Raymond Martinez, the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, didn't tip his hand Saturday on the ongoing process that could result in changes in Hours of Service rules, but did say he wants it to finish faster than typical Washington speed.
Martinez spoke at the first public session at the American Trucking Associations' annual Management Conference & Exhibition in Austin. The packed-house room was told that the traditional speed for a process like that which is looking at certain parts of the HOS rule might normally take three years.
"I told my staff that is unacceptable, so we are on a fast track," Martinez said. "We are hoping to have some progress as soon as we synthesize the submitted comments to move forward to the next step."
Martinez noted that the current Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was not a specific, already-written proposed regulation seeking comments on what amounted to a done deal. Rather, he stressed that it was posing questions to commenters on what FMCSA should do regarding five specific issues: the combined 100 air-mile exemption combined with a hours of service limit; extending HOS for adverse driving conditions; revision of the mandatory 30-minute break; the split sleeper berth rule; and the request of OOIDA that under some interpretations could effectively turn the 14-hour workday into a 17-hour day.
Martinez said FMCSA got more than 5,000 comments, some of which were constructive and some of which he said to audience laughter were "colorful." "We will go and synthesize them and we have the pressure on us," Martinez said of his determination to not run into that 3-year time range he said he was told was the norm.
The comment period for that ANPR ended earlier in October. This coming week will see the close of a comment period on the separate California meal and rest break requirements that differ from federal rules, and the request by the ATA for a determination that an individual state's rules are superseded by the federal regulations.
Martinez said FMCSA will have a decision on that ATA petition "after due evaluation." To strong applause, he also said: "I have made comments before that I am very concerned about patchwork systems where every state gets to decide these issues."
Martinez also said FMCSA has "pulled a RIN," which in Washington parlance means to seek a Regulation Identity Number on the issue of HOS and ELD exemptions for agricultural transportation.
Pulling a RIN means starting the process for a regulatory review that would answer the many "ambiguities" in the current laws regarding livestock transportation, according to Jim Mullen, FMCSA chief counsel who attended the session. A RIN would first be necessary for an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that would seek to clarify such issues as whether livestock haulers can continue to operate without an ELD and the fact that some types of livestock fall under one set of HOS rules and exemptions while others have a different set of rules.
Martinez said dealing with the livestock issue has been particularly thorny. He joked that if he told some livestock haulers they could drive 24 hours per day, "they'd say, 'what do you mean? Why can't I drive 25 hours per day?'"
Fresh off five listening sessions about the ANPR for HOS rules, Martinez several times touted his agency's determination to continue listening and the obligation of the trucking community to provide feedback in return. "If I don't come home from this conference with a checklist of things that we have to check on, then we haven't done our job and you haven't done your job either, " he said. "We expect to have that level of conversation."
Other issues addressed by Martinez:
--Any sort of federal infrastructure project should look at the issue of parking, he said. It should study the construction of more "safe rest areas" for truck drivers, or at least look at technological solutions to better match the availability of parking with trucker needs.
--In response to a question from the audience about setting up state clearinghouses with information on drug testing results, Martinez asked for patience. FMCSA continues to work on setting up its drug and alcohol clearinghouse, and the mandate is to have that up and running by January 2020. He demurred slightly as to whether it would make that date, but said a federal approach would be far preferable to state-by-state clearinghouses, even if the latter could get set up faster.
-- Early results on full implementation of the ELD rule have been "promising." Of more than 1.4 million inspections since April, less than 1% have failed to have an ELD when required to do so. (There remains a percentage of the fleet that can continue to use Automatic On-Board Recording Devices). Violations of HOS rules have decreased 48% in the last year.