What should shape the future of fuel economy?
OOIDA says: Not mandates
While saving fuel and reducing pollution emissions is commendable, the proposed regulation to further reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is pushing too far, too hard and too fast, according to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

By Jami Jones, managing editor

In October, the Association filed comments in response to a proposed rulemaking issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with the goal of reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The proposal laid out five different alternatives for meeting the agencies' goal of reducing fuel consumption 24 percent from 2017 to 2027.

OOIDA stated the Association's concern that the agencies have not accurately estimated the costs and benefits of the proposed rule, nor have they adequately considered the "excessive burden" that will be placed on small-business truckers. The Association said the agencies are relying on "exorbitantly expensive, untested and in some cases unproven technologies" in their quest to reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions.

In laying out the proposal, the agencies admitted that there is "some uncertainty in projecting costs and effectiveness … but believe that the thresholds proposed for consideration account for realistic projections."

"Whereas the agencies are content with the uncertainty of costs and effectiveness of the technologies, owner-operators do not unfortunately have that luxury," OOIDA comments stated. "OOIDA strongly believes that the market should drive fuel-efficient technologies instead of expensive mandates. … If there was affordable and reliable technology, which improved fuel efficiency by 24 percent over the 2017 baseline, there would be no need for a mandate."

The Association's comments detailed previous overreaching regulations placed on the trucking industry, which forced equipment manufacturers to produce equipment

on a truncated schedule, not allowing ample time for development and testing. The end results in three notable cases OOIDA detailed in the comments were unreliable technology being sold in the market and pre-buys ahead of the mandates to avoid the excessive cost of new equipment and uncertainty of performance.

The October 2002 push forward of the 2004 emission standards as well as the 2007 and 2010 emission reduction mandates have deteriorated the dependability of today's trucks and driven up the costs significantly, OOIDA pointed out.

To underscore this point, the Association cited a 2011 J.D. Power and Associates study.

"With the new technology required to meet emissions standards, today's engines simply are more problematic than the previous generation. So, while it's possible that manufacturers can continue to improve the quality of the engines, it's unlikely that they'll quickly get back to the pre-2004 levels," the study stated.

"Nevertheless, (the fuel consumption and GHG reduction goal) will be ruined, along with the careers of those employed throughout the trucking industry, if the agencies do not heed the concerns of the drivers concerning appropriate lead time, stringency and testing," OOIDA stated in its comments.

The EPA and NHTSA detailed several different technologies available that can help reduce fuel consumption, and thereby reduce GHG emissions. Among the technologies included in the proposal were aerodynamics, auxiliary power units, low-rolling-resistance tires and automatic engine shutoffs.

OOIDA pointed out, for example, that with aerodynamics the problems are twofold.

One, benefits of aerodynamic technologies cannot be totaled by adding the individual fuel savings. Combining all the various aerodynamic devices - such as side skirts, front gap fairings, and rear fairings, which individually are estimated to produce 4 to 7 percent, 1 to 2 percent, and 1 to 5.1 percent in fuel savings respectively - will not result in a grand total of 6 to 14 percent in fuel savings.

And two, aerodynamic components are not suited for every truck-trailer configuration on the road. For example, OOIDA pointed out that front trailer fairings are not suited for reefers. Full-height air deflectors on cabs are not beneficial when pulling a flatbed.

Add the two problems of aerodynamic components to the fact that they are ineffective until trucks travel at least an average minimum of 60 to 65 mph, and a large portion of the industry, such as local and port operations, would not benefit at all from the technology.

The same concerns relate to low-rolling-resistance tires. While great on the flat plains, they are worrisome for truckers faced with driving mountainous routes.

Breaking down the concern in simplest terms, OOIDA turned to an analogy used by a member of the OOIDA Board of Directors.

Steven Bixler, an OOIDA Board Member, who frequently operates in winter conditions and mountainous terrain, stated: "Asking me to run (low-rolling-resistance tires) would be like asking someone to walk up and down Lombard Street in San Francisco in a pair of smooth-soled penny loafers on an inch of ice."

Auxiliary power units meet the same sort of problems. Many trucking operations do not require multiple nights away from home, reducing the need for key-off technology. And, given the fact that the units add about 400 pounds to the weight of the truck and not all states allow for it, the weight compliance issue remains a nagging consideration for truckers.

Automatic shutoffs were met with equal discouragement from OOIDA in its comments. The inconsistency of a trucker's day does not allow for predetermined on-off scenarios. Couple that with the device's known ability to disrupt sleep during the turning on and off, and it causes fatigue and lack of sleep for drivers - a concern that EPA and NHTSA ignored in its proposal.

Dangerous alternatives

Two other "fuel saving" strategies proposed are speed limiters and reducing the overall weight of the equipment. Both present serious safety concerns for truckers.

Speed limiters cause their own unique problems when reducing speed. Julie Cirillo, former assistant administrator and chief safety officer of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, stated in a sworn affidavit: "It is my opinion that the speed limiter legislation does not increase safety, and in fact decreases safety on the highways traveled by those heavy trucks and can cause dangerous situations to arise."

OOIDA detailed a number of studies that point to increased speed differentials, which lead to more interactions as well as rear-end collisions into trucks by passenger cars.

"When a truck is artificially limited to a lower speed than other traffic, this will create an obstruction in the traffic flow. As other vehicles approach from behind in traffic, there will invariably be situations where they will need to reduce speed before passing," OOIDA pointed out in the comments.

"A technology which has been proven to decrease highway safety is completely and utterly inappropriate, and should not be included in any form as part of the proposed rule."

Reducing the weight of the equipment also drew fire from the Association.

The notice proposes that heavy-duty vehicles would save fuel and lower emissions if trucks were redesigned to use less mass, possibly using lighter, higher strength materials. Before such standards are created, however, OOIDA has encouraged, and continues to encourage, NHTSA to establish a rule for the crash-worthiness of trucks.

In 2009, Carl VanWasshnova, an OOIDA member from Port Orange, Fla., was killed in a low-speed crash after his day cab collapsed around him. His widow and OOIDA have championed the need for the occupants of trucks to be protected in the event of unavoidable crashes.

"In response to a 20 percent increase of truck occupant deaths in 2011, OOIDA released a statement saying, 'What is wrong with this picture? NASCAR drivers walk away from collisions at 200 miles per hour, but truck drivers are losing their lives at 30 miles per hour. Families are being destroyed because we are making cabs lighter and lighter while efforts persist to make the loads heavier. Accidents will happen - period. We won't be able to outsmart that.' Reducing the weight of CMVs in order to improve fuel efficiency should not be a compromise for safety," OOIDA stated in its comments.

The best path forward

In proposing five different alternatives to meeting the 24 percent fuel consumption reduction goal, each one presented by EPA and NHTSA became increasingly more dependent on unproven, non-existing technology and increasingly stringent mandates.

OOIDA continues to press the agency to go with the first option and to let the natural evolution of current technology and marketplace adoption drive fuel consumption reduction and thereby GHG emissions.

"OOIDA believes that Alternative 1 would be the best alternative to reach the agencies' goals, as this will allow for the healthy development of technologies without the possible risk of a pre-buy or a no-buy situation. Additionally, this will help prevent the forcing of unreliable and costly technologies that could easily put an owner-operator out of business," the Association comments stated.

The second alternative isn't so bad either in the Association's opinion. It too was more of a market-driven approach with natural improvements to current technologies over time. Put another way, alternative two is not technology-forcing.

"Nevertheless, the agencies stated that they are not proposing Alternative 2 because they do not believe that it represents the 'maximum feasible improvement.' … However, OOIDA would argue that Alternative 2 is the "maximum feasible improvement" because it does not force technologies that could be harmful to consumers or to the market," OOIDA stated in its comments.