What should motor carriers have on their radar screens — and be weighing in on — this year on the federal and regulatory front? At the Omnitracs Outlook 2016 user conference this week in Dallas, fleets got a rundown of things affecting their businesses from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

"I wanted to give you a view ahead: what's coming, what we see coming down the pike over the next year," said Joe DeLorenzo, director of the FMCSA Office of Compliance and Enforcement. "Between all the things we're cooking already and the fact that we've got a long-term [highway funding] reauthorization bill for the first time in a really long time — there's a lot that goes along with that — there's going to be a lot coming that I think it's important that you all know about."

1. FAST Act provisions such as "beyond compliance."

The recently enacted Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act bundled in a number of provisions that will require FMCSA rulemaking, according to DeLorenzo, and one of those is a concept of going beyond just what's required for regulatory compliance in efforts to improve safety.

As a program in this regard takes shape, the idea is that FMCSA wants to focus compliance and enforcement resources on the hottest fires, so to speak, while both rewarding carriers for above-and-beyond efforts and promoting safety technologies and programs in trucking without having to mandate each and every one of them.

"It could include installing advanced safety equipment — things like lane departure warnings, anti-rollover technology, collision warnings and so on could be included in that category," he said, but so could something like a driver safety training program. FMCSA is considering how to recognize "beyond compliance" carriers, including a boost to their Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program scores.

DeLorenzo said fleets should watch for a notice from FMCSA. "It's not a rule, but it is an opportunity for you to provide your input and some ideas on how we can do this the best way possible so that everybody gets something from it," he said.

2. Crashes (and how they go on a carrier's record).

DeLorenzo quipped that for carriers, crash preventability and how crashes affect CSA scores is probably "everybody's favorite topic — not mine, but everybody else's." And it's not hard to see why.

"You guys know the story; you that are trucking company operators all have probably had this happen to you," he said. "You had a crash, it's not your fault, and it shows up on your record and affects your CSA score."

FMCSA has struggled with how to handle this complex issue "almost since the very beginning of when I started" at the agency some 25 years ago, he contended. He advised carriers to be on the lookout for more on this front soon.

"Probably in the next few months we're going to publish another notice on this that talks about what we've found initially, what we got from comments and how we think we should go forward to provide another opportunity for comment," DeLorenzo said. "So this is just a heads-up.

"Anyone who's dealt with crashes knows how complicated they are. But we get that this is an issue, and we're going to try and find some ways to see if we can help address some of those concerns that folks have over those crashes being on their records," he noted.

3. Safety fitness ratings.

In a particularly "big change" for FMCSA, the agency published a notice of proposed rulemaking Jan. 21 concerning a revamp of how it determines a carrier's safety fitness rating, and DeLorenzo urged fleets to have a look at it and provide their input.

"You've got 60 days to put initial comments in, then we're going to have another 30 days for folks to comment on each other's comments," he said. "That should be interesting and provide additional data."

FMCSA has put some resources into this one and developed tools to help break down and understand the proposal, he noted, including an informational webinar (click here to launch in your browser) as well as a calculator that allows carriers "to go in, take your data, plug it in and see how you would come out under the proposal" (click here to access the tool).  

"My message for you is take the time to look at the proposal, take the time to understand it and don't believe everything you read in terms of what other folks are saying about the rule. Read it for yourself. Look at the tools, understand what it is and make some comments," DeLorenzo told conference attendees.  

4. Clearinghouse for drug and alcohol testing info.

Now approaching full maturity is the proposed FMCSA clearinghouse for commercial drivers' drug and alcohol testing information, which would address concerns that a CDL driver can fail a test but essentially break the paper trail simply by getting a job with some other carrier.

This proposal "will be going final sometime this year, I suspect," DeLorenzo said. "That will be something that's also important for motor carriers." He noted that whenever a final rule does get issued, "there'll be some good transition time built into that one."

5. Changes to bus leasing.

More is also on the way regarding FMCSA's final rule on bus leasing and interchange, which was published in May 2015. "The new bus leasing rule doesn't go into effect until 2017, but for anyone that's involved in that, we've talked a lot about how that changes the way bus leases work. It's really, really important," DeLorenzo said.

According to the final rule, those changes are necessary "to ensure that unsafe passenger carriers cannot evade FMCSA oversight and enforcement by entering into a questionable lease arrangement to operate under the authority of another carrier that exercises no actual control over those operations."  

"There have been some petitions for reconsideration, and we're looking at those and deciding if there's any merit for making adjustments to the rule," DeLorenzo told conference attendees. "We'll have some information on that, and that'll be coming out."