Safety 411

Published monthly in Fleet Owner, Safety 411 is a timely and informative commentary on safety and security issues by David Heller, CDS, TCA’s Vice President of Government Affairs.

By: David Heller, CDS

After navigating Congress, historic infrastructure bill finally crosses the finish line

The road trips we used to take as a family when I was a kid, whether to Florida or Maine, were inevitably surrounded by great memories that lasted a lifetime. In that regard, I must reference the adage by Ralph Waldo Emerson to describe the recollection of those long family jaunts: “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

With that being said, after a long and often contentious journey toward an infrastructure bill, the time has finally arrived. Our industry now has the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide a much-deserved, first-class office space for our professional truck drivers.

At times, it seemed as if a replacement to the FAST Act would never happen, with talks, debates, and campaign promises falling by the wayside. Faced with yet another expiring continuing resolution, the House finally moved on infrastructure language that devotes about $550 billion in new money to upgrade our nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges. As a campaign issue dating as far back as the 2016 election, we finally have a package that can make necessary improvements to an infrastructure system that desperately needs them.

Of course, it isn’t only dollars that make this package worthwhile, either. On the heels of a massive supply chain crunch, the bill includes language pertaining to younger commercial motor vehicle drivers, exposing our industry as a viable career path in interstate commerce to prospective students who are seeking life after high school. All told, extolling the virtues of interstate commerce to a group that had been a previous afterthought is now more beneficial than ever before.

Our professional truck drivers are already lauded as the safest, most well-trained drivers on the road today. This new demographic, ages 18 to 20 years old, will now be exposed to a curriculum that will make them even more skilled. Set to be effective in February 2022, the prospective new Entry Level Driver Training standard, coupled with the technological advancements of modern equipment, will now face a horizon of safety performance and efficiency that highlights what the future of trucking looks like. This should not be viewed as an immediate fix to the supply chain crunch that this nation is experiencing. In the long run, however, the infusion and exposure to new talent is certain to be an avenue that will aid in fighting the driver shortage in the future.

Trucking has long embraced the futuristic vision of safety, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act highlights that very notion. Incorporating language that advocates automatic emergency braking demonstrates the success of our industry in implementing this technology into its fleets. Requiring this equipment on all new trucks emphasizes our industry’s commitment to the prevention of crashes by focusing on what carriers have been doing for some time now—ordering this tech on new equipment and making the investment to create safer roadways.

Like any piece of legislation, the success is not just what appears in the bill but also what has been left out. Our industry had spoken loud and clear on the ramifications of the PRO Act and its threat to the independent contractor business model. Congress has heard our message and opted not to include any language that would have jeopardized a business practice that has a long history of success in building many of the large truckload carriers we see operating on the roads today. Let’s hope the congressional message resonates with the Supreme Court as the industry waits patiently to see whether our country’s highest court will actually hear the case regarding the much-maligned AB5 language out of California.

The message of this column is not one that celebrates the bill’s passage, but rather our industry’s involvement in moving it. Through the actions of TCA membership and the industry as a whole, the desire for funds to improve our nation’s roads and bridges has never been construed as a secret—and trucking has not been shy about telling it, either. The success is not only in its passage but also in the passion that the industry had for getting this done. The ability to speak on multiple fronts has shown that trucking is willing to pick up the gauntlet.

The journey was certainly long and arduous, but the end result has finally justified the means.

December 2021

By: David Heller, CDS

October showed the cynically unproductive way Capitol Hill works these days

The eggshells around an updated infrastructure package coming from Congress were never more delicate than in the early days of October—and we all know that to create the perfect omelet, you have to crack a few eggs.

To recap, the deadline for the infrastructure vote was set for Sept. 27 but was effectively punted until Sept. 30 to give the House and Senate some breathing room to work on a way forward. The sun rose and set on Sept. 30 without a House vote on H.R. 3684, the infrastructure bill. A partial government shutdown ensued on Oct. 1, when 3,700 U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) employees were furloughed and the FAST Act expired. Luckily, the furlough was short-lived after Congress passed and President Biden signed a short-term extension of the FAST Act until Oct. 31. For anyone counting, this is the second continuing resolution (CR) passed on
the current infrastructure legislation, harkening back to MAP-21, which went through 13 CRs before the FAST Act finally came to be.

House and Senate Democratic leaders made a joint statement that reflected their desire for swift action on both the infrastructure bill and the massive $3.5 trillion reconciliation measure. Both said they planned to have the two packages voted on by the end of the 30-day extension. With the backing of Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer felt confident that they had the support necessary to pull both packages through votes and emerge successful.

The White House spent time negotiating with moderate senators, working to convince them to cast their votes in favor of the larger reconciliation bill, which aims to increase the social safety net and fund several climate initiatives. Despite the White House push, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona seem to be standing firm that the price tag on the “human infrastructure” bill must go down, to around $1.5 trillion, for it to receive their backing. This comes with the looming 2022 midterm elections, which no doubt live in the minds of moderates trying to represent as broad a constituency as possible.

Any bill that reaches dollar figures into the trillions almost certainly has pages and pages of subchapters dedicated to the industry it seeks to govern. Of course, even a $1.5 trillion bill amounts to a mountainous piece of legislation. And even more puzzling is the absence in any of this legislation of a meaningful measure that would help ease the never-ending search for safe and secure parking for our nation’s professional truck drivers. Highlighted as the No. 1 problem for drivers, a separate bill had been introduced in the House in early spring with a price tag of $1 billion—a drop in the bucket compared to the current numbers being tossed around the halls of the Capitol these days.

The slow-moving, gridlocked reality of Washington feels more and more like a tenet of the process and less like a phase that our politicians go through.

The same players that have made movement more difficult remain in the field with their feet firmly planted on the same demands. With one side demanding monetary concessions, and one side refusing to cut any of their programs, it looks like betting on more gridlock would be a safe bet.

Congress has a full plate right now. There is speculation that leaders on Capitol Hill might get infrastructure to the floor sooner rather than later. In the meantime, discussions will remain open regarding both the smaller bipartisan infrastructure measure and the larger “human infrastructure” one that has no Republican support.

All the furloughed 3,700 DOT employees were back at work on Oct. 4. Though this shutdown was so short that it was barely noticeable, it will have effects on state transportation departments across the country. The delay in apportionment notices being released to the states affects their ability to gauge how much money they can spend in the upcoming fiscal year. Even a short delay will cause headaches for the “boots-on-the-ground” employees who work these programs.

As always, Washington will prove to be a traffic jam of demands, concessions, and wheeling and dealing throughout October. The two bills, with as much strapped to them as possible, were the perfect recipe for slow-moving legislation—and that’s exactly what we have. With improvement to our nation’s infrastructure as something that would greatly benefit truckload carriers, the Truckload Carriers Association is watching closely as events in Washington unfold.

November 2021

By: David Heller, CDS

Any notion of double taxation should be quelled right off the bat

I recently went to an out-of-town family wedding. Traveling by car, the trip took about eight hours to get to the location, and I encountered numerous traffic snarls along the way. Long road trips aside, upon my arrival, I noticed the new car of a family member. This person traveled half the distance I did in half the time but did so in a hybrid vehicle. It’s a nice-looking car with all the bells and whistles, but I could not help but think that their entire trip would not consist of any stops to refuel, whereas I fueled up twice for the round trip. The very reason I bring this up is that my trip consisted of me paying twice into the Highway Trust Fund (plus toll fees), whereas the new hybrid vehicle, with zero need to refuel, didn’t pay a dime into the mechanism responsible for sustaining our roads and bridges.

I would love to say that this thought process is relegated solely to me, but it does define the policy-driven discussion on Capitol Hill as it pertains to paying for the much-needed, massively funded infrastructure plan currently under consideration. Clearly a political poison pill, increasing the federal fuel tax has already presented itself as the best cure-all for a problem in need of a solution. However, the conversation, as it pertains to funding, has now appeared in the infrastructure bill as a national pilot program for raising funds outside of paying directly at the pump in the form of a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax.

This column is not one that supports the development of such a funding mechanism but rather highlights the issues surrounding it and the need to address the vehicles that travel our roads without ever visiting a gas pump. At this time, a VMT remains an option that is unfeasible in its scope and surrounds itself with more questions than answers. The national test included in the bill represents a very real opportunity to finally find some answers to those questions.

First and foremost, any VMT fee should not be paired with or added to a federal fuel tax. Any notion of double taxation should be quelled right off the bat. The pilot program for all vehicles should look to address that concern prior to even getting off the ground.

We know the VMT is going to represent a higher cost to collect than the current fuel tax mechanism. Just how much that cost differential is remains to be truly vetted. While the administrative costs and hurdles dramatically outpace what we see with the fuel tax, in some cases, studies have shown these fees could run as high as 40%, whereas the current fuel tax collection system runs around 1%. This fact could serve as a death blow to any conversation that seeks to pay into a program that should be stretching the dollars collected to the furthest.

The idea of a VMT pilot program is not new. Geographically speaking, various states and regions have developed tests over recent years that seek to hash out the issues with such a policy and develop solutions that may remedy them. Undoubtedly, privacy concerns from the public almost always arise in the midst of these conversations, and a pilot program must address this as well. General fears that “big brother” is watching have repeatedly been raised. Reassuring the public that these programs are merely tracking miles, not location, is an uphill climb.

Infrastructure for the sake of infrastructure, so to speak, must also come into play. The fuel tax mechanism exists in a manner where everyone essentially pays at the pump. To make a pilot program and any future VMT successful, we must identify and vet a proper system that allows mileage to be reported and dollars to be collected. Alleviating the potential for fraudulent activity is also paramount because creating a system that is equal for all must truly be the endgame when considering such a mechanism of fundraising.

The opportunity is before us to examine new and more technologically advanced ways that could represent a departure from the past. In Congress, elected officials have acknowledged this through the language as it appears in the infrastructure bill. Make no mistake, the political will has disappeared as it pertains to raising the federal fuel tax regardless of how many states seemingly do that very thing to address their state funding issues on an annual basis. However, we must make sure that we are prepared to address the questions surrounding any pilot program that examines the idea of taxing miles traveled. Only then can we be sure that everyone is on equal ground when it comes to properly financing and paying for our nation’s looming road and bridge work.

October 2021

By: David Heller, CDS

Are qualified truck drivers an endangered species? The short answer is no

Every time you lose something, why do you always find it in the very last place you would look? I spend an ample amount of time searching for car keys, a cell phone, and even a wallet almost on a daily basis. However, in today’s trucking world, there never really is a last place when it comes to searching for the qualified driver, a white whale in this industry, as everyone has seemingly searched high and low for drivers who have demonstrated the proper qualifications to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.

As an industry, we are now on the cusp of a two-pronged battle between the inevitable attrition of an aging workforce that sets its sights on retirement and discovering a new demographic that will enter the industry as a professional option in hopes of making it a career. Identified recently by the Biden administration as a “now” problem, the trucking industry’s essential workers have anecdotally become a rare breed. I say “anecdotally” because I have subscribed to the opinion that facts and data should almost always accompany statements and solutions, and as an industry, now more than ever, we can dive into the root cause of the issue.

Is the qualified professional truck driver an endangered species? The short answer is “no,” but unraveling the issue would take much longer than one page allows. Up until recently, data on drivers had often been a question mark, mostly because of paper logs. Now that inevitable information-gathering devices have been regulated and voluntarily adopted by fleets, we know more about the average workday of the professional driver than ever before.

Detention, congestion, and even weather-related incidents can be highlighted, recorded, and subjected to review in an effort to make the daily task of driving professionally easier to navigate. Whether this data analysis leads to improved processes at the carrier level or on customer premises, or even government intervention, we aren’t advocating for new rules or even the removal of old ones. Rather, we are possibly adjusting the current regulations to make better sense of what the driver’s day looks like. In a sense, because of the technological investments that our industry has either voluntarily made or been federally required to adopt, a road map exists for a path to improve the daily lives of our professional truck drivers.

While the “now” problem has realistically been around for generations, as an industry, we can use our data to actively recruit and highlight what a future career in trucking can and should look like. Armed with information derived from electronic logging devices and telematics systems, mapping out the day to alleviate problems, planning for parking, and forecasting potential issues is all at our fingertips. Now seems to be the appropriate time to start interpreting all that data for what it’s worth.

There are still problems in today’s trucking. The PRO Act and California’s AB5 legislation are prime examples of threats against our industry and the American dream. Today’s threats against the independent contractor business model come at a time when new carrier registrations have reached an all-time high, of which the majority are perceived to be independent contractors jumping into an industry that wants them.

At one point or another, many of the major truckload carriers that operate on our highways today have started out by using the same business model. We should celebrate these new carriers as prime examples of getting into an industry that clearly has room for them and not being penalized for taking advantage of an opportunity that grew the industry into what it is today.

The threat to owner-operators is one that our industry continues to battle both legislatively and through litigation, but the best chance to fight off challenges starts at the beginning. Trucking has always had a great story to tell, and we are telling it. We owe it to our drivers to create an image that upholds the notion that they are as essential as they were during the COVID pandemic. In turn, the “Knights of the Road” could ride again.

We are all part of an industry that does great things. It’s time to actively pursue and engage the opportunities to place our professional driving force in the limelight that it deserves.

September 2021

By: David Heller, CDS

The regulation sets a national baseline for training any driver obtaining a CDL

Back-to-school season is almost upon us and by the time you read this column, many kids will already have returned to school. All students will be back in school buildings this year after having experienced a yearlong virtual environment due to COVID-19. That said, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is taking a page out of the back-to-school playbook and beginning to inform the industry of its Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulation that is finally set to take effect on February 7, 2022.

Starting now, FMCSA is encouraging training providers to begin registering on their website so they can be included on the public list of providers when it goes live later this year. Obviously, like any regulation, there is an assumed compliance aspect that requires each provider to self-certify that they are meeting the federal standards for training these students. I would encourage each school, institution, or entity that can provide training to a potential commercial vehicle operator to register sooner rather than later and avoid the mad rush that seems to consistently accompany these published timelines. From the files of Captain Obvious, once Feb. 7 comes and goes, students seeking to obtain their commercial driver’s license (CDL) may only do so from an entity that is registered through FMCSA.

Now, I know exactly what you are thinking. What qualifies as an entity? The answer is obvious in most cases. Schools, both public and private; motor carriers; government; and even individuals and owner-operators would be considered training providers and are all required to register. Even independent contractors who own one truck and seek to train their son or daughter in the business would qualify as an entity that is required to register as a provider.

These requirements should not really be considered breaking news since the original implementation date was delayed an additional two years in order to effectively get it right. By now, most institutions have already positioned themselves with the proper curriculum to satisfy the regulatory requirements for training.

Are there hours attributed to this rule? In short, the answer is no. But before we go down this rabbit hole, we should probably state the obvious. There is no minimum number of hours that driver-trainees must spend on the theory (i.e., knowledge) portions of any of the individual curriculum. The regulations prescribe specific topics for each of the five theory curricula, requiring the training provider to cover all topics, and requiring that driver-trainees demonstrate their understanding of the material by achieving an overall minimum score of 80% on the written (or electronic) theory assessment.

In other words, would you rather have a student achieve the proper number of hours required in training, or would you rather have a student demonstrate that they are capable of operating a commercial motor vehicle in a safe and responsible manner? The correct answer to that question seems obvious.

The good news here is that the additional two-year window used by FMCSA to implement this rule was not wasted; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Giving credit where credit is due, our friends at FMCSA have created a great website to walk you through this “newish” rule in an effort to allow people to have a great understanding of what it entails. At a time when training entry-level drivers will be paramount to our industry’s success, the information and FAQs on this website make this effort that much easier to undertake.

It is no secret that our industry advocates for younger drivers, and the headway that the DRIVE-Safe Act has recently made is a tremendous example of that. This ELDT rule and its corresponding website certainly make understanding how to properly train an entry-level driver, regardless of age, a much easier endeavor. This ensures only qualified drivers receive a CDL and sets a national baseline for training every driver who seeks to obtain their commercial license.

A long time in the making, this rule was originally published in the Federal Register in December 2016. It detailed the curriculum and theory behind training new drivers based on a series of meetings from an advisory committee derived from an agreed-upon negotiated rulemaking. Yes, I was there, and while it seems like a long time ago, we stand at the precipice of a new rule that can and should define the new safety performance of a driving force destined to deliver to a nation in the not-so-distant future.

August 2021

By: David Heller, CDS

FMCSA has been quiet since the inauguration. What’s the holdup?

As most readers of this column know, I have spent a considerable amount of time coaching youth baseball. Well, now my son has grown older and has transitioned out of playing competitively as we once experienced it; however, out of that transition came the ability to develop a new hobby—umpiring. I enjoy it and doing it with my son to form an umpiring tandem is a lot of fun, but I have noticed that all good umpires must possess the talent to command a game and to manage the many types of coaches they encounter. It is with this knowledge that I compare the authority of an umpire in baseball to the presence of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over the past six months since the inauguration.

Certainly, FMCSA’s COVID-19 response has been spot on, dealing with the problems and delays that arose out of a global pandemic and an industry’s ability to effectively deliver freight. In recent years, however, we have come to know FMCSA as being out in front on topics and leading the charge that helps create rules that save lives and improve efficiencies. As an industry, we are beginning to wonder what has been going on since the Biden administration took over a mere six months ago.

In February, faced with litigation regarding the newest version of our hours of service (HOS) regulation, the agency effectively filed a motion to pause the appeal in abeyance for 60 days so that the new leadership could familiarize itself with the case. The rules, which have granted the industry more flexibility when it comes to HOS, had been challenged on the basis of further exacerbating the issue of fatigued driving. Now, I look at my calendar, and it has certainly been more than 60 days to review a case pertaining to rules that were developed by the very staff that still resides at FMCSA.

The new rules, as communicated, were developed based on sound data derived from electronic logging devices (ELDs) that were aggregated and anonymized. The updated regulation was justified as a need for greater flexibility for an industry that requires it. I think it is fair to point out that everyone involved—industry, safety advocates, and the agency itself—was supportive of an ELD mandate that used these devices as a tool to accurately record a driver’s HOS compliance. It concerns me now that those who actually supported the rule aren’t paying attention to the data that the devices have generated. In other words, I question why many would support an initiative and then disregard the results of the very device that was embraced as a cure-all.

Regardless, ELD-generated data, as it pertains to the truckload segment of the industry, places daily driver utilization rates at about 6.6 hours of drive time per day. This number is a result of the recent changes to the HOS provisions. That being said, prior to the newly implemented rules, our segment of the industry was hovering around 6.5 hours of daily driver utilization.

Keep in mind that these numbers are based on an allowable 11 hours of drive time per day. As they say, data is the new oil, and the data derived from these devices certainly shows that even the new regulations do not allow the average driver to venture even remotely closely to the allowable daily limits. Effectively, the increased flexibility that the new HOS provided was minimal at best.

What exactly is FMCSA waiting for? In baseball, the umpire establishes the rules and regs; in trucking, FMCSA serves that similar role but has been rather quiet since the inauguration. We need to be careful what we wish for, but the reality is that regardless of what administration is in the White House, the data is still the data, and the FMCSA staff involved in interpreting the data for the purposes of a revised rule are still in place. The agency has never been tasked with pulling rules out of thin air. In fact, the rulemaking process prevents that from happening.

Reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses remains the mission of FMCSA. The reality is that the agency needs to continue on the path that it has already established, including making data-driven decisions in an effort to support its mission.

Much like an umpire in baseball, the industry needs FMCSA to be present in a manner that would command the industry with sound data rather than quietly examining rules that are already well-established.

July 2021

By: Dave Heller, CDS

Creating a workforce that may have entered another profession altogether

Time flies. There is no doubt about that. I reference this because my son is rapidly approaching 16 years old at a time when I can still remember him being born. That said, 16 has represented a rite of passage in the timeline of life, the age in which you begin to exercise almost true independence by hoping, praying, practicing, and eventually obtaining your driver’s license.

Recently, I took my son driving, traversing an empty parking lot so that he could begin to understand what driving a car was actually like. He randomly swerved throughout the lot, driving over, around and across every white line that marks an actual parking spot. I write this knowing that the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE-Safe) Act was recently reintroduced in Congress to address the driver shortage in the trucking industry by allowing 18- to 20-year-old drivers the ability to operate in more than just intrastate commerce. It would permit them to cross that state line, which to this day, limits their ability to operate in interstate commerce.

Regardless of what side you may land on when it comes to this demographic, I think we can all agree that drivers in this age range, limited by a state boundary, require the same amount of training as drivers who have gained the ability to cross those lines. In fact, one could even point out that the entry-level driver training requirements, set to take effect in February 2022, were designed without age in mind. This means that a 40-year-old driver will be trained to the same proficiency standards as that of a 19-year-old driver, a rule that our industry has waited a long time to finally take effect.

That said, proving whether or not this demographic could operate in a manner that has been deemed “as safe or safer” than its more seasoned counterparts remains the obvious question as no public data actually exists to prove or disprove this longstanding theory.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) tried to expand on a current pilot program that focuses on younger drivers who have a military background. The agency had announced a program to study the safety performance of those drivers who have obtained a commercial driver’s license by traditional means. As luck would have it, FMCSA’s pilot program expansion idea seems to have fallen by the wayside as a result of the administration changeover, leading to the reintroduction of the DRIVE-Safe Act. Reintroduced in March, the DRIVE-Safe Act has already garnered bipartisan support in the Senate. Make no mistake, this bill is not as simple as handing over the keys to a teenager. Rather, it is the creation of an apprenticeship program that would actually acclimate a driver to the industry who may have just graduated from high school.

In many circles, this program would be applauded as an on-boarding curriculum that would be certain to rival many that already exist within the industry today. Two probationary periods have been implemented to make certain that these drivers could demonstrate the skills needed to prove they could operate a vehicle as safely and efficiently as a driver twice their age and who may have gone through a less cumbersome program.

Simply put, saying a younger driver can operate a commercial motor vehicle safely is one thing; as far as this bill goes, however, implementing redundancies to assure these drivers operate in that fashion while crossing state lines is an entirely different story altogether. Incorporating technology such as speed limiters, collision mitigation systems, and forward-facing cameras is a step that makes these vehicles as advanced as any other in today’s market and will assist any driver, even seasoned veterans of the industry, in optimizing safety performance.

It is fair to point out that the DRIVE-Safe Act classifies itself as going that extra mile for a demographic that doesn’t currently exist within the parameters of interstate commerce. In other words, intrastate drivers may travel farther, in longer time frames in certain states operating in intrastate commerce, than they could if they were allowed to cross a state boundary. Opening these age parameters and incorporating the variety of checks and balances that would aid any driver opens our industry with an opportunity to create a workforce that may have previously entered another profession altogether.

As capacity in our industry continues to be tight and driver availability is at an all-time premium, developing a workforce with a new program is gathering the support it needs to make it more than just a pipe dream but rather a reality.

June 2021

By: Dave Heller, CDS

The plan fails to provide drivers the workspace they deserve

I am not sure how the real estate market is in your neck of the woods, but ever since the global pandemic, single-family homes have been flying off the shelves, so to speak, particularly in the Washington, D.C., metro area. While I am not in the market for a new house, I am certainly guilty of surfing internet websites to view what is actually out there and the costs associated with buying a house. While this trend of real estate surfing is growing in popularity, the analogy of buying a house without having money to sustain the house can be viewed as a metaphor for the recent infrastructure plan proposed by the Biden administration.

The American Jobs Plan introduced by the Biden administration in late March does little to make our highways fully sustainable. Of course, it provides, quite literally, a ton of cash that will repair our roads and bridges, but after that work is done, aren’t we destined to arrive back to the very point in which we are today? Highlighted as a “once in a generation” opportunity, we certainly can embrace the effort that has been put forth so that bridges deemed structurally deficient can be rebuilt or repaired. But as history has shown, these problems don’t heal themselves after substantial wear and tear.

Obviously, acknowledging that there is a problem is half the battle, but we must embrace solutions that fix the problem. Two trillion dollars is not exactly the amount of money that I have in my wallet, yet only $115 billion of that massive sum will go toward making the necessary repairs on bridges that have about 178 million trips across them on a daily basis or on the 40% of roads that have been deemed structurally deficient.

The reality is that these roads and bridges are the office space of the professional truck driver, a person who traverses these routes every day as not just a regular part of their job, but rather their job in its entirety. Dedicating funding as a critical part of maintaining the infrastructure should be viewed as a regular course of business to those who have been elected to do just that. We applaud the efforts in an attempt to fulfill an election campaign promise, but we will continually be in this position until the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) becomes sustainable.

In recent years, monetary transfers from the general fund have become the modus operandi to support the HTF from basically becoming bankrupt. We read story after story about the problems of relying on a fund that doesn’t measure up to the task for which it was developed. Simply speaking, doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results is the definition of insanity. While the American Jobs Plan is an attempt to break up the cycle of general fund transfers, it fails to provide our drivers the workspace they so desperately deserve.

It’s hard to imagine that $2 trillion would fall short of the job that we had hoped it would do. Since highway reauthorization will also be considered in the coming months, the phrase “go big or go home” can be applied to this all-encompassing plan to create millions of good jobs and rebuild our country’s infrastructure.

I get it. The mere definition of infrastructure is broader than just the world that revolves around trucking. Broadband, housing, schools, and Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals are important aspects of the nation, which has left many of these programs in a funding shortfall. And that now requires  the administration to address them through a vehicle that is as broad-based as the American Jobs Plan. However, to truly address the needs that this country faces, a successful plan must be more than just a large one-time expenditure. It must also consist of a vehicle to maintain those high levels so that we, as a nation, are not placed in this predicament again.

We have all heard the conversations surrounding opportunities to invest in our roads and bridges, and I have even written about them in this column, but the very real fact that we need to account for maintenance before they become repairs is the conversation that needs to happen.

Notably, this infrastructure plan is generating a lot of conversations, and all too often, it is the talk that swings the momentum from doing nothing to doing something. We could argue that any funding is certainly a good first step for a nation that has not seen increased highway funding levels since 1993. However, we must insist on having the difficult conversation about sustaining the funding so that in the end, our infrastructure dreams do not equate to the wishful thinking that we experience when surfing the internet for dream homes.

May 2021

By: Dave Heller, CDS

Any language put forward must include a means of funding

Throwing spaghetti at the wall or ceiling to see if it sticks is somewhat of an urban legend to test whether it is done or al dente.

This never made much sense to me; pasta can still stick to the wall or ceiling regardless of whether or not it is fully cooked.  After all, cleaning up an even greater mess than the one created by my mere attempt to cook something would be a pointless endeavor; however, seeing what sticks can certainly be a great metaphor to the spate of bills being introduced in Congress as talks surrounding infrastructure begin to heat up.

A few months ago, I gazed into my crystal ball to see what could be introduced in the new Congress. Sure enough, the process will seemingly follow the same blueprint of what was introduced and inevitably voted up last summer in the House of Representatives.

Now, if only my crystal ball could tell me the winning lottery numbers!

That aside, we have seen an underride bill, the DRIVE-Safe Act, and a speed-limiter bill, just to name a few, and many more are anticipated.  While I don’t necessarily want to argue the merits or deficiencies of any of these bills, I would highlight that any infrastructure language put forward needs to include a meaningful way to fund it.

Creating a self-sustaining funding mechanism for a highway bill has always been more than just a speed bump. It’s been a mountain of obstacles that has impeded its passage since it appeared as a campaign issue in the 2016 election.  Yes, I said 2016. That is not a typo, but rather an acknowledgment that this issue has been problematic for some time.  Broken down, finding dollars to fund roadwork seems simplistic, as any user-based system should do the trick, but there are risks for all potential options.

The “right now” best option is an increase to the federal fuel tax.  I say federal because in the last 10 years, some 37 states have increased their state fuel tax to account for road projects and infrastructure fixes that they may have locally.  This funding system, designed to be paid directly at the pump, offers the most cost-effective collection mechanism and has proven itself to be the option in which every dollar goes the farthest.

There are problems, of course.  In some circles, the mere mention of the word “tax” makes it unsellable, to say nothing of the fact that electric vehicles will rarely visit the pump. This creates an inequitable solution for those who are still using the roads yet not paying their fair share.

The vehicle miles traveled tax (VMT) has shown itself to be not yet ready for prime time.  Certainly, the VMT would capture the miles driven by every vehicle, including the electric ones. However, the infrastructure to collect the money is not there, and there is the potential for rampant fraudulent activity.  This is in addition to the privacy concerns that may ensue for the private citizen.  The nature of this option as a regressive tax does nothing to impress those who must travel farther in their daily commute as well.

So, noting these two options, outside of any possible tolling activity, leads our congressional leaders to the subject of deficit spending.  On the heels of multiple COVID stimulus packages totaling trillions of dollars, funding infrastructure by placing it on the nation’s credit card clearly can be viewed as problematic at best, especially when infrastructure should be viewed as ever-evolving, demonstrating the need for a fully sustainable funding mechanism to support that theory.

The reality has become that infrastructure funding is an issue for which our lawmakers must create a comprehensive, long-lasting plan. As an industry, with ever-growing technological changes operating in an environment going “greener” by the day, the opportunity for planning infrastructure projects should be viewed as both now and in the future.  Finding a way to account for our new reality is what has been placed in front of us and should be considered.  As a nation, we need to plan for infrastructure now, and into the next bill, as the responsible task for doing what is needed to appropriately plan for expected revenue over the coming decades.

While we continue to review the transportation-related bills that are seemingly introduced daily, the true measure of what sticks to the wall is inevitably going to be the option that transitions over time and reflects what must always be considered in terms of modern transportation infrastructure—and that is change.

April 2021

By: Dave Heller, CDS

Attempting to find answers for an industry that always has questions

My brother is a chef, and it is fair to say that gourmet cooking does not necessarily run in the family. But a global pandemic has certainly brought forth an opportunity for me to try cooking some new recipes. This is an attempt to break up the sheer boredom from the winter blues coupled with social distancing measures and event postponements that COVID has brought to our society. New recipes allow you to try cooking something other than the normal staples we are used to. As you know, burgers and pasta will only get you so far.

Keep this thought in mind as I expand on what should have been certain pilot programs to provide a useful change and safety improvement to an industry that is always looking for opportunities to improve. Relating failed attempts at cooking to potential pilot programs is a stretch for sure, but without the attempt, opportunities for improvement may never present themselves. By their very nature, pilot programs are experimental. They help organizations, even the federal government, by providing fact-based data to determine how a large-scale project may work if fully implemented.

The mission at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. One strategy in support of that mission is to develop and enforce data-driven regulations that balance motor carrier safety with efficiency. With that impetus, this surely calls into question the possible suspension (again) of a pilot program to examine the effects of increased sleeper berth flexibility, or another experiment to obtain data that could prove the under-21 driver demographic is as responsible as its more seasoned counterparts.

With most administration changes, the opportunity to review any proposed regulatory initiatives almost always accompanies the change — a normal course of political life after most presidential elections. What makes this year interesting is that the proposed pilot programs placed on the table only to be possibly shelved are threatened because of the timing in which they were put forward. I am talking about the opportunity to dive further into a professional truck driver’s hours of service (HOS) regulations and the opportunity to further study the safety performance of a driver demographic that many perceive to be unsafe at the start.

Sleeper berth flexibility had long been abandoned with HOS changes until recently when data, derived from electronic logging devices (ELDs), seemed to prescribe flexibility for drivers who are faced with dilemmas that the rigidness of a regulation could not cure. The constant pressure of a ticking clock, once addressed with paper logs, could no longer be circumvented with the compliance tool that was now required on the long-haul trucking industry.

While safety advocates pondered the negativity of providing drivers with the luxury of adjusting their day, the ELD demonstrated that the mere comfort of being flexible was a privilege that could no longer be ignored; hence, the incorporation of a 7/3 split and a proposal to examine that split even further. The need for a program to study the ramification of full flexibility is one that is much needed, since any opportunity to accurately glean such data disappeared years ago among the various HOS rule changes.

Unfortunately, driver flexibility is not the only question that needs an answer. Our industry has not yet been afforded the luxury of recruiting drivers under the age of 21. As it stands now, drivers aged 18-20 are only able to operate in intrastate commerce, in an environment which many perceive to be quite controlled. And in many states, these intrastate loads can travel further within state boundaries than they may with the restrictive laws prohibiting them from crossing state lines.

Recently, a proposed pilot program was introduced to examine the safety performance of these drivers in an effort to gather data that does not exist in a publicly available format. And because of the time constraints, this study could also be sidelined with the administration change, leaving our industry to once again miss the opportunity to answer the question of whether drivers aged 18-20 can operate safely in the same environment as a 40-year-old.

Time will tell as to whether the powers that be at FMCSA move forward with these pilot programs. Regardless of what administration sits in the White House, the questions will remain. But the desire, much like the aforementioned attempt at trying new recipes, should certainly grow in an attempt to find answers for an industry that always has questions.

March 2021

By: Dave Heller, CDS

Final rules fast-tracked by a federal agency can be reverted or eliminated

I think most can relate to the youthful world of backyard sports where any disagreement between kids is almost always relegated to the proverbial “do over.” Disagreement between safe or out? Do over. Any controversy regarding out of bounds in just about any sport? Do over. The do over is the failsafe, the opportunity to ensure that the show must go on and all is right in the world. Believe it or not, in our world of politics, even Congress has a do over, and it is called the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Relatively speaking, the CRA can be deployed during administration changes as an oversight tool that may revert or eliminate final rules that a federal agency might have fast-tracked under a previous president. While that seems simple enough, talk surrounding the CRA always heats up after any presidential election — and this year is no different. Simply put, any member of the House or Senate can issue a joint resolution that would eliminate a final rule by any agency (think the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) that was issued within the past 60 legislative days. What makes this year so unique is that both the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats, and in this day and age, partisan politics rule the roost, making it quite easy for this legislation to garner a simple majority in both houses for a presidential signature.

The significance of this action will certainly come into play this year. While Congress clearly has its hands full at the moment, many final rules that were recently issued will ultimately take their turn under the microscope. Referred to as “midnight regulations” because of their last-minute effort to get finalized, the very definition of such can be the recent final rule issued by the Department of Labor that sought to determine who is an employee and whether a worker may be classified as an independent contractor. Unfortunately, many believe that the new administration may deal a death blow to this regulation, and the ill-fated timing makes it ripe for falling victim to the CRA. The final rule was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 6.

The CRA is not the only avenue in which Congress or the incoming administration can act on rules that are in the proverbial pipeline. Often uttered this time of year is the phrase “dying on the vine.” This is used to define the progress of a rule that basically stalls out and is never implemented or never makes it to the final rule phase by virtue of the new administration’s sheer lack of interest or effort. A few specific pilot programs our industry was interested in seeing move forward may fall victim to this regulatory inaction. The proposed pilot program to evaluate the use of drivers under the age of 21 in interstate commerce and a recently proposed three-hour pause to the 14-hour clock in the hours of service (HOS) regulations may both lose the steam they once had. If there is a saving grace, it is that our industry can certainly bear witness to the fact that both are worthy of moving forward.

The under-21 driver study was promulgated to co-exist with a current study being undertaken that requires the demographic to have military training to operate a commercial vehicle. In essence, it is an add-on to glean additional information to the original program that never garnered enough participants. The three-hour pause pilot program has been derived based on the problems that have existed with the HOS regulations, which were discovered with the implementation of electronic logging devices. The reality is that both pilot programs provide opportunities to discover information that does not yet exist in order to justify positive changes to rules that would have a dramatic effect on our industry.

Luckily, the recent hours of service changes happened well before the 60-day legislative timeline, so the CRA or even die-on-the vine mentality does not pertain to those rules. As it stands now, our current HOS can only be challenged in court, or the Biden administration must undertake another full-scale rulemaking to reverse the flexibilities instituted under its predecessor.

As you can see, the do-over mentality is very much in play when it comes to existing rules or rules that are currently in the regulatory pipeline. Administration changes almost always go through this period of discovery when deciding whether recent rules may have been rushed through the system rather than being vetted for costs and benefits.

While we all know that the new Congress has many things on its plate right now for consideration, the aforementioned programs are not exactly as safe as we would hope them to be in the existing political climate.

February 2021

By: Dave Heller, CDS

The trucking industry must find real solutions in the country’s new leader

A lot can happen in 100 days. In fact, that number seems to be a great benchmark for many things that happen in society today. It stands to reason that many things in our political world are often judged in the first 100 days. Soon, the nation will transition from President Biden’s inauguration to the key measuring statistic of what his first 100 days in office will look like. Rumor has it, there could be a massive push to get an infrastructure bill finally bestowed upon our nation in this important 100-day timeframe.

We all know that talk of an infrastructure bill has been around since the 2016 election, and congressional inaction has prevented any meaningful bipartisan discussion from taking place regarding this much-needed regulation to fix our roads and bridges. However, since the election in November, it seems that no day has gone by without someone asking what an infrastructure bill could look like if the Biden administration were to move forward with this platform in his first 100 days.

Typically, when this conversation arises, I usually look into my crystal ball and lucky for me, the metaphorical crystal ball exists in the form of the House passage of the Moving Forward Act, a bill with a $1.5 trillion price tag that considers everything from roads and bridges to broadband. Originally deemed a Democratic wish list as attached amendments were put forth and voted up or down strictly among party lines, the massive bill falls just short of the true conversation that must be had when looking to move such a large piece of legislation— the pay-fors.

Any passage of this bill must account for making the Highway Trust Fund a sustainable resource for road and bridge improvements. If 2020 and  COVID-19 taught us anything, it reaffirmed the notion that freight moves much easier when roads and bridges are less congested, thus demonstrating the need for infrastructure improvements all across the country. Funding the nation’s infrastructure is no small endeavor, and creating a fully sustainable Highway Trust Fund is key to rebuilding and repairing our nation’s roads and bridges. The Truckload Carriers Association supports an increase to the federal fuel tax and indexing it to inflation to pay for this effort, as this method remains the most cost-effective way to raise dollars to support our infrastructure investment.

Theoretically speaking, the funding has always seemed to be the issue that has held up any push on infrastructure in the past. While the safety titles that may make their way into this bill would certainly allow for some interesting dialog, real conversations can only happen surrounding these measures when the funding side is taken seriously. Regardless, the effect of a new highway reauthorization bill on an industry that serves as the backbone of America would be paramount in terms of the improvements that would happen if the dollars are correct.

Now, seeing as we have just made it out of the holiday season and are still in the midst of a global pandemic, many have familiarized themselves with stretching a dollar as far as it will go in terms of charitable donations. In fact, when donating, I usually find the right organization in which the near totality of any dollar is put toward helping people, not toward overhead costs. That knowledge, in and of itself, should also be seen as the basis of a fuel tax increase to support the rebuilding of this nation.

Think about it. Does the best investment consist of one that has an administrative cost of approximately 1%, which would be the federal fuel tax, or one which generates overhead costs exceeding 10%, which would be electronic tolling? While tolling has had a long history in the United States, I believe the time has come for this nation to entertain the conversation that a sound investment in our infrastructure, one that creates a sustainable Highway Trust Fund, is a measure best suited for an increase in the federal fuel tax program—a path that our nation refuses to traverse, yet which makes the most cost-effective sense.

The time is now to begin having these conversations, and if pundits are correct, the clock is already ticking on the first 100 days. While 100 days is a high aspiration for something that could not get done in over four years, it bears noting that any delay moving forward would not miraculously make our infrastructure problems go away. Ignoring the problem is not the cure-all, but rather addressing the problem by creating real solutions is certainly something this industry must find in our country’s new leader.

Welcome to trucking, President Biden.

January 2021

By: Dave Heller, CDS

Fleets should be able to use the necessary resources to fight the ‘War on Drugs’

Believe it or not, June 2021 will represent 50 years since President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse as “public enemy number one,” leading to a rise in popularity of the phrase the “War on Drugs.” While this brief history lesson is interesting enough, it certainly dates many of us who remember the term often enough. If the war on drugs is still resonating, our industry has shown that it embraces that concept with the additional firepower that recent advancements to our industry drug testing programs would allow it to do.

I write this column within mere days of the Truckload Carriers Association submitting comments in regard to recent guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pertaining to the incorporation of hair testing for drugs into federal drug testing programs. These guidelines, long expected after being mandated by the FAST Act, have been years in the making. Proactive carriers, however, have employed these alternative drug testing programs for their own volition in determining the history of drug use among their potential new drivers or existing ones in a random pool. I mention this to highlight the fact that while the war on drugs has raged on for years, the trucking industry is doing its part in actually fighting it.

The perplexing part of the recent guidelines issued by HHS is the fact that they will potentially lessen the effectiveness of an alternative drug testing program that has already demonstrated itself as having a major impact on identifying drug users among our fleets. As the guidelines state, any positive drug test, through the use of hair, would require a follow-up sample to be tested, provided there is no logical excuse for the positive result. The problem is that the follow-up test, which would be urine or oral fluid based, would likely test negative. As we know, these two tests examine whether a driver could be under the influence or has recently used drugs from one to seven days, while hair testing demonstrates a history of drug use up to approximately 90 days.

From a safety perspective, the alternative specimen test requirement would allow an unacceptable number of individuals who test positive on the hair test but negative on the urine or oral fluid test to remain in safety-sensitive positions. If moved forward in its current form as outlined by HHS, this program effectively renders a hair test for drug use as a useless step toward compliance with the testing protocols.

What makes this guidance so problematic for an industry that prides itself on upholding its zero-tolerance policy is that it basically renders a test that has demonstrated tremendous effectiveness in identifying drivers who have used drugs within their recent past as a mindless extra step that, in the end, may have little to no impact in combating drug use behind the wheel.

Is hair testing effective? Of course it is. In fact, the Trucking Alliance has reported through research conducted by the University of Central Arkansas that almost 300,000 professional truck drivers would fail a hair test for drug use today if they were to partake in this form of alternative drug testing. Still, hair testing is not yet allowed to pacify the Department of Transportation’s drug testing protocols.

Even more importantly, the prevalence of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse has provided our industry with a tool to discover prior positive drug test results on drivers throughout our industry. The greater problem with the guidelines put forward by HHS is that the original positive test results derived from hair would be unable to be admitted to the clearinghouse. While many carriers have successfully implemented hair testing for drugs as part of their fleet’s program, the inability to include these results, either now or with the original positive result in the HHS guidance, ignores one of the very benefits that this type of test can actually provide.

The clearinghouse was developed as an opportunity to share positive drug test results across the industry in hopes of identifying problem drivers, preventing them from getting behind the wheel of a commercial motor vehicle, and getting them the help they need to address their problems. Without the ability to input all the positive results—urine, hair, or oral fluid—the industry is handicapped in its desire to continue fighting the 50-year war.

The guidance derived by HHS was written to avoid any possible litigation, but our industry would be the one that is litigated against regardless. Countless carriers across this nation have implemented this program because it is the right thing to do for our safety. Providing our industry with the tools to reduce and eliminate the potential for drugs on our highways should be a primary goal of any regulating body.

In order to help finally put an end to this long-running war, trucking should be allowed to use the ammunition it has available to actually fight and win.

December 2020

By: Dave Heller, CDS

The benefits of listening to data outweigh the ignorance of avoiding it

I thought I was dating myself when I referred to the recent changes to the split sleeper berth provisions of the hours of service (HOS) regulations as reverting back to the old “rolling recap” method when calculating a driver’s remaining hours available to drive. In fact, many have looked at me through the already-worn-out Zoom camera lens with a glazed look over their eyes when I bring that up.

The last time our industry experienced that kind of calculation was about 15 years ago, when full flexibility was removed from our drivers’ options on how they calculate their available hours. The adage of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” comes to mind, especially with the recent news that a legal challenge had been filed to invalidate the new HOS rule, harkening back to the times when this kind of litigation was a rule of thumb when it comes to such highly contested regulatory changes.

This column won’t serve as a reminder of the good old days, but rather as a notice that the world has certainly changed when it comes to the HOS revisions. The playbook regarding changes to hours of service had certainly been written, but these days are different. The electronic logging device (ELD), once perceived as a technology of the future, has been upon us for some time. Diving into past comments written on the ELD mandate rulemaking years ago, one can see that the safety advocates that recently filed litigation regarding the newest HOS rules were fervent supporters of ELDs when they were introduced and through subsequent exemption requests after the ELD mandate went into effect. In other words, if you support the implementation of a device on the entire trucking industry, you should be willing to support the changes that it actually calls for.

Yes, the ELD is a tool—and a powerful one at that. As an instrument designed for HOS compliance, it has proven that it exists to improve exactly that. ELDs indeed make compliance with HOS easier. It is the HOS, as a regulation and its corresponding provisions, that actually creates safer roads. Previous iterations of HOS compliance were met with consternation because of the extreme ambiguity over fraudulent logs; at the time, those thoughts were certainly justified. After all, it was those fraudulent logs that brought about the ELD.

Now, based on support from the majority of the industry, including certain truck safety-related groups, paper logs are becoming a thing of the past. That being said, technology these days does what tech does and that is to create data. In this data-driven society, the benefits of listening to that data far outweigh the ignorance of avoiding it.

Avoiding data is exactly what this recent litigation, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C., Circuit, seeks to do. Based on the premise that the recent changes will increase fatigued driving rather than provide an outlet for drivers to address it, the litigation ignores the very data that ELDs, devices the safety advocates supported, has shown. Any increase to flexibility in the HOS would provide an opportunity for drivers to better deal with detention, congestion, and the search for safe parking. Taking this issue one step further, ELD data has provided evidence for drivers who experience a detention event, and it has shown a tendency to travel at higher rates of speed immediately following those episodes.

Now, for those who may be reading this column for the first time, speed is the number one cause of accidents on our highways today. If we decide to do the math on this issue, wouldn’t it make sense to actually address the number one cause of accidents with a final rule that could attempt to do just that? Even the greenest safety professional in our industry would agree with that one, as it is pretty much the proverbial low-hanging fruit.

Roadblocks in our industry are a necessity but really only for redirecting traffic to avoid construction or potentially dangerous driving conditions, not for delaying rules based on data generated by the actual occurrence of a driver’s day. The endorsement of a particular device and the industry’s acceptance of it must not stop there but rather move forward with an understanding that any data generated from these devices can lead to more than just noncompliance mitigation. It must place our industry in the direction that it needs to go— toward reduction of accidents and fatalities on our highways.

We are in a new age of trucking, one in which technology clearly is providing a roadmap to safety improvements. Perhaps now is the time to engage in those discussions, understand the safety drive and passion that our industry exhibits, and support rather than oppose a data-driven recipe that seeks to reduce accidents.

November 2020

By: Dave Heller, CDS

FMCSA’s proposed pilot could create another provision to the HOS rule

The first day of school during the pandemic came and went with little fanfare.  In the greater Washington, D.C., area, the school year started virtually, in what seemed like a very unfulfilling manner.  There were no school buses traveling the neighborhood, and there was very little back-to-school shopping. Instead, there was the unceremonious button pressing to turn on a laptop to begin a virtual day of classes.

My son, starting his freshman year of high school, finished last year in quite literally the same virtual manner, ending the school year by merely turning off his computer. The spring season, however, was treated much like a pilot program, acclimating the student body to what will certainly be an uneventful fall semester.  The first day of school started without a hitch, but that’s  because school systems across the country made the transition in the spring, in typical pilot program fashion, to make sure that they got it right in the fall.

So, what does this have to do with trucking?  By the time you read this, the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours of service (HOS) regulations will already have gone into effect.  Based upon data generated by the electronic logging device (ELD) rule under which our industry has been fully operating since last December, trucking has been blessed or cursed, depending on how you look at it, with the expansion of the workday for short haul operators. This is  an addition to the adverse driving conditions clause, a better way to address the 30-minute break, and finally, some greater flexibility in the 14-hour workday.

That flexibility, once proposed as a pilot program that had been canceled in lieu of a fast-tracked rulemaking, incorporates a 7/3 sleeper berth split that stops the 14-hour on-duty clock while utilizing this provision.  While I don’t really want to look a gift horse in the mouth, the provision could clearly have been better if the original pilot program had been utilized to ascertain whether a 6/4 or 5/5 split could have been equally beneficial.  We all have the ability of hindsight being 20/20, but pilot programs are certainly not a thing of the past.  As recently as the end of August, FMCSA proposed a pilot program to study the effects of pausing the 14-hour clock for three hours.  This could potentially create another provision to the HOS rule, if the data proves favorable to incorporating this language.

Without a doubt, fast-tracking the HOS rule was repeatedly highlighted throughout this process.  Proposed through the Federal Register a little over a year ago, and a smidge over two years since the advanced notice hit the streets, this rule has moved at the speed of light in terms of government talk for finally getting to the effective date.

The rule itself moved fast and furious through a regulatory landscape to provide the truckload community with much needed additional flexibility.  The rule and its corresponding ELD data will represent an open door to furthering the flexibility mantra upon which we continue to insist.  If the 7/3 split proves itself to be beneficial in terms of accident reduction, and if it does combat detention and congestion in ways we think it will, the idea for incorporating even greater flexibility must be entertained.

While we certainly will address the hiccups that may inevitably occur when a rule of this magnitude becomes effective, our industry should pay closer attention to the effect of the rule when it comes to accidents and their corresponding ratios.  I have always said that the ELD itself does not represent a method that improves safety, but it does track the compliance of a rule that can actually improve the safety performance of the motor carriers that operate on our highways.

This represents the greatest difference in the split sleeper part of the rule that goes into effect at the end of September compared with the versions we operated under over a decade ago.  The presence of the ELD will accurately track the compliance of each driver rather than a paper logbook whose accuracy was questioned on a daily basis. The very story that the ELD tells this time around should place our industry in a position to once again insist on a pilot program that doesn’t examine the effects of a three-hour pause but rather the benefits of incorporating full flexibility in the sleeper berth that would allow drivers to break up their day as it presents itself.

While technology as a whole creeps into our society, whether it be in trucking or the start of a school year for our nation’s students, I think we can all agree that pilot programs, coupled with that technology, can expose new benefits to old ways of doing things and make everyone’s day a little bit easier to navigate.

October 2020

By: Dave Heller, CDS

The trucking industry must push for a realistic, credible infrastructure package

At some point in time, whether it is the near future or a place on the distant horizon, COVID-19 and its repercussions will ebb, daily life will return to some aspect of normalcy, and Zoom meetings and their frequencies will be curtailed to a manageable schedule. We have now been baptized into this virtual world by incorporating the notion of judging the background of one’s home office, grown accustomed to the occasional dog barking that eventually permeates into conversations, and the very phrase “I’m sorry, I was on mute” has become an almost daily occurrence.  All this to say, while COVID-19 has impacted our daily lives, business moves forward, as do the actions of Congress on Capitol Hill in an effort to pass an infrastructure bill.

I write this month’s column on the heels of the House passing the much-criticized Moving Forward Act, a massive $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.  Best described as extremely partisan in nature, this exercise put forth a platform that seemingly recognizes one way of thinking that has already been threatened with a presidential veto if it appears on the president’s desk.

While we at TCA are certainly elated that conversations surrounding an infrastructure plan are happening, we do have reservations about the one-sided nature that this Moving Forward Act has taken. In what could only be described as a marathon, the markup alone took two full days to hear, with an agenda clearly set prior to the markup happening.  Substantive amendments like striking the language that calls for a delay to the hours of service regulations or an additional investment for much-needed truck parking found their lives to be shortlived, while an increase to the minimum liability insurance level to $2 million stayed.  These partisan actions called for the GOP to rename the bill  “My Way or the Highway.”

That partisan thought will certainly make its way to the Senate as many assume that if and/or when they move on their own version of an infrastructure bill, any language put forward will mostly be Republican in nature.  The idea of a bipartisan effort left D.C. when the House Transportation and Infrastructure bill made its way out of committee, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made every indication that he has no desire to take up this legislative action at this point in time.  Any hope of pushing the House platform, if you can call it hope, resides with the Senate. While it remains a long shot at best, it is also fair to note that the last time our legislative branch sought an infrastructure bill, it went through 13 continuing resolutions until finally settling on the FAST Act.

Make no mistake, this nation definitely needs an infrastructure bill that is self-sustaining and dedicated to repairing and rebuilding our crumbling roads and deteriorating bridges. This very conversation occurred four years ago, during the 2016 presidential election, and the same point/counterpoint continues to permeate.

While everyone can introduce substantive amendments to add or remove possible legislation in this infrastructure catchall, the hard conversation, even after sifting through the literally hundreds of amendments, is going to be the pay-fors. The Highway Trust Fund is rapidly approaching insolvency, and COVID-19 has not done anything to help the cause.  In fact, while traveling has been less and less, so have visits to the gas pump.  I think I have filled my personal car with gas only twice in a four-month period, which certainly confirms the notion that most Americans have been to the pump less frequently than normal.  So while collections of fees paid at the pump decrease, the costs of roadwork and bridge repair go in the opposite direction.  Considering the state of disrepair our highways were in a mere four years ago, this predicament does not magically go away; in fact, it only gets more dire as the years go by.

The industry’s political presence on Capitol Hill has become a necessity. We must insist that a realistic and tangible approach be brought about in a bipartisan effort so that we can have a credible and robust package that serves the industry in its entirety.  Coupled with the notion that past performance must almost always equal future performance, discussions surrounding any needed infrastructure changing could continue well after this summer’s hurdles surrounding COVID-19 and decidedly blue infrastructure package are well behind us.

August 2020

By:  Dave Heller, CDS

What has become the new normal for many is far from it for trucking

Our new normal. That is the common phrase uttered just about everywhere these days as  we continue to deal with all aspects of the COVID-19 international pandemic.

Rather than being surrounded by my colleagues at TCA’s corporate headquarters, I am in my home office in Virginia. My day consists of absurdly barking dogs (seriously, every time a person or animal walks within a 100-yard radius of the house), a son devoted to making every team on his PlayStation 4 better, and, invariably, my wife finding possibly every nook and cranny in the house to decontaminate.  This is the new normal, but in trucking, our world is far from it.

“If you own it, a truck brought it.” This catchphrase has been referred to over the years in the press, ad campaigns, and nationally televised interviews.   In our current environment, this statement has never been truer. Operating these days in a global pandemic, in which our drivers are confronted with shutdowns of cities and states, our driving force continues on. Our professional truck drivers represent the tip of the spear in the national effort to resupply this nation, deliver the goods, and keep our shut-in families supplied with food, medical necessities, and household goods.

To that end, I continue to applaud the efforts of each and every driver who faces today’s challenges of delivering goods.  The #ThankATrucker movement has never been more prevalent or well-deserved for a population dedicated to support a nation.  Your resolve continues to impress.

My world on a day-to-day basis used to consist of navigating the legislative and regulatory landscape in which rules and regulations are bestowed upon this great industry.  These days, that landscape changes at such a high frequency that it has now made conversations a minute-by-minute evolution of topics.

Our friends at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Dept. of Transportation, and our elected officials on Capitol Hill are dedicating themselves to helping this nation and trying to expedite the safe delivery of goods to its citizens.  Yes, they are helping. Yes, they are leading. And their response to the ever-changing world of problems has been admirable.

As an industry, because of government communications and a willingness to engage, our drivers have been declared essential employees by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a division of the Dept. of Homeland Security.  As if this wasn’t enough, that effort was soon piled on by the Centers for Disease Control and FMCSA, to further emphasize the desire to not impede the freight delivery model but rather expedite it.  For years, we lauded the fact that our industry enjoyed being the most flexible form of freight delivery in this nation, and now, we are proving that very statement to be correct.

FMCSA and its hard-working staff are focused on the safe and efficient movement of freight, transitioning from one problem to the next and communicating solutions that matter.  Lifting the hours of service regulations on a national scale is no easy task.   It is more than just a proclamation, but an ability to answer the hard questions, address recurring problems, and continue to communicate with the industry so that any form of ambiguity is addressed.

Couple that with the questions that have arisen out of the mass closings of state licensing agencies and the pathways to CDL renewals/CLP issues and medical card recertification being sporadic at best.  These concerns have left the agency in the unenviable position of trying to put out one fire while dealing with many others, which is no small endeavor.

The front lines of trucking haven’t changed, regardless of the time in which we are operating.  Delivering freight is still delivering freight; however, what has changed is the conversation about accomplishing that very task.  Gone are questions about hours of service changes arriving at the Office of Management and Budget for review.  While the agency added expiration dates to its new proclamations, exemptions, and waivers, there is the expectation that the conversations will continue for as long as our nation engages in resupplying the population with the goods that they so desperately crave.

No matter how you view this prolific health crisis or general economic collapse, both invariably are related to each other.  Trucking will always deliver the freight, in good times and in bad, as a representation of the front-line workers that this crisis has so epically relied upon.

I salute our “Knights of the Highway” and express my sincerest gratitude for all those who have risen to the challenge in this global pandemic.

May 2020


 By: Dave Heller, CDS 

Measure in Congress may help ease the burden on drivers searching for spaces

Defined as a crisis, our trucking parking problems have been around for years. Statistically speaking, if a driver east of the Mississippi River has not made prior arrangements for parking his truck between 6 p.m. and 12 a.m., then he may just be out of luck in finding a safe and secure place to accrue his off-duty time. It is with this notion that Reps. Michael Bost (R-IL-12) and Angie Craig (D-MN-2) introduced HR 6104, the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act. Our industry is used to lip service when it comes to parking our rigs, but this bill has some real bite to it. The bill dedicates $755 million to projects that are designed to increase available truck parking spaces, so that drivers can obtain the proper rest and comply with the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations. At some point in time, I think everyone has experienced the “what-if” question on things they could do if they just had more available dollars to commit to a desired project. How about a kitchen remodel or a new car? Maybe even that vacation you’ve got on your bucket list, if you only made a commitment to putting aside money to dedicate to exactly that?  While this may start off as a cry for a salary increase, it’s not. I am merely highlighting the general concept behind a recently introduced bill that places the “what-if” question front and center when it comes to available parking for our nation’s drivers and their commercial motor vehicles.

Truck parking issues are not new; in fact, this problem has plagued our industry for years. MAP-21 included language called Jason’s Law, named after a truck driver who was murdered at an abandoned gas station where he had parked his truck to obtain proper rest. Unfortunately, Jason’s Law did little to alleviate this growing problem, as it allowed for a mere $6.25 million to be dedicated to provide safe truck parking locations along heavily traveled truck lanes.

In another attempt at solving this critical issue, in 2017 the Federal Highway Administration announced a National Coalition on Truck Parking. Suggested solutions developed by the coalition were to increase parking capacity, integrate technology, provide additional funding, and coordinate with local authorities to develop better solutions. While this is not rocket science, our industry still grappled with the obstacle of locating safe, secure and available truck parking to comply with our HOS regulations and get ample opportunity to achieve rest.

To comply with regulations and combat the ever-present issue of fatigued driving, our drivers must find a safe place to park for the time that they log in their sleeper berth.  If anything, the electronic logging device rule has shown that parking an 80,000-lb. vehicle without planning to do so is not a simple task, to say nothing of the added stress that seems to coincide with actually finding a safe place to park.

As an industry, our professional truck drivers average about an hour per day looking for parking, which amounts to roughly $4,600 in lost wages annually. We make ample arguments about detention time in our industry, yet here’s another avenue of detention that is often overlooked. Our drivers utilize an average of 6.5 hours of drive time per day, so any allocation of those hours looking for parking would not bode well for an industry that thrives on being flexible.

Certainly, the proliferation of truck parking apps available to drivers is fantastic, but the rise of distracted driving as an accident causation factor presents a situation in which many carriers would discourage drivers from actually operating the app while the truck is in motion.

We must not ignore safe parking. With the bipartisan efforts of Reps. Bost and Craig, a bill has been introduced that could effectively address this problem.  When it comes to meaningful legislation, Congress can come together and get things done.

The funding proposed would be awarded on a competitive basis in an effort to construct new parking facilities or convert existing weigh stations and rest areas into usable, safe spots for drivers to rest and recuperate. Remember, when funding runs tight, many states simply close rest areas so valuable tax dollars can be used elsewhere. This causes drivers to look in other places—road shoulder and on-ramps come to mind—that are simply not safe. HR 6104 is an effort to remedy this problem and provide funding to alleviate a crisis that has only increased as the trucking industry and the economy grows.

MAP-21 was passed in 2012, and eight years later, this problem has grown beyond the meaningless death of driver Jason Riverburg.  As an industry, we applaud HR 6104 as an effort to find a solution to a problem that never seems to go away.

April 2020

By:  Dave Heller, CDS

FMCSA and other agencies could benefit from a more holistic approach

At some point, being the information technology (IT) and internet-dependent society that we are, we all experience an outage of IT centric workspaces or the internet being down altogether. Unfortunately, these problems never happen at a time when nothing is really transpiring, but rather at a monumental or epic moment that indisputably has a major impact on our workday.

There are times at TCA when the clock is ticking and we either have comments to file or a presentation to prepare and inevitably an outage occurs, frustration ensues, and the IT/internet gods, if they do exist, are chuckling at the very scenario that I just laid out. Make no mistake, my inner knowledge of computer-centric technology is pedestrian at best, but when it comes to functionality, I always operate under the mantra of whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

And now, our industry has experienced yet another hiccup of the IT variety when it comes to compliance with the recent rollout of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Judging from the amount of phone calls and emails TCA received on the issues as well as the stories from some of our fellow associations, the problems regarding this rollout were vast.  Bandwidth became the word of the day as copious amounts of data regarding new hires, driver consent forms, or even basic limited queries were clogging up the system, leading to questions regarding compliance and the ability to return to the “old” ways of doing things.  By old, I am referring to the previous week, as time was needed to apply the appropriate bandages to ensure the clearinghouse became fully functional.

IT operability, or rather malfunction, has certainly become a sticking point for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). There’s no denying the benefits of this type of integration; however, it seems any specific database or IT solution that involves federal programs has most certainly been met with challenges.

The Entry Level Driver Training rule set to take effect in early February recently was delayed for two additional years to allow time for the development of electronic interfacing procedures of training providers and state driver licensing agencies (SDLAs) and, in turn, allow additional time to develop systems and procedures for the SDLAs to interact with the federal training provider registry.  In other words, additional time is needed to make sure each system is operating on the same platform.

All this comes after an announced audit of FMCSA’s website security due to a breach in the system that took down its National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners in December 2017.  As if that registry issue, IT issues with databases, and interactions between state and federal programs wasn’t problematic enough, FMCSA announced in May 2018 that it was postponing the requirements that the agency submit information to state agencies regarding driver medical certifications— and the requirement that state agencies send information to the Commercial Driver’s License Information System—for three years, until June 2021.

Any rule coming from FMCSA regarding a database, IT infrastructure, or some combination of the two should raise an eyebrow moving forward. Perhaps FMCSA should take a holistic approach to its IT infrastructure to truly create a machine, for lack of a better word, that can operate for an industry that so desperately needs it.

Now is the time to look at the big picture, decide what the endgame really is, and make IT infrastructure improvements that not only prevent these outages in the future, but create a system that the industry can endorse and consistently rely on.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a centralized database that contains everything carriers need?

Motor carrier safety personnel across the country spend an inordinate amount of time searching databases for pre-employment screening programs, motor vehicle reports, drug testing results, background checks, and more.  Wouldn’t a one-stop shop present a sensible way to create a user-friendly system that exposes a motor carrier, regardless of size, to just about every basic form of information on a prospective driver’s background? Think about all the time saved.  This alone would be worth venturing down this road.

Making the best use of our employees’ time and maximizing their efficiency may be what helps this industry and the databases with which it interacts. A sensible approach to fixing problematic IT programs with a beneficial end result may be what is best for this industry so that the clearest portrait of a driver-centric background can ultimately be revealed.

March 2020

By:  Dave Heller, CDS

Trucking industry welcomes the reality of FMCSA’s Clearinghouse

You are most likely reading this column on the heels of the highly anticipated compliance date for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a national database for recording a truck driver’s positive drug test results or a truck driver’s refusal to test.  What makes this regulation so paramount is that it is the first of its kind and a rule that the industry has been anxiously awaiting.  It closes a particular loophole that questionable drivers have taken advantage of for many years.    The holidays are over, every Christmas movie has been watched multiple times, and we now embrace the doldrums of winter as we look forward to the inevitable springtime thaw.  Back to work, time to get things done and embrace the grind. And  2020 is already beginning to shape up as the year that the trucking industry’s war on drugs rages on and the battle fully escalates.

Those who may have tested positive at one carrier could have gotten a job with another carrier. They could have then taken another drug test after their system flushed itself out, basically hiding their past drug history in order to obtain the safety-sensitive position of operating a commercial motor vehicle.  And as I write this column in early January, it is merely an overly optimistic assumption that the Clearinghouse has begun without a hiccup.

Generally speaking, the industry has expected this rule, which has been years in the making. The industry’s war on drugs is not just limited to this database.  In what appears to be FMCSA’s annual habit of releasing important news just before the holidays, the agency also announced that it is increasing the minimum annual percentage rate for random controlled substance testing for drivers of commercial motor vehicles  requiring a commercial driver’s license from 25%  to 50 % of the average number of driver positions.  FMCSA based this news on the result of an increase to the positive rate for controlled substances to 1%.

Increasing the number of random tests will certainly go a long way to populating the database that carriers will be required to query. But thanks to the frequency with which some states have legalized marijuana use (and those that will seriously consider legalization), coupled with the knowledge that opioids and crystal meth usage have reached epidemic proportions, now is the perfect time to support an industry that has long claimed a zero tolerance policy toward drivers using controlled substances.

A zero tolerance policy toward drug use for our nation’s truck drivers is fantastic news, but almost rhetorical in its previous state.  The implementation of the Clearinghouse coinciding with the increase in random testing percentages most certainly represents a warning to drug users in our industry.  Federal support of a zero tolerance policy has been expected, yet there is much more on the horizon that our industry hopes will come to fruition.

The incorporation of hair testing and oral fluid testing in efforts to combat this problem are certainly needed. Just last year, the federal government announced that oral fluid testing for government employees will take effect in 2020, though expectations are that it will take some time just to implement it.  FMCSA will still need to announce that this form of testing can be incorporated into the protocols to fulfill the federal requirement.

Hair testing has also demonstrated tremendous success toward  determining the historical drug use of potential drivers. Housed in the “better late than never” category of expected and much needed rules, allowing for hair testing as part of the Dept. of Transportation’s drug testing program was expected to be introduced last year. The rumor is that we may hear news on hair testing early this year.  As a rule constantly mired in intellectual property law among the drug testing labs, we are certainly hoping to incorporate this as an alternative to urine-based testing soon enough.

Once and for all, the trucking industry will act in unison to better remove the possibility of truck drivers operating under the influence.  Long have we uttered the zero-tolerance mantra in an attempt to battle these drug use epidemics from the start, but now our industry is poised to bring some real firepower to the fight.  The additional testing to detect drug habits and a history of use will finally allow  companies to disclose and inevitably share that data to those that desperately need it.

February 2020

By: David Heller, CDS

FMCSA decision to extend/delay compliance of ELDT regulation is logical

Delays at this time of year often stem from winter travel, flight cancellations, traffic snarls, and scenarios that play out much like the famous Planes, Trains and Automobiles movie that many often quote when it comes to travel.

However, with a trucking industry-related delay that popped up a few weeks ago, we are left to wonder how this happened.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced a two-year extension/delay of compliance for the much-maligned Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulation.  This rule traveled in a roundabout way just to get to where it is now, brought about by litigation, rulemaking, and even a “reg-neg” team of 26 industry insiders called upon to use their knowledge of the industry to develop a sensible rule.  Yet on the eve of its compliance date, FMCSA is issuing an additional two-year compliance delay.elays at this time of year often stem from winter travel, flight cancellations, traffic snarls, and scenarios that play out much like the famous Planes, Trains and Automobiles movie that many often quote when it comes to travel.

Now, word has it that the additional two-year window was based upon the fact that not enough states have made adjustments to their IT systems to properly communicate with the federal network.  While I hope that is the case, after the three years already provided to comply with this rule, what guarantees does the industry have that any additional time will be put to good use?  After all, FMCSA has communicated to the industry that there will be no soft enforcement of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate after the four-year window of adoption for ELDs.

By no means am I advocating an extension to the ELD window, and I do agree that the four-year window was a lengthy amount of time to get the industry to prepare for compliance.  But I also believe that three years for compliance with the ELDT rule should be viewed as ample enough as well. Are carriers held to a higher standard than state agencies?

Speculation on this topic can lead us down many paths. My hope is that because the ELDT delay is being issued so close to the original compliance date, many schools and institutions have already made the necessary changes to abide by the rule and have implemented the new curriculum that will create a safer, more well-trained driver.  The time has come to truly make CDL mills a thing of the past.

The ELDT rule calls for improvements in what is deemed as the minimum standards or essentials our prospective truck drivers must demonstrate when being trained to safely operate a commercial vehicle.  The days of students merely familiarizing themselves with driver wellness, driver qualification requirements, hours of service, and whistleblower protection must come to an end so that our driving community can be better trained and well versed on what it takes to become a safety-driven driver.

We can delve into the merits of competency versus hours-based training, but it was once phrased to me in the following way: Would you rather have an airline pilot trained to an exact number of hours to fly a plane, or would you rather have that pilot demonstrate that they were competent enough to operate it?  I choose competency every day of the week.

This rule requires an increase to 31 course topics, up from the presently required four mentioned above, as well as an additional 19 behind-the-wheel skills for which a prospective driver must demonstrate competency.  This is a far cry from what is required today.  So whether we have an extra two-year window, the rule will indeed create a better-trained, safety-sustainable driver.

The concern lies within the IT aspects of the rule.  Will this equate to problems with other database-centric rules put forth by FMCSA?  We are not that far from a Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database that will record the positive drug test result of our nation’s drivers.  Does this ELDT extension possibly signal a delay to that rule as well?  I know that the industry certainly hopes not, and that the Clearinghouse is implemented without any hiccups.

Unfortunately, the common concerns are quite the opposite. Is the Agency poised to correct IT issues in a timely fashion so that our industry’s zero tolerance policy to drugs and alcohol has more strength to it, or could we be faced with bandwidth problems that may occur with this rule as well?

Only time will provide the answers to these questions, but I can say that the industry is actively preparing to create a better driving force than we have right now.  Capitalizing on what are already the most well-trained drivers on the road today demonstrates that as an industry, we are committed to reversing the large truck and bus fatal crash trend and taking it in the opposite direction to reduce the number of accidents that happen on our nation’s roads.

January 2020

By:  David Heller, CDS

How marijuana and other issues will impact trucking going forward

Regardless of age, the anticipation of a new year always seems to garner some excitement in one fashion or another. Depending on how you view this, either at the end of the decade or the start of a new one, 2019 has been one of those years in which seemingly everything, in terms of both legislative promises and regulatory initiatives, came about in one form or another—many of which still languish as the discussion continues to move on.

Let’s take a look at some of the issues that moved forward this year, with more to come.  As an industry, we have finally made a transition to full electronic logging devices (ELDs). The changeover, in numerous cases, was not as easy as many had hoped; however, the end can certainly justify the means.egardless of age, the anticipation of a new year always seems to garner some excitement in one fashion or another. Depending on how you view this, either at the end of the decade or the start of a new one, 2019 has been one of those years in which seemingly everything, in terms of both legislative promises and regulatory initiatives, came about in one form or another—many of which still languish as the discussion continues to move on.

The end of 2019 places us in the middle of proposed changes to the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations that would bring about additional flexibility to an industry that would thrive on it, not at the expense of safety but rather in the interest of improving upon it. ELDs have provided us with sound data highlighting the shortcomings of the HOS rule in an effort to make sensible changes rather than ones that would lead to longer days.

This year certainly showed us that marijuana usage and legalization efforts are spreading throughout our continent. Canada legalized it, and while there is seemingly greater public support for marijuana reform in the U.S., the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is activating its much-needed Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a rule in which our industry has been anxiously awaiting since it was finalized at the end of 2016.

Additionally, CBD products have made inroads in our industry. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a trending ingredient in the natural products industry and is the focus of a new area of cannabis research. Let me again warn our industry and our drivers that THC, the primary psychoactive element in marijuana, can still be present in the oils that are increasingly popular in the health and wellness world, leading to a positive drug test and rendering an uncertain future for any driver who could claim it was a result of CBD oil usage.

Technology has generated countless hours of discussion as it relates to delivering freight in today’s industry. This year brought about mirrorless trucks and bills on automatic emergency braking and the age-old tool that would limit speeds on trucks. Regardless of the path forward, this should certainly be perceived as the tip of the iceberg rather than the end of the road as tech talks have permeated just about every corner of trucking.

While we aren’t looking at fully autonomous vehicles in our Walmart parking lot yet, the conversations on incorporating technology to aid in improving upon our drivers’ lives have been rampant. Why not? As an industry, we are exploring the possibility of getting younger by advocating for 18- to 20-year-olds to operate in interstate commerce and the realization that women have become an equally important faction to our driving force. Any increase to the roughly 10% representation of females behind the wheels of trucks should be viewed as a good one.

And 2020 may be the year a change is made on how our highways are funded. A platform that served candidates well in the 2016 election will again be part of the discussion in 2020 since we have neither an infrastructure bill nor reauthorization that would replace the expiring FAST Act. The federal fuel tax is the most cost-effective mechanism to provide revenue to the Highway Trust Fund, yet it continues to be viewed in Congress as a four-letter word.

While many individual states and localities have achieved success with a fuel tax increase, the elusive white whale continues to be how to pay for future infrastructure funding at the federal level. This and other potential funding talks will almost certainly be delayed considering the current spate of distractions on Capitol Hill. Impeachment talk, immigration reform, and quid pro quos dominate the news and distract from the conversation that truly needs to occur.

While this has been a quick gander on the landscape of legislative happenings and regulatory news, make no bones about it—the conversations are continuous. Trucking, along with its corresponding needs, is being taken seriously in D.C. Reactions to trucking’s story have been positive and plentiful. We must not lose the momentum, and we must continue to tell our story. The issues are abundant and certainly omnipresent, so as we look to the 2020 calendar, highlight any and all opportunities to reflect the needs of your business and this industry with relevant stakeholders to help shape the dialog in the upcoming year and the presidential election that is now less than 12 months away.

Happy holidays!

December 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

With compliance date approaching, there’s no more time for fleets to wait

There is no doubt that time certainly flies. I feel like I am on a whirlwind tour of the country with the traveling that I have done lately. Every flight, every time zone, and every airport seemingly blends into one and inevitably, the holiday season will be here before we know it.  But by the time this column goes to print, our industry will be less than a month away from the full electronic logging device (ELD) compliance date of December 16, 2019.

While this column starts out as a reminder to get your holiday shopping done sooner rather than later, the same can be said for finding ELD solutions that work for your fleet.  I know that I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but your fleets need to find an ELD solution that works—now. The adoption process could bring reminders of shopping late for the holidays, crowds, headaches, and the constant ticking of a clock.

That’s right. Since the holidays are never delayed, much of the same can be expected of the end of the grandfather clause for the ELD.  And don’t count on an extension, because it’s not going to happen. The agency feels the industry has had ample time to adjust, plan and prepare for the rule.

In case you are wondering, the definition of “ample time” in this case equates to four years, as that is the amount of time that has elapsed since the Final Rule appeared in the Federal Register. This is a tough love scenario of sorts, and as you would expect, those drivers who do not have a compliant device to track their hours of service will be placed out of service on December 17. While most will feast on an opportunity to say “I told you so,” this is one of those scenarios in which there is mounting concern for many in the industry that have not yet made the transition.

At every conference I attend and at every presentation I make, there are always those in the room who have not yet made the transition to fully compliant devices. Holding out for as long as possible for what is perceived as a competitive edge is something that you will not find in any best practices manual for ELD adoption.  In fact, you should plan on headaches, hiccups, and the very real possibility that your first choice in adoption may not work for your operations.

This is an industry with roughly 500,000 registered motor carriers, and much like waiting until the very last minute for the ultimate holiday gift, you could easily discover that inventory levels are low for the device that everyone wants. And for ELD providers, anticipating how many devices to have in stock for the many carriers that have waited until the very last minute has proven to be a shot on the dark. If reading this column serves as another reminder to transition your fleet or truck, then you should expect your provider of choice may not have the device you want.

Inventory levels are one thing, but a smooth transition is entirely another. Many carriers have anecdotally volunteered the information that their transition to ELDs was anything but easy and flawless. There can be software problems, hardware problems, timing issues—you name it.  It most likely has occurred to others in a similar position, and while I don’t want to be perceived as insisting that the transition will be hard, you should plan on encountering some problems as well.

Our industry has made tremendous strides toward embracing this technology, so much so that even I remember when we once referred to the devices as EOBRs (electronic onboard recording devices). We rejected their very existence rather than support a full industry adoption. Trucking has certainly come a long way in such a short time. Implementing technology like ELDs and discovering a pathway that provides such tremendous amounts of data lead to the possibility for other regulatory initiatives that can improve a trucker’s life, making the driving job better and equating to the development of safer roads.

These ideas could not be explored without the existence of electronic logs. Industry changes on things like hours-of-service regulations, guidance on personal conveyance, and addressing the increasing presence of detention time—in which data generated through the ELD has continually shown detention time to be a growing problem that our industry must face—are showing to be one of the greater benefits of this ELD technology than mere compliance alone.

While hoping for a smooth transition into the compliant phase of adoption, we must prepare for problems that could come with it.  And much like the holidays, once the date has passed, we can look forward to what comes next.

November 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

True flexibility for drivers is a must, not FMCSA’s HOS rule-change proposal

I grew up in a small Connecticut town, a one stoplight kind of place where you knew everyone and everyone knew you. That being said, some weekends my family ventured out to a place called Stew Leonard’s, a local grocery store type of venue that the New York Times once referred to as the “Disneyland of Dairy Stores.”

It was fun, and we got to see milk being processed; however, what always stood out to me was the large boulder at the front of the store that had the company customer service policy etched into it.  This policy had seemingly whittled its view of shoppers down to two rules: 1. The customer is always right; 2. If the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule #1.  Simple enough and one which was clearly “etched in stone.”

I think about those rules often, especially on the heels of recent proposed changes to the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations and the impact they could have on detention time and how many facilities may interpret new flexibility as an opportunity to make drivers wait.

For years, detention has been a blight on our industry and has always seemingly held up drivers yet has often been under­reported, as driver logs reflected the “perfect” driver’s day.  In fact, the government expected detention time to be worked out by the motor carrier and its customers, thus placing the carrier in the unenviable position of telling customers that it was wrong.  Placing the onus on a carrier or driver to tell customers that they are wrong clearly violates at least one business viewpoint of customer service.

Detention time in our industry is certainly reaching epic proportions and has regularly been reported in the press, but very little has ever been accomplished to address it.  There have been government reports, anecdotal stories, and even financial ramifications, such as fees drawn up to address this growing problem, yet it has never been corrected.  And as our industry becomes more technologically advanced, like with electronic logging devices, industry issues like detention time become more prevalent and, yes, easily tracked.

Now the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is clearly in a position to begin addressing this problem, has certainly started the process.  Guidance on personal conveyance and information collection requests on detention itself lend credence to a problem that has been amplified with the introduction of electronic logging.  The largest instance of change in itself has been a proposal to amend the HOS regulations in an effort to grant drivers greater flexibility to address detention.

The ramifications of detention are far and wide, and incorporating flexibility into a driver’s day is a first step in addressing this problem.  Providing drivers with the ability to log off-duty and not have an effect on their 14-hour clock is great; however, FMCSA’s new HOS proposal runs just a little short of supporting our nation’s army of truck drivers and providing them with the ability to actually combat this problem.  A three-hour break, coupled with another seven hours of rest on the back end, is fantastic, but the reality is that  could lead to increased pressure to detain drivers for a longer amount of time.

True flexibility comes with the aspect of splitting the required 10-hour break into a five-and-five split or even a six-and-four and provide opportunities for our drivers to stop the clock as needed, not just at customer facilities but to avoid rush hour in major metropolitan areas, which often can be four or more hours. This is not a tall tale told to take advantage of a system to allow drivers to drive well beyond the daily limit of 11 hours, but an acknowledgment that, on average, our industry achieves about six and a half to seven hours of daily drive time, a far cry from what was permitted in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

I get it.  As an industry, we almost always must make amends for the poor performers or certain factions that openly seek to violate regulations for their own benefit.  The reality is that without true flexibility to address the problems our drivers face on a daily basis, we are putting our industry in a prime position to fail.  The lay of the land itself certainly prevents a greater anticipation of enforcement over shipping and receiving facilities, regardless of the existence of a rule that addresses coercion.

The manpower just does not exist, thus leaving our drivers and carriers as sole representatives to violate one of the golden rules of customer service mentioned at the beginning of this column. Unlike that rule, these HOS regulations are not etched in stone but provide a means to tackle many of trucking’s daily obstacles.

October 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

Congress break came at a time when trucking faced many unresolved issues

Remember when recess meant something entirely different than what it means today as an adult?  In grade school, recess happened in the middle of the day, and everyone seemingly had a break to play some meaningless game that took their mind off of whatever particular subject was being taught that day.  As you graded out of elementary school, recess became an afterthought. And now, thinking about recess brings to mind how the aspect of government affairs comes into play.

I write this at the onset of the August recess, the time of year in which Congress, both House and Senate, take the month off and return home to their districts in hopes that their post-Labor Day return to Washington is one in which their batteries have been charged, and they are excited to get return to work.  Looking back, traditional August recesses have often accompanied a certain quiet time after wrapping up a busy appropriations season. The halls of Congress are empty, the interns return to school, and many (including me) hit the road for vacation.

This time around, however, a seemingly endless wave of trucking-based regulations is staring us in the face. Other than a looming infrastructure bill that has never really been addressed, we are faced with a plethora of bills that have been introduced in an effort to see what sticks and what doesn’t.

In a world in which nothing ever gets done as a stand-alone bill, the alarm clock is ticking on the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, which is set to expire next year.  As a spending authorization bill that always seems to court language, as amendments, to set new rules on the industry, this is exactly how electronic logging devices (ELDs) and our upcoming Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse came to be.

This year is no different. Bills regarding younger drivers, increases to minimum liability insurance, and even speed limiters have been introduced to get the conversations started. The hope is that they somehow survive the legislative Darwinism that is certain to take shape when considering these bills and others as riders to the reauthorization bill.  Regardless, heading into an election year, the partisan boundaries are quickly being defined, and any lift on the legislative front is bound to be a heavy one.

As if the legislative landscape was not daunting enough, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is doing its fair share of work when it comes to rulemakings, and the August recess is a good time to revisit these as we head into the home stretch.  As our industry faced a proposal regarding hours of service, we are also facing the end of the grandfather clause in the ELD mandate.  As of December, the trucking industry will be operating under ELDs that are practical for the individual operations of each motor carrier, and Canadian operators are not far behind with a June 2021 compliance date.

These two rulemakings, coupled with an information collection request regarding detention time, would usually be enough to satisfy any normal regulatory practice. However, these days, FMCSA is not going to sit idly by.  Looking to finally generate enough data on the younger driver dilemma, the agency looks to solve that question with two pilot programs that seek data to justify whether or not the 18-to-20-year-old demographic can operate in a manner deemed as safe or safer than their more seasoned counterparts.  Add in comments on autonomous vehicles and third-party testing for CDLs and that makes for an extremely active fall.

The starting gates have been lifted, and the conversations are being held on the above-mentioned issues and others at FMCSA and in the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill—all at a time when most interpret this administration as rolling back the regulations rather than seemingly promulgating new ones.

Hours of service, younger drivers, and even ELDs are continuous conversations that have been occurring in the industry for years.  While it seems as if they may have been thrust upon us all at once, it makes perfect sense for those involved to jockey for position when something finally does move.  It is with this mindset that programs such as the Truckload Carriers Association’s Call on Washington or even similar events at the state level become important opportunities to demonstrate how these rules and possible outcomes could affect your business.

As the August recess ends, activity on the Hill will reach a frenzied point, whether it’s a transportation-related matter or the Presidential election, but don’t let the opportunity pass you by.  Tell your story, demonstrate the by-products of legislation and regulatory issues, and finally make an impact.

September 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

There are too many benefits not to have this proposed legislation enacted

Summer in D.C., in addition to being surrounded by sweltering heat and humidity, is packed with interns far and wide looking to expand their collegial knowledge in hopes of getting some real-world experience and possibly landing a D.C. job after graduation. That being said, the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) is no different in that it has also brought on an intern to experience a nonprofit environment and gain insight into the workings of Capitol Hill.  It was certainly a good case of coincidental timing, after being regaled with tales of speeding citations and infractions by our new intern, that on Tuesday, July 10, TCA announced its support for the Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act of 2019.

The issue of speed limiters being activated by way of government mandate has caused a slight stir in our industry. Arguments have been made that the government has no place in regulating the speed of trucks, that speed differentials between cars and trucks will cause a major safety hazard, and that it does nothing to advance the well-being of our industry.

It’s a tough pill for many to swallow, but the reality is that there are plenty of reasons why we should mandate speed limiters and no good reasons why we shouldn’t. Let’s not fool ourselves. Most would readily acknowledge that this issue already exists. The fact is that both trucks and cars are operated at the whim of a human foot, and no two people are the same.  And this creates an environment in which vehicles regularly travel at different speeds.

There is no doubt that mandating speed limiters will save lives.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration consistently refer to speed as the number one cause of accidents in the U.S. It’s simple math—the faster you go, the less time you have to react to potential hazards and the less control you have of your vehicle. If you were to drive up 81 through West Virginia and Pennsylvania or down 95 along the Northeast Corridor, you would see an astonishing amount of tire carcasses, or “gator tails,” on the side of the road. These are from tires that overheat from being run at speeds that are just too high, causing them to blow off and cause severe safety hazards for the drivers and the motoring public. Truck tires are not rated to handle speeds of 75 mph or higher—and there is no good reason to operate at that rate of speed.

ELD data has shown that drivers who are held in detention for over two hours will speed to make up for lost driving time. I can sympathize, but it doesn’t make speeding legal or right. The argument needed here would be one that justifies changes and adds flexibility to the hours-of-service regulations and a federal government assist in addressing detention time. In fact, adding a limiter mandate to a carrier’s already practical speed control program that was introduced with ELDs may be exactly what is needed to reverse the growing trend in accident numbers that have afflicted our nation’s highways.

And this particular regulation can do more than just save lives. In addition to safety benefits, speed limiters have been shown to help fleets reduce carbon emissions, save money on maintenance fees, and produce a dramatic cost reduction in fuel.  The implementation of limiters will help reduce carbon emissions industrywide—a positive step for us going forward. Environmentalists can highlight our industry rather than ridicule it.  The fuel cost savings are nothing to shake a stick at either.

Studies conducted in Europe and Canada, where speed limiters are already mandated, show that fleets that switched to using these devices saved 40% annually on their fuel costs. That’s millions of dollars in some cases, which gives fleets more capital to invest in new safety technology, driver salaries, etc. Money will also be saved on maintenance costs if equipment isn’t being pushed to its limit at higher speeds, providing diesel technicians more time to focus on pressing projects in their fleet.

There is also some historical perspective to consider. Speed limiters have been mandated in the Province of Ontario in Canada for the last 10 years, a requirement which came to pass after members of its Ministry of Transportation saw the tremendous benefits that they have to offer by reducing at-fault speeding accidents. More importantly, the amount of crashes in which these speed-governed trucks were rear-ended remained virtually unchanged, a testament to the fact that slowing trucks down did not result in the unintended consequences many in the U.S. are currently debating.

August 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

The proposed revised HOS ruling is stringing us all along

Finding time in today’s schedule has certainly become the never-ending scavenger hunt. I have seemingly looked under every rock, inspected every crevice, and even tried setting my watch back to find more time. Unfortunately, while time you enjoy wasting is not always wasted time, trying to find a minute here or there to actually waste is a chore in and of itself.  While that has defined my schedule lately, I can only imagine the pressure facing our nation’s professional truck drivers as they hunt for more time in the course of their everyday lives.

This month’s column is being written on the very day that a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) regarding hours of service was to be released to an industry that anxiously waits for news from an agency eager to address time management. While time and a ticking clock win  again in terms of getting this long-anticipated rule to the masses, even the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has been faced with constant delays in issuing a proposal that has been deemed “fast-tracked.”  Make no mistake, fast track at the government level can be perceived as a snail-like pace to the average person; however, the agency is working on getting the NPRM out to the public in hopes of moving this much-publicized rule forward in a manner that far exceeds normal pace of play for the federal government.

To say that this rule is hyped would be a massive understatement. In fact, hours of service last underwent the kind of overhaul that is expected from the new rulemaking in 2011. Our industry spoke to the tune of over 28,000 comments submitted to the federal docket. Now, in 2019, we should expect even more people to weigh in on a rule that could redefine how our drivers operate, a staggering number of comments that would once again place the agency in a position where they are looking for as much time as we are in order to review every comment that is submitted regarding this proposed rule.

Let’s be clear on this issue. We, as an industry, cannot advocate for obtaining more time. The data generated since the electronic logging device (ELD) rule came to fruition does not justify it.  There are no more hours in a day, days in a week, or weeks in a year.  Instead, our industry can  justify advocating for the ability to make more sense out of those hours.  We are not talking about creating more time, but rather calling for sensible changes to allow drivers to adjust their schedules based on how time presents itself.  Faced with countless delays and endless traffic snarls, our drivers’ days are highly scrutinized in efforts to find more time to account for these daily problems.

As the omnipresent 14-hour clock continuously ticks from start to finish, this presumptive rule is expected to provide some flexibility to an industry that craves it.  Flexibility to take rest breaks that won’t penalize a workday by avoiding rush hour, waiting to be loaded, or facing certain weather conditions would benefit our industry, which constantly battles these aforementioned delays and hinders our driving population from actually taking the time needed to recuperate.

As a rule, our industry should not just support sensible rule changes but insist on them.  The daily lives of our professional truck drivers have been redefined in a manner that has not been seen in this industry before.  Operating in trucks that should be considered technological marvels for what they incorporate into merely driving down the road, this equipment can provide quite literally millions of data points used to scrutinize, measure, justify, or comply with pretty much everything our nation’s army of professional truck drivers face in their daily lives.  It is with this knowledge that we must expect new rules based on the measures that we generate.  Our ELDs are telling the story that fraudulent logs never could; that truck drivers are under-utilized and faced with countless hours of detention at just about every turn.  Leaving time on the table is just not good for anyone, let alone our drivers.

As the industry eagerly awaits the proposal of this rule, expectations are through the roof.  I would encourage everyone to formulate and file comments on the attempt to make the drivers’ workday more beneficial and coupled with a greater safety component better than it has been.  We, as an industry, should not let this opportunity pass us by. And we should not rely on FMCSA leadership to read our story in the comments we submit and use our message to justify changes to a rule that our newly generated data should certainly justify.

July 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

Everybody talks about fixing it, but nothing ever seems to get done

It’s déjà vu all over again.” While I may have just started a new Red Sox curse by quoting famous Yankee Yogi Berra, I can’t help but use that quote as it relates to the status of infrastructure in this great nation. Yes, it does feel like we have been here before, because we really have.  Infrastructure has become the white whale of political discussions, often pertaining to agreement on what needs to be done but never an agreement on just how to do it.  Hello rock, allow me to introduce you to a hard place.

And this is something we joke about. In the midst of any positive talks on infrastructure, disruptors seemingly present themselves at every turn, thus thwarting our Congressional leadership from truly having the conversation that needs to be had.  Immigration, the Mueller Report, and soon enough, a presidential election that could stem the tide of productivity when it comes to rebuilding our roads and bridges.

As rebuilding efforts go, this is not a situation in which we are starting from scratch, but rather an opportunity to refocus our efforts to make our infrastructure the envy of the world, a title that it had once earned when President Eisenhower built the Interstate System.  We are all aware that the Highway Trust Fund has reached the point of no return, where its self-sustainability can no longer happen without monetary transfers from the general fund. And as far as funding goes, we are in the position of trying to pay for road projects and bridge upgrades with  dollars raised at a 1993 level while paying 2019 prices. If the roles were reversed, meaning we had 2019 dollars and paying 1993 prices, this would not be an issue.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel, pun intended, when it comes to infrastructure funding plans. In the last decade, in fact, as many as 30 states have raised their fuel tax in an effort to fund projects that improve their roads and bridges.  In other words, in an environment where we refer to a tax as an actual tax, it is getting done at the state level amidst federal conditions that treat a fuel tax increase as a four letter word.

And when thinking about this tax in the same way you’d consider choosing a charitable organization for your donations, the amount of return on dollars paid at the pump represents a tremendous value. Clocking in with administrative costs falling in the 1% range, this investment in our roads and bridges represents the biggest proverbial bang for your buck. It’s a no-brainer, if you will, as this reflects the truest form of a user fee, outside of a vehicle miles traveled tax—and we all can agree it’s just not ready for prime time.

Tolling is another user fee constantly brought to the table in the form of an actual toll itself or the discussion of a public private partnership. The arbitrary nature of tolling would certainly come into play as an obstacle for this measure, to say nothing of the diversion of vehicles off the very road that has the toll in the first place.

I read once that toll roads exist in an environment free of competition and in order to truly be revenue-generating, congestion has to exist. Imagine the throng of constituents that a toll road creates when the problem of congestion is not solved, but now hordes of vehicles travel on roads that were never designed for traffic of that magnitude in the first place.

Quality infrastructure is a necessity in today’s world, and a booming economy with sound freight delivery is based on the very dynamic of possessing well-planned and well-constructed roads and bridges. We speak of safe driving performance, autonomous vehicles, and massive amounts of congestion that all relate to the performance of our roads.  Imagine technology that keys into the very existence of the presence of lines on our highways or a professional truck driver not having to worry about any of the 100 bottle­necks that constantly clog traffic. Sounds a bit like a utopian society rather than the world we live in. None of this should be a far stretch from reality but a strong possibility of actually being able to do this in an environment where very little gets accomplished.

Highway planning and creating a long-term fix for the sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund is not an easy task in any environment, much less one that faces partisan efforts at every turn with opinions on pay-fors seemingly ever present.

Yogi Berra had a quote for everything, including the famous “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The ultimate infrastructure question lies in how smoothly paved and developed that fork is and how long our professional truck drivers must wait because of congestion to actually take it.

June 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

There are too many problematic issues that make the idea unworkable

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” is just as true today as it was when Sir Isaac Newton first introduced us to his third law of motion. I get it. So when I start mentioning physics at a deeper level than the proverbial apple falling off the tree and striking Newton on the head, thus discovering gravity, watch out. However, physics aside, Newton was certainly on to something when he realized that any issue, regardless of its importance, will undoubtedly contain the opinions of each side. In other words, there are two sides to every story.

Bearing that in mind, I must point out a question recently posed online at inquiring whether longer trailers are the answer. There are some key things to note when asking this question that must be explored in order to come to a fair conclusion. Most importantly, any possible mandate for a configuration that is beneficial to just a small portion of the trucking industry can only be construed as irresponsible at best. Certainly, the benefits for a less than truckload (LTL) carrier are massive; however, the truckload environment represents about 78% of the U.S. freight market share, a vast number to say the least, and a number for which a mandate of twin 33-ft. trailers just will not produce any benefit.

The rest of the transportation industry is also unlikely to benefit. For instance, whether the introduction of the trailer combination called twin 33s or double 33s takes freight off the road and alleviates the pressure placed on our nation’s infrastructure still remains up in the air. It is fair to note that for the LTL side of the industry, this may be a fair and accurate description of the likely outcome. But not all freight is handled or shipped by truck. In fact, railroads represent 7% of the U.S. freight market share, of which intermodal freight, defined as two or more modes of transportation used in conveying goods, is a strong part of that railroad number.

In saying this, the railroads currently have no way of hauling twin 33-ft. trailers in an intermodal environment. There are no rail cars designed to accommodate them. Current rail configurations can “double stack” two 53-ft. trailers or even place four 28-ft.  trailers on a car, but nothing can accommodate 33s, thus rendering any productivity a moot point. Let’s now account for great American ingenuity knowing that there are some brilliant engineers who can design a car to accommodate 33-ft. trailers.

Even still, this does not take into account the costs of those trailers, to say nothing of the fact that the rail infrastructure could have an even bigger problem with tunnel clearances. Tunnels designed for current rail configurations would need to be rebored, a process that would require enlarging a tunnel to accommodate the new trailers, possibly costing billions of dollars.

Here is where the aforementioned physics starts playing a major role because accounting for today’s science, you just cannot fit a larger object into a space designed for a smaller one. In other words, a reduction in trucks on our roads would not be the case, and some studies actually state that the diversion of freight from railroads because of this very factor neutralizes the productivity argument.

Our industry is certainly not without its problems. Highway funding shortfalls, driver shortages, and even the lack of usable truck parking spaces continue to permeate through the hallow­ed halls of government. Allowing the usage of twin 33 configurations doesn’t cure the industry’s problems; it actually exacerbates them.

Driver shortage or not, the vast number of drivers who would need the doubles/triples endorsement would increase exponentially.  As much as we would like it to happen, the wait times for a CDL aren’t decreasing, so imagine the logjam of drivers looking to gain endorsements to a CDL for a new vehicle configuration that is driven by market forces looking to deliver more product.

I could go on with many more arguments against this configuration, but the plain and simple fact is that the trucking industry, in and of itself, is divided on this issue. Taking into consideration the added costs to our nation’s infrastructure, which is already woefully underfunded, should stop this conversation dead in its tracks. Insisting that we accumulate an even bigger tab for an infrastructure system that already needs billions of dollars more than we are collecting is just not fiscally responsible.

So while we debate whether longer trucks are the answer, I think we will find that most of the responses to the questions surrounding this issue probably would conclude that the answer is “No!”

May 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

Compliance rates may have improved, but road safety has not

Please cue up “Back in the Saddle Again” (the Aerosmith version, not the Gene Autry original). That being said, after a brief hiatus, here I am writing this column again, scribing words of wisdom that can relate to all that is good and holy when it comes to the safe driving practices of the best trained drivers on our roads—American truck drivers.

The interesting thing about writing this column for so long and taking a few months off is that the issues really haven’t changed, yet our industry keeps productively moving freight; in fact, more so now than ever before. While it may be déjà vu all over again, by the time you read this column, our industry’s grandfather clause regarding the full adoption of electronic logging devices (ELDs) will be about six months from ending.  At this point, the rallying cry for carriers will inevitably be “if you haven’t begun the transition from AOBRDs to ELD technology, now might be the time to begin that process.”

The grandfather clause in this rule has certainly been beneficial, to the point of allowing the December 18, 2018, compliance date to be viewed much more as one in which compliance with the hours of service (HOS) regulations be recorded electronically, allowing for AOBRDs and ELDs alike. Choosing from a list that contains nearly 350 compliant devices was a daunting task for anyone.

I get it. Many have questioned whether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would issue an extension to the current compliance date. If I were a betting man, I would not put my money on that happening. The agency is speaking loud and clear when it comes to electronically recording a driver’s compliance with the HOS regulations.  And it recently denied exemption requests of 10 organizations trying to figure out a way to avoid the rule,  which speaks volumes toward its  dedication in seeing this rule through.

At this point, many who oppose ELDs have focused on finding a way around a rule that has actually improved compliance, which is wholeheartedly different than operating safely. In fact, a recent study from some folks at Northeastern University asked and answered that very question: “Did the electronic logging device mandate reduce accidents?” The Monday morning quarterback in me would admit that I probably could have saved the university a good chunk of change by revealing to them that ELDs were never really designed to do that. Does an ELD alone reduce driver fatigue, stop distracted driving, or prevent CMV accidents? No, it doesn’t, and I don’t think anyone responsible for promulgating this rule ever really claimed that it would.

It all really boils down to this: The ELD is a tool used to improve compliance with the HOS regulations, much like a hammer is used to build a house. The hammer doesn’t keep the rain off you, keep you warm in the winter, or provide shelter. It merely allows the house to be built, and then the job of the house is to provide a safe and habitable home. Using that same analogy with ELDs, the hours of service are the regulations with which ELDs help drivers comply, which in turn make our roads safer and reduce fatigue.

So, what’s the problem? Since the ELD compliance date and the inevitable ending of the grandfather provision this December, why hasn’t our accident rate fallen? Simply stated, the HOS provisions are wrong. We can comply with these rules electronically, but if the rule itself is not right, then these compliance devices will actually tell that story. And you know what? The devices are saying exactly that.

The data generated by these devices have shown so much more than a fraudulent paper ever could. For years, industry has anecdotally shouted from the rooftops that the HOS regulations needed adjustments, and that the lack of flexibility in the rules hindered an industry that thrived on being flexible. Speeds have in­creased, yet drivers still race against a productivity window that averages somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.5 hours of utilization out of a possible total of 11 hours allowed. The benefits of addressing issues that detain drivers from actually driving should be at the forefront of every conversation that surrounds HOS changes and incorporate the ability to stop that 14-hour clock.

As the industry patiently waits for a proposed rule on this very issue, the good news is there is an end in sight. Although the fast-track speed of this issue has been delayed by a government shutdown, it should incorporate some semblance of flexibility to a clock that currently provides none. Quite honestly, changes like these could eventually move the needle on the very issues that I referred to at the start and provide for an industry that continues to deliver for this nation.

April 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

ELDs are generating information that must be accessed now

The great thing about birthdays is the fact they are often referred to as your day—or so we think. Many celebrate with parties and gifts galore and take the time to pamper themselves. Now, this is not a solicitation for birthday gifts but rather an opportunity to highlight what our industry has collectively been doing since December 2017.

So, imagine that you have a huge gift placed in front of you—and the anticipation of opening it is driving you crazy—but you have been told you cannot open it. Rather, you can sit next to this gift, wait patiently while folks give you clues as to what this gift is, and maybe, eventually, you will be allowed to tear the wrapping paper off  so you can  see exactly what it is you have received.

Welcome to the world of electronic logging devices, or ELDs. Since late 2017, our industry has been generating millions of data points that highlight exactly what transpires on our nation’s roadways, parking lots, and even shipping facilities. This data should definitely be viewed as a gift, an opportunity and chance for our industry to tell our story better than ever before.

The problem is that our friends at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are a bit hamstrung if they want to view it. In other words, unless the data is gift-wrapped or presented to them, they must have congressional permission to actually view the copious amounts of data generated by every single truck operating under an ELD.

With that said, we should not be sitting idly by waiting for permission to share the data we are generating; we  should take advantage of any and every opportunity to tell our story.  Hours-of-service advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM)? Submit your data justifying the sleeper berth flexibility.   As an industry, we should provide the agency with a data tsunami.

How about this play on Sir Mix-a-Lot lyrics in a rare cross section of trucking and pop culture:  “I like big data and I cannot lie. Those in trucking cannot deny.”  If you haven’t had the opportunity to look at the data points that your fleet is generating, or view the picture these devices are painting, perhaps the time is now.

I have been privy to ELD demonstrations that show drivers operating in adverse weather, searching for parking facilities, and even denoting how far from the road drivers are parking. You want to see detention data? These devices can identify the most habitual violators of detention, right down to the dock door that may be causing some of the largest complaints. Never before in the history of our industry has a driver’s day been depicted in such an accurate and true manner.

I guess the birthday gift analogy is somewhat of a stretch; however, we cannot turn a blind eye to such consequential data. We are roughly six months into the ELD mandate, and our carriers are making decisions based on the accurate data that the driver’s workday is providing them.

At TCA’s recent Call on Washington, many meetings with congressional representatives and their staffs highlighted not only the benefits of big data but also showed how talks of ELD device exemptions could dramatically impact the positive outcomes that the mandate has created. After all, each device has a story to tell. Not only has this given us a greater understanding of driver experiences, it has created opportunities for FMCSA, e.g., producing guidance on personal conveyance and the recent ANPRM.

Our story should not end there. In this dramatic world of ELDs, a partnership has formed with our government regulators that helps formulate sound, data-based rules substantiated by the information created by these devices. In addition, when sharing the road with others, we have a moral obligation to our industry to actually use this data in a positive way and to our advantage.

In knowing this, in conjunction with the recent information request on sleeper berth flexibility, now is the time to foster a better relationship with our FMCSA brethren and provide them with a gift that they may be unable to ask for—big data.

“We should not be sitting idly by waiting for permission to share the data we are generating.”

November 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

We need to plan for today rather than dream of tomorrow

Have you ever noticed that movies that are depicted in the future often contain vehicles that are automated and maybe even fly? After all, it is the future and it is Hollywood, so we might as well start dreaming about pie-in-the-sky ideas that can be incorporated into what could one day be reality.  The truth is, these conversations are fun to talk about, almost giddy in nature to imagine, and always called futuristic, life changing, or even unrealistic to some degree.  Adding fuel to the fire is that, at some point, someone had to start talking about the light bulb or the telephone—and vehicle automation is just next in line of what is the pecking order for technology.

I attended a recent hearing on Capitol Hill about what I thought would pertain to infrastructure and its pay-fors, but the conversations shifted almost entirely to autonomous vehicles—sharing ideas and dramatically discussing the potential “what-ifs” for vehicles that can operate on their own.

Make no mistake. We are at the very beginning stages of a technological development that could one day lead to fully autonomous vehicles traversing our interstate—or possible skyways—at some point in our future; however, some of these conversations must change gears to the less sexy part of the dialog, i.e.,  the dangers, realities, and things that must happen prior to removing the driver’s seat from any truck or passenger vehicle.

Think about it. We are almost at the 2018 midterm elections, and one of the key platforms discussed during the last election in 2016 was infrastructure, the very issue upon which many of these futuristic, self-driving vehicles must operate.  For example, using technology to hone in on white and yellow lines on our roadways seems pretty cool, except in many cases, those lines aren’t there.  Worn away by usage, weather, wear and tear, or the crumbling infrastructure that is our nation’s road map, we need to fix these problems before any of these vehicles traverse our nation.

Even more problematic is the cost of such vehicles, which I would imagine to be somewhat prohibitive and which could make a huge dent in the repair of our nation’s infrastructure. Our nation has not yet decided, or even engaged in, active discussions to fix our highways and bridges, but conversations surrounding autonomous vehicles will be plentiful.

We speak of technology and autonomous vehicles as an end game, something exciting to look forward to, yet we ignore the very path that it will take to get there.  How sustainable would this equipment be if every pothole and bump that the car or truck encountered had the possibility of depreciating the vehicle that costs a small fortune to drive off the lot?

Every spring in Washington, D.C., we take part in Potholepalooza, a month-long campaign led by the District Dept. of Transportation (DDOT) to aggressively repair damaged roadways across the city.

Can you believe it? Our infrastructure has gotten so bad that we take part in this yearly marketing campaign to fix the roads and call it a catchy name to get people’s attention. Since the first Pothole­palooza in 2009, crews from DDOT have filled more than 381,000 potholes—a staggering number.

Without truly discussing matters in a manner that can really be put into action, we instead engage in talks that highlight the very thing Hollywood has glamorized about the future of transportation. And I haven’t even touched on the possibility of driver replacement or cybersecurity.

Like it or not, our industry is not ready to replace our nation’s army of drivers.  They are the backbone of a delivery mechanism that has hauled just about everything bought and sold in this country.  We actively partake in the exploration of new driver pools from which to recruit, and we openly engage in cybersecurity forums that acknowledge the need for a driver to be present if one of these technological marvels would ever be weaponized.

When it comes to autonomous vehicles and the meaningful discussions surrounding them, we avert from the topic that would have an impact in getting us to full adoption of this technology.  Now is the time to engage in blue-collar discussion instead of focusing on the end game.

We must plan for today rather than dream of tomorrow.

October 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

Allowing teens to drive trucks interstate can help ease driver shortage

The editorial staff at Fleet Owner consistently tells me how popular this column is; however, thanks to my parents, I am convinced my dedicated population of readers is equivalent to two. That being said, and taking my editor’s word for it, those of you who do read this column know that I am actively involved in my son’s youth baseball experience. And it’s definitely an experience now—I’ve been travel­ing to baseball tournaments up and down the East Coast this summer.

I have seemingly been everywhere and back again. No, this is not a Johnny Cash song but rather an observation about who I have shared these nearly 2,400 miles with, and the very fact that at 12 years old, these boys are closer in age to one of the big issues spoken about inside the beltway, i.e., younger drivers.

Recent discussions surrounding younger drivers on Capitol Hill center around three things: a pilot program to ascertain whether these younger drivers, ages 18-20, can operate at a level that is as safe or safer than their seasoned counter­parts; the DRIVE-Safe Act, a bill touting an apprenticeship of sorts that has already amassed 71 co-sponsors; and  the pure lack of data surrounding the safety performance of younger drivers in commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operations.

At first observation, the sole discussion points of my 12-year-old’s baseball team are Fortnite (a video game), YouTube videos (usually of people playing the aforementioned video game), and whether their friends are good or bad at this game. What makes this point of conversation so interesting is that these boys are only six years from being eligible to drive the very trucks we shared the roads with on our baseball journeys. It’s no wonder why many doubt the ability of this younger generation to operate in interstate commerce.

I write about this issue a lot, and that is because when it comes to younger drivers, the apparent lack of data continues to rear its ugly head. I can stand on top of TCA’s headquarters in Virginia and see the Washington Monument and then turn 90 deg. to my right and see Maryland. If I were a 19-year-old commercial driver, I wouldn’t be able to drive a truck to any of those locations, since I have been relegated to purely intrastate commerce.

Believe it or not, as a driver operating in intrastate commerce, I can leave TCA headquarters and drive 425 miles south to Big Stone Gap, VA, and back solely because I operate within the boundaries of the commonwealth, yet the 10-minute drive to D.C. or Maryland is totally out of the question.

Obviously, the length of haul should not matter nor should the driver’s age, since I have already highlighted that younger drivers can amass more miles within a state than crossing an imaginary boundary.

What does matter is the ability of a driver to operate the vehicle safely. There are excellent driver training schools across this great nation, many of which have achieved PTDI’s esteemed certification, and there are also some schools with the primary goal of collecting a check and getting prospective students to pass a test that can still clearly create safe drivers. In saying this, no two drivers are the same.

Can a younger driver operate a CMV in a manner that is equitable to a 50-year-old driver? Sure. Can the younger driver be in better health than the 50-year-old driver? Of course. Can the 50-year-old driver be in better health than the 18-year-old? Why not?

Our industry can and does train drivers to operate safely. In fact, we are operating under a new entry-level driver training rule that has holistically standardized the very rules and theories of which drivers must be trained. Younger drivers offer this industry a driver pool that it has truly never really been exposed to before, i.e., a high school-aged person with the ability to enter the workforce and earn a decent living.

Not a week goes by when we don’t see some form of wage increase being publicized to attract new drivers. Whether or not our industry gets exposed to a new pool of candidates by allowing younger drivers to operate on our roads, I can honestly say that the positive steps to attract them and keep them in the profession are falling into place.

“Essentially, what younger drivers offer this industry is a driver pool it has never been exposed to before.”

September 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

And that’s a good thing for the industry, regardless of complainers

The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate has finally begun spurring widespread compliance changes throughout our industry. We are in Phase 2 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) implementation of its final ELD rule. Until Dec. 16, 2019, carriers and drivers subject to the rule can only use automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) that were installed prior to Dec. 18, 2017 (or that were purchased before that date and are replacing older devices or being installed in new trucks) or ELDs that are self-certified and registered with FMCSA.

For motor carriers that did not purchase and/or install AOBRDs prior to the December 2017 date, only ELDs are permitted from April 1, 2018, onward. Additionally, a motor carrier that installed and required drivers to use an AOBRD before Dec. 18, 2017, may install and use new ELD-capable devices that run compliant AOBRD software until the end of the Phase 2 period. The software for all new devices must be upgraded from AOBRD to ELD by Dec. 16, 2019, to be mandate-compliant. According to FMCSA, the agency has already seen a decrease in hours-of-service (HOS) violations since full enforcement of the ELD mandate began in April.

All of this activity would make it seem that we are well on our way to full industry buy-in on these rules. The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and our members have been entirely on board. TCA’s policy position, developed by a TCA policy committee and approved by our board of directors in March 2011, affirms that we support federal regulations requiring ELDs to document compliance with HOS rules. ELDs are good for the truckload industry and for the driving public. Our members and most responsible truckload carriers understand this and have already gone above and beyond to comply with the rules far in advance of the FMCSA deadline.

Yet many industry responses to the ELD mandate have been what I predicted earlier in the year.  Groups of all sorts are advocating for exemptions to the rules, stating that the ELD mandate should be optional for them; for example, FMCSA recently rejected a request for small carriers to be carved out from the rule.

Two bills in Congress introduced by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN7) would permanently exempt small carriers and carriers engaged in agricultural business. But temporary exemptions have been granted, either by FMCSA or through legislation, to drivers for the Motion Picture Association of America as well as ag and livestock haulers.

It is important to note that requests for ELD exemptions are not the same as requests for hours-of-service flexibility. TCA supports more flexibility for HOS rules, especially when it comes to allowing split sleeper berths. There are several bills pending before Congress on the HOS issue—and most likely, there will be more to come. In our view, however, the use of ELDs is not negotiable, and any attempt to exempt groups from using these devices without firm proof of an extenuating circumstance is a nonstarter.

Recently, I was reminded of a memorable line from The Incredibles, a Disney movie: “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” This quote epitomizes the reason why exemptions to rules like the ELD mandate have the potential to be disastrous for our industry.

Many carriers—and most TCA members—have already paid the compliance costs to upgrade their systems to ELDs. But when groups come out of the woodwork to request to be set apart from the rest of the industry and the rules by which everyone must abide, it diminishes the investment proactive companies have already made. It also gets rid of the competitive advantage these carriers gain by undertaking that investment and disincentivizes them from making such investments in the future.

As more and more “super” exempted groups attempt to show the regulators of our industry and our nation that ELDs aren’t necessary, it not only increases the risk of noncompliance with HOS rules, but it also increases the reputational risk to the entire trucking industry. We must stand unified in support of ELDs or allow ourselves to be open to increased preventable accidents and additional unnecessary regulation further down the line.

“Requests for ELD exemptions are not the same as requests for hours-of-service flexibility.”

August 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

Quality and quantity determine how well a tire will wear

My son is a huge fan of television programs that show How It’s Made. Anything related to the manufacturing of products or the new wave of home improvement and renovation is in his wheelhouse. While I have to admit that some of the information on how specific products are manufactured can be interesting, the whole rebuilding and remodeling show thing is getting ridiculous. For once, I would like to see one of those programs focus on something that is absolutely necessary, but the manufacturing process is not pretty. Think of it as Dirty Jobs meets How It’s Made.

Carbon black would be a great subject for that brand of reality TV. First and foremost, it is essential to the tire manufacturing process. Not only does carbon black reinforce tread rubber, providing abrasion resistance that ultimately results in treadwear, but it also semi-re­inforces the rubber in the casing (sidewalls, belts, beads, innerliner, etc.), improving abrasion resistance, strength and heat resistance. More than half of the weight of a truck tire is a combination of carbon black and natural rubber, with close to equal amounts of both.

Second, it’s totally dependent on crude oil and energy prices in a process that is less than environmentally friendly. The most common method for carbon black production is the furnace process. Feedstock such as petroleum or coal oil is blown into high-temperature gases (without oxygen) to partially combust them to create virtually pure elemental carbon. The manufacturing emissions footprint from start to finish consists of purifying the oxygen-free gas, heating the gas, and “burning” the oil. Carbon black is neither clean nor green, so there must be some form of regulatory and environmental compliance to protect the planet.

This shift toward environmental stewardship has finally reached China, where the impact is being felt by small- and medium-sized companies producing carbon black. As inspections have become more strict and frequent, the shutdown of small facilities has created a supply shortage for the largest consumer of carbon black in the world.

Large environmentally friendly producers, however, are enjoying record profits, while the smaller ones are dodging inspectors and basically operating in stealth mode. The Chinese government is cracking down on carbon black manufacturing, as it can be harmful to the environment when emissions are not a factor for the producer.

Since last year, prices for carbon black have risen in the U.S. market, which is the number two consumer of the product. A leading North American producer announced price increases as well—and others may follow. “Persistently rising costs” associated with manufacturing, compliance, packaging, and logistics led to the price adjustment. While the production and availability of carbon black may not be at the level where Chaos Theory applies, the dependence on oil/energy and the potential environmental consequences create more than enough reasons for any price instability.

Every professional in the vehicle transportation industry should care about carbon black. The quantity and quality determine how well a tire will wear and perform. There are no alternatives on the horizon. Carbon black has proven to be the best reinforcing material for tire rubber, and the most advanced compounds in the industry are partially dependent on the type and amount of carbon black in the mix.

And for those who care about the environment, the good news is that a dirty process is getting cleaner. China has taken steps to reduce emissions from carbon black manufacturing, and the hope is other countries will follow suit. As necessary as it is, Chaos Theory does apply to the health of the planet, so a growing global standard for reduced emissions in carbon black production is definitely a step in the right direction for climate protection.

Besides the obvious costs like natural rubber, steel, crude oil, and energy, the current level of supply and demand for carbon black has a direct impact on truck tire manufacturers. Interruptions in supply are not likely to cripple the industry, but there will be financial implications that cannot be ignored. Fleets looking to forecast tire prices must also consider the prospect of a vital raw material that won’t get much cleaner or cheaper in the future.

July 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

Rising diesel prices make the right tire and retread choices important

With a promising economic outlook, the prospects for trucking and vehicle transportation in general are improving. Since 2015, the Federal Highway Administration has reported steady growth in vehicle miles traveled. Coincidently (or not), the average price of diesel fuel has increased from a 21-year low of $1.99/gal. in February of 2016 to $2.84/gal. on May 1 of this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA also predicts that the average price of diesel will remain around the $3/gal. mark through the end of next year.

Looking back, what started as a marketing program by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2004 when the average price of diesel was $1.80/gal. turned into serious business when prices doubled seven years later. Even the smallest improvements in fuel mileage translated into big savings when fuel prices were in the $4/gal. range, so it makes sense that the list of SmartWay-verified low rolling resistance (LRR) tires and retreads has grown every year since it was first released.

In 2004, that bar was pretty high. As a result, fleets had a limited number of options. Since then, the list has grown to thousands of models from hundreds of manufacturers, many of them unrecognizable and undistinguishable.

Fuel prices are climbing with no relief in sight, so fleets need to be more conscious than ever when selecting tires and retreads. The SmartWay verification has reached the point where differences between the mathematical bottom of the list and the top of the list are significant.

At the bottom, there are a lot of no-name offshore brands that claim to meet LRR requirements. Since there is no policing mechanism, these tires may or may not deliver the type of fuel savings that carriers need to move the needle on fuel mileage. On the other end of the spectrum, the differences between the first generation of LRR tires that populated the list in 2004 and the best of the current makes/models on the market today cannot be understated.

Like all of the conditions that determine truck tire and retread cost per mile, SmartWay verification is simply an indicator—not the indicator of performance. There is no way to look at a list of more than a thousand tires and say model “X” will save “Y” dollars for fleet “Z”. Math sells truck tires, and over the next year and a half at a minimum, that will be even more important than ever.

Calculating tire and retread cost per mile only by the price of the rubber without considering mileage can lead to unrecognized savings. When fuel is $3/gal. or more and the long-term outlook is for steady or climbing prices, every penny not saved is a penny or two lost. The best advice for carriers that want to receive the maximum benefits of the most fuel-efficient tires and retreads is to test, retest, and then test the tests.

Fuel efficiency and low tire costs are affected by more than just the tire itself. Without a quality inflation pressure maintenance program, all the technology on the planet will never translate into any noticeable savings. Underinflation negates the gains from LRR compounds and tread designs. Ignoring tire pressure in the cost-per-mile game is like taking expensive medicine to combat high cholesterol while maintaining a constant diet of bacon cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes.

Other factors like vehicle alignment, routes, and even more important, the driver, have an effect on total cost per mile. Tire tests must be structured so the same basic vehicles on the same basic routes are compared. Drivers should have similar driving styles so the ones that ease into acceleration and deceleration are not tested against the lead foots and hard brakes. While the dollars and cents ultimately represent undebatable math, tests can still be manipulated to tilt the scale in favor of one tire or against another.

Fuel economy will continue to be a hot topic. Maintenance departments are going to start feeling more pressure to improve mileage using every available technology. If fleets want to see the savings associated with LRR tires and retreads, it’s going to take a lot more work than just relying on the SmartWay list. The returns are there when the math adds up, but it’s important to understand that data cannot be trusted when all of the factors are not considered in the same equation.

“Math sells tire trucks, and over the next year and a half, that will be more important than ever.”

July 2018

By: David Heller, CDS

A change to allow drivers sleep/catnaps could work wonders

Where is George Costanza when you need him? All of my Seinfeld fans out there can recall that desk of his at Yankee Stadium—you know, the one he designed to get extra rest during his workday. The good news for George was that regardless of how long of a nap he took, he still managed to get out of the office on time, or even to cut his day short. In other words, good old George always managed to escape his “serenity now” pressure relief scream because he could incorporate sleep into his daily activities.

It is no surprise George lost that job with the Yankees or that the Bronx Bombers went on to win more than a few world championships; however, I do believe George was onto something with his nap regimen, and the trucking industry’s regulators finally appear to be taking the long-awaited step in that direction. Calling Costanza a pioneer is a bit of a stretch, but if he were a truck driver, he clearly would have been ahead of his time.

Sleeper berth flexibility seems to be the flavor of the day, and now that every driver is operating in a manner that could be described as compliant, the opportunity is ripe for change that actually makes a lot of sense for our industry.

And isn’t that what we are talking about? Sensible change to a regulation that makes our drivers safer and protects the entire motoring public. Seems like an easy equation to solve, but unfortunately, it won’t happen overnight.

Motor carriers, drivers, and trucking associations across the country have long advocated for sleeper berth flexibility. The harsh reality that our drivers face every day is a mounting pressure to go, go, go. That clock will continue ticking no matter what they do. An ability to stop the 14-hour on-duty clock to get appropriate rest or avoid a traffic snarl could make a world of difference.

Imagine a driver approaching Atlanta at about three in the afternoon. As trip-planning advocates, we most certainly would want our driver to park their truck so that it does not get caught up in that evening’s rush hour. Atlanta, appearing twice in the top 10 of the American Transportation Research Institute’s list of top 100 truck bottlenecks, is infamous for its traffic snarls, and any opportunity to avoid it would make logical sense.

In a perfect world, with the incorporation of flexibility in the sleeper berth, our drivers could pull over, stop their 14-hour on-duty clock for a five-hour catnap, and resume the trip at 8:00, thus averting most of the traffic headaches that would have ensued. A well-rested driver who is less exposed to congested roads makes for a safer trucking environment for every motorist traversing our interstates.

As an industry, we are still a long way off from this scenario becoming a real­ity. And as I have said time and again, nothing in government ever happens quickly; however, we are closer to a positive change in the Hours of Service regulations than ever before. As we get further into the industry-wide usage of electronic logging devices, we will continue gathering data that will help make our story more compelling.

Our regulators have warmed to the conversation and acknowledged that perhaps there is a better way to do things. We continue to wait for a pilot program that examines the possibility of breaking up the sleeper berth hours, but we have even seen legislation introduced regarding a pause to the workday. While that may not be the final solution, it certainly aids in continuing the conversation.

Make no mistake, any change to our Hours of Service regulations should not be taken lightly. There are serious ramifications to these changes that could affect human lives. We want to assure our fellow drivers that any potential change would be to benefit and improve the industry’s safety record, not degrade it, and the responsibility to operate under any hour regimen should be held in the highest regard.

Judging from the way our industry operates now, adding flexibility to our sleeper berth and gaining the ability to stop the 14-hour clock should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather as an operational and safety imperative that saves lives.

May 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

TCA’s upcoming safety and security meeting a must-attend

“How many people do you speak to in a given week, and what are those conversations typically about?” I was recently asked that question, and the short answer is there is no true number. I communicate a lot through emails, since I can typically pace myself in terms of answering, yet the problem with communicating electronically is that you can get a bit lost in the shuffle. This usually leads me to the inevitable voice conversations, and I can then address the issue and communicate my interpretations much more clearly. Getting involved in several different discussions on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis will sum up what those conversations are about.

The person-to-person contact has become the most valuable tool in any association’s tool box, which is why meetings such as TCA’s upcoming Safety and Security Division event in Norfolk, VA, in June should be on just about every reader’s must-attend list. Narcissistic­ally, I would tell you that there is no better place to have a conversation with me than at this event, but the harsh reality (actually, the slap-in-the-face fact) is that being part of this meeting allows you the opportunity to cavort with your trucking industry peers who, believe it or not, are experiencing the same problems.

Having problems with ELDs? Guess what? Most attendees are dealing with similar issues. So, rather than just  focusing on the problems, why not try and bring about opportunities as well? And what better way to help shape forthcoming regulations than to use data generated by an ELD design based on diligently crafted specifications from the Federal Motor Carrier Administration? In other words, safety meetings should not be viewed as gripe sessions but as opportunities to work within the framework of an existing rule and use a tool prescribed by the agency that would aid in helping to make future rules more sensible.

How do we know this? By talking and using our words to constantly communicate. Because of ELDs, the prospect of new, sensible and flexible hours of service (HOS) rules can no longer be viewed as a pipe dream; in fact, active users of these tools must now insist that we have rules that make sense. We should no longer be operating in a manner that can only be described as antiquated. We must step into the next generation of HOS regulations that make delivering freight sane, safe, and beneficial to the schedules that our drivers are complying with.

Conversations at TCA’s safety meeting won’t be limited to improved sleeper berth flexibility either.  Think about the advancements in training practices that will be shared based on the recently generated big data. We as an industry have an opportunity to create better and safer drivers at a time when our industry truly needs them. Driver resources are limited, so the data generated by onboard recording devices can better prepare our narrow pool of drivers by providing them with the tools to aid them in their efforts.

Confining those conversations strictly to HOS regulations may actually prove our shortsightedness as well. ELDs and their corresponding millions of data points can translate into information that we may never have seen. Truck parking and weather-related driving are just the tip of the iceberg.  Sure, the speed limiter rule was pulled back from the regulatory docket, but one of the benefits of an ELD is that you can track speed—an advantage that surely the proactive members of TCA will expound  on and retrain drivers to further capitalize on their safety investment.

When it comes to safety, there are no secrets—and that will also hold true at our upcoming event in Norfolk. While we extol the virtues of truly great technological advancements that will improve a driver’s safety performance, we will also be sharing information on gimmicks that are only equal to snake oil or products that never really deliver on the promises made to this industry. That knowledge makes the fraternity of safety personnel one that has been valued time and again.

While you may be reading this article in April, you will have plenty of time to  become part of the conversation that helps make your fleet safer.

See you in June.

April 2018


By:  David Heller, CDS

Can it really be proven that they make a difference safety-wise?

For those of you who’ve been faithfully reading my column, you know that I am actively involved in coaching my son in his various baseball endeavors. And while this factoid may have escaped you, by the time you read this, spring training will have nearly concluded. But I just couldn’t miss another opportunity to relate our industry to baseball.

The youth baseball league in which we participate has released a new bat standard for this season and beyond. The youth leagues are now required to use “wood-like” bats, which some people believe are safer, since they eliminate the ‘trampoline effect.’ (When a baseball hits an aluminum bat, it tends to react like an object hitting a trampoline and bounces back off it. The physics of hollow metal and composite bats is called the ‘trampoline effect.’) The ball slows down, which may prevent some pretty severe injuries caused by a faster ball.

Since my day job requires that I constantly think about safety and compliance with a multitude of regulations, I started wondering how safe the new standard could really be. Does compliance with this new bat requirement really make the kids any safer? Players still risk injury no matter the speed of the ball. Some of the players may be able to hit the ball out of the park no matter the bat. This new standard is hardly a trucking-related issue but important to note as it certainly helps to connect the age-old adage about safety and compliance and the fact that one does not necessarily equal the other.

Since bat type doesn’t necessarily prevent injuries, does increasing regulations in trucking via new technology prevent crashes or generally make drivers safer? Take, for instance, the long-embattled electronic logging device ELD mandate. The ELD compliance date of December 18, 2017, has come and gone. The truckload industry is compliant and has strongly advocated for compliance, with the belief that an ELD will give industry and regulators an accurate picture of what is happening on our nation’s highways in terms of how the federal Hours of Service (HOS) regulations relate to fatigue, traffic congestion, and detention time.

While an ELD accurately captures a driver’s hours of service, does it make him or her a safer driver? Are ELDs eliminating risks to the motoring public? Is this the best way to address driver fatigue and other forms of unsafe driving?

We’ve the heard the arguments from both the pro- and anti-ELD camps that center on the best way to keep fatigued drivers off the road. Some think ELDs will prevent drivers from exceeding their HOS limitations by using electronically produced data, which can be more easily obtained by law enforcement. The ELD can provide us with a full and accurate picture of that driver’s day, which is not likely to exceed the 14-hour clock since they will run the risk of incurring stiff financial penalties.

Those opposing ELDs seem to believe that fatigue and time management should be left up to the driver and that the person behind the wheel is the only one who can determine if they are too tired to continue on down the road. While this is true, there are some drivers out there who will push themselves to extremes to stay on the road for as many hours as humanly possible, only because stopping the 14-hour clock is not an option that is available to them at the time.

Once the ELD mandate begins full enforcement on April 1, we will start to gather tangible information on HOS. We can then take this information to the federal agencies and Congress to initiate a conversation on how to address the HOS conundrum properly. One of my popular catch­phrases these days is that “you don’t have an ELD problem, you have an hours-of-service problem.” The pro- and anti-ELD compliance contingencies need to find a middle ground.

Let’s use ELDs to document a driver’s day. If ELDs do not increase safety, then what can we do to create safer drivers? We should begin asking more questions based on the data ELDs provide and then use that information to combat some very serious issues. While compliance may not necessarily equal safety, compliance with the ELD mandate will lead to great change within the trucking industry.

March 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

Drivers will be faced with penalties that make compliance absolute

We have all heard the myth that stop signs with white borders are optional. That one always got a laugh, but it concerned me a bit when I sat down to write this column, so I researched the tall tale on Google. This was clearly not the first time that this particular subject was searched for on the Internet.

Seriously, are folks that gullible, or are they just looking for a way around a particular rule?  I have read the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations cover to cover and could not find a sentence proclaiming that the rules governing the operation of a commercial motor vehicle are optional.

While my sarcastic demeanor is evident when it comes to this particular subject, I can say that there have been some interesting reactions from our driving community in response to the compliance date of ELD technology. Heralded by its detractors as bringing possible anarchy to our highways, the December 18 compliance date inevitably came and went with little to no disruption to the normal workday.

Hardly a trade secret, these baseless negative opinions were noted, but the general shock and disdain for these devices trumped the reality that ELDs do not represent a problem, the rule is not optional, and its compliance with the federal Hours of Service regulations should never be viewed as a hindrance.

We have seen all of the quotes from drivers popping up on social media and in the comment threads of our favorite industry publications regarding the implementation date. “The 14-hour clock adds pressure to continue driving.” “Where I was is nobody’s business but my own.” How about this oldie but goodie, “ELDs place pressure on a driver because he is now on a clock.” And my particular favorite, “Privacy and time constraints with ELDs hurt my bottom line.”

So, during the past 10 years, these drivers have either not paid attention to what an ELD is or truly have a problem with the Hours of Service regulations.

My point is that we, as an industry, cannot advocate for more sensible rules when many are publicly declaring that the rules in question are optional to them. And we, as an industry, can all agree that the 14-hour clock does add pressure to continue driving. Time constraints can be a financial burden, and the previous statements about ELDs are inherently true whether there is a device present or not.

In fact, many of us, including me, have argued about the burden the 14-hour clock places on our industry because of its inability to stop when started—a true obstacle when trying to be efficient with both productivity and safety. The problem with making this argument previously was the lack of proven, accurate data that supported our arguments. We made blanket statements because many drivers camouflaged logs that hid detention time and an inflexible 14-hour duty clock to the point that many viewed our reasoning as baseless. ELDs are going to bring these issues to the forefront of our ongoing conversations about hours of service and the changes that need to happen.

Now, December 18 is no longer the date in question, and the April 1 out-of-service enforcement date looms on the horizon. Shortly after that, drivers will be faced with penalties that make compliance with HOS regulations absolute. Compliant drivers not only create a level playing field but will also tell a story. Yes, an inflexible 14-hour window lacks the real-world opportunity to accurately portray a day in the life of a driver.

Drivers today face an abundantly broad range of issues that consistently delay their schedules or place them in an environment that could potentially interrupt what we would call a relatively productive day.  That being said, the presence of ELDs will now highlight these issues and provide our industry with the opportunity to tell our story, which is supported by ample data.

This new influx of data can help the industry and agencies make meaningful changes to fix an hours-of-service problem that has plagued our industry for years.  With hard dates to adhere to and a chance to accurately comply with a rule that can no longer be viewed as optional by some, we can finally make sleeper berth flexibility a reality rather than a pipe dream.

February 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

And infrastructure bill takes precedence over everything else

I can’t believe 2017 flew by so quickly. We are so early into the new year that we still haven’t gotten used to writing 2018 instead of 2017. And the new year will inevitably start off the same way the old year ended—extremely busy. In this new era of regulatory retraction, we continually find ourselves addressing issues that are bestowed upon us at a pace that can only be described as hare-quick rather than tortoise-slow.

Roughly two months into our electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, the dust has not really settled on an issue that some felt came way too early, yet we embark on endeavors that truly relate to the implementation of today’s technology on our commercial motor vehicles.

We look down the road at issues like detention, sleeper berth flexibility, and fatigue driving—issues that our industry must address, our regulators must research, and our drivers must embrace. By realistically tracking our hours of service, we can move the needle on these issues and start making sense of new regulations that will go a long way to enhancing the way freight is delivered across this country.

As if the hours of service rules were not enough, we face new regulations that are certain to come back into the picture regarding driver health and well-being. The incorporation of guidance for hair testing to satisfy federal drug and alcohol testing protocols is long overdue, to say nothing of the fact that we are another year closer to a drug-testing clearinghouse that has not yet even been developed.

In fact, while 2017 brought about the removal of obstructive sleep apnea from the regulatory agenda, 2018 promises that the discussions regarding apnea and its testing procedures will continue to be part of trucking conversation and its regulatory landscape. In other words, just because it no longer appears on an agenda doesn’t mean it’s entirely off the agenda.

Yes, this industry is moving so rapidly on issues old and new that even before we have begun to digest the data on ELDs and what they can do for us, we must quickly move on to other issues.  Don’t get me wrong. Each and every one of these issues needs to be addressed in an industry that seemingly finds new issues every day yet continually faces the same issues year in and year out.

Just looking at the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) list of the industry’s top 10 issues verifies the important fact that the more the industry changes, the more it stays the same. While we may rotate certain issues from the top spot as others come into focus, ATRI’s list didn’t even touch on autonomous vehicles, a topic discussed in D.C. as often as we have days that end in ‘y.’

My point in all of this regulatory and legislative speak is that sometime in 2018, we will have to make room for an infrastructure bill that will certainly take precedence over all of the other issues our industry needs to address. Excuse the play on words here, but infra­structure discussions need to trump all else.

Infrastructure discussions become a massive opportunity to shape the landscape of highway travel at a time when it really needs shaping. ELDs have created a need for more truck parking and sleeper berth flexibility. How do we address that? Infrastructure.

Highway construction and crumbling bridges can be addressed through infra­structure. How about new regulations to make our industry safer by incorporating driver-assist technology? You guessed it—an infrastructure bill will play a tremendous role in getting this accomplished in a bipartisan way to move the needle on matters that are important to everyone.

The jury is clearly still out on how to pay for any new infrastructure bill, but I think we can agree on the things that can finally be included in such a massive bill—things that almost every legislator can agree on. Once and for all, we can finally put to rest the topics and problems of years past and focus on entirely new issues in the next decade.

January 2018