Interim no more

The regulations governing truck drivers’ hours of service apparently won’t change – at least not until the next round of litigation or any reconsideration initiated by the Obama administration.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published in the Federal Register on Nov. 19 a final rule adopting the provisions of its Dec. 17, 2007, interim final rule on HOS. The agency issued the December 2007 IFR to hold current regulations in place pending a reconsideration ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Under the final rule, commercial motor vehicle drivers may continue to drive up to 11 hours within a 14-hour, non-extendable window from the start of the workday, following at least 10 consecutive hours off duty. And motor carriers and drivers may continue to restart calculations of the weekly on-duty limits after the driver has at least 34 consecutive hours off duty. The 11-hour and 34-hour rules were at the heart of Public Citizen’s second challenge to the hours rules.

The final regulation is set to take effect Jan. 19, one day before President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

“This rule was designed to continue the downward trend in truck fatalities and maintain motor carrier operational efficiencies,” said FMCSA Administrator John Hill during a telephone press conference Nov. 18. “Our science is meticulous and our analysis exhaustive so that we can deliver definitive results: more alert and efficient drivers, safer roads and even fewer fatalities.” Hill added that the rules “are crafted to match what we know about drivers’ circadian rhythms and the real-world work environment truckers face every day.”

Hill said his agency’s most recent review of the rule did not consider a revision of the split sleeper-berth provisions because that was not part of what the appeals court addressed. There is enormous interest in the topic, he said, as evidenced by many of the approximately 900 public comments submitted on the interim final rule.

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In a related development, FMCSA also published in the Nov. 19 Federal Register a notice of policy change regarding use of motor carriers’ advanced technology for compliance purposes. FMCSA had issued a memorandum in 1997 limiting use of such technology in compliance reviews and enforcement on the grounds that the government didn’t want to stifle technologies that were just emerging.

“This policy afforded the industry the opportunity to fully integrate the technology in its operations and overall safety management system,” FMCSA says in the notice.

But now advanced technology has become widely accepted and an integral component of the industry’s logistics and operations management systems, FMCSA says. Since the policy has achieved its purpose, FMCSA says it is now rescinding it. The decision to reverse the policy may accomplish much of what the agency intended in proposing electronic onboard recorders.

FMCSA’s final rule on hours-of-service regulations discusses again much of the data the agency has relied on in the past as well as additional information submitted in response to the IFR.

“This rulemaking rests on a wide-ranging body of data and comprehensive analyses and complies with all Congressional mandates,” FMCSA states in the preamble to the final hours rules. “By adopting HOS regulations that include increased daily off-duty time, a shorter driving window, a longer period of uninterrupted rest for sleeper-berth drivers and sufficient time for two full sleep periods before restarting the 60- or 70-hour clock, the rule ensures CMVs are ‘operated safely’ and drivers’ responsibilities ‘do not impair their ability to operate the vehicles safely,’ as required by 49 U.S.C. 31136(a)(1)-(2), respectively.”

FMCSA added that data on fatigue-related highway fatalities published since 2003 show nominal annual fluctuations “but nothing of the rising trend implied by some criticism of the IFR and related earlier rules. In fact, the overall large truck fatality rate is at its lowest level ever.”

A third challenge to the hours-of-service rule could develop. The appeals court noted in its July 2007 opinion that it was vacating the rule strictly on the procedural grounds raised by Public Citizen and its allies. With those flaws presumably fixed, Public Citizen could now challenge the 11th hour of driving and the 34-hour restart on their merits.

For more information on the HOS rules, go to and search FMCSA-2004-19608.
– Avery Vise

DOE Lowers Diesel Price Forecast
The Department of Energy changed its 2009 diesel-price forecast from a projected average $3.91 to $2.73 in mid-November as fuel prices crashed, following a nearly 50-percent drop in crude prices in just a month’s time.

“With a weak economy continuing through most of 2009, along with lower projected crude oil prices,” the agency said, prices could be expected to remain low through the year.

That’s good news for trucking and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

In a November conference call organized by the Oil Price Information Service, Guy Caruso, outgoing administrator of DOE’s Energy Information Administration, discussed Obama’s energy policy intentions. He characterized the incoming team as focused on energy in the short term only as it relates to concerns about the financial market crisis and the overall economy.

Caruso said Obama has four major energy objectives: bolstering energy security through greater independence, passing cap-and-trade legislation to reduce emissions, creating an abundance of “green jobs” and providing consumer relief from high fuel prices through commodities markets regulatory reform. The last item is the one likely to be acted upon first, he said.

The dramatic run-ups in the price of diesel last year were led in part by excessive speculation in the oil market; a check against this kind of speculative bubble seems to be on the way, said Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. “Leadership in both the Senate and House are committed to doing futures market reform,” he said.
– Todd Dills

NTSB Cites Design Error in I-35W Bridge Collapse
The National Transportation Safety Board on Nov. 14 announced it has determined the probable cause of the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis was the inadequate load capacity of the gusset plates, due to a design error by engineering firm Sverdrup & Parcel and Associates.

NTSB said the gusset plates at the U10 nodes failed under a combination of substantial increases in the weight of the bridge, which resulted from previous modifications, and the traffic and concentrated construction loads on the bridge on the day of the accident.

Contributing to the design error was the failure of Sverdrup & Parcel’s quality control procedures to ensure that the appropriate main truss gusset plate calculations were performed for the I-35W bridge, as well as inadequate design review by federal and state transportation officials, NTSB ruled.

Also contributing was the generally accepted practice among federal and state transportation officials of giving inadequate attention to gusset plates during inspections for conditions of distortion, such as bowing, and of excluding gusset plates in load-rating analysis, according to NTSB.

“We believe this thorough investigation should put to rest any speculation as to the root cause of this terrible accident and provide a roadmap for improvements to prevent future tragedies,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. “We came to this conclusion only through exhaustive efforts to eliminate each potential area that might have caused or contributed to this accident.”

On Aug. 1, 2007, the eight-lane, 1,907-foot-long I-35W highway bridge over the Mississippi River experienced a catastrophic failure in the main span of the deck truss. As a result, 1,000 feet of the deck truss collapsed, with about 456 feet of the main span falling 108 feet into the 15-foot-deep river. A total of 111 vehicles were on the portion of the bridge that collapsed; of these, 17 were recovered from the water. As a result of the bridge collapse, 13 people died, and 145 people were injured.

During its investigation, NTSB said it learned that 24 underdesigned gusset plates, which were about half the thickness of properly sized gusset plates, escaped discovery in the original review process and were incorporated into the design and construction of the bridge.
– From Staff Reports

Navistar Sticks with 2010 ERG Solution
Despite the decision of all other North American heavy-duty engine suppliers to adopt selective catalytic reduction, Navistar Truck and Engine Group says it still plans to offer “in-cylinder” diesel engine emissions solutions for the North American market in 2010.
Navistar’s 2007-compliant big bore MaxxForce engines are in limited production at its Huntsville, Ala., plant.

Timothy Shick, director of marketing for Navistar’s Engine Group, says the company will use its banked Environmental Protection Agency emissions credits to buy the time necessary to calibrate its engines to achieve the agency’s demands for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) reductions. Navistar received credits for earlier-than-required compliance and lower-than-required emissions performance dating back to the first exhaust gas recirculation engines marketed by the company in 2004.

“We’ve stockpiled these credits, and it’s a ‘use them or lose them’ proposition,” Shick says. “All Navistar MaxxForce engines will be emissions-compliant for 2010, just as they are today. If they weren’t, we couldn’t sell them. Some Navistar engines are currently emitting emissions below required 2007 levels, and the EPA encourages and rewards this performance.”

In effect, Shick says Navistar’s early good performance in the emissions arena has bought the Warrenville, Ill.-based company time to tinker with and optimize the emissions performance of its in-cylinder solution without relying on urea-based selective catalytic reduction to neutralize NOx in the exhaust stream, as other North American engine suppliers will be doing.

In Navistar’s solution, a high-pressure, common-rail fuel injection system delivers diesel in a finer mist and with improved sequencing to allow for a more efficient fuel burn, Shick said. The MaxxForce’s high-strength, compact graphite iron engine block is designed to handle the higher pressures.

Other elements of the package include a proprietary combustion bowl design and advanced air management using EGR. Some of the attributes of the MaxxForce include lower weight relative to competitors and the ability to achieve full torque at a lower rpm, allowing drivers to maintain top gear longer.
– Jack Roberts

FMCSA Pursues Driver Screening Tool
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Nov. 14 requested proposals for the dissemination of commercial drivers’ safety performance data to motor carriers for use in hiring.

As ordered by Congress in 2005, the program would help motor carriers assess individual drivers’ crash and serious safety violation inspection history. The organization selected could charge third parties for use of the data, which would be released to a carrier only with the driver-applicant’s consent.

The new system would be based on the Driver Information Resource (DIR), which FMCSA released in 2006 strictly for its own use and use by state partner enforcement personnel. The DIR creates a “driver profile” using the crash and inspection data in the Motor Carrier Management Information System.

The DIR is composed of crash data from the past five years and inspection data from the past three years. Under FMCSA’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative, the agency eventually plans to use this type of information to target drivers for enforcement and intervention.
– From Staff Reports

Volvo, Mack Offer DPF Program
Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks have launched a program to remake diesel particulate filters for the trucking industry. The program will operate at the Middletown Remanufacturing Center in Middletown, Pa.

DPFs use ceramic filter elements to trap and contain particulate matter in engine exhaust. The particulates are reduced to a fine ash, which must be periodically cleaned from the filter element, usually every few hundred thousand miles. Mack’s DPF design allows the filter element to be quickly and easily removed for service, and a replacement filter readily substituted. This reduces time and cost associated with DPF servicing.

The DPFs are remanufactured to more than 90 percent of their original capacity. The remanufacturing process begins by blowing air across the filter element and removing ash and contaminants via a powerful vacuum. Filters with a high level of oil or particulate buildup are baked in state-of-the-art industrial ovens to further reduce ash and contaminants.
– From Staff Reports

Report: Mexican Trucks Found Safe
The Department of Transportation has released the final report produced by an independent evaluation panel on its cross-border truck demonstration project between the United States and Mexico.

The panel determined that the