Federal Update
Under pressure
Feds address coercion of truckers to violate regs

By David Tanner, associate editor

The FMCSA plans to make the most of an anti-coercion provision in the current highway bill to address the pressure placed on truck drivers to violate federal regulations, including hours of service.

While the provision does not specifically mention detention time at the docks by name, it does address the pressures that shippers, receivers, motor carriers and brokers place on truckers to stretch operating hours or to continue driving when fatigued.

Members of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit questioned a panel that included Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro about the implementation of the current highway law MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

The March 14 hearing covered topics related to highway and transit funding and safety regulations by various agencies.

Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, ranking Democrat on the subcommittee chaired by Rep. Tom Petri, R-WI, asked Ferro how the agency planned to address the detention of truckers at the docks.

“You know ... I know ... people in the audience know that a lot of truckers are detained past their operating hours at points of dropping off their loads,” DeFazio said. “What are we going to do about that? We know they’re going to move; we know they’re going to violate their operating hours.”

Ferro used detention time to explain the agency’s new charge to address the coercion of drivers.

“MAP-21 incorporates a provision on the prohibition on coercion, which doesn’t speak directly to detention time, but does speak to the agency’s now new opportunity to take action in cases where a driver files a complaint that a shipper or receiver or another party is exercising some sort of leverage or coercion through economic withholding or perhaps even physical harm at the point of loading and unloading,” she said.

MAP-21 calls for a study of driver detention time. Ferro said the study should be completed in 2015, “if not sooner.”

EOBRs and other MAP-21 provisions discussed
Another provision in the MAP-21 law calls for an industry-wide mandate for electronic logging devices – also known as electronic on-board recorders, EOBRs or black boxes.

During the hearing, Chairman Petri asked Ferro if the FMCSA would maintain flexibility in the rule to accommodate truckers who might be close to home and out of available driving hours.

Many drivers have asked the FMCSA to keep a potential mandate flexible for special circumstances.

“This is clearly a way to make (logging) much more accurate. It also runs some risks of being too rigid in a sense,” said Petri. “You must have some fudge factor if a driver is within a few miles of being at home and suddenly runs up against the limit, and is supposed to lay over for a period of time.”

“One-size-fits-all is easy to administer, but it’s not necessarily sensible in individual situations,” Petri continued. “We’re going to get a lot of pushback as you know, and you already are on some of this.”

Ferro said the agency is considering public input from listening sessions and federal dockets to develop the rule.

“We’ve seen a number of companies large and small transition to the use of electronic logging devices, and doing so very effectively, very profitably and finding that it’s a very efficient mechanism. And over time – sometimes almost immediately – drivers prefer it as well,” Ferro said.

OOIDA believes the use of EOBRs should be a choice and not a mandate. Many members and other truckers have testified against being forced to use EOBRs, making a case that electronic logs can be used to harass drivers.

According to the MAP-21 mandate, the FMCSA plans to issue a supplementary notice of proposed rulemaking for EOBRs in September.

A supplementary notice is necessary at this stage because a federal court tossed the agency’s initial EOBR rulemaking on supposed “bad actors” in the trucking industry following a legal challenge by OOIDA on the harassment issue.

Ferro acknowledged that the issue of driver harassment is on the list to be addressed in the supplementary notice. Others include technical specifications for the devices and ensuring that hours-of-service supporting documents are streamlined and reduced.

Overall, the FMCSA gained authority in MAP-21, which was signed into law in July 2012 and took effect in October.

The agency, for example, will require a knowledge test for anyone seeking to operate under their own authority.

The highway bill gave authority for the FMCSA to establish a drug and alcohol clearinghouse for drivers, entry level driver training standards and a field test of the 34-hour restart in hours of service regulations.

MAP-21 established a national freight plan and funding priorities for highways, bridges and transit.

On the issue of funding, Chairman Petri acknowledged that many in the trucking industry prefer a fuel-tax increase as opposed to alternative proposals to fill coffers.

“It’s not because they want it, but because they need the infrastructure for their industry and feel that of the different choices this is probably the most feasible,” Petri said. LL