Studying impact of automation on drivers' jobs 'a priority' for FMCSA

Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, March 11, 2021:

Acting FMCSA boss says ‘it’s a priority’ to study automation’s impact on drivers’ jobs
Truck driving jobs have been a “mainstay of employment for a long time,” said Acting FMCSA Administrator Meera Joshi on Wednesday. She spoke and took questions at the agency’s 2021 Analysis, Research, and Technology forum, which was held in a virtual format and broadcast live via Microsoft Teams.

She acknowledged the push for automated vehicles could pose a threat to driving job opportunities.

“It is certainly a priority of this administration, this DOT [to work] with the Department of Labor to understand...the extremely real and broad impacts of automation on people’s livelihoods,” she said. 

“What are the opportunities, thinking about the now, for the shifting workforce? What are the training opportunities so the next generation has the jobs that [won’t] be replaced by automation? And what are the additional jobs that can be created through automation that can serve as the jobs for drivers of tomorrow that may not be available for drivers [today]? We can argue about scope and timeline,” she said, of when automated trucks actually come to market. “But this is a reality and there will be a major shift in the workforce.”

Joshi also in her brief address offered a thanks to the industry for its work amid the COVID pandemic. 

“Thank you all for your service in 2020 and your continued service this year keeping our vital supply chains running,” she said. “The world and our nation are changed forever. We see the value of interstate movement of people and freight – one you have always known the value of – is now much more apparent to a broader audience.”

She acknowledged the “challenges in a fast-growing, fast-changing industry,” and said the spotlight on interstate freight movement also brings a greater focus on highway safety. “Our safety mandate has never been more sharply in focus. The work that you all do, as well as FMCSA staff members, has never been more vital,” she said.

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Multiple drug violations lead to driver's shutdown order from FMCSA
Minnesota-based truck driver Jordan Andrew Bane has been effectively shut down by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration after multiple drug-related violations.

According to FMCSA, on Feb. 17, Bane was stopped in Fair Haven, Vermont, for a roadside inspection conducted by a Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles enforcement officer. When asking for Bane’s license and other documentation, she detected a strong odor of marijuana and asked permission to search Bane’s cab and sleeper berth compartment, to which he consented.

FMCSA says the officer found multiple containers labeled to suggest they contained marijuana, as well as an unlabeled bottle of pills containing three different types of pills. By using an online identifier, she found all the pills to be Schedule II controlled substances for which Bane did not have a prescription. Additionally, the officer found two synthetic urine kits – one open and used and one unopened – which are commonly used to avoid positive drug tests.

Bane was issued a citation for possession of a narcotic drug in violation of Vermont state law and was ordered out-of-service for 24 hours.

Despite the out-of-service order, less than 24 hours, Bane was stopped by the same enforcement officer, this time in Barre, Vermont, approximately two hours from Fair Haven.

FMCSA says Bane has previously been twice convicted by the state of Minnesota for driving under the influence of alcohol and once convicted for driving under the influence of drugs.

Failing to comply with the provisions of the federal imminent hazard order may result in civil penalties of up to $1,895 for each violation. Knowing and/or willful violations may result in criminal penalties. 

Bane may not operate a commercial motor vehicle until he undergoes evaluation by a certified medical examiner and provides evidence he is qualified to return to driving duties.

Bill to allow under-21 interstate drivers with lengthy training program reintroduced
A bill that would allow CDL holders under the age of 21 to cross state lines has been reintroduced in both chambers of Congress. The legislation, which was first introduced in 2018, would classify 18-20-year-old CDL holders as “apprentices” and allow them to drive interstate while participating in an apprenticeship program.

The bipartisan legislation, dubbed the “Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act” or the “DRIVE Safe Act,” was reintroduced by U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Indiana) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) and U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Indiana) in the U.S. House.

The legislation is backed by the American Trucking Associations, which calls it both “common sense and pro-safety.” The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has long been opposed to allowing under-21 truckers to cross state lines.

“Considering that safety is always the top priority and the obvious connection between age and likelihood of crashes, the age restriction should go up, not down,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer.

The bill would establish an apprenticeship program that require a total of 400 on-duty hours and 240 driving hours to complete. The programs would be split into a 120-hour probationary period and a 280-hour probationary period. To complete each period, under-21 drivers would have to meet certain training requirements.

For the 120-hour program, an employer would have to determine that the driver is competent in interstate, city traffic, rural two-lane and evening driving; safety awareness; speed and space management; lane control; mirror scanning; right and left turns; and logging and complying with rules relating to hours of service.

For the 280-hour probationary period, employers would have to determine that the driver is competent in backing and maneuvering in close quarters; pre-trip inspections; fueling procedures; weighing loads, weight distribution and sliding tandems; coupling and uncoupling procedures; and trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation and permits.

Under-21 drivers would have to be accompanies by an experienced driver during their probationary periods, defined as a driver who is at least 21 with at least two years of experience and no preventable accidents or pointed moving violations. All trucks used for training in the program would have to be equipped with safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, a video event capture system, and a speed limiter set at 65 miles per hour or below.

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