August 5, 2013 4:00 AM, EDT

DOT to Cut Daily Reports; Rule Change Could Save Trucking $1.7 Billion a Year

By Timothy Cama and Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporters

This story appears in the Aug. 5 print edition of Transport Topics.

WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his department would formally propose eliminating a requirement that truck drivers file daily inspection reports when they do not find any problems with their vehicles, a decision he said would save the industry $1.7 billion a year.

It is the largest paperwork reduction the federal government has proposed since a May 2012 order from President Obama instructed agencies to reduce regulatory burdens on the private sector, Foxx said.

“If this rule goes into effect, we will eliminate the burden of completing and retaining reports when there’s nothing to report, saving the industry an estimated $1.7 billion a year and saving truck drivers an estimated 47.2 million hours that can be better spent,” Foxx told reporters during an Aug. 1 news conference at the Department of Transportation’s headquarters here.

The proposal would not reduce the safety of trucks, because “there’s nothing wrong with their truck,” Foxx said.

Due to a rule implemented in the 1930s and now enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, truck drivers are required to inspect their equipment and file reports at the end of each day. They must detail defects they find on parts, including tires, horn, brakes, windshield wipers and coupling devices. Carriers must store the reports for at least three months.

The reports were established as an attempt to ensure carriers learn about truck and trailer defects and fix them. The government included no-defect reports to create a paper trail of each truck’s and trailer’s condition, FMCSA said.

But 95% of the 1.09 million inspection reports filed annually show no defects, FMCSA said. The time it takes to fill out those reports means that carriers and drivers waste $1.7 billion on them each year.

“We can better focus on the 5% of problematic truck inspection reports by eliminating the 95% that report the status quo,” FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said in an Aug. 1 statement. “Moving to a defect-only reporting system would reduce a significant paperwork burden facing truck drivers and save the industry billions without compromising safety.”

The pre-trip and end-of-day inspections will still be required, and drivers will still have to file reports when they find defects, FMCSA said. Drivers do not need to file reports for pre-trip inspections.

As part of Obama’s May 2012 initiative, FMCSA also has eliminated the no-defect inspection report requirement for truck drivers operating intermodal chassis and removed the mandate that commercial drivers report out-of-state convictions to the states where they are licensed.

American Trucking Associations applauded the new plan last week but also said federal regulators could go further in reducing unnecessary burdens on trucking.

“Though this step will provide modest relief to professional drivers and motor carriers, ATA is optimistic this signals Secretary Foxx’s willingness to provide reasonable and appropriate relief to the industry and he will quickly act to provide relief on more substantive issues,” ATA President Bill Graves said.

ATA also has asked that FMCSA establish a crash accountability process in its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, rescind the latest changes to the hours-of-service rule and give drivers more flexibility in using their sleeper berths to comply with resting requirements.

Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said his group would review the proposal with an eye on its potential effect on safety.

“We don’t want the industry to do unnecessary things, but DVIRs are an important part of a periodic maintenance and inspection program.”

FMCSA is expected to publish the proposal soon in the Federal Register, at which point the public will be allowed to comment for 60 days. The agency will consider those comments before making the change final.

Staff Reporter Eric Miller contributed to this report.