The Biden Administration and a Democrat-controlled Congress have the opportunity to reshape trucking regulations this year. Looking at what the Obama and Trump administrations left unfinished can show a potential roadmap to changes on the horizon.
From driver classification laws to hours of service changes to safety technologies and insurance minimums, the Biden administration and Democrat-controlled Congress have the potential to reshape trucking regulations over the next few years.
With the slimmest majority possible in the U.S. Senate and just a 10-vote advantage in the House, there could be pressure on the Democrats to push through new regulations and revisit Obama-era changes that the Trump Administration put off or canceled. The Biden Administration has already put a hold on some late-2020 trucking proposals’ by Trump’s DOT — including a pilot program to look at allowing drivers to pause their on-duty driving period.
Other Democrat-led ideas, such as increasing the minimum insurance for trucking companies, could get rolled into an infrastructure bill that Democrats expect to push for this spring.
Based on interviews with industry experts and past coverage of the FMCSA and DOT, FleetOwner has highlighted 10 pending or potential changes to the trucking industry worth keeping an eye on in 2021.
Driver classification laws: On hold
The Trump administration’s Department of Labor-proposed rule that aimed to clarify the difference between an employee and an independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act has been put on hold by the Biden administration. Democrats have argued that this law would make it easier for employers to classify workers, such as truck drivers, as contractors to avoid paying benefits and employment taxes.
Insurance liability increase: Likely
The minimum insurance requirement for heavy-duty vehicles hauling non-hazardous freight stands at $750,000. In 2020, the U.S. House’s $494 billion highway bill included an amendment that would increase the insurance minimum to $2 million. With Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, expect this proposal to be part of any future infrastructure bill and $2 million could be the floor — not the ceiling — of proposed requirements.
Speed limiters: Likely
The Trump administration shelved the Obama administration’s proposal to require speed limiters on large trucks. Democrats pushed for this to be part of the 2020 infrastructure bill that passed the House. This is expected to be part of the 2021 proposal or return as a proposed rule from Biden’s DOT.
Automatic emergency braking: Likely
During the Obama administration, passenger vehicle manufacturers agreed to include automatic emergency braking (AEB) on all new cars and light trucks by 2022. AEB could be mandated for new medium- and heavy-duty trucks as part of an infrastructure bill out of Congress or by the DOT.
Sleep apnea screening: Likely
Another Obama-era rule proposal eschewed by Trump’s DOT would require obese drivers to be screened for sleep apnea, which some studies have shown affect about a third of commercial drivers. In the old proposal, drivers with a body mass index of 40 or higher would be flagged for screening and others with a BMI of 33 or higher could be subject to screening if they meet other criteria. Expect this to be a Biden-era priority.
Trailer underride side guards: Possible
Expect the new DOT to take a serious look at strengthening rear-underride guards for trailers and considering adding a requirement for guards on the sides of trailers. The trucking industry and safety advocacy groups have been at odds over underride guards for years. Bipartisan legislation to add the requirements was last proposed in 2019 and saw pushback from trucking groups that said it would cost the industry billions of dollars. This could be part of an infrastructure bill or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) could propose a rule.
2020 HOS changes: Here to stay, but…
The new hours of service (HOS) rules that went into effect in September 2020 are likely to stick around in some form. The significant HOS changes expanded the short-haul exception to 150 air miles and a 14-hour work shift; expanded the adverse driving conditions exception by up to two hours; redefined the 30-minute break requirement; and modified the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to combine at least seven hours in the sleeper with off-duty time. In December, Congress directed FMCSA to analyze how the new rules impact highway safety compared to the old rules. Scopelitis Transportation Consulting (STC) anticipates the Biden Administration to want even more analysis. David J. Osiecki, president of STC, told FleetOwner that he doesn’t expect rolling back the 2020 rules to be high on the new DOT’s priority list.
Pause the HOS clock pilot: On hold
A proposal that didn’t make it into last year’s new HOS rules, which would allow drivers to pause their on-duty driving period with one off-duty period up to three hours, was introduced late in the summer. FMCSA proposed a pilot program to study the proposal. That is among the midnight regulations put on hold by the new administration.
Under-21 interstate drivers pilot: On hold
The American Trucking Associations-backed pilot program to evaluate allowing commercial drivers younger than 21 years old to operate CMVs in interstate commerce is back under review since Biden was sworn in. Younger commercial drivers are currently allowed to work in intrastate operations. It now appears their opportunity to join the interstate commerce workforce will have to wait as the pilot program is reviewed.
CSA: Expect refinement
The Trump administration tried to put its stamp on the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scoring system but did not get a rule published in time. FMCSA worked with the National Academy of Sciences to look at some statistical challenges within that system and recommended the Item Response Theory in 2017 as an alternative to the CSA Safety Measurement System scoring method. Expect the new DOT to continue to look at refining CSA, which has now entered its second decade — and third presidential administration. Changes could come in an infrastructure bill, or FMCSA could look at other ways to refine the program.