Date: Thursday, December 29, 2022
The Biden administration began 2022 by rolling out its National Roadway Safety Strategy, a U.S. Department of Transportation-wide initiative aimed at addressing rising injuries and deaths involving cars and trucks.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — and Congress — is expected to advance regulatory and legislative policy that either directly or indirectly attempts to tackle the problem.
With Republicans taking control of the House, a divided government will make it more difficult to pass many types of legislation next year. But legislation setting up grants to expand truck parking has gained momentum over the last two congressional sessions and that momentum is expected to continue, particularly after the Senate introduced companion legislation earlier this month.
Truck parking bills, like all bills that didn’t progress in the current Congress, will have to be reintroduced. But truck parking advocates — which includes large and small carriers as well as shippers and other supply chain participants — will be looking to build on recent progress.
A notice of intent issued this year by FMCSA to propose in 2023 electronic engine devices to set and limit truck speeds have truckers on high alert.
The notice of FMCSA’s intent alone generated more than 15,000 responses, and at least that many is expected once the actual proposal is issued. Most came from independent owner-operators and small trucking companies that are adamantly against it, arguing that the crash safety benefits touted by safety groups are undercut by accidents caused by cars and trucks traveling at different speeds. Large trucking companies and some safety groups, on the other hand, support a 70 mph limit.
FMCSA is trying to crack down on illegal brokers by attempting to clarify differences between brokers, bona fide agents and dispatch services through interim guidelines unveiled in November. Congress wants FMCSA to finalize those guidelines no later than June 16, according to a congressional directive that accompanied the fiscal year 2023 spending bill. The directive also requires FMCSA to identify safety concerns arising from unlawful brokerage activities.
The focus on brokerage activities comes as reports of double brokering and other illegal brokerage activities persist. “We’re hearing more and more about this from our members,” Lewie Pugh, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told FreightWaves. “Broker fraud is really taking off. We try to tell truckers to try to get their loads directly from a trusted broker load board to help ensure they’re legitimate.”
Another set of companion bills in the House and Senate — the Guaranteeing Overtime for Truckers Act — will be expiring before the new Congress opens in January. But the legislation, which would require trucking employers to pay drivers overtime (the Fair Labor Standards Act currently exempts them from having to do so for many drivers), remains a priority for OOIDA.
The Biden administration also backs the measure. It recommended repealing the FLSA exemption in a supply chain vulnerability report released earlier this year.
The FMCSA plans to follow up on a proposed rulemaking to outfit all trucks with a “unique ID” with the goal of making inspections more targeted and efficient using wireless technology.
The proposal as written is highly controversial among all sectors of trucking, with security and cost issues high among concerns, based on over 1,000 initial responses. FMCSA is also considering allowing the new ID system to broadcast information such as hours of service, CDL compliance and medical certification. Such a requirement “would take a disastrous toll on the supply chain,” according to one respondent, who asserted that making public such sensitive information could cause many drivers to leave the industry.
Increasing federal truck size and weight limits has been a priority for years for shippers and carriers such as UPS and FedEx, and a renewed push for changes is expected in 2023.
“The ask isn’t anymore to just run heavier trucks on every road and bridge, it’s to take lessons learned and make changes — even from the pandemic, where there were certain temporary authorizations given to states to allow for heavier trucks without any corresponding safety impacts,” Tom Madrecki, Consumer Brands Association’s (CBA) vice president of supply chain and logistics, told FreightWaves.
CBA and others are asking for the launch of a 10-state pilot project to allow heavier weights to operate on the federal interstate system within the particular state. Madrecki noted that many of his association’s members also want to see their carrier partners reducing emissions, and running heavier, more efficient trucks can help.
“This is something that was debated during the recent transportation reauthorization but was left on the cutting room floor. It’s time for Congress to just put it forward and get it done,” he said.
FMCSA has a long-awaited proposed rule on automated driving systems (ADS) penciled on its calendar for January, but industry insiders believe this date will pass without a Federal Register notice.
“It’s a major rulemaking, and the agency tends not to come out with major rulemakings at the beginning of the year — especially with a new Congress being seated and the party change [in the House],” a former DOT official told FreightWaves. “You don’t want to sandbag the new incoming Congress that has oversight authority over FMCSA and DOT.”
But a rulemaking covering how ADS affects truck operations, inspection, repair and maintenance is expected at some point in 2023, and Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, is anxious to build on progress made in 2022 from a policy perspective.
“We are going to have to take the next step in 2023 to make sure doing things like rulemakings to remove any perceived issues with ADS, as well as build momentum towards federal legislation,” Farrah told FreightWaves. “We see a moment in time where there’s a lot of interest on Capitol Hill for AVs, and that has been increased as you see level IV vehicles around the country being deployed in Congress members’ districts and states. We want to capitalize on that and move legislation.”
Another bill introduced late in the congressional term, the Bathroom Access Act, adds language to federal law that would require businesses and ports to make their restrooms available to truck drivers. The bill is based on legislation passed earlier this year in Washington state.
Shippers and other trucking customers are recognized regularly as “shippers of choice” for how they treat drivers, including providing bathroom access. But the lack of that access persists and the trucking industry, particularly owner-operators, believe such access should not be provided only voluntarily. “It’s one of our top priorities for 2023,” OOIDA’s Pugh said.
Grant funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed in 2021 will continue to benefit trucking in 2023 as supply chains continue to strengthen after being overwhelmed by the effects of the pandemic. While some committees in the now Republican-led House have threatened to block some of the administration’s social justice and climate-oriented priorities associated with the funding, “I believe we’re going to see the money fund projects that will continue to alleviate backlogs we’ve seen, particularly at the ports,” Dan Abrahamsen, CEO and founder of Cover Whale, a commercial trucking insurance company, told FreightWaves.
“Easing supply chain congestion at a port in California provides benefits far beyond California,” so investments that improve and expand gate operations are less likely to be hung up by politics, he said.