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Is administration moving to ease driving time rules for truckers?

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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. โ€” 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 โ€” 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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The Nation

CDL Meals forms partnership with American Association of Owner-Operators

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CDL Meals offers a variety of organic chef-prepared meals that help drivers make healthy eating choices while on the road. (Courtesy: CDL MEALS)

ANAHEIM, Calif. โ€” CDL Meals, the division of Fresh nโ€™ Lean focusing on healthful meal options for professional truck and bus drivers, has formed a partnership with the American Association of Owner Operators (AAOO).

CDL Meals offers a variety of organic chef-prepared meals that help drivers make healthy eating choices while on the road.

โ€œWe could not be more excited to launch our first healthy-eating alliance with AAOO,โ€ said Bob Perry, director of CDL Meals. โ€œWe believe that people working in all industries deserve to live a healthy lifestyle and have access to the tools they need to ensure overall wellbeing, despite industry standards and limitations. CDL Meals has already made a positive impact on drivers and through this partnership, more operators can benefit from the quality meal plans.โ€

The American Association of Owner Operators is a nationwide organization dedicated to providing professional truckers and small fleet owners with the latest technology, benefits and assistance to advance in todayโ€™s trucking industry.

Perry said through the partnership, members of the AAOO will have access to CDLโ€™s seasonal menus, free nationwide delivery and the promise of fresh, affordable meals on the road.

โ€œWe are so thankful the team at Fresh nโ€™ Lean saw an opening to help improve the wellbeing of those in the trucking industry,โ€ said David Huff, CEO of AAOO. โ€œWe are committed to helping drivers stay safe while out on the road so they can get back home to their family and friends. โ€œGood nutrition is the most important part of staying healthy and staying healthy is a huge factor in staying safe. Thatโ€™s why we are so excited to partner with CDL Meals and provide great tasting meals at an affordable price to our members.โ€

Perry said CDL Meals is a service formulated especially for commercially licensed drivers to deliver chef-prepared food items anywhere within the U.S. using organic ingredients to create balanced, wholesome meals. Each menu option consists of a combination of protein, healthy carbohydrates, and vegetables. All meals are delivered fresh and can be refrigerated for up to seven days. The vacuum-sealed trays can be heated quickly and enjoyed at any time.

Along with the meals, each purchase comes with a 14-page driver wellness education booklet that includes dietary tips, an exercise plan, and suggestions to improve overall health through simple lifestyle changes.

For more information on CDL Meals, visit www.cdlmeals.com.

For more information on AAOO, visit https://aaofoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nation

NHTSA: Overall traffic fatalities in 2018 decline 2.4%, 2019 drop likely

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NHTSA said the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled decreased by 3.4 percent (from 1.17 in 2017 to 1.13 in 2018), the lowest fatality rate since 2014. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON โ€” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Tuesday released highway crash fatality data for 2018, showing a 2.4% decline in overall fatalities, the second consecutive year of reduced crash fatalities.

โ€œThis is encouraging news, but still far too many perished or were injured, and nearly all crashes are preventable, so much more work remains to be done to make Americaโ€™s roads safer for everyone,โ€ said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.

The data, compiled by NHTSAโ€™s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), shows that highway fatalities decreased in 2018 with 913 fewer fatalities, down to 36,560 people from 37,473 people in 2017. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled also decreased by 3.4 percent (from 1.17 in 2017 to 1.13 in 2018), the lowest fatality rate since 2014.

The 2018 FARS release also clarifies previously released data on large trucks involved in fatal crashes. NHTSA reexamined supporting material and reclassified several light pickup trucks to an appropriate large truck category (10,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR). As a result, the 9% increase in large-truck-related fatalities reported for 2017 has been revised to 4.9%. For 2018, large-truck related fatalities increased by 0.9 percent. The details of the scope of the changes are documented in the 2018 fatal motor vehicle crashes overview research note.

No data was available on Class 8 tractor-trailer combinations.

Other findings from the 2018 FARS data include:

  • Fatalities among children (14 and younger) declined 10.3%
  • Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities declined 3.6%
  • Speeding-related fatalities declined 5.7%
  • Motorcyclist fatalities declined 4.7 percent.

โ€œNew vehicles are safer than older ones and when crashes occur, more new vehicles are equipped with advanced technologies that prevent or reduce the severity of crashes,โ€ said NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens said. โ€œNHTSA has spent recent years partnering with state and local governments and safety advocates to urge the public to never drive impaired or distracted, to avoid excessive speed, and to always buckle up.โ€

Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governor Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said the organization was pleased to see the 2018 decline and the estimated 3.4% dip thus far in 2019.

โ€œA decline in 2019 would mark three straight years of fewer fatalities despite a strong economy, which typically correlates with increased traffic deaths,โ€ he said. โ€œHowever, the only acceptable level of deaths is zero, and we will not rest until that is achieved.โ€

Adkins said GHSA was glad to note progress in reducing alcohol-related, speeding-related and motorcyclist fatalities in 2018.

โ€œThe tremendous investments made today in highway safety have been beneficial, but clearly not commensurate with the need,โ€ Adkins said. โ€œGHSA is committed to working with our partners in the federal government, advocacy community and at the state and local level to accelerate the momentum toward zero deaths on our nationโ€™s roadways.โ€

NHTSA said the projected 2019 decline translates to an estimated first-half 2019 fatality rate of 1.06, the lowest first-half level since 2015. The estimates for the second quarter of 2019 represent the seventh-consecutive year-over-year quarterly decline in fatalities, starting in the last quarter of 2017.

NHTSA is identifying opportunities to leverage its resources and collaborate with modal partners within USDOT to reduce fatalities among pedestrians and pedalcyclists (bicyclists and riders of two-wheel, nonmotorized vehicles, tricycles, and unicycles powered solely by pedals), among whom 2018 fatalities unfortunately increased by 3.4% (to 6,283) and 6.3% (to 857), respectively.

With the release of the 2018 and 2019 data, NHTSA also introduced its new Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool (FIRST), a modernized crash query tool that lets users not only query fatal crash data but also generate estimates of crashes and people injured in crashes. The upgraded functionalities in the new tool include generating multi-year trends, estimates of alcohol involvement, and charting/tabulation/mapping of query results. The tool, along with instructions on its usage, can be accessed here.

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Truckers Christmas Group set to launch annual holiday fundraising campaign

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Since its inception, TGCO has raised more than $90,000 and helped 154 trucking families ease the financial burdens associated with the holiday season. (Courtesy: TRUCKERS CHRISTMAS GROUP)

PARK CITY, Kan. โ€” The Truckers Christmas Group (TGCO), an organization that raises funds to help professional truck drivers and their families in the United States and Canada, has begun its 12th annual holiday fundraising campaign.

TCGO will begin advertising for this yearโ€™s campaign on November 18. ย Nominations will open on the TGCO website beginning November 21 and will close on December 11.

Families will be notified by TGCOโ€™s very own Santa Claus on December 16-17.

Created in 2008, TGCO supports CDL drivers and their families during the holiday season by raising funds requested through aid applications and nominations.

In 2018, the organization saw record numbers of applications and delivered $8,000 to 16 families during the Christmas season.

Since its inception, TGCO has raised more than $90,000 and helped 154 trucking families ease the financial burdens associated with the holiday season.

Several trucking companies went bankrupt in the first half of 2019 alone, leaving more than 3,000 drivers without jobs. TGCO is anticipating another record year of applications and seeks donations to help provide aid for families in need โ€” not just from unemployment โ€” but from illness and other catastrophic events that can make the holiday season more stressful year-after-year.

โ€œWe havenโ€™t even opened the application process yet and already weโ€™ve received recommendations for multiple families that would significantly benefit from TGCOโ€™s efforts,โ€ said Mark Abraham, president of TGCO. โ€œThis year has been incredibly difficult for the drivers in our community and the donation of goods and funds will help us make sure each and every driver in our trucking family can support their families during the holiday season.โ€

Along with monetary donations made on the TGCO website, donors can also purchase items donated to the TGCO online Christmas store opening November 21. Items sold in The TGCO Christmas Store are generously provided by businesses and individuals, and new items will be listed regularly, so donors are encouraged to visit TGCOโ€™s website often, Abraham said.

Donors can also give their time by helping TGCO vet candidates, solicit nominations and raise awareness of the organizationโ€™s mission this season and in years to come. New volunteer recruitment begins November 1 on TGCOโ€™s Facebook page in coordination with media partners.

To make a donation or to nominate a driver and his or her family, visit https://truckerschristmasgroup.org/. All nominations are anonymous and open to professional CDL drivers living in the United States and Canada.

Businesses and individuals who want to contribute to The Christmas Store should contact Mark Abraham at mark@truckerschristmasgroup.org. for additional information.

Donors can also visit TGCO on Facebook and Twitter

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