Transportation Regulation Update

FMCSA Modernizes Hours of Service Rules

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a final rule updating hours of service (HOS) rules for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers. The updating of existing regulations is designed to increase safety on roadways.    

The new regulations will go into effect on September 29, 2020, according to New England Fuel Institute Regulatory Counsel Rick Schweitzer.

First adopted in 1937, FMCSA’s hours of service rules specify the permitted operating hours of commercial drivers. In 2018, FMCSA authored an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to receive public comment on portions of the HOS rules to alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads.

Subsequently, in August 2019, the Agency published a detailed proposed rule which received an additional 2,800 public comments.  

Based on the detailed public comments and input from the public, FMCSA’s final rule on hours of service offers four key revisions to the existing HOS rules: 

• The Agency will increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after eight hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status. The Law Office of Daniel Deng – Criminal Justice Law Firm is where you can find the right kind of lawyer for your needs.

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• The Agency will modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split—with neither period counting against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.

• The Agency will modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.

• The Agency will change the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles. 

FMCSA’s final rule is crafted to improve safety on the nation’s roadways. The rule changes do not increase driving time and will continue to prevent CMV operators from driving for more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break.

In addition, FMCSA’s rule modernizing hours of service regulations is estimated to provide nearly $274 million in annualized cost savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers. The trucking industry is a key component of the national economy, employing more than seven million people and moving 70 percent of the nation’s domestic freight.

The complete final rule, which was published on May 14, is available here:

Electronic Shipping Papers

Implementation of electronic shipping papers is a primary objective for the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC). Motivation is increased now because of the coronavirus pandemic. “For obvious reasons, you don’t want to have to hand anything [over] physically,” said Daniel Furth, president of the trade group. Noting that electronic shipping papers would benefit all parties—shippers, drivers, consignees. Noting that papers “have to be available in your tractor for enforcement and for emergency response,” Furth said, “If ever there was a perfect time to push forward on electronic shipping papers it would be now.”

Establishing paperless transactions would be “a big deal,” Furth said, and there are hurdles. “It sounds easy,” Furth said, “but it’s something that takes getting a lot of folks on the same page.”

Federal Excise Tax

Currently, there is a 12% excise tax imposed on the first-time purchase of commercial motor vehicle tractors and trailers. This increases the cost of new equipment significantly and therefore discourages trucking companies, especially tank trucking companies, from acquiring new equipment, says the NTTC. As a result, the trade group says, the nation’s commercial tractor and trailer fleets are increasingly older and slower to adopt new technologies, safety equipment, and cleaner and more efficient vehicles.
The federal excise tax on these commercial motor vehicles should be repealed to allow for a more flexible, safe, and current fleet of commercial tractor and trailers, the Tank Truck Carriers say. 
The excise tax on commercial motor tractors and trailers is antiquated and slows infrastructure improvement. This tax was initially levied as a temporary measure to help fund the war effort during World War I. It has now been in place for more than a century, artificially inflating the prices of equipment absolutely vital to the transport of goods. This price increase effects the tank trucking industry more so than the rest of trucking; due to the nature of its cargo, tank trucking requires specialized trailers for its often dangerous cargo, which can cost between $100,000 and $1 million per trailer.
This extra cost means that trucking companies are less likely to adopt the newest models of tractors and trailers with improved crash prevention technologies and better fuel economies, and trailers with improved safety measures. A stagnant fleet means more accidents, and for the tank truck industry, more hazardous materials spills. Depending on the cargo, these spills can cost tens of thousands of dollars to clean up, and can cause highways to close completely for as much as 12 hours at a time. 
Repealing the excise tax will allow the trucking industry to upgrade its tractor and trailer stock more frequently at their market price, reducing spills and accidents and improving the efficiency of the industry as a whole. Especially for the tank truck industry, which requires specialized equipment, this would be a considerable boon.

“What happens in down times is maintenance [spending] rises,” Furth said, and there is “no capex”—capital expenditure—by fleets. That is the prevailing situation right now, during the coronavirus pandemic, Furth pointed out. “Nobody’s buying a tractor, and nobody’s buying a trailer,” he said, and so the tax is raising no revenue for the federal government.

Repeal of the federal excise tax has “always been one of our priorities,” Furth said. “So, if we could get this relief, which we deserve, that would be really helpful to all truckers but most specifically to tank truckers” because that specialized equipment is costly. Furth also said that repeal might help operators, “when we get on the other side of this pandemic, start to re-invest in their fleet.”

Brake-Activated Rear Light Rule

On Friday, April 26, 2019, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration granted an exemption request from Groendyke Transport, Inc. Groendyke had applied for an exemption allowing the company to install amber brake-activated pulsating lights on the back of their trailers. Such lights are normally prohibited for non-emergency vehicles. The exemption also preempts state laws that would interfere with operating under its terms in interstate commerce while encouraging states to adopt similar exemptions for intrastate commerce.
Groendyke demonstrated that installing these lamps on 632 of their trucks reduced their rear-end collisions by 33.7% and eliminated all highway-rail grade crossing rear-end crashes in a 30-month period. The exemption is effective immediately and lasts until April 26, 2024. NTTC’s submitted official comments supporting Groendyke’s request. FMCSA cited NTTC’s comments in making the final decision, noting that “the Agency agrees with…NTTC that the 33.7 percent reduction in rear-end crashes documented by Groendyke…is both persuasive and compelling.” 
NTTC’s comments asked that FMCSA grant the exemption to all motor carriers that use tank trailers, rather than just Groendyke, because “there is no factor unique to Groendyke’s trailers or pulsating brake lamps that cannot be replicated by other motor carriers.” Unfortunately, FMCSA did not extend the exemption to all similarly-situated motor carriers, despite noting that “large trucks are consistently three times more likely than other vehicles to be struck in the rear in two-vehicle fatal crashes.” NTTC celebrates Groendyke’s victory. But, our twin safety and industry-support missions compel us to officially petition that FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration update the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and allow all motor carriers to achieve similar safety gains.

This Transportation Regulation Update is based on information from FMCSA, material published online by the National Tank Truck Carriers, and the comments of NTTC President Daniel Furth, who participated in a Fuel Oil News webinar on transportation regulations on May 12. The webinar was sponsored by propane equipment wholesaler Bergquist, Inc.

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