Wild regulatory ride ahead
Buckle your seat belts; 2016 is stacking up to be another busy year for new and changing regulations.

By Jami Jones, managing editor

The calm before the storm has officially ended. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has recently released some significant rulemakings sure to change the status quo of operations in the industry – and has more they are cooking up for the future.

Electronic logs

Stage: Final rule

Even before August 2011 when the U.S. Appeals Court for the 7th Circuit threw out a 2010 final rule targeting the most noncompliant motor carriers with mandated electronic logs, the FMCSA has been working on a regulation to mandate use of logging devices in all trucks operating in interstate commerce.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association successfully sued on the previous mandate and won on the first of three arguments presented. The court's ruling initially presented one significant legal challenge for the final rule – to prevent harassment of drivers through the use of the logs.

Status: As of press time, the final rule mandating electronic logs has cleared the White House Office of Management and Budget and was scheduled to print in the Federal Register before the end of November. (Read more about the ELD mandate on Page 26)

Prohibition on Coercion

Stage: Final rule

In what could easily be a true game changer for all truck drivers, the FMCSA has been tasked by Congress with drafting a regulation that prohibits the coercion of drivers into violating the regulations.

Faced with (in many cases, daily) damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenarios, drivers are often pressured into violating regulations like hours of service. A typical scenario is running out of hours at the dock and being forced to drive and leave the facility with no place to go.

This regulation is intended to target coercion tactics by motor carriers, shippers, receivers or transportation intermediaries (brokers for example) used to force drivers into operating their trucks in noncompliance with the federal regulations.

The devil will be in the details on how FMCSA approaches enforcement. If the agency relies heavily on whistleblowing without any assurance of follow-through, the rule could be very weak.

Status: As of press time, the final rule has been cleared by the White House and has yet to publish in the Federal Register. (Read more about the prohibition on coercion on Page 30)

Speed Limiters

Stage: Proposed rulemaking

This is a two-agency rulemaking with both FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposing the joint regulation. The regulation was prompted by a petition from the American Trucking Associations and Road Safe America asking for a speed-limiter mandate.

Starting with the latter agency, NHTSA will have jurisdiction over newly manufactured trucks and could, through this rulemaking process, mandate that all new trucks be equipped with activated speed-limiting devices.

While not publicly disclosed, FMCSA's ability to regulate speed limiters would be limited to trucks currently on the road. While mandating retrofits or activation of the device would be a stretch of the agency's authority, the agency would be able to prohibit trucks without activated speed-limiting devices from operating in interstate commerce. The proposed regulation should shed light on what exactly FMCSA has up its sleeve for trucks currently on the road.

Status: The final rule is at the Office of Management and Budget going through its cost-benefit review. As of press time, the agencies expected it to clear sometime in early December. The agency has a two-month comment period scheduled for the proposed regulation.

Carrier Safety Fitness Determination

Stage: Proposed regulation

What it is: FMCSA is proposing to change how motor carriers receive their "safety fitness determination." Right now, motor carriers are given a "carrier safety rating" of satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory, which reflects the carrier's compliance with the regulations.

To get the rating, the motor carrier must go through a safety audit. So there are lots of motor carriers out there without a safety rating. To counter this, the FMCSA is proposing to change the method of assigning those safety ratings. The agency proposes to tie the "carrier safety fitness determination" to the motor carrier's monthly safety rankings in CSA, an investigation, or a combination of roadside data and investigations.

Status: This one is a bit tricky. Well before Land Line went to print, FMCSA expected the rule to have cleared OMB. As of press time, it had not. This is a good time to throw in a note of caution that FMCSA's schedule for rulemakings is often altered month-to-month as a regulation goes through the process.

So many moving parts make it hard to pin rulemaking dates down until they really happen. So stay tuned to LandLineMag.com for more information on this proposed regulation as it is revealed and as the clock starts ticking on a 60-day comment period.

Entry-Level Driver Training

Stage: Proposed regulation

This proposed regulation will be the result of a negotiated rulemaking process in which 26 industry stakeholders got together and agreed upon the framework for the first-ever driver training regulations.

The framework proposes to require persons applying for new or upgraded CDLs to complete classroom, range, and behind-the-wheel training from a training provider listed on a National Registry.

To be viewed as first steps toward a comprehensive driver training mandate in the making, the proposal makes strides to ensuring a minimum level of training that all new CDL holders must acquire and demonstrate proficiency in before getting their licenses. The rulemaking will also seek to establish a National Registry of training providers and trainers, enabling FMCSA to track the success of trainees and the adequacy of training.

Status: The proposal was submitted to OMB on Nov. 5. A 60-day comment period is planned for the proposal and FMCSA's latest schedule anticipates the rule publishing in the Federal Register late in December. (See more about driver training on Page 32)

Sleep apnea

Stage: Advanced notice of proposed rulemaking

FMCSA is teaming up with the Federal Railroad Administration to go on a tire-kicking expedition and will be requesting data concerning the prevalence of moderate to severe sleep apnea among individuals performing safety sensitive duties in highway and rail transportation.

Along with finding out how many people in these not specifically listed safety functions have sleep apnea, the agencies want to collect information on the potential economic impact and safety benefits associated with any regulation that would require individuals with sleep apnea to undergo evaluation and subsequent treatment.

Noticeably absent in the initial abstract is that the agencies will be collecting or conducting any research to determine whether or not there is a quantifiable link between sleep apnea and fatigued driving.

Status: This is a fast-moving preliminary stage of the rulemaking process. As of press time, the agencies were anticipating that the advance proposal would clear OMB in late November and be published in the Federal Register for comment in early December. A 60-day comment period is planned. LL