The Truck Safety Coalition (TSC), and our volunteers, who are the family and friends of truck crash victims and survivors seeking truck safety advances, strongly oppose the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) revisions to the regulatory guidance concerning the transportation of agricultural commodities as well as personal conveyance. These changes will complicate enforcement efforts, devalue drivers’ time, and erode safety on our roads.
As we have noted multiple times, truck safety continues to decline. In 2016, nearly half a million truck crashes occurred in the U.S., resulting in 145,000 injuries and 4,317 children, siblings, and parents being needlessly killed. These figures should give anyone pause, especially the policymakers at the FMCSA who are charged with promoting commercial vehicle safety. Unfortunately, these revised guidances, will likely lead to a greater likelihood of driver fatigue. They also reveal that the agency is less concerned with advancing well-researched regulations and more focused on appeasing a select, loud, contingent of truck drivers who are upset that they can no longer exceed the hours of service limits by falsely recording their hours in paper logbooks.
Both of the revised guidances fail to address the underlying issues motivating dangerous driving behaviors such as speed or exceeding the hours or service limits. Pay-per-mile, the preferred payment structure throughout the trucking industry, penalizes the driver – who arguably has the less control over his route than any other party involved in the transfer of freight via trucking. Under this pay structure, truck drivers are not paid if their wheels are not moving. It should come as no surprise then that more than seven out of 10 long haul truck drivers reported continuing to drive despite fatigue, bad weather, or heavy traffic because they needed to deliver or pick up a load at a given time.
Granting an exemption from the ELD mandate for trucks carrying agricultural commodities, however, will not change the sad fact that all too many truck drivers, including ag-haulers, are given unrealistic routes and/or inadequate pay. Moreover, an exemption to the Hours of Service rules for agriculture and livestock already exist, despite there being no research-based reason for granting the arbitrary 150-air mile radius exemption. Now, there are efforts in Congress asking for even more waivers and exemptions to the HOS and ELD Mandates for this sector of trucking; again, proponents asking to double the air mile radius for ag-haulers lack data to support their claims.
By granting the use of personal conveyance time, regardless of whether the vehicle is laden, the FMCSA has greatly blunted one of the main benefits of ELDs – accurately counting the number of hours driven versus hours worked per day. Although the agency determined that, “a driver may record time operating a CMV for personal conveyance as off-duty only when the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work by the motor carrier,” they almost immediately contradict themselves by noting that, “personal conveyance does not reduce a driver’s or motor carrier’s responsibility to operate a CMV safety.” These irreconcilable assertions underscore the reason why the Federal Highway Administration issued a guidance more than two decades ago “explicitly excluding the use of laden vehicles as personal conveyance:” so long as a vehicle is laden, the driver is responsible for the load he is transporting until it is transferred to the next party in the supply chain.
Under this new guidance though, the Agency is replacing an objective standard, i.e. whether the truck is laden or it is not laden, with a subjective standard that is based on “the reason a driver is operating the CMV while off duty, without regard to whether the CMV is or is not laden.” Consequently, there will be no way for law enforcement officers to empirically assess a truck driver’s intent or whether or not the CMV operator is actually using his or her vehicle for personal conveyance. This lack of clarity for the industry and law enforcement will entice bad actors to misuse personal conveyance to gain an unfair competitive advantage over law-abiding operators at the expense of everyone’s safety on our roads.
To make matters worse, the intent of the FMCSA’s personal conveyance guidance is to eliminate what the agency claims is a disparate impact on drivers of single-unit trucks that has occurred because of the previous guidance. Yet, the FMCSA has not furnished any data or analysis to support this claim nor have they conducted a study to determine its validity.
We strongly urge the FMCSA to remember their mission and reverse these unsafe guidances.