The Fine Line Between Deregulation and Operation

When it comes to regulations in the trucking industry, it’s something of a mixed bag. On an economical standpoint, the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 has given the industry free reign. On the other hand, the trucking industry is perhaps one of the most heavily regulated sectors in terms of safety, environmental protection, driver standards, and others.

the Trump administration is also reconsidering some of the regulatory strangleholds the government has over trucking and is leaning in favor of the truckers.

The Trump administration has also been a mixed bag for the industry. For shippers and manufacturers who rely on goods sourced from foreign goods, the tariffs and escalating trade war have made for a bout of white-knuckled planning. However, the Trump administration is also reconsidering some of the regulatory strangleholds the government has over trucking and is leaning in favor of the truckers. “This administration is looking at the regulatory environment a bit differently,” says Mark Rourke, executive vice president and COO of Schneider, the nation’s second largest truckload (TL) carrier. “We’re not seeing a lot of activity with new regulations.”

With President Trump now beyond his midterm, it’s worth taking a closer look at the regulatory environment surrounding trucking. There’s a fine line between too much regulation and not enough. While reducing regulations might make trucking companies more efficient, they could also encourage some unsafe practices. The tradeoff to that is that with more regulations, efficiency drops and rates go up, with shippers picking up the tab, of course.

Hard Hitting Regs

Of the numerous regulations that are out there, there are some that stand out more than others. The biggest of them include the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) the Hours of Service (HoS) and the age restriction that locks out aspiring truckers under the age of 21.

Given that the mandate has also begun to tighten capacity even further, it also encourages shippers and carriers to work more closely together in order to increase operational efficiency.

The ELD mandate has been one of the hardest to deal with this year and has caused a great deal of productivity loss for shippers as enforcement went into full swing. While it was originally intended to keep truckers honest on the HoS ruling by removing paper logs it hasn’t been a smooth transition. “After months of issuing warnings, state enforcement personnel began issuing stiff fines for HOS violations last spring. The result, executives say, is between 3% and 8% lost productivity due to the elimination of cheating,” according to Logistics Management. Evening out the playing field with ELDs does have some advantages. It encourages carriers to plan routes more efficiently so as to make their deliveries on time, this is especially important when you consider that some companies are threatening penalties for tardy drivers. Given that the mandate has also begun to tighten capacity even further, it also encourages shippers and carriers to work more closely together in order to increase operational efficiency.

Fine Tuning the HoS

While it has taken some time, ELD compliance has reached almost 99 percent across the entire industry. The biggest gripe truckers have, however, isn’t with the ELD but with the Hours of Service ruling. This is especially true for agricultural, seasonal deliveries, logging, and other select commodities.

With that being said, Washington is looking to tweak some of the HoS terms in order to make it a bit more bearable. According to Logistics Management, there are four main areas, in particular, they are considering amending.

  • Expansion to the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty in order to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers.
  • Extending the current 14-hour, on duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions.
  • Revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after eight hours of continuous driving.
  • Reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks that are equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.

There is also an unintended side effect of the HoS and ELD mandates. Now that most of the entire trucking industry is on the same schedule, there aren’t enough safe places for truckers to park when they’ve run out of drive time. It’s actually gotten bad enough that many carriers are subsidizing their drivers to utilize paid parking at truck stops. These spots can range anywhere from $5 to $20 a night and while that’s not so bad for short trips, long-haul truckers could be shelling out a lot of extra cash to maintain compliance.

The Trucking Age for the Modern Age

The pool of truck drivers is drying up and it’s only getting shallower as more truckers hand in their keys and take to retirement. The Department of Transportation has announced that they will begin a pilot program which will allow drivers under the age of 21 to operate an 80,000 pound truck for interstate commerce.

Given that these youths would be behind the wheel of a 40-ton vehicle, there are more than a few safety advocates who believe this isn’t a good idea.

“The statistics are clear,” says Todd Spencer, president of the OOIDA. “There really isn’t any question that younger drivers are more likely to crash and be involved in serious incidents.” Given that these youths would be behind the wheel of a 40-ton vehicle, there are more than a few safety advocates who believe this isn’t a good idea.

The age restriction has been in place since 1935 and for the most part, no one has argued with the logic. However, the Trump administration is pushing hard to get this particular regulation removed and many don’t agree with it. However, there are some in the industry who think there can be some ways to ease new drivers into handling a rig, without just pushing them straight out of the nest. Handling the first and final mile of driving could give them the opportunity to experience freight handling without giving them total control of the rig from start to finish.

For better or worse, there will be some changes coming to the trucking industry. While these regulations have been put into place with safety in mind, have they reached the point where they’ve hindered operations? At what point does regulation get in the way of an enterprise?

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