Tuesday, August 13, 2013

US Trucking Group Wins a Little Ground for the Road Haulage Industry

Transport Secretary Cuts Red Tape Whilst Court Finally Rules on Hours of Service
Shipping News Feature

US – In this month’s trucking related news, authorities took a small step away from the current health and safety culture, which many believe is sometimes overzealous, whilst a final Court ruling regarding Hours of Service was made. One of the promises made by incoming Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was to eliminate unnecessary red tape in an effort to save businesses time and money and now, by changing the regulations on Commercial Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR’s), his administration says he can save those in the road haulage industry an estimated $1.7 billion annually, while still maintaining the Department’s high safety standards.

Current federal regulations require commercial truck drivers to conduct pre- and post-trip equipment inspections and file a DVIR after each inspection, regardless of whether or not an issue requiring repairs is identified. DVIR’s are the 19th highest paperwork burden, based on the number of hours needed to comply, imposed across all federal agencies and only 5% of reports filed include defects.

Under the proposed change (available to read in full here) commercial truck drivers would continue conducting pre- and post-trip inspections, however DVIR’s would be required only if defects or deficiencies were discovered by, or reported to, the vehicle’s driver during the day’s operations. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne S. Ferro, commented:

“We can better focus on the 5% of problematic truck inspection reports by eliminating the 95% that report the status quo. Moving to a defect-only reporting system would reduce a significant paperwork burden facing truck drivers and save the industry billions without compromising safety.”

In June 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) eliminated a comparable requirement for truck drivers operating intermodal equipment trailers used for transporting containerised cargo shipments. By eliminating a requirement for drivers to submit ‘no defect’ inspection reports of intermodal equipment trailer, cost savings to the intermodal freight industry is estimated by the Transport Department to be $54 million annually, without any adverse impact upon safety.

Federal regulations decree that every commercial vehicle in the US undergoes a thorough annual safety inspection conducted by a certified commercial vehicle mechanic. In addition, state and federal inspectors conduct unannounced, random inspections of commercial vehicles at terminals, weigh stations, truck stops along the roadside and at destinations. Vehicles that fail random safety inspections are immediately placed out of service and not allowed to operate until the identified safety problems are addressed. In 2012, approximately 3.5 million random inspections were conducted.

Comments from the industry on the proposed rule changes were generally favourable with the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which as the largest trade association in the country represents a large tranche of the road haulage community, putting a realistic point of view, yet obviously looking for more concessions for the futrure. CEO and President Bill Graves, commented:

“ATA appreciates the Obama Administration’s proposal to provide relief on a longstanding paperwork-related burden in the trucking industry, and we look forward to working with Secretary Foxx to implement it in the near future. Though this step will provide modest relief to professional drivers and motor carriers, ATA is optimistic this signals Secretary Foxx’s willingness to provide reasonable and appropriate relief to the industry and he will quickly act to provide relief on more substantive issues. ATA believes in sensible, data-driven regulations, and we hope we can count on Secretary Foxx to be guided by evidence and scientific research to review, and if necessary, revise the rules of the road for our industry.”

The ‘more substantive issues’ which Mr Graves’ Association has in its sights include the thorny subject of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ‘CSA’ crash statistics analysis programme, which many truckers consider unfair, holding as it does the professional driver, at least in part, responsible for any accident which involves a truck. In March the ATA accused the FMCSA of lacking common sense saying accident data should be based on police reports, many of which find the trucker blameless for incidents involving private motorists. This results in the trucker incurring penalty points under the CSA scheme, despite being cleared of responsibility by the authorities.

The ATA was also present when the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its long-awaited ruling on the trucking group’s challenge to the most recent revisions in the hours-of-service rules; striking down a provision requiring short-haul drivers to take 30-minute off-duty break, but leaving the bulk of the rule unchanged. While the 30-minute, off-duty break requirement for short-haul drivers was revoked, the Court upheld the new limitations on the use of the restart, and the requirement that the 30-minute driving break be free of all on-duty activity, despite the Court agreeing with the truckers that the FMCSA’s justification for the rule had serious flaws.

The Court decided the bulk of the case in favour of the FMCSA, deferring to the safety organisation’s expertise whilst expressing some doubts over conflicting evidence and commenting, ‘trucking industry associations and safety-oriented public interest groups are often at long odds with each other’, which is putting it mildly. Whilst the Court recognised the right of the ATA to petition against the earlier Court ruling it dismissed three public interest group petitioners saying, ‘they have chosen to ride the jurisdictional coattails of [an] individual co-petitioner’.

Crash statistics also had a part to play in the appeal and, at the end of the day, it seems the FMCSA’s federal status was the factor which decided the Court to accept both its figures and arguments as opposed to those presented by the ATA, at least in most cases. When acceding to the ATA petition in part (in a decision which can be read in full here), the conclusion of the American Court is couched in the wistful and somewhat homely language we have grown used to from the US judiciary in civil cases, denying the trucking group whilst obviously not too impressed by the FMCSA defence, concluding:

“It is often said the third time’s a charm. That may well be true in this case, the third of its kind to be considered by the Circuit. With one small exception, our decision today brings to an end much of the permanent warfare surrounding the Hours of Service rules. Though FMCSA won the day, not on the strengths of its rulemaking prowess, but through an artless war of attrition, the controversies of this round are ended.”