This year’s Roadcheck 2021 will be held May 4-6, and the main focus will be on hours-of-service compliance. Make sure your drivers are properly prepared for this year’s roadside inspections with new driver training. Truck inspections are expected to rebound in 2021 following a significant lag caused by the COVID pandemic. As COVID-related restrictions ease around the country, law enforcement officials anticipate a truck inspection rebound in 2021 from last year’s sharp decline.
According to the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System, roadside truck inspections dropped 23% from 3.5 million in 2019 to 2.7 million in 2020. Since then, COVID vaccinations have rolled out in growing numbers and states have continued to relax coronavirus rules which, according to FMCSA, may eventually lead to a return to higher inspection numbers. The FMCSA expects the number of inspections in 2021 to outpace 2020, although it is too early to tell due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 health emergency.
From ELD and HOS violation trends to self-driving trucks’ job displacement, here are some takeaways from FMCSA’s Analysis, Research & Technology forum. Remote/offsite safety audits of motor carriers are probably here to stay. The surge in offsite/remote safety audits and compliance reviews over the past year has greatly increased, and the FMCSA says that trend is here to stay. The FMCSA stated that the agency so far has “felt good about how (offsite audits) worked and how the agency was able to transition quickly to those remote audits.” That was somewhat out of necessity when the pandemic hit, but it was also a stroke of good luck on the agency’s timing.
False log violations have trended up under ELDs – and ELD violations have trended up under COVID, as well. False log violations have trended up since hard enforcement of the ELD mandate began in April 2018. It’s a lot harder to cheat your ELD and there has been a slow and steady increase in identifying false log records at roadside. Also, due to the COVID pandemic and a corresponding greater push by the FMCSA and state enforcement partners to conduct offsite audits of motor carriers, the number of safety investigations revealing ELD violations has climbed steadily.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is at it again with a tougher smog test proposal. At a recent workshop, California environmental regulators gave motor carriers a look at a heavy-duty vehicle smog inspection and maintenance program proposal that will require motor carriers to “smog test” their fleets quarterly, rather than current requirements for an annual inspection. Not everyone at the March 29 workshop seemed happy with the proposal. CARB staffers, who at times were cornered with tough questions from truckers, admitted they still have a lot of work to fine-tune the regulation, due to go into effect on January 1, 2023. This regulation will, for the first time, require carriers operating but not domiciled in California to submit certified smog tests before entering the state!
On the positive side, the proposed regulation would extend timelines for carriers with three or fewer trucks who are not compliant, with an extra day to repair their trucks. The CARB board is not expected to consider the final rule until December 2021. The purpose of the regulation, first outlined in the state’s 2016 Mobile Source Strategy and State Senate Bill 210, signed into law in 2019, is to ensure vehicles’ emissions control systems remain well-maintained, and to identify vehicles with emissions control component malfunctions to make timely repairs, reducing in-use oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter emissions from non-gasoline heavy-duty vehicles greater than 14,000-pounds gross vehicle weight rating, according to CARB.
Some commenters at the workshop questioned if the regulation’s adoption was on too tight of a timeline. Others were concerned that larger fleets would be challenged to test and report results in a timely manner. “For our organization we hired nearly 8,000 sub-haulers as defined by the advanced clean fleet rule,” James Cottingham, director of maintenance and equipment procurement at J.B. Hunt Transport, told CARB. “Those 8,000 sub-haulers represent roughly 308,000 pieces of equipment. How do you expect us to validate certificates for each and every one of those trucks? It seems impossible.”
“The independent small trucker has it very, very difficult,” Manuel Cunha Jr., president of Fresno, California-based Nisei Farmers League, told the CARB staff. “If you’re going to make that small independent trucker go out and buy a $180,000 truck, and he only travels two or three months in California per year, that makes it even more difficult.”
After the workshop, Mike Tunnell, American Trucking Associations’ California-based environmental researcher said, “Most people can relate to a smog check where they take their car in annually or maybe even less, but CARB has come up with the idea that they want to do it for trucks on a quarterly basis.” According to CARB, only 3% of the trucks contribute 65% of truck-related particulate matter emissions while for oxides of nitrogen, it’s 11% of the trucks contributing 47%. So, as we have seen with other smog check programs in general, it becomes a matter of how well the program can identify malfunctioning vehicles while minimizing costs across the majority of vehicles which are compliant.
Enforcement will begin July 1, 2023, with periodic testing starting in 2024. “The biggest piece I see is really the quarterly data collection,” said Delbert Powell of VOC Testing in San Bernardino, CA. “CARB is looking to have a back-office database where the data submissions will be noted.” That data could be gathered at quick-stop testing locations throughout the state, including potentially at truck dealerships, or through connections to on-board data diagnostics. On trucks pre-OBD, tests could possibly be conducted through a third-party mobile tester device. “The easiest way to seamlessly transfer the data would be through new software for the telematics systems many trucks now have,” Powell said. As for CARB’s Advanced Clean Trucks mandatory timetable, in 2024 it will bring in-state sales of about 4,000 zero-emission trucks, 5% of which will be Classes 7-8. Stay tuned and get your popcorn ready!