In a preview of potential amendments to the Senate DOT funding bill (S. 2438), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called on the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) to expedite regulations to mandate electronic logging devices (ELDs) and urged the department to increase the minimum level of insurance coverage for trucking companies.
Meanwhile, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) is trying to shift the focus away from ELDs and hours-of-service (HOS) regulations and toward a need for entry-level driver training standards. OOIDA had mentioned FMCSA’s failure to adopt entry-level truck driver training standards in its letter calling for Anne Ferro’s replacement as head of the agency.
Schumer announced his requests on Sunday, June 15, at a news conference in New York. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) already is pursuing regulations on both mandatory ELDs and higher insurance minimums. Last week, the House very narrowly voted to block a rulemaking to increase minimum insurance levels.
In his statement to the press, Schumer apparently overlooked the point that FMCSA had already issued a rule on electronic logs – albeit one that mandated them only for the worst offenders – only to have that rule struck down by a federal appeals court.
“To have a rule like this, which affects the safety of the truck drivers themselves and every motorist on the road, languish for four years, is just too much,” Schumer said. “So I say to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, get it done and get it done now.”
It’s not clear how much faster FMCSA could move on the ELD rule. The latest comment deadline is June 26, and the Senate DOT appropriations bill includes a provision requiring FMCSA to issue a final rule no later than Jan. 30, 2014.
Schumer is just the latest lawmaker to call for action in the wake of a recent New Jersey crash that killed one person and seriously injured actor Tracy Morgan. The crash came just a couple of days after the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to suspend last year’s changes to the hours-of-service (HOS) restart provision during fiscal 2015 pending a study.
Other lawmakers’ reactions hinted that the committee might have voted to repeal the entire HOS rule and not just the July 1, 2014, changes specific to the restart. For example, in a June 11 letter to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said that he was “deeply disappointed” that the committee “voted to suspend the hours-of-service rule DOT implemented last year.” Booker also highlighted the truck size and weight issue, citing a May 7 letter to Foxx from himself and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
As lawmakers and safety advocates seize on the Tracy Morgan crash as a way to raise awareness on truck safety, OOIDA is trying to change the subject. In a June 13 news release, the association argued that a regulation to establish minimum behind-the-wheel training standards for new truck drivers would be far more effective than other measures FMCSA is pursuing.
“Instead of relying on technology and making misguided, hours-of-service regulations changes, the focus should instead be on training standards for entry-level drivers,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president, noting that demands from Congress for such a rule date back to 1991.
Although the headline for OOIDA’s news release was the need for driver training standards, most of the release discusses the HOS restart change and fatigue in general. OOIDA said it receives many complaints from drivers that the HOS restart changes have had the unintended consequence of forcing drivers to spend more time on the road and less time at home.
OOIDA also charged that trucking’s critics are misrepresenting the data.
“Statistically, fatigue almost never is the cause of truck-related crashes and yet the data is grossly exaggerated to 30 or more percent,” Spencer said. Citing data in an October 2013 FMCSA report on truck crash data, OOIDA notes that fatigue is recorded as a factor in only 1.8% of truck crashes. Larger figures quoted often include data for passenger vehicle drivers, who are responsible for most crashes involving both trucks and passenger vehicles, OOIDA said.