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Truckers Speak Out Against Fitness Rule

by Chelsea Wherry - Published: 2/24/2017
4.4 21 votes

Elaine Chao, without a doubt, is coming into her role as the Secretary of the Department of Transportation with a lot to deal with. While President Trump was running for president, he announced his desire for a massive redesign of how the government will handle the infrastructure of roads, bridges, and ports – costing $1 trillion. While he has only been President of the United States for just a little over a month, many truck drivers may become increasingly worried that he has not publicly announced what his plan will be. With Chao in office for a little over a month, many drivers are curious to see how she will benefit truckers in the country.

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However, one large group of trucking associations came together in order to draft and send a letter to Chao informing her exactly what they do not want to happen to the trucking industry when it comes to regulations. This directly impacts the proposed rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) and their Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) data driven enforcement program stating their desire to change how they determine the safety fitness of motor carriers. In the February 15 letter, they adamantly expressed to Chao the different reasons why the implementation of the rule would be detrimental to trucking jobs.

Big Changes Ahead

To understand the viewpoint of the signed organizations and associations, one must also understand what the proposed rule is. While the rule was first announced in early January of 2016, it has remained in legislative limbo without any real action being done to it as of yet. Truckers are almost hyper aware of the current fitness grades currently in place with three tiers including “satisfactory”, “conditional”, and “unsatisfactory” - these three conditions have been in place since 1982.

On January 15, 2016 the FMCSA and CSA proposed a massive overhaul of the 35-year-old status quo. The main reason the two organizations wanted to change the status quo was that they felt far too few trucks were being tested for compliance within the rule. According to their data, only around 15,000 trucking companies were investigated. They proposed that by enacting the new rule, 75,000 trucking companies would be investigated every month – an increase of 60 times as many trucking companies every month. While their intentions seem pure, the new rule would be much more rigorous and different than that of the three-tier system.

Per the impending rule, it will update their current fitness rating system by including on-road safety data from inspections and results of individual investigations along with crash reports in order to better identify non-compliant trucks. This is a vital effort to see which trucking companies are incompetent and unsafe and either get them off of the roads or help the companies to bring them up to safety standards. It will also focus on those carriers with a high amount of crash risk. As mentioned earlier, it is an effort to replace the current three-tier safety rating system which deems trucks as either “satisfactory”, “conditional”, or “unsatisfactory” and turn it into only one rating of “unfit”.

To determine if a truck is unfit or not, it will test its performance based on the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, or BASICs. This is a high level set of standards that require a history of non-compliance documentation. In short, it would mostly concentrate on investigation results with a minimum of 11 inspections that turn up with violations in a single BASIC category in two years. This is also in combination with on-road safety data and investigation information including crash data and the already set drug and alcohol requirements.

B.A.S.I.C.S.

Many may already know of the BASICs, but it often goes with little explanation aside from the acronym. The FMCSA, if the new rule were to be passed, would concentrate on unsafe driving, hours of service compliance, driver fitness, controlled substance and alcohol abuse, vehicle maintenance, hazardous materials compliance, and crash indicators. In relation to unsafe driving, the CSA defines it as the operation of a commercial vehicle in a dangerous or careless manner by drivers. This includes distracted driving and will keep a heavy focus on the promotion of defensive driving and speed and space management of any vehicle. In terms of fatigued driving, the CSA wants to cut back on the operation of semis by those operating who are too ill, tired, or not within the compliance of their hours of service regulations. This also includes violations of how log books are kept according to hours of service requirements.

According to the BASICs, the driver fitness category is to take drivers who are unfit to operate a truck due to lack of training, experience, or medical qualifications off of the road. There are already rules in place preventing the operation of a truck under any sort of drugs or alcohol, but the new rule would reprimand drivers who are impaired due to the use of alcohol, illegal drugs, and/or the misuse of prescription or over the counter medications. In compliance of their vehicle maintenance category, this means any sort of truck failure due to the improper care or inadequate maintenance would get a strike. They are also heavily looking at truckers giving their vehicle the complete inspections deemed necessary. CSA is also looking at proper cargo securement in order to cut back on any incidents or damage that may occur from loads shifting within the cabin, spilled or dropped cargo, or unsafe handling of hazardous materials. Lastly, they will be looking at crash indicators, meaning heavier punishments for those holding truck driving jobs with a history or pattern of high crash involvement. They will be taking to account the frequency and severity of the crashes according to information gathered from state reported crashes.

To get a better idea as to if your carrier would be deemed unfit, the CSA offers a calculator on their website as an educational tool which uses the current safety information of a company. It begins by asking how many inspections the company has had in 24 months. It continues by asking which of the BASICs the company has had proven violations in. After compiling that information, it asks what the specific violation was along with how many violations were discovered and how many records were checked. Finally, it compiles all of that information to determine whether or not the amount of received citations is enough to title the vehicle as unfit.

Speaking out Against Regulations

Now that the Safety Fitness Determination rule has been further explored, it is easier to understand why the stakeholders of 61 national, state, and regional organizations and associations have come together to speak so strongly against its implementation. One of the largest qualms they have with it is the fact that it is centered around inaccurate data and scores from the CSA. According to the letter, Congress came to CSA months before the rule was proposed in order to tell them they needed to review and reform the skewed Safety Measurement System (SMS) data when Fixing America's Surface Transportations System (FAST) Act was enacted in December 2015. The letter does address that CSA is in the process of conducting these reforms with a study from the National Academy of Sciences, but the new data and scores are not expected to be ready for release until June of this year.

They argue that it is not fair or lawful to implement such a large change on the rules and processes that already exist in order to take on new rules that are founded under wrongful data. If this rule were passed, it would be difficult to uphold because of this very reason. What they also make clear is the fact that they do support change to the status quo, writing, “While we support the goal of an easily understandable, rational safety fitness determination system, this proposal is built on a flawed foundation.”

Wrapping up the letter, they ask Chao to not even consider passing the “ill-advised and harmful” rule. Also, the eagerly urge her to take an active role in the reform of the CSA in order for it to not only be operational, but also to make sure it works for the industry and the individual drivers. A few of the national organizations who signed the letter include the Alliance for Safe, Efficient, and Competitive Truck Transportation, the National Propane Gas Association, and the Transportation and Logistics Council. This wide variety shows that the concern the industry has for this possible bill reaches much further than just a few companies. It means that they recognize how passing this rule would deeply impact everyone who proudly consider themselves involved in trucker jobs.

Another consideration that should be taken into account with this regulation is that throughout Trump's campaign and into his election and presidency, he has made his feeling on regulations very well known. One important example that could directly relate to this issue is that in late November, he released a video stating, “I will formulate a rule which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.”

While it is understandable that updates may need to be considered for a rule that has gone hugely unchanged for 35 years, it is also important to consider the wants, needs, and ideas of those who will be directly impacted by any changes.


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