Platforms offer some hints to next President's actions

Trying to handicap the future of the trucking industry under a new administration based on its party's platform is an imperfect tool - but the only one we have before placing our educated bets.

While Congress makes the laws, the President plays a pivotal role in setting an agenda for regulation through the various cabinet agencies under his control. These agencies may act independently at times, but most look to the President or Vice President for their 'big picture' marching orders. For the trucking industry, the three agencies most affected by this arrangement are the Dept. of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Dept. of Labor. Labor is important because it runs OSHA, which handles the issue of ergonomic policy- a flash point for trucking for years.

Looking to the candidates and their party's initiatives, we can see some hints about what to expect on regulations after inauguration day in January 2001.

George W. Bush and the Republicans have built their 2000 platform on the importance of keeping government out of the way of business, with the implication that under Clinton's watch federal agencies were too intrusive and made regulations that were unreasonable and not based on sound science.

"In the case of OSHA," the Republican platform notes, "we will withdraw its proposed ergonomics standard, ban its bureaucracy from the homes of telecommuting workers, and change the agency from an adversary to a partner for safer productivity."

The platform adds: "We will halt the IRS discrimination against independent contractors and, in order to guard against unwise regulation, will include the agency in the current procedures of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act."

All of these criticisms are easy for the democrats to deflect because the bottom line is that the country is relishing its best economy of the 20th century, with more people working and fewer on unemployment than ever. In addition, prosperity (based on housing and stock ownership) has increased to record levels.

Most importantly, businesses in general are posting record profits. Common sense would suggest that the Clinton Administration's regulatory environment must have done something right, despite criticism that its policies have been intrusive and unwarranted.

Which leads us to Al Gore. Should we assume that he will follow in Clinton's successful footsteps? Not necessarily. In his quest to be President, Gore must walk a fine line: He must distance himself from Clinton because of the Lewinsky scandal, but follow the party line to which Clinton adhered and has been so successful. Unlike the Republican platform, the Democrat's manifesto spends less time talking about specific business issues and more time tackling quality-of-life issues such as the environment, education and healthcare, which, they believe, will continue to benefit business.

About transportation, specifically, it says: "...We should invest in roads, bridges, light rail systems, cleaner buses, the aviation system, our national passenger railroad, Amtrak, and high-speed trains that would give Americans choices - freeing them from traffic, smog-choked cities, and being held hostage to foreign oil ... We have also created a new 21st Century Truck Initiative to build highly-efficient heavy-duty pickup and delivery trucks, even longhaul 18-wheelers."

On small business and trade, the Democrats note: "Strengthening small business is a vital component of economic innovation, job creation, and supporting entrepreneurship ...We need to make the global economy work for all. "

Americans have become cynical about Presidential promises, and rightly so. We can only hope that the new President, whoever he is, will at least deliver what he and his party have promised.

The American Trucking Assns.' Safety Management Council will hold its annual meeting Oct. 2-4, 2000, in St. Louis. For more information, contact the Council at 703-838-1986, or register on line at www.truckline.com/cc. In conjunction with the meeting, the North American Transportation Management Institute (NATMI) will hold a two-day seminar, "Managing Motor Fleet Safety Programs," Oct. 5-6. Contact NATMI at 703-838-7952 for more information.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. will be accepting nominations for its 18th Annual North America Highway Hero Award until October 15. In order to qualify for this year's program, nominees must be full-time truck drivers who reside in the U.S. or Canada; heroic incidents must have taken place between Oct. 1, 1999, and Sept. 30, 2000. Nominations can be made by calling Goodyear's Highway Hero hotline at 800-627-2118; the nomination form is also available online at www.highwayhero.net.

Transportation Technical Services (TTS) of Fredericksburg, Va., has issued its 2000-2001 edition of The Private Fleet Directory database, which includes complete demographics on over 26,000 firms that are the proprietary transport, distribution, or service arms of companies not in the trucking business. Private fleet operations haul over 80% of the freight in the U. S., according to TTS research, using over 3-million trucks, tractors, and trailers to do it.

Each private fleet profile in the directory is brand new, featuring the company's name, headquarters address, fleet type, number of trucks and equipment, GVW Class, and whether maintenance is performed in-house. The name, title, phone and fax numbers of key decision-makers are also included with each fleet listing in the directory.

The Private Fleet Directory costs $295 for a single volume, plus $12 for shipping and handling. Additional copies are available for $95 each. Individual state editions are offered and all or any part of the directory is available on computer disk or CD-ROM. For details, contact TTS at 1-888-665-9887 or go to the company's Web site at www.tts trucks.com.

The National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA) has scheduled T3 2001 - The Commercial Truck, Trailer and Technology Expo for March 1-3 in Baltimore. The expo will be held in conjunction with the organization's annual convention, which runs Feb. 28-Mar. 3.

The work-truck expo features chassis; truck bodies and trailers; equipment and accessories; support products and services; and shop tools. Educational programs will be offered in areas such as the design and engineering aspects of work trucks, management tools, sales and increasing product life cycles.

To register for the NTEA convention and T3 2001 Expo, call 800-441-NTEA; use the fax-on-demand service at 800-700-2099, requesting document #1110; or click on www.worktrucks.com.

When an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) inspector finds dyed diesel fuel in a truck or storage tank, the owner is liable to be hit with a penalty of $1,000 or $10 times the number of gallons, whichever is greater, even if the driver and the owner were unaware dyed fuel had been delivered. The fine doubles for a second offense.

But recently, Con Edison, the big New York electric utility, convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals the company did not have "reason to know" that its vendor had delivered dyed fuel. In a 2-1 ruling, the Court overruled a district court, which had upheld the penalty.

Carriers shouldn't rejoice yet, however. The IRS may still appeal to the full 2nd Circuit, and the facts may not fit many other cases.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proposing to establish pass/fail criteria for use with performance-based brake testers (PBBTs), which measure the braking performance of commercial motor vehicles. These devices assess vehicle braking capability through measurement of wheel brake forces or overall vehicle brake performance in a controlled test.

The specific types of PBBTs under consideration are the roller dynamometer, breakaway torque tester and flat-plate tester. The proposal would allow state and local enforcement officials to issue citations based on PBBT braking force measurements.

According to FMCSA, assessment of large truck and bus braking capability in the U. S. has traditionally been done using common inspection methods, including visual examination of components, measurement of pushrod travel on air-braked vehicles and listening for air-brake system leaks.

FMCSA noted limitations to these methods, including "(1) falsely identifying adequately braked vehicles as unsafe and placing them out of service; (2) brake force-related deficiencies but no visually apparent defects; and (3) the inability to inspect the brake systems on more than a small portion of the commercial vehicle population due to the time involved."

The proposal comes after almost a decade of research by FHWA to find performance-based brake testing technologies for commercial vehicle inspections. "The PBBTs cannot replace an inspector in finding brake defects unrelated to immediate brake performance, such as air leaks, chafed brake hose, or thin brake pads. However, they can provide an objective and consistent measure of vehicle braking performance ... without having to crawl underneath the vehicle."

PBBTs are widely used for brake inspection in Europe and Australia, and are beginning to emerge as enforcement tools and diagnostic aids in maintenance and repair shops.

Comments on the proposal are due October 10. Details can be found in two notices published August 9, 2000, in the Federal Register, which can be found at www.access.gpo.gov/ su_docs/aces/aces140.html.

DOT has extended to Dec. 15, 2000, the comment period on its hours-of-service rulemaking. In addition, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater asked leaders from the trucking industry, labor unions and safety groups to meet and help thrash out their differences about the proposed rules.

The two-day roundtables, which are open to the public, will be hosted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Topics to be discussed include: the economic impact of revising the current hours-of-service safety standard, fatigue research and law enforcement; sleeper berth requirements, communication during rest periods, end-of-work week rest periods, hours of work permitted each day; categories of carrier operations, electronic onboard recorders, and exemptions.

The first meeting will be held Sept. 25-26 at the National 4-H Center, 7100 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase, Md. The next two will be Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 5-6 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Road, N.W., Washington, D.C.

Comments on the proposal may be sent to the U.S. DOT Docket Facility, Attn: Docket FMCSA-97-2350, 400 Seventh St., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590. The proposal can be viewed at http://dms.dot.gov/. Comments also may be submitted via the Internet at this site.