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Let’s keep an adult perspective about the CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

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Remember back in school, I mean way back in school, like, grade school or middle school? Remember how teachers would try to scare you out of misbehaving by warning you that whatever mischief you were considering would go on your “permanent record”?

By the time you were in high school you figured out (at least I hope you did) that the permanent record wasn’t so permanent, in fact it wasn’t even real. That time in fourth grade when you got in trouble for throwing Tater Tots at the girls wasn’t going to dog you for the rest of your days.

But by then it didn’t matter. Just as Santa Claus had (presuming you got past that one by high school, too), the specter of the permanent record hovering over you had done its job and had helped keep you in line as you were growing up.

Well, professional truck drivers of America, soon you’ll get to feel like a kid again. Shortly after the start of 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will launch its latest version of the “permanent record,” the CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.  But alas, none of us are kids anymore. This time, the record is real and so are the consequences it carries.

Not too long ago, I wrote about a presentation at the recent Mid-America Trucking Show by FMCSA Director of Enforcement and Compliance Joe DeLorenzo about the clearinghouse. The purpose was to get the word out about the clearinghouse, what it was all about, how it will work and why every driver needs to get registered on it when the time comes.

By the way, if you’re ever at a trucking event and you hear Joe is going to explain something on behalf of FMCSA, make sure you go. He’s a great presenter — he has a relaxed, personable style and he explains things so clearly it’s hard to believe he works for the government.

The crux of his presentation at MATS was that, hey, we know that compared to a lot of other issues, this clearinghouse has been hovering around for a couple of years, not grabbing too many headlines, and a lot of people haven’t paid it much attention. And we know it’s still (at the time) almost 10 months away (more like eight months now), but you all need to start thinking about this thing, and here’s why.

In a nutshell, the clearinghouse will keep a running record of all failed drug or alcohol tests, including any test refusals, which in case anyone was planning ahead, weighs just as heavily on the record as a positive test.

This clearinghouse was created by a congressional mandate that stipulates that carriers will be required to add all positive tests and refusals into the database, and they will be required to check the database to make sure your record for the previous three years is clear as part of the hiring process.

But, here’s the rub. They can’t check your record without your permission, and for you to give permission, you have to be registered in the system. So, basically, if you think that someday after January 6, 2020, you might want to apply at a new carrier, as farfetched as that may seem, you will have to be registered in the clearinghouse.

DeLorenzo explained that clearly enough, just as he explained why the system is being set up as it is. Simply, it’s to thwart the kind of driver who applies for a job, fails the drug screen, then manages to stay clean long enough or finds some other way to apply at another carrier and beat the test. With this database, if you test positive, that’s going to follow you around for the next three years — maybe not a permanent record, but as far as your career is concerned, that could be a real backbreaker.

Inevitably, some drivers will ballyhoo about registering in the clearinghouse, about what a horrible imposition is being forced upon them. And they’ll wail that it’s the greatest affront to American ideals since the British burnt down the White House in 1814.

Please. First of all, the process will not be difficult, just a simple online registration. You’re not being asked to take a drug test just for this.

Second, this isn’t like ELDs; it won’t cost you a nickel, there’s nothing to buy, and no new gizmo you have to install or learn how to use. Third, also unlike ELDs, there is no hard deadline to register. In fact, there’s nothing that says you ever have to register, unless, of course you want to apply for a job in trucking any time after January 6.

The only people who should be upset about the clearinghouse are those who want to make the argument that it will infringe on what they imagine to be their constitutional right to game the system. And we can assume gaming the system is the only way they can stay employed, and they know it and don’t want anyone else to know it.

So, I hope we can skip the usual caterwauling about the heavy hand of Big Brother on this one. We’re talking about drinking, drugs and driving. The game of hide and seek is over. This isn’t kid stuff.

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NTSB provides update on 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of improvements

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Of the eight closed safety recommendations, four were closed with acceptable action taken, one was closed with acceptable alternate action taken, one was closed with a status of exceeds recommended action, and one safety recommendation was closed with unacceptable action taken. (Courtesy: NTSB)

WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board has published an updated list of the safety recommendations associated with the agency’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements following the recent closure of eight safety recommendations.

Of the eight closed safety recommendations, four were closed with acceptable action taken, one was closed with acceptable alternate action taken, one was closed with a status of exceeds recommended action, and one safety recommendation was closed with unacceptable action taken.

One recommendation was closed because it was superseded by a subsequently issued safety recommendation which remains open.

The NTSB announced the 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements February 4, in which the agency detailed 267 open safety recommendations that if implemented, the panel said could help prevent accidents and the injuries and fatalities caused by those accidents.

The agency went a step further and created what it calls the “Focused 46,” a list of 46 safety recommendations taken from the 267 addressed by the Most Wanted List,  that the agency said it believes can and should be implemented during the two-year Most Wanted List cycle.

“Closing safety recommendations with acceptable action taken, resulting in improved transportation safety, is the goal of issuing and advocating for a safety recommendation,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Our safety recommendations are founded in the science of our accident investigations and are designed to prevent similar future accidents. Transportation safety is improved when recipients of our safety recommendations take acceptable action. While I’m pleased to highlight this success, I also have to highlight how much more work remains to be done, and, the lost opportunity to improve transportation safety with the unacceptable action taken on safety recommendation H-12-029.”

H-12-029 called for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to establish an ongoing program to monitor, evaluate, report on, and continuously improve fatigue management programs implemented by motor carriers to identify, mitigate, and continuously reduce fatigue-related risks for drivers.

In its latest correspondence to NTSB dated January 18, 2019, FMCSA wrote that it “… plans no action to establish the program ‘at the motor carrier level’ [emphasis added] as recommended by NTSB. Fatigue management information continues to be accessed via the North American Fatigue Management Program website (https://www.nafmp.com). The NAFMP website remains active and guidance concerning fatigue management continues to be accessed and used by motor carriers.  FMCSA will continue to support both fatigue-related research and the NAFMP, which includes the maintenance, improvement, and promotion of the NAFMP to encourage the voluntary implementation of fatigue management practices by motor carriers.”

The NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, now in its 30th year, identifies safety improvements that can be made across all modes of transportation to prevent accidents, minimize injuries and save lives.

Since the NTSB’s inception more than 52 years ago, the agency has issued more than 14,900 safety recommendations, and on average, more than 80 percent of them are favorably acted upon. At any given moment, the NTSB’s Safety Recommendations Division is managing the correspondence regarding an average of 1,200 open safety recommendations.

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Tyson Foods earns James Prout/Wreaths Across America Spirit of Giving Award

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Representatives of Wreaths Across America and Tyson Foods pose with the James Prout/WAA Spirit of Giving Award presented to Tyson Foods. Left to right are WAA Founder Morrill Worcester; Tyson Operations Manager Mike Blessing, James Shaw, Ryder Chambers, Kenny Elbe and Tyson Chaplain Karen Diefendorf; and Rob Worcester, who helps coordinate transportation and logistics. In front is Kenny Elbe Jr. Elbe, Shaw and Chambers are all drivers for Tyson. (Courtesy: WREATHS ACROSS AMERICA)

SPRINGDALE, Ark. and COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine— Wreaths Across America has recognized Tyson Foods as the fifth recipient of the organization’s annual James Prout/WAA Spirit of Giving Award.

WAA Founder Morrill Worcester and his son Rob – a volunteer who helps coordinate transportation and logistics for the nonprofit – presented the Tyson Foods’ team with the award on July 12 at the 6th Annual Stem to Stone event held in Downeast, Maine, where the nonprofit is headquartered.

It is also where the balsam is grown to make the veterans’ wreaths sponsored by the public and placed by volunteers each December as part of the WAA’s mission to Remember, Honor and Teach.

The James Prout/WAA Spirit of Giving Award is named in memory of James Prout, owner of Blue Bird Ranch Trucking of Jonesboro, Maine.

Prout was the first person to volunteer to haul wreaths for WAA when the program was in its infancy. The award is given annually to a deserving professional truck driver, company or organization that has supported charitable causes in a way that will affect generations to come.

Operations Manager Michael Blessing accepted the award on behalf of Tyson Foods.

“I think I speak for the entire team when I say what an honor it is to be a part of the Wreaths Across America family,” he said. “The mission is impacting lives across the country and we are humbled to play a small part to ensure the wreaths are safely delivered and volunteers are well fed and cared for each season.”

Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale and the 11th largest private carrier in the United States, started hauling veterans’ wreaths for WAA seven years ago with only two trucks.

In 2012, after waiting in line with many others to be loaded, they came up with an idea and made WAA an offer to help create a truckers’ lounge to accommodate waiting drivers. This commitment to the mission has continued and only increased since then.

In 2018, in addition to hauling 18 loads of veterans’ wreaths, they fed all 500-plus volunteer truck drivers that came to Maine to load wreaths, as well as all the loading crews, WAA staff and volunteers, and visiting Gold Star families. They also provided the food for the escort to Arlington send-off dinner.

“By having the Wreaths Across America logo on my truck I am a better driver,” said James Shaw, a long-time Wreaths Across America volunteer and professional truck driver for Tyson Foods. “I have an obligation to drive the best I can to represent our veterans and the work of this honorable organization that does so much good for our country.”

The Worcesters said the trucking industry is vital in helping WAA achieve its goal of honoring fallen soldiers each year.

In addition to transporting wreaths, Tyson Foods supports the organization through fundraising efforts for Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas and other local veterans’ and non-veterans’ nonprofit organizations. Their WAA Fundraising Group is called Transportation Warriors – you can sponsor a wreath through their page here.

“Without the trucking community and their generous donations of time and services, our mission simply would not be possible,” Rob Worcester said. “The work Tyson has done continues to inspire the WAA team to improve the truckers’ lounge and overall experience for volunteer drivers coming to Maine to load wreaths. They are an amazing partner and true friends of the organization, for which we are grateful.”

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Bills would up insurance minimum to $4.9M, require automatic emergency brakes

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The “Improving National Safety by Updating the Required Amount of Insurance Needed by Commercial Motor Vehicles per Event (INSURANCE) Act of 2019” would raise the minimum liability insurance for commercial motor vehicles from $750,000 to $4.9 million. (Associated Press: CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/Erie Times-News)

WASHINGTON — Three Democratic representatives have introduced two pieces of legislation they say are critical to road safety.

Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García of Illinois, Hank Johnson of Georgia and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania joined the Truck Safety Coalition and truck crash victims at a press conference Wednesday to place in the hopper bills related to liability insurance minimums and braking equipment requirements on commercial motor vehicles.

García and Cartwright introduced the “Improving National Safety by Updating the Required Amount of Insurance Needed by Commercial Motor Vehicles per Event (INSURANCE) Act of 2019” which the two said would ensure minimum insurance requirements for motor carriers are periodically adjusted to the inflation rate of medical costs, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Minimum insurance requirement currently is $750,000 for most carriers. Others may face higher minimum based on the type of cargo carried.

The INSURANCE Act says according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the amount of $750,000, set in 1980 would have the same purchasing power as $4,923,153.29 in 2019, if the amount was raised to account for medical-cost inflation.

Therefore, the INSURANCE Act would set the minimum at $4,923,154 and require the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to adjust the minimum every five years for inflation relating to medical care.

Most carriers purchase the $750,000 per event minimum, some carry $1 million.

A previous proposal to raise the minimum did not materialize.

On its November 28, 2014, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) concerning financial responsibility (translated liability insurance minimums) for motor carriers, freight forwarders, and brokers.

FMCSA sought public comment on whether to exercise its discretion to increase the minimum levels of financial responsibility, and, if so, to what levels. After reviewing all public comments to the ANPRM, FMCSA determined that it has insufficient data or information to support moving forward with a rulemaking proposal, at this time and on June 5, 2017, withdrew the proposal.

Sources tell The Trucker the INSURANCE Act will never make it out of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit to which it was referred.

“Thousands of families are suffering in silence, saddled with crippling medical care costs resulting from catastrophic crashes,” García said. “The inadequacy of the current minimum insurance requirement, left unchanged for 40 years, only further prolongs the suffering and financial strain on families that have already lost so much. The INSURANCE Act ensures that families are adequately compensated to cope with their losses and prevents taxpayers from footing the bill for negligent trucking businesses and drivers.”

Cartwright said with trucks getting bigger and highways becoming more crowded, the country has experienced too many horrific truck accidents that change Americans’ lives forever.

“And since the minimum liability insurance for trucks hasn’t changed in nearly four decades, we’ve seen how victims, their families, hospitals, and our strained social safety net are forced to foot the bill for irresponsible driving,” he said. “This bill will raise that minimum, providing necessary relief to surviving victims and to the families whose lives are shattered by a truck accident.”

García and Johnson also introduced the Safe Roads Act, which would require automatic emergency braking (AEB) technology to become standard features commercial motor vehicles.

“Automatic braking systems are a simple, common-sense solution to deploy proven crash-avoidance technologies,” Garcia said. “Rep. Johnson and I agree that we should always operate on a safety-first basis. Any further delays to implement this important, life-saving technology will only result in more preventable, tragic deaths and catastrophic injuries. We shouldn’t be in the business of putting a price tag on life – passing the Safe Roads Act is simply the right thing to do.”

“Tragically, the simple installation of automatic braking systems on all commercial motor vehicles – a $500 safety feature – might have prevented these deaths and countless others across the country,” Johnson said. “America’s roads and highways should be safe for all drivers.  Taking full advantage of technologies that are available and proven to anticipate and prevent crashes will save lives.”

The bill was also referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

Both the Safe Roads Act and the INSURANCE Act are endorsed by the Truck Safety Coalition and the INSURANCE Act has the additional endorsement from the American Association for Justice, the bills’ sponsors said.

 

 

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