WASHINGTON – A home run away from Nationals Park, where the Washington Nationals play, is the hulking U.S. Department of Transportation, which houses FMCSA and where, in the words of FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez, “it would be easy to stay and say, ‘what are we going to do today to help regulate the trucking industry’.”
But hiding inside headquarters is exactly what Martinez has not been doing since being sworn in as the industry’s chief safety regulator on Feb. 28. Instead, he has spent much of the past nine months in the field among industry, speaking at conferences and listening to concerns from small owner-operators as well as large companies. And he says he plans to do “as much if not more” such outreach next year.
In a brief sit-down with FreightWaves in his office last week, Martinez reflected on the biggest issue with which he has been preoccupied: the ELD mandate within the constraints of the hours-of-service (HOS) rules and his focus for 2019.
“Some of those first few months was explaining to people who were railing at me saying, ‘get rid of this’,” Martinez said, regarding the ELD rule. “But it’s not in my power to do that. This a congressional mandate. Congress has had the opportunity to review this and decide whether to get rid of it or not, and they didn’t. So the goal was to try and implement it as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
The ELD requirement, which first went into effect in December 2017 before a “hard enforcement” date of April 1, has tightened freight capacity as drivers no longer can make unofficial “adjustments” to their logbooks. That can mean less time to find and take on additional loads.
However, because Martinez’s concerns revolve around safety, he has made it his business to be a sounding board for sectors of the trucking industry that have complained how ELDs don’t mesh with current HOS rules.
“When you do that, you’re going to hear stuff that sometimes is uncomfortable. And sometimes you’re going to get yelled at,” he says.
“Anything that’s kind of a game-changer that involves technology, new laws, new regulations, guidance documents, training…it takes time. And if the regulated industry says we’re struggling through this, or that we’re getting it but it’s just taking time with these open issues, we have to work those issues in. Also understand, whatever issues you’re seeing on the regulated side, you’re going to see it on the enforcement side – and [law enforcement] is working through it too.”
After deciding in August to re-open the debate on HOS rules with an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that stemmed from those industry struggles with the ELD, Martinez took it as a positive sign that the his agency received over 5,000 comments. “We kept the docket open so they could submit whatever questions and comments they wanted, and I think that was very positive.”
Martinez said at at an American Trucking Associations’ event in Austin in October that the pressure is on to filter through the comments, which were to address four specific areas within the HOS, and to come up with a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
Because the trucking industry is so segmented, “there is no unanimity of opinion on any one” of the areas, Martinez said during the interview, which included revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after 8 hours of continuous driving. “The question is, how do you interpret the break – does it mean you just put the keys aside and read a book? Or is it that you’re doing…maintenance on your truck or a lunch break that would satisfy that?”
Martinez also pointed out that while there was no specific call in the ANPRM to address the issue of expanding parking opportunities for truck drivers, adjusting HOS could help alleviate the problem.
“I’d love to see states and private sector take this on, take a more positive role in terms of building safe parking spaces for the industry that everyone needs. We’re not in the concrete-pouring business, but if we can provide more flexibility, then for the folks who use those parking spaces, maybe it relieves some of that pressure.”
He declined to reveal whether a formal proposal will be rolled out during the remaining weeks of 2018 or in early 2019.
“I can’t make an announcement on that beforehand. But I’m comfortable saying that if we put forward specific language in an NPRM, that we’re not going to make everyone happy - that either we went too far or not far enough. But I think what we’ve done to date should show that we’re dealing honestly, and we’re motivated to move the ball forward.”
Martinez emphasized that continuing to make progress on HOS will not detract from getting out of Washington and working directly with industry.
“This is never a fully completed process, there’s always going to new issues. What I hope for 2019 is that we’re going to be back at these conferences, dealing with owner-operators, carriers, companies, safety directors, and saying, ‘OK, what’s next, what else is an issue that we can work together on?’.”