Group recommends fuel tax rise
A federal panel recommends a gradual increase in the fuel tax to feed the Highway Trust Fund and pay for transportation spending.
The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, created by President Obama, was charged with identifying policies to improve the government’s fiscal situation. It proposes to raise the fuel tax gradually by 15 cents beginning in 2013. That money would be dedicated toward financing the transportation trust funds, eliminating the need for further general fund bailouts, according to the report.
U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) urged the commission to consider a 25-cent fuel tax increase. They suggested that 15 cents go toward the Highway Trust Fund and the other 10 cents temporarily be applied to national debt reduction. The federal fuel tax hasn’t been increased since the early 1990s.
The commission’s draft proposal is part of a proposed final report, due by Dec. 1. It requires the approval of at least 14 of the 18 members of the commission, which is chaired by Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Clinton.
The commission was created in February and tasked with proposing recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015.
— Staff reports
FMCSA adjusts CSA cargo scoring
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it planned to withhold carrier scores in the Cargo-Related Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) from public view when the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 Safety Measurement System becomes fully operational in early December.
FMCSA is recalibrating the cargo securement violation severity weightings. The decision to withhold percentile ranking and intervention status stemmed from a need to make certain that the weightings were appropriately identifying carriers with safety risks. Industry groups have protested that this BASIC unfairly elevated exposure and targeted specific segments, namely flatbed carriers.
FMCSA is also analyzing the impact on the different industry segments of a carrier’s exposure in this BASIC. During this analysis period, the BASIC results will continue to be used for intervention prioritization by enforcement personnel. Accordingly, percentile rankings and intervention status will be accessible to the FMCSA enforcement community and motor carriers only.
— Staff reports
AVERAGE USED TRUCK prices increased 3 percent from August to $42,100 in September, ACT Research said. ACT also reported the number of units sold declined by 5 percent during the same period. Dealers reported a tighter supply of late-model equipment.
THE FOR-HIRE TRUCK TONNAGE INDEX, seasonally adjusted, increased 1.7 percent in September. The American Trucking Associations compiles the index.
THE NORTH AMERICAN FREIGHT INDEX increased 65 percent in spot market freight availability in September compared to the previous year, TransCore said. September load volume was 4.9 percent higher than in August. September’s spot freight reached the highest levels for the month since 2005, which was a peak year for spot market volume.
TRUCKING COMPANIES added 300 new employees on a seasonally adjusted basis in October, according to preliminary payroll figures from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since March, trucking companies have added 15,900 jobs.
Lawsuit aims to block CSA 2010 disclosure
In late November, at least three industry organizations were planning to file a lawsuit before year-end seeking to block or delay disclosure of certain data that could misrepresent carriers’ safety records.
The groups oppose public disclosure of data from the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration considers disclosure as part of a planned CSA-related rulemaking next year, says attorney Henry Seaton. He represents the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, The Expedite Alliance of North America and the Air & Expedited Motor Carriers Association.
FMCSA was planning to release by early December the data from the new Safety Measurement System (SMS), which will replace the current SafeStat methodology.
The groups argue that disclosure of the percentile rankings within the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) and use of terms characterizing those rankings amount to a public branding of carriers as less than safe. SMS data in its current form is unsuitable for use by the public in making decisions about a carrier’s safety, and that’s FMCSA’s job anyway, they argue.
FMCSA’s CSA changes announced Nov. 18 do not remedy the problem, Seaton says.
“Changing the color from red to orange and changing the terms from ‘deficient’ or ‘marginal’ to ‘alert’ do not begin to address the possible misuse of CSA 2010,” Seaton says. The changes do not “put an end to the prospective black-balling of carriers by shippers and brokers when those carriers are in fact certified by the FMCSA as safe to operate.”
— Avery Vise
Firm to offer driver scorecards
A private firm plans to offer to drivers scorecards that reflect Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 driver ratings.
By mid-December via www.roadsideresume.com, says Vigillo President Steven Bryan, the company will offer all drivers in their system access to their own scorecard free of charge.
This and other developments related to CSA 2010 and the FMCSA’s Pre-employment Screening Program were discussed in November at a conference of carrier recruiting personnel in Nashville, Tenn.
Though FMCSA decided it would not release driver rating information to the public, Vigillo says that information will be contained in its “Roadside Résumé,” available to more than 1 million drivers with data in the firm’s system.
Driver scorecards will be available through Vigillo to prospective employers with driver consent.
Just as with DAC reports and with the PSP, drivers will have an opportunity to contest erroneous information.
FMCSA will provide a PSP report to a driver for $10. The report contains inspection and crash data (looking back three and five years, respectively), but no scoring.
— Todd Dills
Banks added to lending list
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization approved Community Bank & Trust (CB&T), Sheboygan, Wis.; Zions Bank, Salt Lake City; and Virginia Commerce Bank, Chantilly, Va. as lenders in the Short Term Lending Program.
Under the program, DOT guarantees up to $750,000 in loans for eligible small and disadvantaged businesses.
For more information, go to www.osdbu.dot.gov.
— Staff reports
Hours of service proposal expected
The White House Office of Management and Budget was expected to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on hours of service by Nov. 26, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation report.
DOT had set Dec. 4 as the NPRM publication date, with plans to accept comment on it until Feb. 4.
Last fall, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration entered into a settlement agreement to revisit the current rule, issued in 2008, and publish a final rule by July 26, 2011.
Last month, the reviewers extended study of the proposal.
FMCSA entered the agreement after Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Truck Safety Coalition and the Teamsters union brought suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. This court had previously struck down the agency’s 2003 and 2005 versions of HOS.
The 2009 agreement stipulates if the FMCSA produces a new HOS rule “substantially different” from the 2008 rule, this may eliminate the need for judicial review of the current regulation.
— Jill Dunn
Driver pay suits target two carriers
Plaintiff attorneys have announced their driver pay lawsuit against Swift Transportation has been given class action status. Meanwhile, the firm is requesting class action certification in a separate suit against Schneider National.
On Nov. 4, Judge J. Richard Gama of the Maricopa County Superior Court granted class action status in the driver lawsuit against Swift. Trent Broberg, marketing director for the Arizona-based truckload carrier, had no comment on the litigation.
The lawsuit was filed in 2004, but the Maricopa court initially denied certification as a class action case. Later, the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, but when appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, the court ruled the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to review that decision. The Supreme Court returned the case to the Maricopa court, which granted the plaintiffs class action status.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Seattle-based Hagens and Berman law firm, claims the company, which operates 16,000 trucks, uses software that underestimates drivers’ mileage, resulting in underpayment of 7 percent to 10 percent.
Hagens Berman is also lead counsel representing current and former regional drivers seeking class action status in a lawsuit against Schneider. The consolidated cases’ plaintiffs contend the carrier failed to pay full wages, mileage and benefits required by state law. They also allege Schneider used computerized mileage estimates that fell below the actual distances driven.
Schneider has filed answers to the complaints denying the accusations.
Judge Jeffery White, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, also appointed Marlin & Saltzman law firm to represent dedicated and intermodal drivers against Schneider National in a consolidated action with the regional drivers.
A plaintiff in a separate suit seeking class action status against Schneider on similar grounds made an Oct. 15 request for his case to be included in the consolidated case. The court has set May 2 as the deadline for discovery in the consolidated cases’ proposed class action certification litigation.
— Jill Dunn
Trucker health discussed at conference
Citing Center for Disease Control health statistics, Federal Motor Carrier Administration chief Anne Ferro expressed concern about the health of the American truck driver population.
“It was startling for me to learn commercial truck drivers’ life expectancy is 16 years less than the rest of us,” Ferro told attendees Nov. 8 at the International Conference on Commercial Driver Health and Wellness in Baltimore. “That means in eight years I would be expected to die if I were a commercial driver, at age 61. It’s a startling, frightening and, frankly, untenable figure to for us to carry forward.”
Among the statistics Ferro highlighted:
• Only 10 percent of drivers exercise regularly, compared to almost 60 percent for the general population;
• 54 percent of drivers smoke, compared to 21 percent for the general population;
• 50 percent of truckers are overweight or obese compared to 33 percent of the general population.
“We can’t sustain figures like that and expect individuals to be healthy contributors to their workplace and their families, and from my perspective, safe on the roadways,” Ferro said.
FMCSA’s role includes mandating medical qualifications for commercial driver’s licenses as well as research and ongoing studies that look at driver mortality.
— Randy Grider
California votes to keep emissions regs
California voters solidly rejected Proposition 23, which would have suspended enforcement of the state’s program of reducing greenhouse gas emissions until the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent or less for a year.
Over 60 percent of voters opposed Proposition 23. In addition, the election of Democrat Jerry Brown to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a retreat on environmental regulation less likely.
If passed, Proposition 23 could have delayed enforcement of the regulation to reduce GHGs from certain heavy-duty tractors and trailers. That regulation will continue, as the California Air Resources Board is considering changes to the rules. CARB staff recently released its final proposal on changes.
Proposed amendments reflect feedback from stakeholders on several issues, including the incompatibility of certain trailer configurations with existing verified aerodynamic devices, the unavailability of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency SmartWay-verified retread tires.
— Staff reports
2010 PRODUCTION of Class 8 vehicles was forecast at approximately 151,000 units, up 27 percent from a weak 2009, ACT Research says. ACT forecasts that demand will grow the next two years, with production in 2012 exceeding 300,000 units. Meanwhile, October Class 8 truck total net orders for all major North American manufacturers reached 18,386 units, a 22 percent increase over the previous month, based on preliminary data from FTR Associates. October was the third consecutive month showing month over month increases.
TRADE USING SURFACE transportation between the United States and Canada and Mexico in August increased 25 percent over August 2009 to $68 billion, said the Bureau of Transportation Statistics of the U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S.-Canada surface transportation trade in August was up 21 percent from August 2009. U.S.-Mexico surface transportation trade was 32 percent higher than August 2009.
VIRGINIA LAUNCHED a pilot program to provide additional truck parking along the Commonwealth’s Interstates. The program will use undeveloped properties owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation as truck-only rest areas. The first site, a paved lot along the eastbound lanes of I-66, opened Nov. 8. The pilot period will last 90 days, followed by a 60-day evaluation period.
MACK TRUCKS OPENED a customer center Oct. 28 near the company’s Macungie, Pa., assembly plant. The center includes the Mack Museum and Heritage Center, filled with Mack vehicles dating back to 1905.
UAW-REPRESENTED employees at Navistar ratified a new four-year labor agreement, the company announced Oct. 30. Navistar said the labor agreement was approved by a majority of voting UAW members and replaces the prior contract that expired Oct. 1.
Los Angeles port driver rule on hold
A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing the Port of Los Angeles from implementing its driver employee requirement, but allowing enforcement of its off-street parking provision.
On Oct. 25, the American Trucking Associations won its request for the preliminary injunction, pending appeal, regarding the mandate that truckers regularly serving the port be carrier employees, rather than owner-operators.
In granting the injunction, Judge Christina Snyder, for the U.S. Central District of California, said the case “presents serious legal questions concerning the market participant doctrine.” In her earlier ruling, she concluded federal law allows a market exemption if the port’s actions are considered that of a business proprietor, not as a regulator. She determined the port is a proprietor.
In its request for an appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ATA argued Snyder had made legal errors, including not permitting discovery and introduction of certain evidence.
Snyder’s Sept. 10 final judgment dissolved the previous preliminary injunction, which had prevented the port from fully enforcing its Clean Truck Program rules.
The Los Angeles Harbor Commission is allowing additional time for compliance with the transition to employee drivers, hiring preferences and off-street parking requirements.
Out-of-state and licensed motor carriers not having a concession agreement with the port are permitted up to 24 day passes annually.
Many ports nationwide have said they want to adopt the Los Angeles port model.
— Jill Dunn
U.S. 93 near dam expected to reopen
The Arizona Department of Transportation may have completed building the last 15 miles of U.S. 93 south of the Hoover Dam by late November. Minor construction will go on off the roadway through December’s end.
The $71.3 million project includes three wildlife overpasses.
— Staff reports
Agency orders fleet to install recorders
On Nov. 4, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it had ordered JBS Carriers of Greeley, Colo., to put electronic onboard recorders on its more than 700 trucks by March.
JBS spokesman Chandler Keys said the fleet’s newest trucks were the first to have this equipment this year. “It improves productivity,” Keys said. “We can access real-time data.”
A carrier with a 10 percent or greater violation rate for hours-of-service regulations will receive an EOBR remedial directive, requiring the devices on every truck in the fleet.
A FMCSA spokeswoman said she didn’t know how many other carriers have received this order, or if JBS is the first to be affected.
The agency issued the order for JBS after it found serious violations of HOS rules and CDL requirements. In the FMCSA’s Oct. 7 final settlement agreement, it cited JBS for 102 counts of falsifying drivers’ HOS records and three counts of allowing drivers with a suspended, revoked or canceled CDL to operate a motor vehicle.
The FMCSA said if the carrier did not comply by deadline, it would face $81,780 in civil fines, although Keys said agency officials agreed to reduce fines to $16,000.
The company, a division of JBS USA, one of the world’s largest protein companies, must also train drivers on using the devices and develop a safety management system integrating EOBR data into drivers’ HOS oversight.
In April, the agency issued a final rule requiring EOBRs for two years on carriers with a 10 percent or greater occurrence of HOS non-compliance in a single compliance review. The rule has a June 4, 2012, deadline.
The agency will consider, through a notice-and-comment rulemaking, how many more of the estimated 5,700 carriers will come under the order.
— Jill Dunn
Provider to partner with truck stop clinic
Sleep HealthCenters is partnering with Roadside Medical Clinics to provide services as part of Roadside Medical’s driver wellness programs.
Brighton, Mass.-based sleep Heath Centers will provide diagnosis and treatment support for truckers with sleep disorders.
Based in Sarasota, Fla., Roadside Medical manages a network of clinics at some Pilot Travel Centers.
— Staff reports
Hubbard named Highway Angel of year
A company driver who saved the life of a man trapped inside a burning car has been named 2010 Highway Angel of the Year by the Truckload Carriers Association.
Shawn Hubbard, a driver with Ruan Transport Corp. of Des Moines, Iowa, will be recognized Dec. 18 at the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl college football bowl game in Boise, Idaho.
On Nov. 13, 2009, Hubbard was driving on I-60 in California when he saw a car on fire in a ditch. Inside were the driver, who appeared to be dead, and a passenger who was alive but pinned.
Hubbard extinguished some flames. He then removed obstructions, allowing the passenger to escape. He pushed him up a hill to safety, seconds before flames engulfed the car.
The California Highway Patrol presented Hubbard with a Certificate of Commendation. He also received an award from a Los Angeles County supervisor, as well as a certificate from Ruan.
— Staff reports
Whistle blower ordered reinstated
The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered a Florida trucking company to reinstate a driver fired for refusing to drive two unsafe trucks.
The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruled Zurla Trucking violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.
The 42-driver company also must pay back wages, plus interest, and compensatory damages and $125,000 in punitive damages. Zurla must also delete adverse references related to the discharge from the employee’s personnel file.
Department spokesman Michael Wald said Zurla had indicated to OSHA it would appeal the ruling. An appeal would not stay the preliminary reinstatement order. Jeff Rice, an attorney representing the Fort Myers-based company, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The law prohibits companies from discharging or discriminating against employees who refuse to operate vehicles that violate federal safety regulations.
— Jill Dunn
Texting ban in place
The federal ban on texting while driving commercial vehicles adds penalties and sanctions including, for repeat offenders, disqualification from operating vehicles in interstate commerce.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published its final rule in late September, which imposes fines of up to $2,750 for drivers and $11,000 for carriers.
Driver violators already can be disqualified for 60 days if convicted of two separate texting violations in three years and 120 days if convicted of three or more violations within three years.
Texting includes a short message service, e-mailing, instant messaging, a request to access the Internet or any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry.
However, it does not include certain less-distracting activities, such as use of a phone or navigation system.
— Jill Dunn
CARB amends reefer unit rule
The California Air Resources Board has amended its Transport Refrigeration Unit Airborne Toxic Control Measure to allow 2003 engines to meet a less stringent standard.
CARB adopted the change at its Nov. 18 board meeting. It asked owners of TRUs and TRU generator sets with 2003 engines to order compliance technology now to meet in-use standards by Dec. 31. Also, TRUs and TRU gen sets with flexibility engines need to register their TRUs in CARB’s equipment registration system.
Affected owners now will have the option of using the less stringent Low-Emission TRU in-use standard by the Dec. 31 deadline, instead of only using the ultra-low-emission TRU.
— Jill Dunn
Driver honored after encounter with burning car
Bill Whitehead, a driver with FirstFleet, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., was named a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association.
On Oct. 7, Whitehead was driving on Highway 402 in Georgia when he saw a car hit a deer and stop in the median. Two women and two girls were inside.
Seeing flames underneath the vehicle, Whitehead made sure the passengers escaped and put out the fire.
“I have a daughter who is a single mother, and I hope someone would help her out if she ever needed it,” said Whitehead, who has been driving for nearly 30 years.
— Staff reports n
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
JAN. 29-30: PAPAGO MILITARY VEHICLE SHOW, Arizona National Guard Building, Phoenix, (480) 497-9722.
FEB. 4-5: MID-WEST TRUCK SHOW, Peoria Civic Center, Peoria, Ill., www.midwesttruckers.com/truckshow.html.
FEB. 18-21: NATSO SHOW, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, Orlando, www.natso.com.
MARCH 8-10: THE WORK TRUCK SHOW, Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, www.ntea.com, (800) 441-6832
MARCH 13: DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME BEGINS. Move clocks forward one hour.
MARCH 31-APRIL 2: MID-AMERICA TRUCKING SHOW, Kentucky Exposition Center, Louisville, www.truckingshow.com, (502) 899-3892.
APRIL 2: TRUCK SHOW OF YELLOW ROSE CHAPTER of Antique Truck Historical Society, River Bend Par, Smithville, Texas, (830) 743-3179.
APRIL 8-10: 75 CHROME SHOP ANNUAL TRUCK SHOW, Wildwood, Fla., www.75chromeshop.com, (866) 255-6206.
APRIL 15-16: OLD TRUCK SHOW of ATHS Wheat State Chapter, Newell’s Truck Stop, Newton, Kan., (316) 283-0130.
APRIL 30: TRUCK SHOW & BBQ ATHS Central California Chapter, Kirkland Ranch, Plymouth, Calif., (916) 381-6063.
JUNE 9-11, 2011: GREAT WEST TRUCK SHOW, Las Vegas Convention Center, (888) 349-4287, www.greatwesttruckshow.com.
SEPT. 30-OCT. 1: GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION TRUCK SHOW & CUSTOMER EXPO, Joplin, Mo., www.chromeshopmafia.com, (888) 875-7787.
ARIZONA. A new U.S.-Mexico border crossing dedicated to commercial vehicles has opened just south of Yuma. The three-lane-wide crossing is six miles east of the new San Luis Port of Entry.
FLORIDA. Florida Turnpike’s Pompano Beach Service Plaza is closed to truck parking until spring 2012.. Reconstruction will provide 40 truck parking spaces, compared with 18 previously. The fuel station, convenience store and eating facilities remain open.
NEBRASKA. Work will continue until summer on the 70th Street Bridge over I-80, north of Lincoln. This project includes daytime work and occasional nighttime lane closures for eastbound and westbound traffic.
NEW HAMPSHIRE. Expect delays as construction continues on the 20-mile reconstruction and widening of I-93 between Salem and the I-93/I-293 interchange in Manchester. Work will continue into 2016.
NEW JERSEY. Gov. Chris Christie has shut down a proposed transit tunnel under the Hudson River to New York. The governor took the action because the state would have been responsible for cost overruns beyond $8.7 billion. Estimates projected the cost at $1 billion to $4 billion beyond that.
OKLAHOMA. State law has been changed to require vehicles intending to turn left in an intersection to yield to oncoming traffic. Previously, vehicles, after signaling and pausing, had the right-of-way and oncoming traffic had to yield to them.
PENNSYLVANIA. Effective Dec. 20, shippers or receivers will no longer be able to require truck operators, as a condition of hire, to bear legal responsibility for accidents no matter who’s at fault.
VIRGINIA. The state will post 70 mph speed limits on 61 percent of the state’s rural Interstates by Dec. 31. Speeds are being raised from 65 mph on 680 miles.
Affected tractors are equipped with an automated Eaton UltraShift Plus or Eaton Advantage Transmission with right hand stalk shifter. In the affected trucks, the display on the instrument panel can indicate “N” when the shifter is set into “D” or “R,” causing the truck not to move.