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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. — 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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The Nation

CDL Meals offering special promotion for driver appreciation week

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CDL Meals are chef developed using wholesome, organic ingredients and offer a flavorful balanced meal that includes protein, carbs, and vegetables. (Courtesy: CDL MEALS)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — CDL Meals, the division of Fresh n’ Lean that focuses on nutritious offerings for truck drivers, is offering a special promotion to help transportation companies celebrate National Driver Appreciation Week.

For National Truck Driver Appreciation Week (NTDAW), fleet operators can purchase discounted meals and receive free Hot Logic heating bags.

There is a minimum purchase of 50 meals required to receive the free bag. Purchases of 100 meals receive two free bags.

Companies can also purchase gift cards for drivers to buy meals at their convenience. Orders are being taken through August 30.

The annual NTDAW, taking place this year September 8-14 commemorates and honors all professional drivers for their hard work and commitment to one of the country’s most demanding jobs.

“We are proud to support drivers across the country with delicious food that encourages better health,” said Bob Perry, director of CDL Meals. “This special promotion gives fleets a chance to support their drivers with something that’s good for them, too.”

The nature of truck driving can also lend itself to a less than healthy lifestyle, which is why CDL Meals focuses solely on this underserved profession.

CDL Meals are chef developed using wholesome, organic ingredients and offer a flavorful balanced meal that includes protein, carbs, and vegetables. The meals are delivered fresh and can be refrigerated for up to seven days. The vacuum sealed trays can be heated quickly and enjoyed any time. Along with the meals, CDL provides a driver wellness education booklet with tips and suggestions to improve your health with easy lifestyle changes. Meals are $10 each for purchases up to 100 meals, with cost savings when purchasing more than 150 meals.

CDL Meals was launched earlier this year and was a beneficial part of the healthful transformation for Danny Jewell, 2018 Owner/Operator of the Year, who lost more than 25 pounds with the meal plan and coaching from Bob Perry, the Trucker Trainer.

With more than 50 years on the road and 6 million miles without an incident, Jewell was recognized for his professionalism and commitment to the industry.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nation

Safety council says motor vehicle deaths in 2019 projected to go below 40,000

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The estimate for 2019 caps a three-year period in which roadway deaths topped 40,000 each year for the first time since the mid-2000s. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

ITASCA, Ill. — Preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council indicate the four-year upward trend in motor vehicle deaths that began in 2015 is ebbing with the number of fatalities in the first six months of 2019 dropping 3 percent compared to the same six-month period in 2018.

An estimated 18,580 people died on U.S. roadways between January and June of this year, compared to the council’s revised estimate of 19,060 during the same period last year. An additional 2.1 million people are estimated to have sustained serious crash-related injuries during the first six months of 2018 – a 1 percent drop from 2018 six-month projections.

The estimate caps a three-year period in which roadway deaths topped 40,000 each year for the first time since the mid-2000s.

A total of 118,315 people died on the roadways between 2015 and 2017, and an estimated 40,000 additional people perished last year.

However, drivers still face the same fatality risk this year as they did when fatalities were eclipsing 40,000 annually, because the estimated annual rate of deaths per miles driven has remained stable – NSC estimates 1.2 deaths per every million vehicle miles traveled, unchanged from 2018 rates.

“While the numbers indicate a slight improvement, the rate of deaths remains stagnant, and 18,580 deaths so far this year is unacceptable,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “We cannot accept death as the price of mobility. We urge all drivers to slow down, buckle up, pay attention and drive defensively.”

The council’s early estimates indicate significant progress in some states. In the first half of this year, several states have experienced at least a 10% percent drop in motor vehicle deaths, including Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma and Utah. A sample of states with increases through the first six months include Kentucky (6%), Hawaii (20%), Oregon (6%) and New Mexico (15%).

A complete list of state results is available here.

To help ensure safer roads, NSC urges motorists to:

  • Practice defensive driving. Buckle up, designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation, get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue, and drive attentively, avoiding distractions. Visit nsc.org for defensive driving tips.
  • Recognize the dangers of drugged driving, including impairment from cannabis and opioids. Visit StopEverydayKillers.org to understand the impact of the nation’s opioid crisis.
  • Stay engaged in teens’ driving habits. Visit DriveitHOME.org for resources.
  • Learn about your vehicle’s safety systems and how to use them. Visit MyCarDoesWhat.org for information.
  • Fix recalls immediately. Visit ChecktoProtect.org to ensure your vehicle does not have an open recall.
  • Ask lawmakers and state leaders to protect travelers on state roadways. The NSC State of Safety report shows which states have the strongest and weakest traffic safety laws.
  • Get involved in the Road to Zero Coalition, a group of more than 900 organizations across the country focused on eliminating roadway deaths by 2050. Visit nsc.org/roadtozero to join.

The National Safety Council has tracked fatality trends and issued estimates for nearly 100 years. All estimates are subject to slight increases and decreases as the data mature. NSC collects fatality data every month from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics, so that deaths occurring within one year of the crash and on both public and private roadways – such as parking lots and driveways – are included in the estimates.

Supplemental estimate information can be found here.

The NSC defines “serious” injuries as those requiring medical attention.

The National Safety Council uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics – an arm of the CDC – when calculating its estimates, because these data are the most comprehensive and inclusive numbers available.

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TTI report: Travel demand growing faster than system’s ability to absorb that demand

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — If more Americans are working, a new report confirms, more of us are also tied up in traffic.

The picture is painted clearly in the 2019 Urban Mobility Report, published by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).

Along with illustrating the problem, researchers also stress the same straightforward solutions they’ve long advocated: more of everything — roads, transit, squeezing as much efficiency out of the existing system as possible, reducing demand through telework, better balancing demand, and roadway capacity by adjusting work hours, and smarter land use.

“No single approach will ever solve this complex problem,” said Tim Lomax, a report author, and Regents Fellow at TTI. “We know what works. What the country needs is a robust, information-powered conversation at the local, state and national levels about what steps should be taken. We have many strategies; we have to figure out the right solution for each problem and a way to pay for them.”

The United States added 1.9 million jobs from 2016 to 2017 — slower growth than the 2.3 million-plus growth in four of the five previous years, but more than enough to exacerbate the nation’s traffic woes. TTI’s gridlock data extends back to 1982, when Ronald Reagan was in his first term, a postage stamp cost 20 cents, and gas was about $1.25 a gallon. Since that time, the number of jobs in the nation has grown almost nonstop by just over 50 percent to the current total of 153 million.

Furthermore, since 1982:

  • The number of hours per commuter lost to traffic delay has nearly tripled, climbing to 54 hours a year.
  • The annual cost of that delay per commuter has nearly doubled, to $1,010.
  • The nationwide cost of gridlock has grown more than tenfold, to $166 billion a year.
  • The amount of fuel wasted in stalled traffic has more than tripled, to 3.3 billion gallons a year.

“The value of investing in our nation’s transportation infrastructure in a strategic and effective manner cannot be overstated as these added costs impact our national productivity, quality of life, economic efficiency and global competitiveness,” said Marc Williams, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, which funded the TTI research. The 2008–2009 recession produced only a brief pause in traffic congestion growth, which bounced back at an even quicker pace than associated job recovery.

The result of today’s urban congestion is that the average freeway traveler has to allow almost twice the expected trip duration to ensure dependable arrival for time-sensitive things like medical appointments, day-care pickup, and airline flights compared to what would be required without congestion. Instead of the 20 minutes needed in light traffic, it’s best to plan a 34-minute trip.

“Those minutes don’t sound like much, but they add up quickly over a year,” says David Schrank, a TTI senior research scientist, and report author. “Eventually, we’re talking billions of wasted hours, and the cost of delay at that scale is just enormous.” Simply put, travel demand is growing faster than the system’s ability to absorb that demand. Once considered a problem exclusive to big cities, roadway gridlock now afflicts urban areas of all sizes and consumes far more of each day, making “rush hour” a long-outdated reference.

“The problem affects not only commuters, but also manufacturers and shippers whose travel delay costs are passed on to consumers,” said Bill Eisele, a report author, and TTI senior research engineer. “While trucks constitute only 7 percent of road traffic, they account for 12 percent of congestion cost.”

Researchers emphasize that it’s urgent for the nation to develop consensus on specific strategies for each urban travel corridor now, since major projects, programs, and funding strategies take a decade or more to develop and bear fruit.

Almost every strategy works somewhere and in some situations, they say, and almost every strategy is the wrong idea in certain places at certain times. Using a balanced and diversified approach that focuses on more of everything — tempered by realistic expectations — is the best way forward.

The 2019 Urban Mobility Report examines conditions in 494 urban areas across all states and Puerto Rico. The research was supported by INRIX, a leading provider of transportation data and analytics.

For a nationwide interactive map of congestion conditions visit https://mobility.tamu.edu/umr/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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