The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced the next step in the process towards mandating Electronic Logging Devices for all motor carriers. This latest step (in a very long line) is to seek public comment on the agency’s plan to have ELD manufacturers register and self-certify their products to meet the technical specifications of the regulations.
While it is a small step, it is a clear sign that FMCSA continues to commit to the proposed regulations issued earlier this year which would require ELDs for almost all motor carriers. So far, FMCSA has managed to avoid the problems that delayed the rules when they were first proposed in 2011.
The original rules were thrown out by a Federal Court over industry concerns about driver harassment. The Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published earlier this year (and being worked on at this step) avoid those issues.
Who Does it Cover?
FMCSA has left who the SNPRM will cover open to comments. The rules will apply to one of the four groups:
Option 1: ELDs are mandated for all CMV operations subject to 49 CFR part 395.
Option 2: ELDs are mandated for all CMV operations where the driver is required to complete RODS under 49 CFR 395.8 (this is the FMCSA-preferred option).
Option 3: ELDs are mandated for all CMV operations subject to 49 CFR part 395, and the ELD is required to include, or be able to be connected to, a printer, and to print RODS.
Option 4: ELDs are mandated for all CMV operations where the driver is required to complete RODS under 49 CFR 395.8, and the ELD is required to include, or be able to be connected to, a printer, and to print RODS.
What is an ELD?
The SNPRM proposes a device that is a little different from earlier drafts of the rules. The ELD must include the following:
Integral synchronization with the CMV engine,* to automatically capture engine power status, vehicle motion status, miles driven, engine hours.
Require automated entry at each change of duty status, at 60-minute intervals while CMV is in motion, at engine-on and engine-off instances, and at beginning and end of personal use and yard moves.
An ELD must be able to present a graph grid of driver’s daily duty status changes either on a display unit or on a printout.
HOS limits notification not required. “Unassigned driving time/miles” warning provided upon login.
Set Default Duty Status to ‘On-duty driving,’ when CMV has not been in-motion for 5 consecutive minutes, and driver has not responded to an ELD prompt within 1 minute. No other non-driver-initiated status change is allowed.
ELD time must be synchronized to UTC, absolute deviation must not exceed 10 minutes at any point in time.
Primary: Wireless Webservices or Bluetooth 2.1 or Email (SMTP) or Compliant Printout Backup Wired/Proximity: USB 2.0* and (Scannable QR codes, or TransferJet) Except for “printout alternative”
An ELD must not permit alteration or erasure of the original information collected concerning the driver’s ELD records or alteration of the source data streams used to provide that information. An ELD must support data integrity check functions.
An ELD must have the capability to monitor its compliance (engine connectivity, timing, positioning, etc.) for detectable malfunctions and data inconsistencies. The ELD must record these occurrences.
The NPRM make big steps towards protecting drivers. It outright bans harassing behaviors as well as taking steps to prevent carriers from using the ELD to ‘ping’ drivers while they are resting. This has become a common annoyance for many long distance truck drivers.
It also limits the requirements for tracking location to prevent employer abuse. Further, it limits what information could be edited by an employer to prevent forcing drivers to work outside restricted hours.
Various media outlets are reporting the start of a potentially major investigation into the safety of roadside crash barriers. Safety advocates are claiming a change in design has made the barriers highly dangerous during an accident.
Roadside crash barriers have long been a fixture of our nation’s highways. In many cases, it has been these barriers that have made a difference between life and death during an accident. However, a design change made in 2005 may have transformed some of these barriers from miracles of engineering to deadly weapons. Now, both the manufacturer and the Federal Highway Administration are answering questions about how this could have happened.
Like a “Bayonet”
The issue is with the “rail head” the piece that caps the end of the guard rail. In an accident, it is supposed to slide down the back of the rail, allowing the rail to channel the accident in a controlled fashion.
In 2005, the company that manufactures the rails changed their design. The steel channel behind the rail, down which the rail head can slide, was narrowed from five inches to four inches wide.
According to the New York Times, “Instead of sliding along the rail, helping it curl out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, the rail head can become jammed, some state officials say. In those cases, the long metal guardrail does not get pushed aside — instead, it can become a bayonet that can pierce the vehicle and any person in its way, the state officials say.”
The faulty rail heads are linked to at least five deaths and more than 14 serious injuries.
That issue alone is obviously deeply troubling. Compounding the issue, however, are questions about the level of oversight that FHA was maintaining.
The manufacturer was supposed to have notified FHA of the design change. It apparently did not do so. Thousands of the defective rail heads were installed nationwide before the change came to light during a patent dispute between the manufacturer and one of its rivals.
The Federal government has sued the manufacturer under the False Claims Act, the trial begins next week. However, questions are being asked about why it took FHA so long to realize that the crash barriers had undergone such a major alteration.
It appears that FHA should have had advanced warning over the issue. Engineers from both Connecticut and South Carolina contacted officials to raise concerns about the performance of the rail heads. The engineer from South Carolina even told FHA that the guard rails were not being made to specification. The agency wrote a letter to the manufacturer seeking additional testing, however, the letter was never sent. At the time, the agency said that it did not have enough evidence of a problem.
Oversight in the Spotlight
The scandal has arrived at an awkward time for FHA. The wider Department of Transportation community is under increased scrutiny over its commitment to oversight. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has been heavily scrutinized for its failure to catch the now infamous GM ignition fault.
With the court case against the manufacturer starting, it is unclear who will really be on trial: the defendant or FHA.
The crash earlier this year involving comedian Tracy Morgan has continued to leave a big shadow over the industry. With court action fast approaching, the two sides traded barbs in the media this week.
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