National Harbor, Md. — “I’ve tried to change the dynamic at FMCSA because I sensed when I walked in the door that there was this ‘us and them’ mentality; and that’s not good for us,” FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez told members of the UMA Board of Directors during their lunch meeting in National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on Thursday, June 6.
In a wide-ranging address that included a Q&A with the Board, he discussed everything from autonomous vehicles to the driver shortage and hot-button regulatory issues like ELDs, hours of service and meal breaks. Martinez addressed current industry developments and described his vision of an FMCSA that works with stakeholders to try to bring a “spirit of collaboration” that is much needed to promote safety and progress even as this industry is being transformed by technology at every turn.
Martinez recounted his first weeks on the job when he embarked on a series of industry listening sessions just before the ELD enforcement phase began, as fears and concerns were at their peak. “The truth is” he said, “three weeks on the job, I go to one of the big trucking conferences and boy were there some angry people. They were angry about ELDs. The trade press reported, ‘three weeks on the job and Martinez walks into a buzz saw.’”
Martinez is not shying away from the big issues facing the industry. He listened to UMA Board members who asked for greater efforts to separate the trucking industry from the passenger carrier industry when it comes to studying data and making rules. In response he said, “I want to be a proponent of this industry because it is safe. But we are always one horrific crash away from scrutiny.”
Martinez continually reminded operators that they must step up and comment on Announced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking to ensure that their voices are heard so they can shape the outcomes that will affect the industry.
Challenges: economy and infrastructure
The administrator stressed the important role of passenger carriers in driving the economy, providing jobs and providing safe travel, citing facts and figures that proved the point. “The economy is on fire” he said. “The economy has put pressure on the transportation industry, particularly for drivers.”
With more vehicles than ever on the roads in this booming economy, and leaders in the nation’s capital discussing an infrastructure bill, he said of a federal fix, “I remain hopeful that infrastructure will get a shot in the arm. You conduct your business on the roadways. We need an infrastructure bill, a major infrastructure bill, and we’re hoping there can be some agreement.”.
“The DOT has put out more than $60 billion in grant funds to states for various infrastructure projects, but there’s a lot more to do. One out of every five miles of highway pavement is in disrepair. One-third of bridges need repairs,” he said. However, Martinez said the legislation must go further than before. “I believe that part of any infrastructure bill has to be an investment on the tech side, too.”
Electronic logging devices and hours of service
No discussion of our industry would be complete without ample talk of ELDs, and Martinez did not disappoint. He discussed the first year of enforcement, what it has yielded and his hopes for ways this technology will transform the industry in positive ways.
“ELDs, over the long haul, are going to prove to be a great safety tool. Change is hard. It’s a transition for the enforcement side, too. They have challenges too,” he reminded operators. “It’s already proven to reduce driver fatigue and driver hours of service issues, and less than one percent of vehicles stopped that were required to have an ELD did not.”
Martinez also discussed the inflexibility in the hours of service regulations and said listening sessions around the country and online comments have contributed meaningful information to the discussion of ways FMCSA can “provide flexibility without compromising safety.”
Public comments are integral to rulemaking that works. “We don’t want to go down the road and find our regulations have unintended consequences,” he said, adding that FMCSA is on track to get the hours of service issue resolved within a year.
Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse
Martinez said there is work to be done on the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse to ensure that testing methods are fit for challenges, while progress has been made to ensure that unfit drivers aren’t jumping from one company to another.” He urged operators to go to fmcsa.dot.gov and register. “We have the ability to push out information if you register.”
Automated driving systems
Knowing that UMA’s Board members had spent the morning participating in a demonstration of automated vehicles, Martinez asked operators to visit the FMCSA website and see where the agency is when it comes to automated driving systems. He said other groups are more dismissive of the progress and promise in this area. Martinez said it’s common for industry groups to ask why FMCSA focuses on them because they do not believe autonomous driving is going to happen.
“The reason we focus on this, the reason we are asking you to comment on this, is because we need your input. We are talking about testing these technologies out on the open road, and you don’t want these decisions made by folks sitting at 1200 New Jersey Avenue (FMCSA headquarters) without your input.”
Do not underestimate where the nation is on the continuum leading to full automation, Martinez said.
“When it comes to assistive technology, the day is coming. I urge you to think about that with an open mind. You are the experts in this field, and you can drive the future” by commenting on FMCSA announcements of proposed rulemaking.
Crash Preventability Demonstration Program
The administrator discussed the progress already realized in the Crash Preventability Demonstration pilot program that began in late 2017 and concludes at the end of next month. He said, “94 percent of crashes we looked at and reviewed show they were not preventable.” He believes this could be a win for all involved. “We’d like to make this a permanent program. If that number holds, that’s not just good for the industry and for the carrier. It’s good for us, too. I don’t want those bad numbers in our data.”
Drivers under 21
Martinez said he could not take an opinion regarding the notion of CDL drivers who are under 21 since legislation is pending. But he did ask operators about the training program they might envision to help a younger cadre of drivers step up to the task. He pointed out that the military under-21 program is already happening, with younger drivers who have been through military training, who have discipline and who hold a CDL. While this age group generally poses a challenge, he urged operators to also see drivers as individuals.
“The industry is missing out on a generation of young people who are graduating from school and don’t want to be encumbered by student loans. People who don’t want to do that if they can step into a career where they could make good money.”