CINCINNATI. Richard P. Schweitzer, general council/government affairs for the National Private Truck Council (NPTC), delivered his annual legislative and regulatory update during the opening general session of NPTC’s Annual Education Management Conference and Exhibition here this morning. Concerning the pending changes to driver Hours of Service (HOS) regulations, his advice was direct: “Plan on the new rules going into effect on July 1 as they are written.”

NPTC and 14 other associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, filed an amicus brief in support of two lawsuits concerning the proposed changes to the HOS regulations, Schweitzer told the audience, with the goal of making it clear to the court that “this is not just a trucking rule but something that affects all manufacturers.” While the court heard oral arguments on March 15, no deadline was set for a decision and “the judges did not appear willing to rescind or remand the rule for changes,” he observed.

Schweitzer also noted that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is scheduled to report to Congress on the 34-hour reset provision of the regulation, but that the report will come to late to influence the July 1 requirements.

When it comes to a rulemaking on Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), Schweitzer said he expects to see a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking sometime in 2013 that will address the issue of driver harassment (which scuttled the earlier February 2011 proposed rule). He also expects the action to address the question of what additional supporting documents fleets using electronic logs will be required to maintain. Currently, even if a carrier is using electronic logs, they are still required to maintain the same supporting documents as a fleet using paper logs, something the industry generally sees as unproductive.

Don’t expect to see anything definitive on entry-level commercial motor vehicle training requirements in 2013, however, Schweitzer said. Although a rule was proposed some time ago, it was withdrawn “because they can’t show that the proposed minimum standards would work,” he noted. Now FMCSA is holding listening sessions to try to learn what does work for fleets, but no timetable has been set to replace the prior proposal.

Changes are still on the way, though, when it comes to driver medical exams. As of May 2014, carriers will not be able to use drivers who have not been certified by registered, certified medical examiners. In June of this year, a proposed rulemaking establishing a national drug and alcohol driver testing database is also expected to be published. It would require fleets to post the results of failed tests as well as refusals to be tested. Fleets could then, with the permission of the job applicant, refer to the database rather than contact previous employers for drug and alcohol test results.

FMCSA is likewise preparing to issue new guidance to medical examiners regarding screening for sleep apnea, including testing, diagnosis, treatment, driver qualification and disqualification, according to Schweitzer. Although these are guidelines not regulations, they may still have a big impact on fleets, he noted, potentially affecting as many as 30% to 40% of those in the current driver pool.

CSA, one of the hottest issues of the past many months, “has so far not lived up to its expectations,” Schweitzer observed. The controlled substances BASIC actually “has a negative correlation to crash risk,” he reported and the driver fitness BASIC has only a “very weak correlation to crashes.”

There are other issues with CSA, as well, he said, including the fact that all crashes are considered in the CSA score, not just at-fault crashes and the question of who should have access to certain types of CSA data. A court challenge by a group of carriers and brokers alleging that the CSA procedure illegally imposed new substantive standards changes without advance notice and opportunity to comment is also still unresolved and probably will not be until the end of the year.

One proposed rulemaking that Schweitzer said the organization does support is one which would require speed limiting devices for Class 7 and Class 8 commercial vehicles.  It sends a good message, he noted, “that the industry cares about safety and is making a proactive effort to self-police.”