,” which is determined by subtracting a “benchmark price” from the current diesel fuel price and multiplying the difference by the number of gallons of diesel fuel used in the transportation.

The initial benchmark price would be $1.10, and it would be subject to an annual adjustment based on the percentage change in the previous calendar year’s Annual Truckload Producer Price Index.

The legislation assumes that one gallon of diesel is used for every 5 miles of transportation, and the mileage is to be determined by using the Defense Table of Official Distances issued by the Defense Department’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.

Under the legislation, the surcharge, which must be itemized on invoices, would apply during any period in which the current diesel price surpasses the benchmark price by 5 cents per gallon. It would expire once the current diesel fuel price equals or is less than the benchmark price.

The mandatory surcharge would not apply to any contract or agreement that provides for a surcharge or fuel cost adjustment as of the date of enactment. Also, although the surcharge must be at least equal to a cents-per-gallon fuel surcharge, it may be expressed on a mileage basis, as a percentage of the freight charge or in another manner.
–Avery Vise

Freightliner Names New CEO
Freightliner has named Chris Patterson as its new president and chief operating officer. The truck maker’s senior vice president for service and parts for the past three years, Patterson, 50, was slated to replace Rainer Schmueckle, who was promoted to chief operating officer of the Mercedes Car Group effective April 15, DaimlerChrysler announced on April 2.

Based in Portland, Ore., Freightliner is a DaimlerChrysler subsidiary, as is Mercedes.

Patterson officially will assume Schmueckle’s title as head of Business Unit Trucks NAFTA, which includes all DaimlerChrysler’s heavy-truck holdings in North America – Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star – as well as Thomas Built Buses.

Schmueckle, 45, the company’s one-time chief financial officer, took over as Freightliner’s president and CEO in May 2001 during a severe market turndown and helped lead the truck maker back to profitability through his restructuring plan.
–Randy Grider

Truckers News Wins Neal Award for Idling Story
Truckers News editors received a Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for the May 2004 cover story, “The Big Turnoff.” The honor for Best Single Article within the magazine’s category was presented at a ceremony in March at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

The article, which examined the push for stricter anti-idling laws and the effects on truck drivers, was written by Senior Editor Sean Kelley. It was edited by Randy Grider, John Latta and Kristin Walters and designed by Richard Street.

Last year, Truckers News was one of three finalists for its special report, “Highway Robbery,” which covered the problem of cargo theft and provided strategies to help readers avoid being a victim of this multi-million dollar crime.

“The Jesse H. Neal Award is considered the top editorial honor in business journalism,” said Robert Lake, vice president and group publisher of Randall Publishing’s Truck Stop Division. “This prestigious award shows not only the talent of our editors, but also their dedication to Truckers News readers and the real-world issues that affect them.”

This year, Truckers News’ sister publication, Overdrive, was one of three finalists in its class for Best How-to Article. The entry was its August 2004 cover story, “Self-Help Toolbox.”

Both magazines competed against business publications that have $3 million to $7 million in annual revenue. Almost 1,200 entries were submitted from all industries.

“These honors show that our magazines continue to lead the trucking industry,” said Linda Longton, vice president of editorial for Randall Publishing Co., which publishes Truckers News and Overdrive. “Our editors are experts in their field with extensive journalism experience who consistently deliver useful, well-researched information to our readers.”

Studies Disagree on Hours Rule Impact
A recent study released by an insurance trade group says the new hours-of-service rule has resulted in truckers driving more and being slightly more fatigued than under the old rule.

However, a new report from the American Trucking Associations shows that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study is “bogus, as usual,” said ATA spokesman Mike Russell.

While the drivers responding to the IIHS study said their sleep time had increased under the new rule, they reported slightly more instances than when the old rule was in effect of driving drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel. When drivers were asked about dozing at the wheel at least once in the past month, the reported percentage increased from 13 percent in 2003 to 15 percent in 2004.

“The new rule was supposed to improve safety, but our survey shows the opposite,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS vice president for research. “Truckers are using the restart provision to squeeze even more driving hours into the week.”

A work week restart provision of the current rule, requiring 34 hours off, increases allowable driving hours in a seven-day period from 60 to 77. The rule lengthens the mandatory rest period by two hours but lets drivers stay on the road an extra hour every day.

A quarter of drivers who were surveyed by IIHS said they drive more than the new daily limit of 11 hours. Eight of 10 drivers said they’re taking advantage of the restart provision that allows them to drive 25 percent more in a week.

The ATA study, based on government accident records and data from 70 carriers operating under the new rule, was presented March 10 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as comment on the possible revision of the hours rule. ATA asks that the rule receive no major changes.

Among ATA’s findings:

  • While total DOT recordable accidents and preventable DOT recordable accidents remained relatively consistent, there were decreases between 2003 and 2004 in total injuries and injuries related to DOT recordable accidents.
  • The 34-hour recovery and restart help to avoid the shifting of daytime to nighttime schedules, which can affect the circadian rhythm and decrease alertness.
  • By increasing the daily off-duty requirement to 10 continuous hours, the new rules greatly reduced the possibility of chronic sleep deprivation and the development of a sleep debt during a driver’s workweek.
  • With minor modifications to accommodate better use of sleeper berths and the promotion of naps, the rule should continue to prove highly useful in assuring the overall safety of the nation’s highways.

Enforcement of work hours has long been a problem because written log books are easily falsified, said IIHS. Its survey shows about a third of drivers say they at least occasionally omit work hours from their logs.

“Without electronic recorders the rule can’t be enforced effectively,” McCartt said.

Russell said FMCSA compliance data shows that only about 8 percent of drivers cheat on their logs.
–Max Heine

Peterbilt Introduces Model 386 Truck
Peterbilt Motor Company announced its 2006 line of Class 8 conventional trucks and tractors, including the new Model 386, at the recent Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

The Model 386 is part of Peterbilt’s aero product line. Peterbilt General Manager Dan Sobic credited the success and popularity of the Model 387 as a major factor for the launch of the Model 386. “The Model 386 was developed to impact a customer’s bottom line through improved fuel economy, increased driver productivity, greater resale value and as a tool for attracting and retaining drivers,” Sobic said.

Peterbilt Chief Engineer Craig Brewster said the Model 386’s aerodynamic efficiency was improved by 10 percent over its predecessor. “This results in approximately three-tenths of a mile per gallon increase in fuel economy.”

Built on a separate chassis with optimized front axle placement, the 386 will have the same engine options as the 387.

Available in high or low roof configurations, the 386 can be configured as a day cab or with 48-inch, 63-inch and 70-inch sleeper options. Production of the Model 386 begins in July.

Peterbilt also spotlighted models 379, 385, 378 and 357 as part of its 2006 conventional lineup, which are all available with Bendix’s next-generation ABS-6 antilock braking system.

Peterbilt’s Model 379 will include a new Platinum Oval interior package option. The package includes a stainless grille with a punched oval pattern, polished aluminum grille bars, Donaldson air cleaners with a punched oval pattern on the intake screens and a stainless steel sunvisor.
–Randy Grider

House Bill Aims to Route Worst Hazmat Loads Away from Cities
A U.S. House member has re-introduced a bill that would strengthen security requirements for shipments of the most hazardous materials.

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced the Extremely Hazardous Materials Transportation Security Act on March 17. U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., will introduce a similar bill in the Senate, according to Markey’s website.

The legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to route around densely populated areas any materials that are toxic by inhalation, highly flammable or highly explosive – if a safer route is available.

It also would:

  • Require emergency workers to be notified before toxic chemicals are transported through their region and require those workers to have response plans ready.
  • Require employee training for those who work with the shipments and whistleblower protections for those who report problems.
  • Make those who fail to comply subject to injunctions or civil penalties of up to $100,000.

If the bill passed, federal officials would be required to issue regulations for public comment within 180 days.

Markey introduced similar legislation in 2004.
–Jill Dunn

Trucker Convicted of Immigrant Smuggling
A jury convicted Tyrone Williams of smuggling illegal Mexican immigrants into Texas but decided he was not responsible for the deaths of 19 of them.

The March 23 verdict means the Schenectady, N.Y., trucker does not face the death penalty, though prosecutors said the temperature inside the trailer rose to 173 degrees and Williams did not stop when he heard the immigrants yelling. The abandoned trailer was found May 14, 2003, near a Victoria, Texas, truckstop, about 130 miles south of Williams’ Houston destination.

Williams’ lawyer said his client did not speak Spanish and so could not understand the immigrants’ cries for help.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore said Williams would be sentenced later. Gilmore imposed a gag order on both prosecution and defense until all 13 defendants in the case are sentenced.

Though he does not face the death penalty, Williams likely will spend a long time in prison. He was found guilty on 38 counts of transporting illegal immigrants.

Williams, 34, is himself a legal Jamaican immigrant.
–Lance Orr

Reduced Speeds
Beginning in early summer, the Tennessee Department of Transportation will lower speed limits for commercial trucks to 55 mph in Memphis and the surrounding Shelby County, a change that affects 106 miles of interstate, including I-40, I-55 and I-240.

The speed limit for automobiles will be reduced simultaneously, to 65 mph on interstates and controlled access highways.

Safety Crackdown
A $2,500 maximum fine could await anyone speeding, tailgating or driving recklessly on an 11-mile high-crash section of I-95 in Virginia, along the Potomac just south of Washington. Virginia’s transportation department has designated I-95 from Route 619 near Quantico north to Route 123 near Occoquan a Highway Safety Corridor. From 2000 to 2002, crashes on that stretch killed nine people and injured 800.

New TCA Chairman
Dave Berry, vice president of Swift Transportation in Phoenix, was elected 2005-2006 chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association at its annual meeting in March. A TCA board member for almost a decade, he served as first vice chairman in 2004-2005 and chaired the North American Transportation Management Institute. Berry has worked in the trucking industry since 1973 and has been with Swift for the past 15 years.

N.Y. Truck ID
New York truckers who operate wholly in-state soon must display their business names and U.S. DOT numbers on both sides of their trucks. Effective July 5, the new rule initially applies only to trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating of 18,001 pounds or more. Beginning July 5, 2006, in-state truckers who own trucks with a rating of at least 10,001 pounds must also comply. For more information, call the department at (866) 881-2630, or visit this site.

New Petro
A new Petro Stopping Center has opened in Kingsland, Ga., off I-95 at Exit 3. The new facility will immediately sell fuel and merchandise. A branded fast food franchise and a six-bay Petro:Lube Truck Service Center is scheduled to be added in the near future.

Navistar Wins Army Contract
Navistar has won a multimillion-dollar U.S. Army contract to provide thousands of International trucks to the Afghan army. The first order in the three-year contract is $61.8 million for 374 vehicles, the company said. The contract calls for International Truck and Engine to supply up to 2,781 vehicles, 2,400 of them general transport trucks and the rest in specialized applications such as dump, water and hazmat. The entire contract, which includes two years’ worth of spare parts, could be worth $467 million, the company said.

CFI Equips Trucks with XM
Contract Frighters, Inc., will provide XM Satellite Radio free to its more than 2,500 drivers. CFI is factory-equipping its new trucks with XM Satellite Radio receivers. All CFI drivers will receive XM subscriptions, whether they drive a truck with an XM receiver or they own a plug-and-play XM radio for earlier-model vehicles.

New Love’s
Tifton, Ga., now has a Love’s Travel Stop #325. The new store is located on I-75 and Southwell Boulevard. This is the first of 15 new Travel Stops scheduled to open in 2005.