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5 New Year’s resolutions to reduce your fleet risk in 2021

As 2020 is left to the history books, motor carriers are looking forward to what the future holds.

As trucking fleets reassess their safety programs for 2021 and the post-pandemic world, there are steps to take right now to ensure regulatory compliance. (Photo: J. J. Keller & Associates)

The COVID-19 pandemic saw the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issue a series of rules exemptions in 2020, but at no point was the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles affected. As 2021 quickly approaches, and with the possible end of the pandemic in sight as vaccines reach the market, trucking carriers could see a return to normal operations at some point.

Safety, though, remains the primary objective for all operations. As waivers to existing rules expire, and new regulations go into effect, trucking fleets may be wondering what has changed. Here are five New Year’s resolutions that can help mitigate the risk exposure for all fleets.

1. Don’t wait to run Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse queries

Launched on Jan. 6, 2020, FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse was designed to improve visibility into truck driver drug and alcohol testing through a centralized, online database. Information in the clearinghouse is used by state driver licensing agencies, FMCSA, law enforcement and carriers to track drivers who have failed a drug or alcohol test as well as those who have completed return-to-duty requirements following a failed test.

Carriers and/or their consortia/third-party administrators are required to conduct annual limited queries on all drivers. A limited query is used to check for the presence of information in the driver’s clearinghouse record. If that query returns a record, the carrier must conduct a full query to learn details of that record. The carrier has 24 hours to conduct the full query, which will provide details on any failed tests and also information on the return-to-duty process drivers must undergo following a failed test.

Carriers have until Jan. 5, 2021, to conduct a limited query for all drivers who were in a motor carrier’s Part 382 testing program as of Jan. 6, 2020. For drivers hired after Jan. 6, 2020, a fleet has until their hire date to run the limited query, but Kathy Close, transportation editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, said fleets don’t have to wait.

“Employers can include drivers hired since January 6, 2020, in a batch request of all CDL drivers if they want all their drivers on the same rotation for the annual query. The annual query is just early for these drivers,” she said.

More information on the clearinghouse can be downloaded from J. J. Keller’s Clearinghouse Compliance Brief.

2. Start preparing now for International Roadcheck

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) annual International Roadcheck 72-hour safety blitz is slated for May 4-6, 2021. This year’s event was postponed by COVID until the beginning of September. During the event, CVSA anticipated inspecting 17 trucks or buses every minute.

Each year CVSA inspectors will pay particular attention to one area. In 2021, that will be tires, wheels and rims. In 2019, the latest International Roadcheck results available from CVSA, tires and wheels represented 19.3% of all vehicle out-of-service violations. Out of 67,072 inspections, there were 3,156 violations in the tires and wheels category, second only to the 4,578 braking systems violations.

That doesn’t mean inspectors won’t look for additional vehicle or driver safety concerns. Inspectors can conduct any level of inspection, including the 37-step Level I inspection.

Proactive carriers don’t wait until Roadcheck arrives to perform due diligence and ensure their vehicles avoid violations, and with more than four months until 2021’s International Roadcheck event, there is time to address any issues, J. J. Keller advises.

The company offers several guides and advice for preparing for Roadcheck. These include the free DOT Roadside Inspection Guide for Fleet Managers.

3. Ensure you are compliant with the Canadian ELD mandate

U.S.-based carriers went through the pains of converting most of their truck drivers to electronic logging devices ahead of the 2017 soft deadline and the 2018 hard deadline. Now Canada is following suit. Canadian carriers must install ELDs ahead of the June 12, 2021, deadline. U.S. carriers that operate in Canada may assume they are compliant with the Canadian regulation, but it is possible they are not.

Annie Joannette, a spokesperson for Transport Canada, told FreightWaves in 2019 that while Canada’s ELD specifications were modeled after those in the U.S. “to ensure that a single device is capable of complying with the ELD rules of both countries,” they include a significant difference. While the U.S. allows ELD providers to self-certify their devices meet the regulations, Canada is requiring third-party certification of devices. If a U.S.-based carrier is using an ELD that has not been certified in Canada by a third party, that device would not be compliant with the regulations.

“Motor carriers that operate in Canada should use the next few months to learn whether their ELD vendor will be certified or seek out another provider,” Close said, noting that J. J. Keller offers Canadian ELD mandate guidance and news and will be submitting its own ELD for certification in the first quarter of 2021.

The Canadian hours-of-service regulations adopt Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrator’s (CCMTA) Technical Standard for Electronic Logging Devices as of Oct. 27, 2020, which includes the technical operational standards and requirements for ELDs used in Canada.

Canada has identified the following exemptions for ELD use in that country:

  • Drivers who are driving under a permit or statutory exemption.
  • Drivers of vehicles subject to rental agreements for a term of 30 days or less.
  • Commercial vehicles that were manufactured before the year 2000.
  • Drivers operating within 160 kilometers (99.4 miles) of the home terminal.

4. Learn what you must do to comply with the new CDL medical card process

Several changes to the CDL medical card process will take place on June 22, 2021. According to J. J. Keller, as of that date, medical examiners will send results of all truck driver and bus driver physicals directly to FMCSA through the examiner’s portal account in the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME).

FMCSA, in turn, will transmit the exam results to the commercial driver’s license information system, which state driver’s licensing agencies will use to populate the driver’s motor vehicle record.

What does this mean? For one, non-exempted interstate CDL drivers will no longer be issued a medical card and they will no longer be required to carry a copy of the medical card for 15 days following an exam.

Carriers also will no longer be required to collect a copy of the medical card from a driver as temporary proof of medical qualification. The carrier will no longer need to create a note that says they verified the medical examiner appears on the NRCME. The carrier will be required to request a motor vehicle record showing the medical status of the driver within a “few days” of the exam, rather than the 30 days currently allotted the carrier. 

Close said the current process of issuing and retaining a medical card and verifying the NRCME for non-CDL commercial motor vehicle drivers remains unchanged.

5. Organize those pandemic records

As the COVID pandemic accelerated across the country, FMCSA issued a series of exemptions and waived several record-keeping requirements. These included compliance with some regulations, including hours of service for certain carriers, environmental tracking record-keeping, emergency declaration relief from Parts 390-399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and some medical card renewal processes.

These exemptions have either been rescinded or will likely be rescinded in 2021. For carriers, that means a return to pre-pandemic record-keeping. Actions should be taken to bring the carrier and drivers back into compliance. It also means ensuring any waivers or emergency declarations the carrier operated under for providing direct assistance are documented.

“It’s important to save copies of the COVID-19 enforcement notices you used for future reference/audits, along with documentation showing you and your drivers qualified,” Close said.

To help fleets obtain a refresher course on recordkeeping compliance, J. J. Keller is offering a free download of the BIG 5 e-Book, which helps guide fleets through managing FMCSA record-keeping requirements.

As the transport industry starts a return to normal throughout 2021, safety will remain a core competency for every carrier. In some cases, processes may have changed because of COVID, but the start of a new year is always a good time to review company policies and set new goals for improved safety and compliance in the year ahead.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]