More ELD knowledge would help expedite roadside inspections

July 7, 2016
JOE DeLorenzo, director of the office of enforcement and compliance for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), said knowledge of electronic logging devices (ELDs) is a key to easing confusion at roadside inspections.

JOE DeLorenzo, director of the office of enforcement and compliance for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), said knowledge of electronic logging devices (ELDs) is a key to easing confusion at roadside inspections.

“It’s important because my job in this whole transition is to make sure that all of the 10,000 or 12,000 enforcement people out there understand what is an ELD versus what is not ,” he said during the Annual Safety Awards Luncheon at National Tank Truck Carriers’ 68th Annual Conference in San Diego, California.

“For all of you on your side, it’s really important that during this transition phase where there could be confusion at the roadside about the type of device and electronic logs and hours-of-service, the one thing you can really do to help is make sure your drivers have a clear understanding of your ELD system. Anybody who’s been a driver and has been in a roadside inspection will tell you it is not an easy process for anybody. All enforcement officers are somewhere on the roadside, with trucks going by on one side at 70 mph. They run into all kinds of issues. So the more your drivers know about this process, the easier it is to do.

“When we’re all on ELDs, it will be easier. In the meantime, when we have this variety of different devices, it is definitely challenging from an enforcement perspective.”

FMCSA published its final rule for ELDs in the December 16, 2015, issue of the Federal Register, requiring commercial truck and bus drivers who currently use paper log books to maintain HOS records to adopt ELDs within two years.

Motor carriers that are using devices that comply with FMCSA’s regulations for automatic onboard recording devices, or AOBRDs — a precursor to ELDs — get an extra two years through December 16, 2019, to have logging devices compliant with the ELD rule in their trucks.

Other topics discussed by DeLorenzo:

Harassment and coercion.

The FMCSA final rule provides both procedural and technical provisions designed to protect commercial truck and bus drivers from harassment resulting from information generated by ELDs. A separate FMCSA rulemaking further safeguards commercial drivers from being coerced to violate federal safety regulations and provides the agency with the authority to take enforcement actions not only against motor carriers, but also against shippers, receivers, and transportation intermediaries.

“Without getting into legalities, protection from harassment is in the ELD rule. That means you can’t harass the driver using their ELD. It relates to hours of service violations. But coercion does not necessarily require a violation of the HOS regulations by the driver. This is the provision where a shipper or somebody besides the carrier—it could include the carrier—is somehow forcing a violation of the regulations. The coercion rule is one of the first times where shippers are really on the hook and we have some way to address issues where somebody is forcing a violation on the part of the driver.”

Safety fitness rulemaking.

The Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), recently published in the Federal Register, would update FMCSA’s safety fitness rating methodology by integrating on-road safety data from inspections, along with the results of carrier investigations and crash reports, to determine a motor carrier’s overall safety fitness on a monthly basis. The proposed SFD rule would replace the current three-tier federal rating system of “satisfactory–conditional–unsatisfactory” for federally regulated commercial motor carriers (in place since 1982) with a single determination of “unfit,” which would require the carrier to either improve its operations or cease operations. Once in place, the SFD rule will permit FMCSA to assess the safety fitness of approximately 75,000 companies a month. By comparison, the agency is only able to investigate 15,000 motor carriers annually—with less than half of those companies receiving a safety rating.

“It has a couple of purposes that are important to understand,” he said. “How do we really clarify the safety rating process? Right now, we have satisfactory, conditional, and unsatisfactory. One of the comments we got for a long time is, ‘We’re not really sure what that means.’ The rule proposes to get us to the point where you’re either unfit or you’re able to operate. So clarity in terms of the safety ratings is important.

“The other important thing is that we try to get a broader look at the industry and what the safety fitness of many carriers is. There are 525,000 motor carriers out there, there are 1000 of us in the agency, 300 of whom do investigations. We do about 15,000 carrier investigations in a year out of that 525,000. Ratings get old, so we need to find a way to get that process more up to date. And we’re looking at roadside data, so the Safety Fitness Determination rule proposes to lay it out in such a way that we clarify the ratings and get a broader look at the industry and kind of even things out a bit so there’s not this distinction between conditional ratings that are old and new satisfaction ratings.

“You have to read the rule and have to read the law and how it’s stated in the FAST act. There is this question that comes out about data. We know there have been some claims about whether data is good or bad. The issue at hand in terms of data has been that there were some concerns over the calculation of relative percentiles that we use in Safety Measurement System (SMS), which is why they aren’t currently displayed. We have some work to do. However, the FAST Act also laid out what the limitations are for us are in terms of issuing a safety fitness rule. Safety fitness all along has been a point where you have to have a fixed target. Nobody wants the safety rating to be dependent on a moving target. So the safety fitness rule proposes a fixed target that says, ‘Here’s where you are from a roadside perspective.’

“The way it’s set now with the proposed rule, there are about 300 carriers that are affected by the roadside portion. This is a process. There is a reason why we go through this process. In the long run, we’ll all get to where we need to be. But take a look and make sure you really understand and you’re putting in your comments. This is the time where we need input from folks like you to get to a good final rule.”

Hazmat enforcement.

“There’s been a big push based on some of the accidents that happened on rail with energy product transportation. There has been an emphasis on how we handle hazmat enforcement. In FMCSA, we’re trying to get back to the root of the issues. We issued a recall of a couple of tanks that had not been tested properly by the ‘registered inspector.’ This is a point where we’re trying to get to the root of issues, find some of these bad actors, and get issues taken care of. Due diligence is important. If you’re finding issues with tanks, definitely let us know. That’s someplace we will continue to go, because the more we get into that area, the more we find issues. That helps us level the playing field if we can get some of these bad carriers out of the way.”

Beyond Compliance program.

The FAST Act requires FMCSA to implement a Beyond Compliance program no later than June 2017. FMCSA has held three public listening sessions on this program and previously received input from its Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee.  The notice published in the Federal Register April 19, 2016, provides details on FMCSA’s proposal and processes to allow recognition for a motor carrier that: installs advanced safety equipment; uses enhanced driver fitness measures; adopts fleet safety management tools, technologies, and programs; or satisfies other standards determined appropriate by the FMCSA Administrator.  

 “Beyond Compliance is recognition for those initiatives you are taking that are above and beyond what regulations require. The first place everybody’s mind goes to is technology. Everybody’s like, ‘Well, what additional technology can we use?’ But that’s really not the only issue in there. The things we’re asking about and the things that are actually specified in the law are different types of technology or safety equipment, fleet management tools, technology programs, enhanced driver fitness measures. What are those things that are happening and how can we recognize carriers that are taking initiative?

“It’s not a rule. It’s not a thing that anybody has to do. I know there are different sides to this. We had listening sessions, but this is one more opportunity where we’re reaching out and trying to get any more information that anybody has on how this might work and how we might move forward. It’s really important that all of the carriers and associations are looking at it.”  ♦