CINCINNATI. One of the highlights of the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) Annual Education Management Conference and Exhibition is always the regulatory and legislative update presented by NPTC general counsel, Rick Schweitzer. As 2014 moves into its second quarter, the regulatory and legislative world seems to be moving more slowly or mired down entirely on several fronts. From entry-level driver training requirements to a new carrier safety fitness standard, stalls abound. This is not necessarily all bad news for fleets.

For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been trying since 1980 to create an entry-level driver training standard, Schweitzer noted. An inability to validate a curriculum, however, has been a persistent obstacle. The most recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was withdrawn because of cost-benefit concerns.

Now the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is considering a “negotiated” rulemaking process, according to Schweitzer.  Rather than creating a rule and then soliciting input from stakeholders, this process would involve fleets and other stakeholders in the regulation drafting process right from the beginning.

2013 changes to Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR) retention requirements were intended to provide some relief to carriers by omitting the need to retain records when no vehicle defects are identified. However, the need to still document that inspections were conducted as required regardless of findings muddied things for carriers. Many decided to continue retaining DVIRs as before for internal purposes and to be prepared in the event of an audit. This rule change may also be withdrawn.

The current Carrier Safety Fitness ranking system has been slated to be replaced with a system based upon CSA scores, but CSA itself is under re-evaluation. There are even differences of opinion about how CSA can be used to create safety fitness determinations within the Administration, Schweitzer noted, so no immediate action is pending here either.

One stalemate that has fleets and many others concerned is financing for the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which Schweitzer noted will be “almost broke” by summer barring any action. The best solution, he said is to increase fuel taxes by a few cents, but “nobody has any expectation of a real fix.”  Instead, Schweitzer predicted yet another short-term solution from Congress that will “kick the can down the road” until after the next election.

One move that Schweitzer expects to go forward is the prohibition of coercion of commercial drivers required by MAP-21. Under MAP-21 CMV drivers must not be coerced by shippers, receivers, or intermediaries to operate a vehicle in violation of FMCSA regulations, he explained. This extends the prohibition beyond carriers to others, creating a more “holistic” approach that is probably a good thing. Schweitzer expects to see publication of this rulemaking later this month.

Another change that may create more regulatory “fairness” for drivers, according to Schweitzer, is a proposal to require states to also update their databases when other entities  dismiss a DOT violation, withdraw a conviction, or reduce the severity of a charge. This is not presently a mandate for states.

In February of 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a NPRM concerning the sanitary transportation of food for people and animals by truck and rail. Although the rulemaking contains requirements for processes and procedures, employee training, recordkeeping and auditing, Schweitzer told the audience that the rule “is essentially what you are already doing.  I am very confident that carriers in this room already meet or exceed these standards.”

What Schweitzer did say is of some concern, however, is the matter of enforcement. The FDA is taking this very seriously, he observed, but it has no experience in trucking and no resources to do it.

At the conclusion of Schweitzer’s remarks, NPTC president and CEO, Gary Petty, presented him with a mantel clock in appreciation of Schweitzer’s thirty years of service to private fleets.