Regulation remains a key concern of the trucking industry, with issues such as drug testing job applicants, modifying the rules on how long truckers can drive in a day, and digital monitoring of more drivers topping the concerns of drivers and employers.
Other issues include dealing with a patchwork of state rules regulating how truckers are paid and sorting out two legally entangled work-rule changes in California, according to DAT Solutions, a Portland, Ore.-based company that matches freight with carriers.
Here’s a look at five of the top issues facing the trucking industry:
Automatic On-Board Recording Devices
Enforcement of Electronic Logging Devices that digitally track a truck’s hours in operation hurt productivity and accounted for more than half of a 30 percent year-over-year increase in spot-shipping rates in 2018, said Mark Montague, a DAT senior pricing analyst.
The ELD mandate was approved in December 2016. Trucking fleets using Automatic On-Board Recording Devices had two years to comply. Carriers relying on paper logs to track miles driven had only until Dec. 17, 2017.
ELD users had a one-year head start to work through equipment glitches and look for ways to make up lost productivity caused by precise monitoring.
However, the estimated 10 percent to 40 percent of fleets using recording devices rather than the new ELDs “need to have a transition plan to switch before the last minute,” said Annette Sandberg, principal of TransSafe Consulting and a former administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Drivers who complain about ELDs really are upset with hours-of-service regulations, Montague said.
The FMCSA last year hosted industry meetings that led to an announcement of proposed changes in hours-of-service rules. The agency received more than 5,200 public comments.
The recent partial shutdown of the federal government stalled progress in developing new rules, including the possible elimination of a 30-minute rest break after eight hours of driving. The FMCSA also sought ideas on how to divide the required 10-hour sleep break for long-haul drivers.
“I think there will be changes but not the dramatic changes many hope for,” said Joe Rajkovacz, director of government affairs at the Western States Trucking Association.
New minimum-wage rules
Most truck drivers are paid per mile driven. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have raised their minimum wage this year. That increases the likelihood of lawsuits targeting carriers for violations of wage and hour rules. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Employers with operations in different states must monitor these various state law requirements, as well as when they change, said R. Eddie Wayland, legal counsel for the Truckload Carriers Association.
“That should be fairly straightforward. But it’s a lot to keep up with if you are more than a regional carrier,” Montague said. “Instead of running efficient equipment and profitable lanes, your attention is diverted.”
“Driver wages are destined to feel pressure to move up to maintain their historical advantage over minimum wage jobs,” Gordon Klemp, chief executive of the National Transportation Institute, told Trucks.com.
Tougher Drug Testing
Two drug-testing regulations could add to the industry’s driver shortage by screening out recreational drug users. Both have industry and government support.
Carriers must search the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse by January 2020 for violations when conducting pre-employment screenings for drivers.
The current transportation funding bill calls on the FMCSA to issue rules to permit hair follicle testing in lieu of urine testing. This would happen after the Department of Health and Human Services issues guidelines.
Driver applicants currently provide urine samples, which can detect prior drug use within a few days of testing. Hair follicle testing can detect drugs for up to three months.
“Nine of 10 lifestyle drug abusers are undetected when only a urine test is relied on,” said Lane Kidd, managing director of the Trucking Alliance industry advocacy group.
The California Supreme Court has created a test that employers must follow to ensure proper classification of owner-operators as independent contractors instead of company employees.
That’s one of the hot-button issues unique to California. Another is a court fight over the FMCSA’s finding that carriers are not required to comply with the state’s meal- and rest-break requirements because federal laws cover hours of service. The Teamsters have sued in federal appeals court to overturn the finding.
“Labor is feeling pretty full of itself, and as I’ve witnessed over 40 years, they ultimately push too far and end up losing it all, which is what I think will happen in this case,” Rajkovacz told Trucks.com.