If you didn’t know, the federal government does not operate on a regular calendar year, yet Congress and certain federal regulatory agencies often make an end-of-the-year push to enact pending laws and regulations, and this year was no different. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published the new Unified Registration System, a cell phone use ban and revised the Hours-of-Service rules all in the last days of 2011. Here is a quick look at those three new rules and then some upcoming items still on the FMCSA’s agenda.
Unified Registration System. This rulemaking replaces three identification and registration systems: the US DOT number identification system, the commercial registration system, and the financial responsibility system, with an online federal unified registration system (URS). This program will be a depository of information on, and identification of, brokers, freight forwarders, and others required to register with the Department of Transportation. This final rule was published on 10/26/11.
Cellular Phone Use Ban. This new federal law makes it illegal for commercial drivers to use hand-held cellular phones while driving. This final rule was published on 12/02/11.
Hours-of-Service. These new rules, among other things, reduce by 12 hours the maximum number of hours a truck driver can work within a week. Under the old rule, truck drivers could work up to 82 hours within a seven-day period. The new rule limits a driver’s work week to 70 hours. In addition, truck drivers cannot drive after working eight hours without first taking a break of at least 30 minutes. Drivers can take the 30-minute break whenever they need rest during the eight-hour window. The rule retains the current 11-hour daily driving limit. The new rule requires truck drivers who maximize their weekly work hours to take at least two nights rest when their 24-hour body clock demands sleep the most – from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. This rest requirement is part of the rule’s “34-hour restart” provision that allows drivers to restart the clock on their work week by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. The new rule allows drivers to use the restart provision only once during a seven-day period. Drivers or companies that commit egregious violations of the rule could face the maximum penalties for each offense. Companies that allow drivers to exceed the 11-hour driving limit by 3 or more hours could be fined $11,000 per offense, and the drivers themselves could face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Commercial truck drivers and companies must comply with this HOS final rule by July 1, 2013. This final rule was published on 12/27/11.
Registry of Medical Examiners. This rule would establish training, testing and certification standards for medical examiners responsible for certifying that interstate CMV drivers meet established physical qualifications standards and provide a database (National Registry) of medical examiners that meet the certain standards for use by motor carriers and drivers to determine whether or not the medical examiner is qualified. It would also require that the medical examiner transmit electronically to the FMCSA. The estimated publication date is 12/30/11 – Overdue!
Carrier Safety Fitness Determination. This rule would revise 49 CFR Part 385, Safety Fitness Procedures, in accordance with the agency’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA). Currently, the safety fitness rating of a motor carrier is determined based on the results of a very labor-intensive compliance review conducted at the carrier’s place of business. Through this rulemaking, FMCSA would establish a safety fitness determination based on safety data from crashes, inspection and violation history rather than just the standard compliance review. This will enable the agency to assess the safety performance of a greater segment of the motor carrier industry with the goal of further reducing large truck and bus crashes and fatalities. The estimated publication date is 4/30/2012.
CDL Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. This rule would create a central database for verified positive controlled substances and alcohol test results for CDL drivers and refusals by such drivers to submit to testing. Employers and service agents would be required to report any positive test results or refusals. Prospective employers would be required to check the database before an applicant is hired. The estimated publication date is 5/23/2012.
Training Requirements for Entry Level CMV Drivers. This rule would require additional behind-the-wheel and classroom training for persons who must hold a commercial drivers license to operate a commercial motor vehicle. The estimated publication date is 7/02/2012.
Pattern of Safety Violations by Motor Carrier Management. This rule would amend FMCSA’s regulations to enable the agency to prevent interstate transportation by motor carriers that employ officers who have shown unusual and repeated disregard for safety compliance. The rule would define conduct that constitutes a pattern or practice of avoiding compliance or otherwise concealing noncompliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The estimated publication date is 8/08/2012.
Certification of Safety Inspectors, Auditors, and Investigators. This rule would require that any safety inspection, safety audit or compliance review be conducted by a certified inspector, auditor or investigator. The estimated publication date is 10/31/2012.
Medical Examiner’s Certification Integration. This rulemaking would build upon the National Registry and would provide for the medical examiner to transmit data from the medical examiner´s certificate through FMCSA to the State Driver Licensing Agencies in an effort to streamline the qualification process. The estimated publication date is 10/31/2012.
New Entrant Safety Assurance Process. This rule would consider methods for ensuring a new applicant carrier is knowledgeable about the applicable safety requirements before being granted New Entrant authority. This agency is considering whether to implement a proficiency examination as part of the process. Estimated publication date has not yet been announced.
EOBR & HOS Supporting Documents. This rule will consider revisions to the Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) for HOS to expand the number of motor carriers required to install and operate EOBRs. In addressing HOS Supporting Documents requirements in this new rule, FMCSA will consider reducing or eliminating current paperwork burdens associated with supporting documents in favor of expanded EOBR use. Estimated publication date has not yet been announced.