Editorial: FMCSA’s Listening, Will You Talk?

As of April 1, truck drivers may now be placed out of service for failing to record hours of service using an electronic logging device. There are a few exceptions, but the soft-enforcement phase of the ELD mandate is behind us, and the situation is more real for some drivers: Plug in an ELD, or pull off the highway.

During the time between the mandate’s Dec. 18 effective date and April 1 inspectors weren’t taking drivers out of service for failure to use an ELD but were issuing citations.

Based on the tenor of drivers attending forums hosted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., there remains a fervent lack of acceptance. Drivers angrily vented March 23 and March 24 at FMCSA officials, who calmly listened but weren’t above taking some to task for shaking their fists while offering little in terms of ideas.

But the regulators also suggested that the HOS rules themselves — not ELDs — may be the real source of the drivers’ ire. And they left open the possibility for change. Ray Martinez, the newly minted FMCSA administrator, encouraged attendees to come forward with ideas and said that if rules are outdated or no longer work, he’s open to suggestions.

That he would extend this olive branch so early in his tenure — and so soon after enactment of the mandate — makes for an interesting development. Whether it has any chance of leading to meaningful change is another issue.

These days, the wheels of government are barely creaking forward. With a midterm election nearing, observers suggest nothing of significance will come out of Congress for the remainder of the year. But that doesn’t mean agencies like FMCSA cannot address pressing issues. In fact, it’s on the regulatory side where things can and, sometimes, do get done.

The issues of ELDs and hours of service are already front and center, with a handful of exemptions and waivers in effect. And the U.S. Department of Transportation is reviewing more requests. Carriers that believe the HOS rules could stand some tweaking may have a window of opportunity. As one driver suggested, shippers have no mandates to which they must comply; it’s all on the carriers. Long delays for deliveries vex many motor carriers, so is it possible that the feds could offer some relief regarding hours of service? Hard to say. But it’s fun to ask, which is what FMCSA has invited the industry to do. It will be interesting to learn what they hear.

We can’t wait for the next listening session.