Beyond the border zone

A proposed one-year pilot program that would allow Mexican truckers to travel beyond the 20-mile commercial zone to which they now are restricted will not necessarily be announced this year, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spokesman said.

“We are continuing our conversations with Mexican officials to allow cross-border trucking operations, and at this point there is no hard deadline as to if and when that will occur,” said FMCSA spokesman Ian Grossman. “But if it does, it’s clear from our discussions that the end of the year is the earliest that both sides will be prepared to begin a pilot program.”

The number of Mexican trucking companies that will be involved, should the plan be implemented, is likewise still under discussion, Grossman said.

Interim Transportation Secretary Maria Cino described the pilot program in an interview published in the July 24 issue of Traffic World magazine. Cino was quoted as saying the program would involve about 100 Mexican motor carriers and could be unveiled by the end of 2006.

Cino’s comments drew a quick response from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, called the pilot program a “mistake” and said the United States is in no position to address the safety and security issues of Mexican trucks on U.S. highways. Driver pay in the United States also could be driven down by the competition, Spencer said.

The American Trucking Associations, on the other hand, supports the trucking provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which says the Mexican trucks will operate on U.S. roads eventually, said Martin Rojas, ATA executive director for safety and security operations.

Current U.S. law restricts trucks and drivers from Mexico and Canada to carrying international shipments between their home countries and individual points in the United States. Those same laws prohibit foreign trucks and drivers from moving loads from point to point within U.S. borders. However, trucks operating from Mexico can enter the country and operate within a 20-mile limited commercial zone around the border.

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Rojas gave the example of international cargo moving from Chicago to Guadalajara. Currently, the trailer is loaded in Chicago and dropped off in Laredo, Texas, where a drayage carrier working with Mexican customs brokers picks up the trailer and drops it across the border. Then a Mexican carrier picks it up and takes it to Guadalajara.

“In other words, it takes three tractors to move one trailer,” Rojas said. Freeing up the restrictions would mean one tractor could haul the trailer the whole way, he said. “We have many carriers who look at this favorably because it will increase the efficiency of their operations.”

The plan would involve only international cargo, so drivers of domestic freight would not have to worry about losing their jobs to Mexican drivers, Rojas said.

Assuming that Mexican carriers will be unsafe is unfair, Rojas said. “Any foreign carrier must be in compliance with all the regulations and requirements that U.S. carriers must comply with.”

Spencer argues that a law passed by Congress in 2001 lays out specific criteria for the U.S. and Mexican governments to establish before American roadways can be fully opened to Mexican trucks. To date, “Not a single state enforces the directives established by Congress in 2001 regarding Mexican motor carriers,” Spencer said.

Among other requirements, the law says, safety exams must verify that Mexican trucking firms have drug and alcohol-testing programs, proof of insurance and qualified drivers with clean driving records.
Brittani Tingle

Supporting Documents Rule is Imminent
The White House Office of Management and Budget completed its review on Sept. 14 of the final rule on supporting documents required for driver logs, clearing the measure for publication in the Federal Register within days.

OMB ordered changes in the draft final rule, but it is unclear how extensive those changes will be, as the details of neither the draft nor the final rule are yet known. Congress had ordered that new regulations on supporting documents be completed by Feb. 26, 1996.

Supporting documents are those items that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration expects to see in inspections and compliance reviews to help verify the accuracy of driver records of duty status. Federal regulations already require supporting documents, but the rule would reaffirm this and clarify what supporting documents motor carriers must retain.

In its notice of proposed rulemaking, FMCSA proposed to adopt a regulatory definition of a supporting document to mean “any document that is generated or received by a motor carrier or commercial motor vehicle driver in the normal course of business that could be used, as produced or with additional identifying information, to verify the accuracy of a driver’s record of duty status.” FMCSA provided a long list of examples, such as global positioning system reports and numerous other types of electronic data.

Supporting documents could become less important if electronic on-board recorders are mandated, but it’s not clear that FMCSA’s separate recorder proposal, still under White House review, would indeed mandate them.
Avery Vise

No Major Problems with ULSD Changeover
Truckers have experienced no real surprises in the changeover to ultra-low-sulfur diesel. In fact, 85 percent of diesel sold since Sept. 1 has been ULSD, says Al Mannato, American Petroleum Institute fuel issues manager.

“The vast majority of truckers already have it in their tank,” Mannato says.

Refiners have been producing the new fuel since June. The Oct. 15 deadline was just for labeling purposes at the pump.

While ULSD will be the main highway fuel produced, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not require retail outlets to sell it, according to the Clean Diesel Fuel Alliance, a group that includes the American Automobile Association and NATSO.

“It is possible that ULSD fuel might not be available initially at every service station or truckstop and that a diesel retailer may choose to sell low-sulfur diesel fuel instead of ULSD fuel,” the alliance says.

By mid-March, 90 percent of the diesel produced for the American market will be ULSD, Mannato says. Trucks from model year 2007 and later must use only ULSD, and they will be so marked on the tank and on the dashboard. Owners of pre-2007 trucks may use either low-sulfur diesel or ULSD during the transition period, but only ULSD will be sold for highway use as of Dec. 1, 2010.
Jill Dunn

Volvo Introduces I-Shift Automated Transmission
Volvo Trucks North America announced Sept. 20 that beginning in the second quarter of 2007, its customers will be able to equip their trucks with the Volvo I-Shift, an automated mechanical transmission that offers two-pedal operation.

Initially, the 12-speed I-Shift will be available only on Volvo trucks spec’d with Volvo’s new engines for 2007: the D11, D13 and D16. The transmission will be available on all truck models: the VN and VT highway tractors and the VHD vocational truck.

“We believe customers will immediately recognize the advantages I-Shift offers for productivity, lower cost of operation, driver recruitment and retention, and safety,” said Scott Kress, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “The combination of I-Shift with Volvo’s new engine family gives our customers a complete vehicle and drivetrain solution. Customers can always get the perfect ratio at the right time for optimal engine and vehicle performance, which means a higher degree of productivity, fuel economy and reliability.”

Volvo will offer three I-Shift models, with the ability to handle all power and torque inputs from its new engine family, including the top 600 hp/2,050 pounds-feet rating.

Although the I-Shift is new to North America, Volvo has sold about 80,000 in other markets since it was introduced in early 2002. Volvo has been building automated manual transmissions for other markets since 1987.

One of Volvo’s major goals in introducing I-Shift is improving fuel economy. Because of the integration of the transmission and Volvo engines, the I-Shift is programmed with its engine’s efficiency map for each engine rating. Using this information and various sensors, the transmission calculates vehicle speed, acceleration, torque demand, weight, rolling and air resistance, and road grade to continuously predict and select the most efficient use of the engine for the next 30 seconds, Volvo says.

The road grade sensor, which Volvo claims as an exclusive feature, helps determine which gear to start off in and when the transmission can skip-shift for better fuel economy.

Another exclusive fuel-economy feature is Eco-Roll, designed for operation in rolling hills. Eco-Roll automatically disengages the engine when the vehicle is in top gear on a long, slight downgrade. By allowing the engine to idle in these situations, Eco-Roll can reduce parasitic losses by as much as 30 hp, Volvo says.

A fuel-economy option is direct drive, which ties the output shaft directly into the input shaft when the I-Shift is operating in 12th gear. The result is less power lost to friction, saving as much as 1.5 percent in fuel versus overdrive transmissions.

If the customer wants, the I-Shift can be spec’d with the ability to shift from fuel economy mode to performance mode and to improve acceleration by using a “kick-down switch” connected to the accelerator pedal. An Idle Governor mode allows drivers to creep in slow traffic without using the accelerator.

The I-Shift will be available with a 5-year/750,000-mile parts and labor warranty for engines with 1,750 pounds-feet of torque or less, and a 3-year/500,000-mile warranty for engines above 1,750 pounds-feet of torque.
Avery Vise

Several Fleets Endorse Electronic Speed Governor Regulation
In what is believed to be the first Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration petition jointly filed by a public safety interest group and a group of motor carriers, Road Safe America and several fleets have petitioned FMCSA to require that electronic speed governors be set at not more than 68 mph.

Nine motor carriers, including Schneider National, J.B. Hunt Transport, C.R. England, Covenant Transport, Dart Transit and U.S. Xpress, signed the petition, which was filed Sept. 11. It will be available for public comment as soon as it is docketed for rulemaking by FMCSA.

The other fleets that signed are H.O. Wolding, ATS Intermodal and Jet Express.

Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, already submitted a letter of support for the measure, which would affect Class 7 and Class 8 trucks manufactured after 1990. Speed governors became standard equipment in 1991.

Recent FMCSA studies suggest that limiting the speed of commercial trucks will significantly improve safety. According to FMCSA’s Large Truck Causation Study, “traveling too fast for conditions” was the single most frequently cited truck-related factor in large truck crashes.

“The 80-mph, 80,000-pound truck has no place on our highways,” says Steve Owings, who co-founded Road Safe America after he lost his 22-year-old son, Cullum, in a high-speed truck accident. “This petition is a matter of life and death for drivers of passenger cars, as well as for professional truck drivers. And it is a matter of economic common sense for the companies that put trucks on the road.”

The speed-governor rule is “one of the most important safety initiatives in commercial vehicle transportation in the last 20 years,” says Don Osterberg, vice president of safety and training for Schneider National. Schneider is among a growing number of national carriers that maintain speed governors on their trucks at below 68 mph.

In addition to safety improvements, carriers that already govern their trucks’ top speed at these levels cite savings in fuel consumption, liability costs and equipment wear and tear.

“Historically, carriers have waited for regulations to come down from the federal government and not been actively engaged in the process,” Osterberg says. “What’s unique in this filing is that a core group of responsible carriers is stepping up and initiating a proactive change for improving public safety. This is good for drivers, good for the motoring public and good for the entire trucking industry.”
From Staff Reports

Truck Fatalities, Injuries Decrease

A report, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, shows that the number of fatalities from truck-involved crashes declined to 5,212 in 2005 from 5,235 the year before. The number of people injured in large truck crashes decreased 1.7 percent to 114,000, a reduction of 2,000 injuries from the year before. The total number of highway fatalities involving all types of vehicles, however, increased 1.4 percent to 43,443 in 2005 from 42,836 a year earlier, according to the NHTSA.

California Goes Hands-Free
California has become the fourth state to require cell-phone users to use a hands-free device while driving. Starting in July 2008, violating the ban will incur a $20 fine. Repeat violators will be fined $50. The law exempts emergency calls and emergency workers and allows truck drivers to use push-to-talk phones until July 1, 2011. Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia have similar laws for all drivers.

Covenant Buys Star Transportation
Covenant Transport of Chattanooga, Tenn., announced on Sept. 14 its acquisition of 100 percent of the outstanding stock of Star Transportation of Nashville for about $40 million in cash. Star Transportation is a short- to medium-haul dry van regional truckload carrier. Star operates primarily in the Southeast, with shipments concentrated from Texas to Virginia. The carrier generated $89.6 million in revenue and $7.1 million in net income for the 12 months ended June 30.

Driver Turnover Drops Slightly
The driver turnover rate among truckload carriers declined during the second quarter of 2006, but the job market for truckers remains tight, the American Trucking Associations reported Sept. 15. The turnover rate among large truckload carriers dropped from 116 percent to 110 percent, the lowest rate since the 2003 fourth quarter. The turnover rate among small truckoad carriers decreased 11 percentage points from the first quarter, to 100 percent.

New Love’s
Located at Exit 27 off Highway 62 and I-24, the newest Love’s Travel Stop in Calvert City, Ky., is the company’s 125th truckstop. The Calvert City location is one of several recent additions to Love’s growing chain. In 2006, the company has opened new facilities in Tennessee, Missouri, Utah, Idaho, Indiana and South Carolina.

TA Chain Sells
TravelCenters of America announced Sept. 18 that it is being purchased for about $1.9 billion by Hospitality Properties Trust of Newton, Mass., which owns 310 hotels in the United States and Ontario. The transaction is expected to close in early 2007. Meanwhile, TA expects business to continue as usual at its 162 locations in the United States and Canada.

Diesel Prices Continue Drop
Diesel prices continued to decrease for the week ending Oct. 2 According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average price of a gallon of diesel was $2.546, nearly 5 cents less than the previous week and nearly 60 cents less than the same week in 2005. While prices dropped by 2 to 5 cents in most regions, they took a nosedive in the Rocky Mountain region, falling by almost 15 cents to $2.679.