This year, the trucking industry has gone through significant disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry has faced unprecedented issues from the ongoing driver shortage to driver health and higher demand for products in response to people staying indoors. In response to these novel times, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented several initiatives to bring relief to the fleets, trucks, and truck drivers responsible for answering the call.
The application of the new hours of service (HOS) rules, regulatory relief during the pandemic, and the longer-than-normal hurricane season has helped to bring some much-needed relief to those on the road. But the FMCSA is continuing its initiatives heading into the remainder of the year, focusing on the driver shortage, as noted above, and two pilot programs for drivers under the age of 21.
Here’s a better look at the steps the FMCSA is taking and how they affect trucking fleets around the country.
Regulatory Aid for Trucking
The FMCSA began increasing random drug and alcohol testing efforts earlier this year among commercial truck drivers to weed out those who would present a liability on the road. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, trucking companies and other industry stakeholders began worrying about how they would get their drivers to medical offices, either due to closures or concerns over contracting the virus itself.
In response to this, the FMCSA began providing relief through the end of 2020 to ensure that testing could continue for those who could meet the requirements and began issuing waivers for those who could not. The primary concern here was that those with expiring commercial driver’s licenses would not get their testing done in time, which would create more of a challenge in keeping the flow of goods and medical supplies moving efficiently.
Moving ahead, the agency will consider waivers and exemptions to determine whether they should continue or not, and future decisions will be made on input from the agency’s stakeholders.
Hours of Service and The Driver Shortage
At the end of this past September, new rules surrounding hours of service went into effect. Based on the data and public interest, the FMCSA changed the four areas of the HOS rules, including short-haul exception, adverse driving conditions, sleeper berth provisions, and 30-minute rest break requirements. All of the changes included did nothing to increase the driving time for the drivers themselves and instead provided the flexibility needed to make sure drivers are operating with more awareness and more rested.
The FMCSA is also continuing to address the country’s driver shortage as some 60,000 positions are open. The agency is currently pursuing two options, including an under 21 military program and an under 21 program for non-military drivers.
For the military program, which began this past June, the FMCSA worked with the National Guard and the Reserves to collect data on training drivers. The goal is to close the gap on driver shortage, which mostly stems from older drivers retiring. The average age of current drivers stands at about 57 years old, and with an aging population of drivers who are ready to retire, the industry is desperately in need of a younger crop of professionals.
Technology has had a significant influence on the trucking industry. Whether it’s autonomous trucking software making its way on the road or looking for ways to reduce trucking insurance premiums, technology helps keep drivers, products, and commuters more productive and safer.
The FMCSA’s Crash Preventability Determination Program, for example, allows carriers to submit crash information in different crash types. These numbers help the industry see what kinds of crashes were preventable. The intent here is to remove nonpreventable crashes and develop safety strategies for current drivers.
Another technology initiative, TECH-Celerate Now, brings together the minds of the FMCSA with the American Transportation Research Institute and ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council. The program encourages the adoption of advanced driver assistance systems, such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure assistance, and forward collision avoidance.
This program’s end goal is to reduce the number of rear-end collisions and the severity of these collisions, which will keep drivers and commuters safe.
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