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Is administration moving to ease driving time rules for truckers?

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Is administration moving to ease driving time rules for truckers?
Truck driver Terry Button drives his truck near Opal, Virginia, June 13. The Transportation Department is poised to relax the federal regulations that govern how many hours a day truckers can be behind the wheel, a long sought goal of the trucking industry. (Associated Press: TOM SAMPSON)

OPAL, Va. — Truck driver Lucson Francois was forced to hit the brakes just five minutes from his home in Pennsylvania.

He’d reached the maximum number of hours in a day he’s allowed to be on duty. Francois couldn’t leave the truck unattended. So he parked and climbed into the sleeper berth in the back of the cab. Ten hours would have to pass before he could start driving again.

“You don’t want even a one-minute violation,” said Francois, a 39-year-old Haitian immigrant, recalling his dilemma during a break at a truck stop in this small crossroads town southwest of Washington.

Some say the Transportation Department is moving to relax the federal regulations that required Francois to pull over, a long sought goal of the trucking industry and a move that would highlight its influence with the Trump administration. Interest groups that represent motor carriers and truck drivers have lobbied for revisions they say would make the rigid “Hours of Service” rules more flexible.

But highway safety advocates are warning the contemplated changes would dangerously weaken the regulations, resulting in truckers putting in even longer days at a time when they say driver fatigue is such a serious problem. They point to new government data that shows fatal crashes involving trucks weighing as much as 80,000 pounds have increased.

“I think flexibility is a code word for deregulation,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of insurance companies and consumer, public health and safety groups. She said the Hours of Service requirements, which permit truckers to drive up to 11 hours each day, are already “exceedingly liberal in our estimation.”

There were 4,657 large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 2017, a 10% increase from the year before, according to a May report issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency of the Transportation Department. Sixty of the truckers in these accidents were identified as “asleep or fatigued,” although the National Transportation Safety Board has said this type of driver impairment is likely underreported on police crash forms.

The NTSB has declared fatigue a “pervasive problem” in all forms of transportation and added reducing fatigue-related accidents to its 2019-2020 “most wanted list ” of safety improvements. A groundbreaking study by the Transportation Department more than a decade ago reported 13% of truck drivers involved in crashes that resulted in fatalities or injuries were fatigued at the time of the accidents.

The trucking industry has developed a strong relationship with President Donald Trump, who has made rolling back layers of regulatory oversight a top priority. At least a dozen transportation safety rules under development or already adopted were repealed, withdrawn, delayed or put on the back burner during Trump’s first year in office.

“First of all, this administration is not as aggressive as the prior,” said Bill Sullivan, the top lobbyist for the powerful American Trucking Associations, whose members include the nation’s largest motor carriers and truck manufacturing companies. “Most importantly, the partnership with them has not been as suspicious of industry as in the past.”

Trucking interests had pressed the administration and Congress for the rule changes and last year secured support from 30 senators, mostly Republicans. The lawmakers wrote in a May 2018 letter to FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez that the rules “do not provide the appropriate level of flexibility” and asked him to explore improvements.

Independent truckers in particular have chafed at what they see as a one-size-fits-all directive written by Washington bureaucrats who don’t understand what they face on the highways.

“How can you judge me and what I do by sitting in a cubicle in an office?” said Terry Button, a burly hay farmer from upstate New York who owns his truck. Button estimates he’s logged about 4 million miles since he started driving a truck in 1976. He said he’s never caused an accident, although he’s been hit twice by passenger vehicles.

The regulations have existed since the 1930s and are enforced by the FMCSA. The proposed revisions are being reviewed by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and have not yet been released, according to a spokesman for the motor carrier safety office.

The regulations limit long-haul truckers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour on-duty window. They must have had 10 consecutive hours off duty before the on-duty clock starts anew. And a driver who is going to be driving for more than eight hours must take a 30-minute break before hitting the eight-hour mark.

Breaking the rules can be costly. A trucker might be declared “out of service” for a day or longer for going beyond the time limits. Many are paid by the mile, so if they’re not driving they’re not making money. Francois, who was hauling 45,000 pounds of drinking water to a Walmart warehouse in Woodland, Pennsylvania, said he gets 50 cents a mile and earns, after taxes, around $900 a week.

Off-duty and on-duty time for most truckers is recorded automatically and precisely by electronic logging devices, or ELDs. Responding to a congressional directive, the Obama administration set in motion the mandated use of ELDs as of December 2017 — a regulatory requirement that Trump has not overturned.

Paper logs could be fudged pretty easily, but not the ELD, which is wired to the truck’s engine and has a display screen visible to the driver. Chase’s organization says an accurate accounting of a trucker’s hours is one of the most effective ways to help prevent drowsy driving. But for many truckers, the logging devices have only highlighted the inflexibility and complexity of the regulations.

“If you run out of time in the middle of the George Washington Bridge, are you just going to pull over and park?” said Button, referring to the world’s busiest span connecting New Jersey and New York.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents small business truckers like Button, said the schedule dictated by the rules is out of step with the daily realties confronting most of their members. Heavy traffic, foul weather and long waits for cargo to be loaded or unloaded keep them idle. All the while, the 14-hour clock keeps on ticking, pushing them to go faster to make up lost time.

Especially vexing is the mandatory break requirement, according to organization president, Todd Spencer. The pause forces drivers to pull over when they don’t really need to rest, he said. And parking for a big rig is often hard to find and they may end up stopping in unsafe places, such as highway shoulders.

Spencer’s organization, which says it has more than 160,000 members, has been pushing for the 30-minute break to be eliminated. In comments filed with the Transportation Department, the group recommended that truckers instead be allowed to effectively stop the 14-hour clock for up to three consecutive hours. During this off-duty period, drivers could rest or simply wait out heavy traffic.

“This is not rocket science stuff,” Spencer said. “Rest when it makes sense to rest. Drive when it makes sense to drive.”

But critics of the stop-the-clock idea said that would result in a 17-hour work window, heightening the risk of drowsy driving and accidents. There’s no guarantee a trucker can or will sleep during that three-hour stop and a number of them would be driving at the end of a long period of being awake, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a professional society of doctors and scientists.

Harry Adler, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, criticized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for “appeasing industry.” He said the agency has made the potential rule changes a higher priority than pushing forward with safety technologies such as software that electronically limits a truck’s speed. Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate last week that, if passed, would circumvent the Trump administration’s indefinite delay of a proposed rule requiring new trucks to be outfitted with speed limiters.

“None of this should be up for consideration,” he said. “There is no reason for any of this.”

Article by Richard Lardner, Associated Press

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Joe Hale

    July 1, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    You all know nothing about driving a truck. The only thing you go on is statistics. We cannot make an honest day of work with these stupid regulations in place. Lift them and stiffen the fines for wrecks. Do something, small business is what keeps America rolling. As always the rich get richer and the truck driver goes broke…

  2. James Tull

    July 4, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    Not a one of you in office knows anything about driving cross country now that you have pushed for elds we are racing a clock . These shippers and receivers hold you up six to eight hrs past appointment time and then we are racing click even more . Putting speed limiters on big trucks will not help this period it will just add to wrecks because all the four wheelers will and are know not paying attention to the speed limit at all and I say to all you that want these stupid laws get out here with drivers cross country spend a month or two and see where the real problem is the four wheelers .

  3. R Baker

    July 5, 2019 at 4:42 am

    You failed to include the two hour safe haven exception to the 14 hour rule. If a driver has driving time left, and they run out of the 14 hours, they may go up to 2 hours extra to reach a safe haven to take their 10 hour break. Also the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will allow drivers to enter into personal conveyance status, whether the truck is loaded or not, to find the nearest safe parking or rest location after their hours of service are exhausted by a shipper/receiver or off-duty periods are interrupted by law enforcement.

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Minnesota Trucking Association names Scott Post as 2019 driver of the year

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Minnesota trucking association names 2019 driver of the year
Scott Post, a contract truck driver for FedEx Ground, has been selected as the Minnesota Driver of the Year by the Minnesota Trucking Association. Post has been driving a truck for 41 years and has more than 2.5 million safe miles. (Courtesy: Minnesota Trucking Association)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The Minnesota Trucking Association named Maplewood, Minnesota resident, Scott Post, a professional truck driver contracted for FedEx Ground in St. Paul, Minnesota, as the 2019 Minnesota Driver of the.

“This award is a great way to honor the best in our industry. Driving safe is no easy task, especially when you take into consideration his daily driving conditions like congestion, driver distractions and Minnesota winters. Having 2.5 million safe driving miles is an outstanding accomplishment,” said John Hausladen, MTA president. “We’re proud to award Scott for this achievement.”

Post is employed by Spartan Logistics in Newport, Minnesota which is a contracted service provider for FedEx Ground. FedEx Ground provides 1-5-day delivery of small packages to all 50 states, plus Canada. Scott has been driving a truck for 41 years and has driven more than 2.5 million safe miles.

“Scott Post is one of the safest, most attentive, detail-oriented drivers I’ve ever had,” said Randy Kurek, Owner of Spartan Logistics. “He’s always ready to learn and at the same time, is a sponge for industry knowledge. He lives and breathes trucking.”  In addition to being an outstanding professional truck driver, Post is involved with many community organizations, including Operation Lifesaver, the World’s Largest Truck Convoy for Special Olympics and the Minnesota Trucking Association’s Trucks for Toys program.

Throughout 2019, drivers are nominated by their companies and one driver is chosen each month to be the Driver of the Month. The drivers who are chosen meet a high standard of requirements including an outstanding driving and work record; contribution to industry and highway safety; and involvement in the community.

In January, MTA hosts the Driver of the Year Banquet and one of the twelve nominees is selected as Driver of the Year by a panel of judges including Matthew Marin, division administrator for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Deb Ledvina, director of commercial vehicle operations at MnDOT; and Captain Jon Olsen, Minnesota State Patrol.

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Transportation Secretary calls on industry to ‘Put the Brakes on Human Trafficking’

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trucks on highway
The Department of Transportation wants to train the transportation workforce, including professional truck drivers, on the issue of human trafficking. The DOT anticipates over 1 million employees across all modes of transportation will be trained because of this program. (iStock.com/WendellandCarolyn)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao has announced a series of efforts to combat human trafficking in the transportation sector. Secretary Chao was joined by leaders from Congress, state governments and the transportation industry responding to this call to action.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation is committed to working with our public and private partners to fight human trafficking on America’s transportation system,” Chao said.

Among the initiatives announced by Secretary Chao is a renewed focus on the “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking” pledge to train the transportation workforce and raise public awareness on the issue of human trafficking across all modes of transportation.  Secretary Chao is challenging the transportation industry to commit to “100 Pledges in 100 Days.” The Department anticipates over 1 million employees across all modes of transportation will be trained because of this initiative.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, affecting millions of adults and children in the United States and worldwide. Victims are of every age, race, gender, background, citizenship, and immigration status. Some are trafficked within their own communities on various forms of transportation, while others are transported to new locations.

To amplify counter-trafficking efforts, Secretary Chao established an annual $50,000 award to incentivize individuals and entities, including non-governmental organizations, transportation industry associations, research institutions, and state and local government organizations, to think creatively in developing innovative solutions to combat human trafficking in the transportation industry. The Department will review applications and determine the individual or entity that will most effectively utilize these funds to combat human trafficking.

Secretary Chao also announced $5.4 million in grant selections through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Human Trafficking Awareness and Public Safety Initiative. Twenty-four organizations across the country will each receive funding for projects to help prevent human trafficking and other crimes on public transportation. A list of the selected projects is available online.

To support the Department’s counter-trafficking efforts, the DOT Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking completed a report in July 2019 that recommends actions the Department can take to help combat human trafficking and best practices for states and local transportation stakeholders.

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Former NASCAR driver and Talladega’s iconic trucker John Ray dies at 82

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Former nascar driver and talladega superspeedway’s iconic trucker john ray dies at 82
John Ray whose diesel big rig sporting the giant American flag became iconic during the track’s national anthem performances, has died. (Courtesy: Talladega Superspeedway)

TALLADEGA, Ala. —John Ray, whose big rig sporting a giant American flag became iconic during Talladega Superspeedway’s national anthem performances, has died, according to a news release. The former NASCAR driver was 82 years old.

Since 2001, Ray had driven his gold, brown and chrome Peterbilt with a large American flag down the Talladega frontstretch prior to the start of races.

“National anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” said Speedway President Brian Crichton. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated. He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

For more than 40 years, Ray was a member of the White Flag Club, a dedicated service group of local businessmen from surrounding communities that assist during race weekends.

In 2001, after the 9/11 terror attacks and the tragic passing of his longtime friend Dale Earnhardt Sr., Ray, along with then Talladega Superspeedway Track Chairman Grant Lynch, looked to boost the morale of a country, and a fan base that had gone through tough times.

“I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back,” said Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, three years ago. “It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it,” added Ray, who eventually gave up the driving duties of his big rig and handed them off to his late friend Roger Haynes, and last year to his son Johnny.

That wasn’t Ray’s first time at the 2.66-mile track. Ray, who owned “John Ray Trucking Company” since the early 70s, actually set the world speed record for a semi-truck and trailer around the mammoth track at 92.083 mph in 1975 — in a powerful Kenworth.

“We were testing brakes for a company out at the track,” Ray said. “One thing led to another — and there I was truck, trailer, and all — making my way around the track, trying to set a speed record. It was something else.”

Ray drove in the NASCAR Cup Series from 1974-1976. He competed in eight races, four at Talladega (where his best career finish was 22nd in 1974), but an accident at Daytona in 1976 ended his driving career. He continued as a car owner and essentially gave one of the sport’s greatest legends one of his first opportunities: 10-time Talladega winner Earnhardt. It would be Earnhardt’s third career start.

To read the full release, visit Talladega Superspeedway’s website.

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