ATA board hears DOT rule updates

March 2, 2009
Updates on issues of particular interest to the trucking industry were presented to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) Board of Directors February 24.

Updates on issues of particular interest to the trucking industry were presented to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) Board of Directors February 24 by new Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"I know you have questions about the regulatory roadmap ahead," LaHood said. "White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has asked all the departments and regulatory agencies to review pending rules."

According to ATA information, LaHood said issues on the mind of trucking companies are medical certification, trucking company entrants, intermodal chassis rule, and electronic on-board recorders.

He noted that the medical certification rule that combines the medical certificate and the commercial driver license (CDL) went into effect January 30, as scheduled. The new entrant rule was reviewed by the current DOT administration and then allowed to proceed as scheduled, effective February 17.

"I know for many of you there is interest in strengthening an aspect of the new entrant rule in the area of establishing knowledge standards of federal safety regulations for new carriers seeking operating authority," he said. "The FMCSA staff is looking into this."

LaHood added that the intermodal chassis rule will be moving forward and become effective June 17. The rule will require intermodal equipment providers to file vehicle identification reports, establish certain maintenance programs, retain documentation of the program, and respond to driver and carrier reports about mechanical defects.

Turning to the subject of electronic on-board recorders, LaHood said that it had not been finalized by the Office of Management and Budget as of January 20 and is still under review. "We want to make sure it is the best rule we can possibly put out," he noted. "You will hear more on this rule once I am briefed on the policy options."

He also noted that the Obama administration is supporting the creation and deployment of new technologies. "The department has done considerable work with truck manufacturers to test technologies such as forward and side collision warning systems, lane departure systems, and electronic stability," he said. "The goal of all these systems is to save lives by preventing and minimizing the severity of crashes involving commercial trucks. I know some of you have already adopted these technologies. For those considering it, I urge you to talk to your counterparts."

The establishment of a national drug and alcohol testing database also is being considered by DOT. "There is no room on our highways for CDL drivers who don’t comply with the drug and alcohol testing rules," he said. "This would close a loophole that allows drivers to simply switch employers following a positive test."

Although FMCSA is moving forward and is anticipating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the issue later this year, the proposal will also be included in the upcoming reauthorization discussion. "I believe it is important to build Congressional support for this initiative," LaHood said.

LaHood also noted that commercial transportation is becoming safer. "In each of the past three years, our nation has achieved significant decreases in the number of large truck-related fatalities," he said. "During the same time, we also have seen significant increases in the use of safety belts by truck operators. In 2004, fewer than 50 percent of professional truck drivers wore their safety belts. Today, that number is 72 percent. This is good progress, but there is still much more to do."

Also on the DOT agenda is the Highway Trust Fund, which LaHood said is depleted. "Last year it needed an $8 billion bailout to offset a revenue shortfall. Something has to be done to find new revenue streams...Tolling and privatization may be part of the solution, but I support this mainly for new construction. Fuel taxes may also be part of the mix--but we need to examine all options and develop a comprehensive, workable plan."

He said the economic recovery package will immediately begin creating good-paying jobs, upgrading infrastructure, and improving transportation efficiencies. It invests: $28 billion in highway infrastructure; $12 billion in transit projects; and $8 billion in high speed rail projects.

"And we anticipate that these projects and the others in the bill will directly impact your industry as you will be transporting the goods and equipment to make all these projects happen," LaHood said.