Early 2017 Brought Substantial Activity to Trucking Regulations

Apr 10, 2017 By:

The first 100 days of the Trump presidency have seen myriad activity for the trucking industry and Department of Transportation (DOT). 

Executive Orders:

In his first week in office, Trump issued an order to federal agencies, including the DOT, to halt publication of new and pending regulations until they can be reviewed by the new administration. Then in his second week in office, Trump issued an executive order stating that for every new regulation submitted to the Federal Register, government agencies must identify two regulations that should be repealed.

Secretary of Transportation:

While many of Trump’s cabinet picks were met with significant criticism, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao received praise and breezed through the congressional confirmation hearing. A Washington insider, Chao led the Labor Department under George W. Bush, and she has held other high-level political appointments. Additionally, she’s married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-KY).

In her confirmation hearing, Chao put an emphasis on safety and the importance of infrastructure spending. She also spent time discussing her stance on regulations.

Federal rules "should be rooted in analysis derived from sound science and data, with risk-based analysis that prevents accidents before they happen, and considers both the costs and the benefits of new rulemakings,” Chao said at her hearing. “The great challenge for all regulators is to balance the ultimate goal of safety, but also to make sure the regulations are based on sound science and true data, and that the underlying analysis is solid.”

2018 Budget Proposal:

In March, the Trump administration issued its first U.S. budget outline for 2018, which would reduce discretionary transportation funding by 12.7 percent, from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion. Most of the cuts affect air and mass transit transportation, but the DOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program would be eliminated, according to Commercial Carrier Journal. These grants are awarded to states for resurfacing and other infrastructure projects. Another grant program, however, would be maintained. The DOT’s Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects grant program, known as FASTLANE grants that were authorized by the FAST Act highway bill in 2015, “supports larger highway and multimodal freight projects with demonstrable national or regional benefits,” according to Commercial Carrier Journal.

Chao issued a blog post about the budget blueprint on the DOT’s website. “The budget announced today preserves the ongoing safety programs at the heart of our Department’s mission,” Chao wrote. “In addition, it reaffirms the president’s strong commitment to modernizing our country’s outdated infrastructure with a strategic, targeted program of investments that will improve our economy, strengthen competitiveness and create jobs. The program will encompass common-sense regulatory, administrative, organizational and policy changes that will speed project delivery.”

The complete budget will be released later this spring.

Infrastructure Spending:

In his first State of the Union address, President Trump asked Congress to draft and pass a $1 trillion spending package to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. Trump suggested that a spending package of this size could be accomplished through a combination of public and private funds.

“[President Eisenhower] initiated the last truly great national infrastructure program, the building of the Interstate highway system. The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding,” Trump said in his address. “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways, gleaming across our very, very beautiful land.”

The latest report from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a D+ grade. And a recent poll indicates that 46 percent of registered voters think the country’s infrastructure has deteriorated over the last five years, according to Transport Topics. More than 90 percent of those polled by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers said roads, bridges and energy grids need repairs. Seven out of 10 respondents said more federal funding for infrastructure could help improve the economy.

Hours-of-Service 34-hour Restart:

The FMCSA under the Trump administration recently decided on a major component of the hours-of-service rules that went into effect on July 1, 2013. Originally, the rules included a provision that truck drivers must take at least two nights’ rest between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. during their 34-hour restart period, which allows them to restart the clock on their work week by taking 34 consecutive hours off. Because of many challenges to this part of the rule, it was suspended by Congress on December 16, 2014, and the FMCSA was ordered to conduct a study about the rule’s effectiveness. In March 2017, the FMCSA released the results of the study and conceded that there is no evidence that the restart rules were beneficial compared to the pre-July 1, 2013, rules. Therefore, that piece of the HOS rule has been permanently removed.

Safety Fitness Determination:

In May 2016, an FMCSA rulemaking proposal to determine a motor carrier’s safety fitness within Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) was met with significant criticism from the transportation industry. Under the Trump administration, the FMCSA recently announced that it is withdrawing the safety fitness determination rulemaking, as well as cancelling plans to issue a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking to help support the SFD effort. The rule had drawn widespread criticism over its reliance on CSA's BASIC ratings, which are currently hidden from public view so the FMCSA can rework the flawed data. 

About the Rule: As proposed, the Safety Fitness Determination rule would have replaced the current rating system of satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory. If a carrier was determined to be “unfit,” it would be required to improve operations or shut down. FMCSA estimated the determination system, which would factor in investigation results and roadside inspection/violation data in five of the seven BASICs, would allow the agency to assess the safety fitness of nearly 75,000 carriers monthly rather than the 15,000 it currently evaluates annually, according to Commercial Carrier Journal. The FMCSA may revisit a SFD rule after the data flaws are corrected.

Entry-Level Driving Training:

The entry-level driver training rule has been postponed twice since Trump took office. In December 2016, the FMCSA released a final rule to create and implement a core curriculum for new truck drivers receiving a CDL. The driver training rule was originally not slated to go into effect until February 6, 2017, so it was halted pending review by the new administration. It is still under review by the DOT, and the latest estimated effective date is May 22. If and when the final rule takes effect, stakeholders will have until February 2020 to comply, according to Transport Topics.

About the Rule: While the proposed rule draft included a requirement for drivers to have 30 hours of behind-the-wheel (BTW) training before earning a CDL, the final rule requires drivers to show “proficiency” in both knowledge training and BTW training on public roads. Training providers must determine that each CDL applicant demonstrates proficiency in all required elements of the training in order to successfully complete the program, according to Fleet Owner. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) favors this skills-based standard over the “arbitrary” hours-based training regimen originally proposed.