As we transition from a Republican agenda to a Democrat agenda with Biden coming into office, there is potential for substantial impact within the trucking industry in the coming years.
Since Democrats have won a majority in the U.S. House in 2018, they have laid out a bolstered regulatory agenda regarding trucking, including previously proposed bills that call on a return to public view of CSA scores, speed limiter rules, and sleep apnea rules.
Overall, we expect a more active regulatory DOT, since Biden is looking to amend DOT order 2100.6 to eliminate Trump’s requirement that new rules require repeal of two existing rules.
Let’s take a look at what 2021 may bring.
2020 Hour of Service Rule Changes
Last year marked the first time the hours-of-service rules had a major update in years that were highlighted after the ELD rollout.
Drivers could begin operating under the new HOS regulations on September 29, 2020 after the rule was debuted on May 14, 2020.
The HOS rules changes will improve the workday for many truckers, including short-haul and team drivers, and will increase overall flexibility while the overall structure of HOS rules have not changed.
The 4 major changes in the 2020 hours of service reforms will affect the:
- 30-minute rest break requirement
- split-sleeper berth exception
- short-haul exemption, and
- adverse driving condition exemption
The DOT may look at the other HOS rule changes that did not make a cut, and what effects the new changes are making, as to whether implement more HOS changes in the future.
DOT Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse
Another major CDL Clearinghouse deadline approaches where companies could face fines, if in violation, and the Clearinghouse website may crash again as required annual query deadline approaches
With the FMCSA Clearinghouse now in effect for pre-employment, random testing and return-to-duty processes, employers of CDL drivers must follow a new drug testing process when hiring a potential new driver before a pre-employment drug test can be done at a collection site.
Violations can occur if required information is not loaded into the database, or if pre-employment drug tests are performed before a new hire gives consent for a detailed query.
Before the new hire driver can be tested, the employer needs to make sure the driver is registered to the FMCSA Clearinghouse, then request electronic driver consent to run a detailed query, run a query on the driver (employer or C/TPA), and ensure no recent negative drug testing history is present.
The other major required process for employers, including owner-operators, is to annually query all current CDL drivers at least once a year to make sure no violations appeared in the database. If the limited query returns any results, a detailed query is required.
This means the majority of CDL drivers need to have had a limited query run on them by January 6, 2021 or face potential violations and fines if found to be done late or not at all during an audit.
Greenhouse Gas Emission
Biden will likely restore strict fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards that were placed during the Obama administration, which Trump rolled back.
Biden is also expected to drop the effort to revoke California’s waiver, which would allow the state to set its own greenhouse gas emissions standards, while the EPA under a Democratic administration will develop a more collaborative relationship with California air quality regulators.
Speed Limiting Rule
In June 2019, Senators revived a plan that would “require all new commercial trucks with a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more to be equipped with speed-limiting devices, which must be set to a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour and be used at all times while in operation.”
The maximum speed requirement would also be extended to existing trucks that already have the technology installed.
Trucks without speed limiters will not be forced to retroactively install the technology.
This legislation is likely to be brought back in a Biden administration.
Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder that causes brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last at least 10 seconds or more and can occur up to 400 times a night.
With 28% of commercial truck drivers likely suffering from mild to severe sleep apnea, these drivers are five times more likely to be involved in a crash, and the total cost of collisions related to apnea is estimated at $15.9 billion a year, according to research from the National Safety Council.
In order to diagnose sleep apnea, your doctor may send you to a sleep center for testing. You may be asked to spend a night at the center, where experts will monitor your sleep.
In August 2017, FMCSA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) decided against moving forward on a possible regulation mandating the testing and treatment of sleep apnea for truck drivers and other transportation workers.
This is on the back-burner but not completely dead.
Hair Drug Testing
The industry is seeking additional drug testing methods, like hair and oral saliva testing, that can be used to prevent unsafe drivers on the roads as these methods are harder to cheat and provide a more complete drug testing history.
Large fleets have long used hair testing for pre-employment testing, catching 5 to 10 times more drug users than industry standard urine testing. However, currently these positive results cannot be released to the drivers record per DOT regulations.
Once completed, the DOT will adopt HHS hair testing guidelines and eventually prevent these drivers from seeking a job with another fleet.
The HHS proposed hair testing guidelines were published in the Federal Register on September 10, 2020. After the 60-day comment period, which ended November 10, 2020, HHS will review all comments and can make additional changes to their proposal. This process could take months.
When HHS releases their final proposed guidelines, the industry will need to wait for the Department of Transportation to go through its rulemaking process to allow the use of hair testing by motor carriers. While the DOT will likely adopt HHS guidelines, this process could take two years on its own.
However, Congress may try to push for immediate DOT adoption and the incoming Biden administration may apply pressure to speed up this process as well.
Don’t worry, truckers will not be affected tomorrow, but it is definitely something to think about over the next decade or two.
There is much that still needs to be considered before mass adoption of electric fleet vehicles like the Tesla Semi. This includes dozens to hundreds of megacharging stations to be built at trucking terminals and over the road chargers meant for truckers, showing they can handle consistent next day maintenance repairs if the truck breaks down, etc.
However, the incoming Biden administration is expected to increase regulatory oversight of electric and self-driving cars and trucks and increase the availability of federal tax credits for EVs.
For fleets to realize economic gains from autonomy requires a new set of processes and systems designed to assure safety and provide a positive return on investment. Over time, fleets would expect to see more balanced routes and reduction in mixed traffic and commuter congestion.
If the technology is nailed, then peak hours of travel can be circumnavigated to provide greater assurance on cargo arrival times, partnered with improved safety of fellow road-users.