FMCSA chief Martinez: regulatory changes might be possible for HOS rules

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After coming from the Mid America Trucking Show last week where by his own admission he received a significant amount of ELD-related hostility, new FMCSA administrator Raymond Martinez had a quieter first public appearance a few days later.

Martinez gave a speech to the Truckload Carriers of America meeting near Orlando which covered the usual array of topics one would expect: safety, cooperation and the ELD mandate. There were no questions taken, and no hecklers, so there was no repeat of the MATS conflict.

But the one statement during that address that could have been viewed as somewhat newsworthy was when he said he was “all ears” in addressing not so much the ELD mandate itself, but the presumably stricter need to comply with Hours of Service regulations as a result of the greater precision of data coming out of ELDs.

In an exclusive interview with Freightwaves after his TCA speech, Martinez—on the job for all of four weeks—said he did not want to specify what changes in the HOS rules might be considered. Getting suggestions “is what I was hoping for at the MACT,” he said. “It didn’t end up that way. You get three or four people who get the microphone and they rail against government in general.”

Martinez emphasized that he understands “the frustration and the passion, but from where I sit, I can’t make law.” However, there may be regulatory changes that could be undertaken by FMCSA to relieve some of the biggest pain points in the combination of the HOS rules and the possibility of stricter enforcement of them as a result of ELD data.

Detention on his mind

And while Martinez emphasized a second time in the interview that he could not be specific about any possible changes, when asked if there were any issues that had been cited frequently while on his listening tour, his answer was succinct: detention.

“When people tell me they are on the clock and they are stuck, when they say ‘I was there for 3, 5, 6 hours,’ well, I’m not sure how that happens, but I’m sure it does,” Martinez said. “Are there abusers of the systems were folks are being put in that position on a regular basis? That is something we need to know.”

The “aggressive listening” that Martinez said he is undertaking does not expect to get “a unanimity of opinion, but I’d like some consensus,” he said. He has received recommended steps from various groups in the industry, “and if I have multiple organizations that submit 20 recommendations, but five of them match up across the group, then that gives me some basis to go forward.”

Martinez said any sort of regulatory process to change a regulation, short of changing a law, would probably take a year to implement. “You don’t want to open yourself up to a challenge in the courts,” he said. “You can only have certain latitude and the regulatory process is not short.”

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On the coming implementation of the full ELD mandate this Sunday, Martinez said in his speech to the TCA general session that the data he has seen indicates that roadside enforcement reveals that there is 96% compliance with the mandate. Asked if that meant that the sort of hostility he faced at MATS represented a minority, he replied yes but said “that doesn’t mean their position is not worth listening to.”

There also is no reason why full ELD compliance may not be causing other issues. A truck could be in full compliance with the ELD mandate, but with less flexibility the HOS rule could still be creating difficulties for the trucker. Martinez alluded to that reality when he said that while the goal is to get to 100% ELD compliance, that may reveal “other inefficiencies,” like issues with detention. “These are things we need to get a full understanding of,” he said.