HOS waiver in Nebraska | Prison time for smuggler busted with people in sleeper

Trucking news and briefs for Monday, May 8, 2023:

Fuel haulers in Nebraska get relief from hours of service requirements to combat shortage

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen issued an executive order exempting in-state fuel haulers from the hours of service regulations in efforts to combat ongoing fuel-supply shortages. Haulers operating under the exemption are required to carry a copy of the governor's proclamation with them on the truck. 

Those eligible include haulers of gasoline or gas blends, diesel, fuel oil, ethanol, propane and biodiesel into or within Nebraska.

The waiver "is effective immediately and shall remain in effect until June 4, 2023," the governor's office said. It follows the expiration of a federal waiver extended for multiple states in March through mid-April for fuel haulers, prompted originally by an unanticipated shutdown of the Suncor refinery in Colorado, severe winter storms, and high demand resulting in difficulty in obtaining necessary fuel in the affected states -- Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

The text of Governor Pillen's order also notes that any "driver who notifies a motor carrier that he or she needs immediate rest shall be given at least ten consecutive hours off-duty before the driver is required to return to service." 

[Related: Eight-state HOS waiver for fuel haulers extended]

Driver sentenced for obstructing justice in human smuggling case

A 48-year-old truck driver from Edinburg, Texas, has been ordered to federal prison following his conviction for obstruction of justice, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani. Jose Manuel Gutierrez pleaded guilty to the charges Jan. 26.

Gutierrez was ordered to serve 14 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release.

At a recent hearing, additional evidence regarding Gutierrez’s criminal history emerged. That included convictions for assault, money laundering and aiding and abetting the entry of illegal aliens. In handing down the sentence, the court noted the concerning nature and circumstances of the crime.

“This human smuggler tried to get witnesses to lie,” said Hamdani. “My office is not going to stand by and let intimidation replace the truth. The seriousness of his threats to justice merit the sentence imposed today.”

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At the time of his plea, Gutierrez admitted he attempted to influence an official proceeding knowingly and dishonestly, with intent to undermine the proceeding.

On April 11, 2022, Gutierrez arrived at the Falfurrias, Texas, Border Patrol checkpoint. There, authorities ultimately found 10 people, illegally present in the United States, concealed in the sleeper of the tractor he was driving. Two of them described how they were transported and identified Gutierrez in a photo lineup as the driver who instructed them to get into the vehicle and covered them with blankets.  

However, the two witnesses later changed their accounts, reporting they did not know Gutierrez and had no contact with him.

Investigation revealed Gutierrez had provided the names of the two witnesses to a family member after their initial statements to authorities, and he instructed the individual to give the names to another person who could then “work” them.

The witnesses later claimed they had changed their statements because Gutierrez had told them to do so. While there were no direct threats, both reported they were afraid something might happen to them if they had not done so.  

Gutierrez will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

[Related: Inside an uptick in human smuggling via tractor-trailer: Avoid unwitting participation, keep attention high]

New research priorities for ATRI: Public truck parking investment, detention, more 

At a mid-year meeting in Florida, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) Board of Directors approved a new list of top research priorities for 2023, as identified by ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee (RAC) and informed by driver/carrier surveys. ATRI’s RAC identified and prioritized the following list of recommended research topics: 

The cost of detention. Operators and motor carriers consistently rank driver detention at customer facilities as a top trucking concern, ATRI noted. This research, supported by shipper groups, will include quantitative data collection to identify detention impacts, including costs, and strategies for minimizing detention.

Expanding truck parking at public rest areas. The lack of available truck parking is perennially ranked by drivers as a top concern. This research will identify and map truck driver needs to rest stop attributes, develop best-practice case studies and utilize truck driver data to identify strategies for expanding truck parking capacity available at public rest areas. 

[Related: How to fight for your right to park the truck]

Identifying barriers to entry for female truck drivers. Women represent less than 10 percent of the truck operator workforce, yet ATRI research, the organization said, has documented that female drivers are generally more safe than their male counterparts in terms of outcomes. This research will identify gender issues and proactive steps trucking can take to make careers more appealing to women. 

"Complete Streets" impact on freight mobility. Complete Streets is a United States Department of Transportation program designed to make transportation accessible for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders. However, planning decisions to deploy "complete streets" can negatively impact freight transportation and those who rely on truck-delivered goods. This study will seek to quantify these impacts and recommend approaches for transportation planners to better facilitate freight movement.  

Examining the diesel technician shortage. Challenges recruiting and retaining technicians are often cited as critical. This research will work with government and industry to identify factors underlying the shortage, including mapping career attributes to workforce needs, and assessing high school-level vocational training availability, industry recruitment practices and competing career opportunities, ATRI said.