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FMCSA hopes to clarify what constitutes an “agricultural commodity” with new rule

Joe DeLorenzo, director of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance at FMCSA, talks during a session on regulatory updates at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 28, 2019. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky. Compared to previous sessions at trade shows, Joe DeLorenzo’s time in front of the trucking industry at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville on March 28, 2019, must have seemed like a breeze.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) director of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance, has often had to stand in front of angry truckers and explain why FMCSA has not changed hours-of-service (HOS) rules, or implemented the electronic logging device (ELD) regulation. There was none of that this time, possible because his session this year avoided hours-of-service and ELD discussions. A separate session on ELDs was to be held later in the show.

This session was mostly devoid of conflict, and generally informative for the audience, as DeLorenzo and Larry Minor, associate administrator for the Office of Policy, updated the attendees on current regulatory initiatives before DeLorenzo dropped word late in the session of a new rulemaking that is coming soon.

FMCSA plans to issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking focused on agriculture haulers. The rule will seek to clarify and define what an agricultural product actually is. Currently, there is confusion as to what qualifies as an agricultural product, which is significant as some ag haulers are exempt from HOS and ELD regulations.

There is no timetable on this ANPRM yet, but it should be this year. DeLorenzo said FMCSA has worked with the United States Department of Agriculture to create a framework for the regulation, but the ANPRM will give the industry a chance to weigh in as well before any proposed rule is issued.

The rest of the session focused on updating two existing regulations and their progress to implementation, and where FMCSA stands on the truck parking issue.

As to truck parking, the agency said it is a difficult problem to solve as many parking locations fall under state control, but it is working with the Federal Highway Administration as that agency prepares to issue a congressionally mandated update on parking under the Jason’s Law provision of MAP-21.

DeLorenzo said he sees three components to the truck parking problem: flexibility in when drivers can stop; how many spaces are available; and how to find those spaces that are available.

“This has been an ongoing issue for some time and maybe we haven’t spoken enough about it,” he said.

FMCSA’s research office is involved in infrastructure-to-communication (IV2) projects and it has pushed for more rapid deployment of SmartPark technology through the National Coalition on Truck Parking[bs1] .

There are a number of states working on SmartPark programs to help identify available spaces and then notify truckers of their locations. Some use sensors while others utilize cameras. However, DeLorenzo said many of these projects are state-driven and FMCSA still “needs to find out what influence we can have with the states,” he said.

DeLorenzo also updated the progress of the drug and alcohol clearinghouse. Still set to go live on January 6, 2020, he explained the drivers who fail drug or alcohol tests will have those results submitted by the fleet or medical examiner to the clearinghouse and all fleets, when hiring a driver, must check the clearinghouse to see if the driver has previously failed a test. All results will remain in the clearinghouse for three years.

The program is designed to prevent drivers from failing a drug test during employment screening and simply going down the street to another carrier for a job. All drivers looking for a job will need to register, but only failed tests will be entered into the database. Driver registration will begin in October 2019.

For drivers who end up with a failed test, there will be a process whereby they can regain their CDL and that information will also be entered, letting a fleet know that this driver has been cleared to return to driving. A refusal to take a test by a driver is considered a positive test.

The clearinghouse website is already up and running at www.clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov.

Finally, Minor updated the progress of the entry-level driver training rule. That rule, set to go into effect on February 7, 2020, sets minimum thresholds for training new drivers. It does not require a set number of behind-the-wheel training hours, Minor explained, as the agency can not identify what is the proper amount for everyone to become proficient. That has been left up to the training provider’s discretion.

“Training providers are not supposed to give out a certification if the student hasn’t demonstrated mastery of the materials, even if they had 35 hours of training,” he said.

Once a training provider certifies a student has become proficient enough to pass the driving test, the provider will submit a certificate to FMCSA which will forward it to the student’s state driving department. This is an important step in the rule, DeLorenzo said, as it provides a level of accountability to the providers.

“It gives us data we’ve never had before,” he said, “and we’ll be able to see where it goes. Maybe we will make additional [changes] down the road.”

Minor added that this data trail will be looked at by FMCSA to identify patterns of safety concerns by students coming from certain providers.

Anyone who trains drivers will need to self-certify with FMCSA that they have read, understand, and apply required training standards.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team 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 fleetowner.com. 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.

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