Ray Martinez, newly installed administrator of the FMCSA and on the job for only 4 weeks, asked the audience for input at a Listening Session on Friday at the Mid-America Trucking Show, and what he got was passion, emotion and pointed fingers.
Along the way, he attempted to answer questions and provide those in attendance some comfort that the FMCSA is serious about helping the industry get through this rough patch brought on by electronic logging devices (ELDs).
“I’ve been charged by the president and secretary to look at regulations from top to bottom,” he told the audience. “I can’t change the law, but I can look at regulations.”
To little surprise, the main topics of discussion in the 1 ½ hour session focused on three topics: truck parking, ELDs and hours of service (HOS). The intertwined issues brought out those passionate about returning to the pre-ELD days, as well as those who just want to see FMCSA do something to fix the issues. After several minutes spent discussing the ELD mandate, the focus quickly shifted to hours of service.
“ELDs may not be the issue here,” Martinez said. “The issue may be hours of service.”
Many in the audience agreed that the problem is the 14-hour clock, which can’t currently be stopped. The Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has petitioned FMCSA for a 3-hour extension to that clock, allowing drivers the opportunity to effectively stop their 14-hour clock for up to 3 hours during the course of their shift. That petition is under consideration, Martinez said.
Keep Truckin has also been collecting signatures on a petition it hopes to submit to FMCSA asking for 2 additional hours in the day, making the 14 hours available in a 16-hour clock.
“We may have latitude to look at hours of service,” Martinez noted. “But [the ELDs] also point out the issues in the [supply chain]. If you are spending hours at a shipper waiting to unload, someone is picking your pocket.”
In response to a comment that drew loud applause, Martinez said the agency needs to consider what reasonable hours of service should look like. “We don’t want to create things that are more complicated than they already are,” he said.
Joe DeLorenzo, director of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said the agency is working on a split sleeper study and later noted that the ELD rule was mandated by Congress and FMCSA can’t change that. It does have some flexibility to ease some of the impacts through regulatory procedures, which is what it has been trying to do with some exemptions and guidance it has issued.
Hours of service, on the other hand, are a regulatory requirement and do not need congressional intervention to be changed. Congress can do that if they wish, but Martinez said to be careful what you wish for.
“If Congress gets involved, and I don’t know if that ever happens, but if it does, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work out the way you want,” he said. “The other [path to change] is we might be able to get some flexibility, but if we go the regulation [route], that will probably take 2 years.”
DeLorenzo tried to explain that there is a regulatory process in place that takes time. This process requires a technical study as well as public comment periods. Certainly, he said, if the industry is in agreement, that process can go a little quicker, but he estimated at least 2 to 3 years for any change.
“Regulation that gets you flexibility might be better for you and happen much quicker than Congress getting involved,” Martinez added.
As the discussion bounced from HOS to ELDs, Martinez asked the audience to focus on suggesting changes to HOS that may be within FMCSA’s control. “If I can narrow it down on paper to some reasonable changes, [then there is a chance of change],” he said. “Let’s talk about hours of service because that is something I might have the ability to change.”
The other big topic at the Listening Session was truck parking. Several commenters noted how ELDs are forcing their drivers to park their trucks earlier just so they can be in a safe place rather than taking a chance on continuing to drive and getting stuck on the side of the road when their hours run out.
Martinez acknowledged that issue, and while addressing a similar question related to detention at shipper locations, he told the audience that ELDs will help in this regard.
“I think ELDs will actually help you in this area because it is highlighting an area of the economy [with an issue] … and I think it will fix itself,” he said.
One person talked about drivers sitting at a location and then with one-half hour left on their clock being told they have to leave the facility. DeLorenzo noted that FMCSA issued a coercion rule the same day the ELD rule came out that gives FMCSA enforcement power over shippers who pressure drivers to knowingly violate laws. He encouraged drivers to file complaints when that happens so FMCSA can investigate, and if it finds violations in the law, can issue judgements against the shipper.
As one man said, welcome to the industry, Mr. Martinez.