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FMCSA Speaks at ATA Virtual Conference

On October 23rd, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck spoke at the American Trucking Association’s (ATA) virtual version of its Management Conference and Exhibition. The event was turned into a virtual one this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here is what he spoke about.

Under 21 Drivers

With the trucking industry experiencing a “shortage” of drivers and the average age of truckers slowly but surely rising, the FMCSA has been working on getting drivers aged 18-20 into the trucking game. This has proven to be a harder time than originally expected, as young drivers with military driver training are just not interested.

“We are struggling in trying to get drivers in,” said Deck, who for all practical purposes is acting administrator following Jim Mullen leaving the department at the end of August. “We’ve engaged the National Guard, the Reserves, we’ve gone out to speak to large classes of drivers at training facilities, but we haven’t made any headway on this. While this study is supposed to run for three years, it’ll have to be extended, because we’re not getting the drivers.”

The FMCSA hopes to make changes to the program to increase the number of potential drivers in it, which could remedy the low numbers.

The idea of having drivers under 21 travel across state lines has been a topic for a long time now. Borth Deck and Chris Spear of the ATA share the same sentiment, saying that it is absurd that how far someone can drive is limited by the size of the state in which they live.

Hair-Testing Is Far Away

The government is filled to the brim with bureaucracy. Before the FMCSA can authorize the use of hair-testing for drug use, it has to be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In other words, the HHS needs to go through an approval process, and then the FMCSA must go through one for itself. The overall process can take over a year, so the idea of getting hair-tested is mostly in the back of the FMCSA’s mind for now.

Off-Duty Break

Wiley Deck also spoke of a pilot program for drivers to pause their on-duty clock by taking a thirty-minute to three-hour break during the day and then taking a ten-hour consecutive off-duty break at the end of the shift. The main reason for this is to allow drivers to not let unavoidable obstacles such as rush hour traffic or freeway accidents from harming their total daily distance numbers. This proposal is currently going through the standard regulation motions, including being up for comment on the regulations website.

CDL Testing Changes

The FMCSA wants to make obtaining a CDL easier.

First, the FMCSA is working on reversing a regulation to make it so that a trainer and examiner must be two different people, which reduces the chances of a driver simply buying a CDL. The FMCSA hopes that reversing this rule will increase the number of people willing to go to CDL school and ultimately get more truckers on the road.

Beyond that, the FMCSA wants to make it so that driver applicants hoping to get a CDL can take the test in any state, not just the one where they live or headquarter their operations.

These two changes might increase the potential for fraud, giving CDLs to drivers that are not qualified for them, and as such the agency may reverse them one day.

On Autonomous Vehicles

For very much the same reason that the development of self-driving trucks is slow, so are the regulations aimed for them. Deck cites the lack of a human element to be the largest obstacle in regulating an autonomous commercial vehicle.

“We want to ensure that those vehicles are operate in a safe manner and to ensure that our law enforcement partners know what to do. How do you pull one over? How do they put out safety triangles when disabled on the side of the road? That’s stuff that will have to be addressed and considered.”

The requirement of having a human ready to override the vehicle’s automatic driving may mitigate the lack of a human element, at least until all of the complicated are sorted.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability

The agency implemented a new system of determining crash preventability in May, which was a main gripe truckers had with the CSA scoring program: how preventable crashes had a larger impact on the score than it deserved. Since starting the Crash Preventability Determination Program, the FMCSA has found 97% of crashes reported to be non-preventable, such as a deer jumping in front of the highway and freezing in fear. Deck considers the new Program to be a success!

COVID-19

Deck lauded the work of the FMCSA in fighting not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the economic fallout resulting from quarantines and lockdowns. While most of the stipulations and exemptions were done under the guidance of former Acting Administrator Jim Mullen, Deck has approved of them and is keeping many of them going, with the hours-of-service exemption being extended until the end of the year instead of a month-by-month update.

Conclusion

Part of the reason why the agency wanted to list its accomplishments as of recently is because with the election it is very much possible that we could be getting a transfer of power to a 46th president, which would ultimately entail changing the heads of various executive departments, including the Department of Transportation and the FMCSA. It will be interesting to see what the FMCSA does come 2021, power transition or not.

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