Group petitions FMCSA to delay final rule amending trucker hours-of-service regulations

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Washington — A coalition of safety advocacy groups, in conjunction with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, is petitioning the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to reconsider a controversial final rule the agency claims will add flexibility to hours-of-service regulations for commercial truck drivers.

Submitted June 30 and filed by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers, the Truck Safety Coalition, and the Teamsters, the petition requests a stay of the effective date of the final rule – slated for Sept. 29 at press time – until the FMCSA administrator can further review the petition.

Under the rule, announced in a May 14 agency press release and published in the June 1 Federal Register, FMCSA will:

  • Change the short-haul exception to 150 air miles from 100, and 14 hours on duty from 12, to be consistent for rules with long-haul truck drivers.
  • Extend the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions.
  • Revise the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after eight hours of continuous driving.
  • Reinstate the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks equipped with sleeper berth compartments.

The final rule doesn’t include a proposed provision that would have allowed covered commercial motor vehicle operators one rest break of up to three consecutive hours during every 14-hour on-duty period.

The petition cites National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data showing that 4,951 fatalities in incidents involving a large truck occurred in 2018, as well as other research highlighting fatigue-related hazards associated with the profession.

According to preliminary data released in NHTSA’s May 2020 Traffic Safety Facts report, fatalities in incidents involving a large truck are projected to have increased 1% in 2019.

“The final rule is not in the public interest and does not meet the agency’s statutory mission in carrying out its duties to assign and maintain safety as the highest priority,” the groups contend in the petition. “The agency had failed to address the significant risk to public safety posed by fatigued drivers of CMVs at a time when large truck crashes continue to increase.”

Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president, and Lamont Byrd, director of the Teamsters’ safety and health department, voiced their opposition to the final rule in a May 14 press release.

“In an effort to increase so-called ‘flexibility’ for trucking companies, the FMCSA is abandoning safety and allowing drivers to push themselves to the limit even further,” Hoffa said. “Trucking is already one of the nation’s most dangerous jobs. We shouldn’t be sacrificing the health and safety of drivers just to pad the profits of their big business bosses.”

yrd added: “Extending the workday to 14 hours for CDL-qualified short-haul drivers will result in an increase in occupational injuries and driver fatigue. We are also concerned with the revised rest break provision. This revised rule could allow a driver to spend hours performing physically demanding work and then drive up to eight hours without having to take a break.”

After multiple delays, FMCSA published a proposed rule in the Aug. 22 Federal Register. The initial comment deadline also was delayed before FMCSA on March 2 submitted the proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.

In a May 14 video posted on the Department of Transportation’s YouTube channel, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said the final rule’s provisions “will help drivers reach their destination safely without feeling like they’ve got to race against the clock to comply with federal mandates. They will also help truckers get the rest they need when they need it. When safety rules make sense, drivers are better able to comply, and that benefits everyone.”

COVID-19 pandemic: FMCSA extends waiver for certain preemployment drug tests

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Washington — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has granted to recently furloughed commercial motor vehicle drivers a 90-day waiver from certain preemployment drug testing requirements, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective June 5 and set to expire Sept. 30, the waiver amends current regulations requiring drivers to undergo preemployment drug testing and produce a negative test result to their employer before performing safety-sensitive functions, which includes operating a CMV. The regulation offers an exception to drivers who have participated in a testing program within the past 30 days and either:

  • Were tested for controlled substances within the past six months
  • Participated in the random controlled substances testing program for the previous 12 months.

Under the waiver, the exemption period is extended to 90 days from 30.

“As employers begin to recall drivers who were furloughed, laid off or otherwise not working for the company for more than 30 days, the cost and logistical barriers of testing a large influx of drivers in a short time frame are significant, at a time when the commercial trucking and motor coach industry is facing unprecedented economic challenges,” the waiver states. “This problem is further compounded by the reduced availability of controlled substances testing resources due to continued facility closures or other testing impediments caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

FMCSA says offering “temporary regulatory relief from this burden” is possible “without negatively impacting safety.” Further, the agency “reserves the right to revoke” the waiver as a result of drivers’ involvement in incidents or employers’ inability to comply with terms.

The waiver comes in response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order No. 13924 – Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery, issued May 19.

Temporary increased truck weight limits extended through July 30

Eased limits are for commercial loads with critical supplies

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Transportation has extended through July 30 the temporary higher weight limits for commercial trucks hauling critical supplies and goods during the current public health situation.

In response to a national emergency declaration, and to align with the temporary increase in truck weights by neighboring states, ADOT in early April raised the gross weight limit for commercial vehicles to 90,000 pounds without the need for an overweight permit, up from the normal 80,000 pounds. That temporary measure, previously extended to June 30, will now remain in effect until July 30.

For more information, visit azdot.gov.

Marijuana tops list of substances identified in CMV drivers’ failed drug tests: FMCSA

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Washington — The first report to use data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse shows that, from the database’s Sept. 28 launch through May, marijuana was the most common substance found in positive drug and alcohol tests among commercial motor vehicle drivers.

The national online database – aimed at enhancing road safety by providing, in real time, the names of CMV drivers who fail drug and alcohol tests – identified 10,388 positive tests for marijuana. Cocaine (3,192) and methamphetamine (2,184) were the next most common substances detected.

Under federal regulations, motor carriers must conduct pre-employment drug testing in addition to random testing. Employees who test positive are prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions, which includes operating a CMV.

According to the report, 19,849 CMV drivers had at least one violation and were unable to operate until completing the return-to-duty process – including 15,682 drivers who had yet to begin the process.

In an article published June 15 in the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s Land Line magazine, Amber Schweer, supervisor of OOIDA’s drug and alcohol consortium, said the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use in numerous states may be complicating the problem.

“There is a huge misconception that just because it is legal on the state level that it will be OK on the federal level,” Schweer said. “That is not the case.”

CBD products also figured to factor into the findings, Schweer added. In a Feb. 18 policy and compliance notice, the Department of Transportation cautioned that CBD products may contain higher levels of THC – the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – than DOT allows in a controlled substance. DOT added that CBD use is not a “legitimate medical explanation” for a safety-sensitive employee who tests positive for marijuana.

“There are so many companies that claim you won’t test positive using their product when in reality they cannot guarantee that,” Schweer said. “Drivers are not heeding the warnings that are put out there and, unfortunately, are facing expensive and detrimental consequences to their career.”

Overall, the clearinghouse observed 21,156 positive tests for substance misuse among CMV drivers during the reporting period. Multiple substances can appear in positive tests, FMCSA notes in the report, which does not include the total number of tests conducted. Future reports are set to be released monthly. Employers made more than 905,000 queries into the clearinghouse since it was fully implemented Jan. 6.

COVID-19 pandemic: CDC issues guidance for airline, airport and transit workers

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Atlanta — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a series of fact sheets for airport, airline and transit employers to help protect their workers from exposure to COVID-19.

Each of the 12 fact sheets contains steps employers should take, tips for workers based on specific job tasks, instructions on which surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected, a link to the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of approved disinfectants for use against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19, and links to other COVID-19-related online resources.

The fact sheets cover:

The fact sheets explain how COVID-19 can spread, describe who is at higher risk for more serious complications and list the disease’s common symptoms.

COVID-19 pandemic: DOT to provide more than 15 million cloth facial coverings to essential workers

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Washington — The Department of Transportation has announced it will distribute about 15.5 million cloth facial coverings to transportation workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Previous guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified transportation workers as essential and among those in “critical infrastructure” occupations.

“Transportation workers are on the front lines of keeping our transportation systems operational during this public health emergency and their well-being and safety is paramount,” Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in a May 28 press release.

Distribution of facial coverings by industry is as follows:

  • Mass transit and passenger rail: 4.8 million
  • Aviation: 3.8 million
  • Maritime: 2.4 million
  • Freight rail: 2.2 million
  • Highway and motor carrier: 2.1 million
  • Pipeline systems: 258,000

FEMA secured the facial coverings, which are expected to be distributed via the U.S. Postal Service “over the coming weeks.”

Extension and Modification of Expanded Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 Under 49 Cfr § 390.25

June 8, 2020

EXTENSION AND MODIFICATION OF EXPANDED
EMERGENCY DECLARATION No. 2020-002
UNDER 49 CFR § 390.25

THE FIFTY UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hereby declares that the continuing national emergency warrants the extension and modification of Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 This extension continues the exemption granted from Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) for the fifty States and the District of Columbia as set forth below.  This notice extends the exemption through July 14, 2020, subject to the restrictions and limitations set forth in this Extension.

Emergency Declaration 2020-002 was issued following the declaration of a national emergency by the President pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 5191(b) in response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the public health emergency declared by the Health and Human Services Secretary, and the immediate risk COVID-19 presents to public health and welfare.  Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 was previously set to expire on June 14, 2020.  FMCSA is continuing the exemption because the presidentially declared emergency remains in place, and because a continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains.  FMCSA is extending and modifying Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 and associated regulatory relief in accordance with 49 CFR § 390.25.  This extension addresses national emergency conditions that create a need for immediate transportation of essential supplies, and provides necessary relief from the FMCSRs for motor carriers and drivers. Read More»  

Operation Safe Driver Week slated for July 12-18

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Photo: Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance

Greenbelt, MD — Law enforcement officers are expected to keep an extra sharp watch for commercial and passenger vehicle drivers engaging in unsafe behaviors July 12-18 during the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s annual Operation Safe Driver Week.

Officers will be looking for drivers who are texting, following too closely, not wearing seat belts or maneuvering in otherwise unsafe manners, while placing added emphasis on speeding.

A May 12 CVSA press release cites recent findings from the Governors Highway Safety Association showing that state highway officials nationwide “are seeing a severe spike in speeding” as traffic volume has decreased as a result of quarantines and stay-at-home orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council show that, in March, the rate of motor vehicle deaths in the United States was 14% higher than in March 2019 despite fewer drivers being on the road.

CMV and passenger vehicle drivers in North America received nearly 47,000 citations and around 88,000 warnings during last year’s Operation Safe Driver Week, per data collected from law enforcement personnel. Citations and warnings related to speeding were most common, with CMV drivers receiving 1,454 citations and 2,126 warnings, and passenger vehicle drivers receiving 16,102 citations and 21,001 warnings.

“It’s essential that this enforcement initiative, which focuses on identifying and deterring unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding, go on as scheduled,” CVSA President John Samis said in the release. “As passenger vehicle drivers are limiting their travel to necessary trips and many [CMV] drivers are busy transporting vital goods to stores, it’s more important than ever to monitor our roadways for safe transport.”

FMCSA seeks to close ‘loophole’ that lets CMV drivers who fail drug, alcohol tests get licenses

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Washington — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is seeking input on a proposed rule that would ban states from issuing commercial driver’s licenses to operators with existing drug or alcohol violations, in an effort to eliminate a “regulatory loophole.”

The proposed rule, published in the April 28 Federal Register, also would prohibit state driver’s licensing agencies from renewing, upgrading and transferring CDLs for those operators.

FMCSA contends that although its online Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse – fully implemented in January – provides real-time national data on commercial motor vehicle drivers who have failed drug and alcohol tests, most states remain unaware that the violations have occurred.

“Consequently, there is no federal requirement that SDLAs take any action on the license of drivers subject to that prohibition,” FMCSA states. “As a result, a driver can continue to hold a valid [commercial learner’s permit] or CDL, even while prohibited from operating a CMV under FMCSA’s drug and alcohol regulations.”

Provisions of the clearinghouse require employers and medical review officers to report information about drivers who test positive for drugs or alcohol, or who refuse to comply with testing. Substance misuse professionals must report information about drivers who participate in the return-to-duty drug and alcohol rehabilitation process.

The proposal outlines two possible methods for determining the process by which SDLAs would access driver-specific information from the clearinghouse:

  • Require SDLAs to initiate a mandatory downgrade of the CLP and CDL driving privilege. Drivers would be required to complete the [return-to-duty] process and comply with any state-established procedures for reinstatement of the CMV driving privilege.
  • Provide SDLAs with optional notice of a driver’s prohibited status from the clearinghouse. The states would decide whether and how they would use the information under state law and policy to prevent a driver from operating a CMV.

Under the second alternative, SDLAs could choose to receive “push notifications” from the clearinghouse when drivers licensed in their state are prohibited from operating CMVs because of violations of drug or alcohol regulations.

Comments on the proposed rule are due June 29.