DOT Plans Spate of Driver Safety Rules for 2015

By Roy Maurer Dec 4, 2014
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The Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) motor carrier safety agency plans to publish 14 proposed or final rules in 2015, including rules mandating electronic logging devices and speed limiters in trucks, prohibiting coercion of drivers, and establishing a national database for drivers who’ve failed a drug or alcohol test or refused to take one.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also plans on implementing safety fitness scores for motor carriers, surveying new drivers about safety training and clarifying sleep apnea testing protocols.

Final Rules on Drug/Alcohol Clearinghouse, ELDs Expected

A final rule creating a central database for commercial drivers with positive drug and alcohol test results and refusals by drivers to submit to testing is projected for September 2015, according to the FMCSA’s latest regulatory agenda. Under the regulation, employers of commercial drivers would have to report positive test results and refusals to test into the database. Prospective employers will be expected to query the clearinghouse—with the applicant’s written consent—before hiring drivers.

“This rulemaking would improve the safety of the nation’s highways by ensuring that employers know when drivers test positive for drugs and alcohol, and are not qualified to drive. It would also ensure that drivers who have tested positive and have not completed the return-to-duty process are not driving, and ensure that all employers are meeting their drug and alcohol testing responsibilities,” the agency said. The trucking industry has advocated for this rule for years, urging the agency to close a loophole in the federal testing program that forced employers to rely on applicants’ honesty in providing complete employment histories.

A final rule requiring the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) for drivers currently required to prepare paper hours-of-service records is scheduled for publication in September 2015. Enforcement of the rule would begin in late 2017, after a two-year implementation period. FMCSA says it will maintain a list on its website of the 22 current ELD makers and roughly 90 devices that are certified for use.

The American Trucking Associations welcomed the proposal to update the hours-of-service recording process, but the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association expressed concern about the devices’ cost and possibility of driver harassment from carriers, as well as doubt about the rule’s ability to satisfy hours-of-service requirements. The group of small business truckers said that no device can automatically record a driver’s duty status and drivers will still have to input changes of duty status manually. “While it is true that ELDs can measure an individual’s driving time, those devices cannot determine compliance with the [hours-of-service] rules any better than paper logbooks. Nor can they determine whether a driver has had an opportunity to obtain restorative sleep in order to eliminate fatigue,” the group said.

The agency’s proposed driver coercion rule prohibiting “carriers, shippers, brokers and others” from threatening drivers with loss of work to get them to operate in violation of federal safety regulations is scheduled to have undergone a review of submitted public comments by September 2015.

Proposed Rules on Speed Limiters, Safety Scores Imminent

FMCSA projects that a proposed rule requiring speed limiters in heavy trucks will be published in January 2015. The rulemaking is being done in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and was spurred by petitions from the American Trucking Associations and Roadsafe America, which asked the agency to require speed limiters in trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds. The FMCSA will likely propose a range of speed settings. “We believe this rule would have a minimal cost, as all heavy trucks already have these devices installed, although some vehicles do not have the limit set,” the agency said.

FMCSA also plans to issue a proposed rule revamping the safety fitness scoring system for carriers in March 2015. The scores will be based on roadside inspection data and compliance reviews to prioritize carriers for intervention, according to the agency.

Critics of the proposal say the scoring is misleading and would place some carriers at a disadvantage based on spurious data. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., sponsor of a bill that would order FMCSA to stop publishing motor carriers’ safety scores, said that “companies across the country … are being unfairly misrepresented by their safety scores, causing economically devastating impacts to these bus and truck companies, many of which are small businesses.”

Information Sought on Entry-Level Driver Safety Training

The agency is seeking comments on a plan to survey newly licensed commercial drivers about the relationship between their entry-level driver training and their safety performance.

The results of the study will provide FMCSA with information to support its consideration of the congressionally mandated requirement to establish enhanced minimum safety training for commercial entry-level drivers.

Earlier this year the agency hired a moderator to negotiate a rule among carriers, industry groups, trainers, state agencies, safety advocates and insurance companies. One month later, safety advocates and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union sued to force the agency to move ahead with the rulemaking.

Comments on the survey proposal are due by Jan. 6, 2015.

Sleep Apnea Screening Requirements for Drivers Clarified

Acting FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling announced that agency-registered medical examiners will soon be receiving a reminder clarifying that there is no guidance regarding sleep apnea testing and will encourage examiners to explain to drivers that referring them to sleep apnea specialists is being done based on their judgment as medical professionals and not on FMCSA regulations. Darling also said the agency plans to publish a notice by next year that will request information from industry stakeholders to help determine the costs and safety benefits of a rule to address sleep apnea screening.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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