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A look back at some of the top labor issues in the freight-hauling industry since deregulation in the 1980s—and even before—as well as the notable impacts of ongoing worker and driver challenges.
Although the federal government doesn’t regulate labor in trucking per se, the impact regulations have on commercial drivers can’t be ignored.
The Labor Day weekend gives us here at FleetOwner an opportunity to look back at some of the top labor issues in the industry since deregulation in the 1980s and the effects of some notable and ongoing worker and driver challenges.
Deregulation was all about lowering economic barriers—such as higher insurance rates and higher registration costs—for motor carriers entering the industry. In turn, the government started raising safety barriers.
“All of these laws started getting passed to raise the safety bar,” Dave Osiecki, an industry veteran since the mid-1980s and a senior consultant at Scopelitis Transportation Consulting (STC), told FleetOwner. “Safety-based rules are directed at labor and the drivers largely. When you think about safety, it’s operational safety, vehicle, and truck safety, but if you really want to improve safety in trucking, it’s really about the person–the human–because that’s who makes the mistakes, unfortunately. That’s why a lot of the safety regulations are really aimed at labor, if you will.”
More than 40 years ago, that shift in deregulation ended up leading to an increased number of new companies coming into the business, Steve Keppler, who is co-director at STC, pointed out. “It depressed rates, but it also created efficiencies and opened up competition in the capital market,” he explained.
Keppler started his 29-year transportation career with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), where he served in various regulatory, research, and policy development positions. He also spent 15 years with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the last six of which he served as the group’s executive director.
“At the end of the day, the ultimate goal in transportation is to be safe,” Keppler said. “The response to deregulation in many respects was a slew of laws and regulations to try to get to that point. Since we’re not regulating you economically anymore, we have a responsibility to ensure safety on the highways. We are going to shift our focus to safety, so things like the electronic logging device mandate, hours-of-service changes, medical changes, drug testing, and the creation of the CDL under the Commercial Motor Vehicle Act of 1986—that was a big deal.”
In April 1992, the CDL went into effect. According to trucking radio icon Dave Nemo, who has been an in-cab companion for over-the-road truckers for the last 50 years or so, when the CDL law took effect, motor carriers and drivers expressed the same fear and trepidation that permeated the industry leading up to ELD mandate compliance in 2017.
“People didn’t know what it was all about,” Nemo said. “The hope among the drivers was: ‘Finally, we are like airplane pilots. We can drive across country with one license, and it’s a federal license.’ But we found out it was the same thing, only different, but now the federal government has a hand in the states that they didn’t have before. So, the FMCSA is born and then all of the subsequent things that FMCSA has brought about.”
At the end of the day, carriers will remain concerned with anything that disrupts daily business, particularly for companies with smaller operating margins, Keppler pointed out. And even though many of the safety rules that have been implemented since deregulation created a higher standard for those entering the business, drivers are often dealt a bad hand.
This gallery illustrates that labor issues in transportation are more important than ever—especially with the ongoing truck driver shortfall and technician shortages predicted to become worse over the next decade.
“It’s always a balancing act,” Keppler said. “You need to evaluate things on their totality. Yes, safety is important and critical, but we also want to make sure that we have a healthy, productive, and committed driver workforce. If you look at it from a safety and risk perspective, for drivers that have medical issues and who are not happy, there is research to show that those drivers are riskier.”
“It’s incumbent upon the government and carriers to make it as best of an environment as they can for those drivers because of that,” he added. “We see a lot of carriers creating new benefits programs, raising driver pay, and doing a lot of things to help retain drivers by making them as safe, healthy, and productive as possible.”
Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984
The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance program was authorized in 1982 shortly after deregulation. What that did was establish a program for the federal government to get states involved in oversight, explained Steve Keppler, co-director at Scopelitis Transportation Consulting. It set up a grant program and gave states money to help oversee drivers and motor carriers. Related to that, in 1984, the Motor Carrier Safety Act was established. It basically required the federal government to make sure states had compatible and consistent regulations to not impede interstate commerce, Keppler added. The Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 established rules, regulations, standards, and orders to assure that commercial motor vehicles are safely maintained, equipped, loaded, and operated; the responsibilities imposed upon commercial drivers do not impair drivers’ ability to operate safely; the physical condition of drivers is adequate to enable them to drive safely; and the operation of commercial motor vehicles does not create deleterious effects on the physical condition of drivers.
Commercial Motor Vehicle Act of 1986: Creation of the CDL
To improve safety, in 1986, Congress enacted the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act (CMVSA), which standardized the minimum requirements for obtaining and retaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and prohibited drivers from holding more than one CDL. The law was intended to improve highway safety by removing unsafe commercial vehicles and unqualified and unsafe drivers from the roads. The CDL took effect in April 1992 and has been a gateway for many of the regulations the industry sees today.
The first HOS rules were established in 1937 by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). They allowed 10 hours of driving time and eight hours of off-duty time within a 24-hour day as well as 60- to 70-hour limits for seven- and eight-day time frames, and time in the sleeper berth needed to total eight hours over two undefined periods. These regulations changed little until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 2003 final rule (effective in 2004). The ICC had been abolished in 1995, leaving rulemaking to the FMCSA. Under the 2003 final rule, drivers had 11 hours of driving time and 10 hours of off-duty time, and sleeper berth time totaled 10 or more hours over two periods, each with a minimum of two hours. The 2005 final rule changed the sleeper berth provisions to provide one of the sleeper berth periods to be at least eight consecutive hours, in addition to another two-hour period in the sleeper or off-duty, totaling 10 hours off-duty. Some critics said requiring eight-hour chunks of time in a sleeper berth was overly restrictive to drivers who wanted to utilize naps or team drivers who want to switch between each other with more flexible shifts. Critics also said that the mandatory two-hour break shouldn’t cut into drivers’ 14-hour shift, impeding their ability to work and discouraging them from taking the break. In 2017, a 34-hour restart rule was enacted that allowed drivers to reset their workweek (60/70 hours in 7/8 days) after 34 hours of consecutive rest. FMCSA studies found 34 hours is the optimal amount of time to reduce fatigue-related incidents. The 2020 changes also included the option of a 7/3 sleep/break split for increased flexibility and a 30-minute break requirement after eight cumulative hours of driving. HOS regulations continue to be a contentious topic to this day in the industry.
Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacted the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate in February 2016, and carriers had to comply by the end of 2017. The mandate required drivers to use ELDs to track their schedules to ensure hours-of-service (HOS) compliance. It also established standardized technical specifications for ELDs. Drivers previously logged their hours on paper, which critics said allowed carriers to abuse their drivers by encouraging them to fudge numbers, pushing them past their HOS limits. ELD rule exceptions exist for drivers of vehicles manufactured before model year 2000, driveaway-towaway drivers where the vehicle being driven is the commodity being delivered, and drivers who use paper logs no more than eight days during any 30-day period. The FMCSA estimates that ELDs reduce crashes and save lives.
Medical certification requirements
Medical certification requirements have quite a long history of evolution in the trucking industry—and they have not been developed without controversy. But if you don’t have a valid certification or don’t keep it current, you don’t have a job driving a truck. There are stiff penalties if a driver falsifies a certification. Myriad medical certification rules took effect in 2014. By law, every CDL/CLP holder must have a U.S. Department of Transportation-mandated physical exam annually (or every other year if you’re younger and healthy) and have a medical certificate on file with their state’s department of motor vehicles. The certificate confirms the driver is healthy enough to safely perform the demanding job of driving a commercial vehicle. The exam must be performed by a medical examiner who is listed in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) National Registry. Regulations allow states to revoke the CDL privileges of drivers who don’t have valid medical examiner certificates (MEC). With this all comes advice from FMCSA on related issues such as proper use of prescription medications, fitness, nutrition, and control of health issues common among truckers such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Obtaining and keeping a medical certification takes more effort than simply showing up for a physical exam. Diet and exercise are important, but passing the DOT physical (and keeping your driving privileges intact) begins with the right attitude about your health. Medical issues such as hearing and vision impairments and diabetes have FMCSA restrictions attached to the medical certificate process. After seven years, FMCSA also recently released a draft of its Medical Examiners Handbook that offers revised guidance to help examiners ensure that drivers are healthy and is seeking comment right now on the handbook.
Driver drug testing and the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse
It’s taken some time for the dust to settle on truck driver drug-and-alcohol testing and the reporting of those results to the more than 2-year-old federal Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, which is a secure online database that employers, state licensing agencies, and law enforcement can use to retrieve information about a CDL/CLP holder’s status. The clearinghouse has had a profound impact on safety but also on the trucking industry workforce and, indirectly, job satisfaction. Every CDL/CLP holder by law must be registered with the clearinghouse. For testing positive at least once, more than 135,000 drivers have been sidelined and placed into “return-to-duty” status for counseling and mandatory testing since the start of 2020. The safety benefits of the clearinghouse—and its role in helping to keep drivers impaired by substances off the road—is nearly universally acknowledged by the industry. Statistically, however, testing and the clearinghouse system have kept tens of thousands of truckers from driving. More than 100,000 of the 135,000 since 2020 are in prohibited status with the clearinghouse, meaning they can’t get back behind the wheel and make a living in the industry, at least not as drivers. The industry is short around 80,000 drivers and might be down about 160,000 by decade’s end, according to an American Trucking Associations estimate. Squabbles since before 2020 have erupted over the testing methods sanctioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the clearinghouse. The only testing method currently approved is urinalysis, which most often flags marijuana-using truckers (81,492 since 2020). But some stakeholders who use it during pre-screening of applicants are still pushing for hair-follicle testing because of its ability to detect use of harder drugs farther back in time—and the U.S. Department of Transportation has approved the addition of oral fluid testing to the clearinghouse-sanctioned testing methods, though this is still under review.
Employee Misclassification/Independent Contractor Status | California’s AB5
In 2019, California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) was passed. It set forth a legal test for independent contractors that, if failed, would require employers to hire these contractors as employees. There are many professions exempted from the law, but truck driving is not among them. The owner-operator model as it has existed for decades does not meet the legal test. Many carriers preemptively hired their contractors as employees. Many owner-operators were left scratching their heads as how to comply with the law. The law offers little to no guidance on how drivers can comply, as it is not specific to trucking. There are also questions regarding interstate commerce, on how the law affects owner-operators from outside the state operating in California. There is also concern that copycat laws will arise in other states, such as Senate Bill 863 in New Jersey. A preliminary injunction was issued by the U.S. Southern District Court of California to allow truck drivers to act as independent contractors during ensuing litigation from the California Trucking Association (CTA). However, with the Supreme Court opting to decline an appeal from the 9th Circuit, the district court had to repeal the injunction, formally lifting it Aug. 29. CTA intends to file a new motion for preliminary injunction via an argument based on the Federal Aviation and Administration Authorization Act of 1994. Briefing on the new motion will take place this fall. Additionally, the court will consider a motion from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), according to Scopelitis law firm.
Entry-level driver training requirements
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on Feb. 7, 2022, enacted a federal standard to obtain a commercial driver’s license. The regulation applies to people obtaining a Class A or Class B CDL for the first time after Feb. 7. It does not apply to any applicant who obtained a new CDL or commercial learner’s permit before Feb. 7, but it does apply to anybody upgrading an existing Class A or B CDL, or getting a hazardous materials (H), passenger (P), or school bus (S) endorsement for the first time. Driving schools are required to register with FMCSA. The entry-level driver training (ELDT) standards do not require a minimum number of hours, but they do require that applicants pass a theory instruction assessment and behind the wheel training. The federal regulations do not supersede state ELDT requirements that exceed the FMCSA’s minimum standards. For example, if a state has minimum hour requirements, drivers in that state must still meet the requirements. At the time of the regulation’s enactment, American Trucking Associations estimated that 85% of entry-level drivers were already trained with curricula that met the ELDT standards. “The entry-level driver training rule is a big deal and has been a long time coming,” STC’s Keppler said. “It was a difficult road. The process took over 20 years to get that done. It’s rules like that and ELDs, and driver medical certification—some view them as a negative, but they are also professionalizing the driver. It’s creating a higher standard for people entering the business.”
Exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) established overtime pay requirements for U.S. workers. However, these overtime pay regulations do not apply to motor carrier employees. Section 13(b)(1) of the FLSA provides an exemption for employees within the authority of the Secretary of Transportation pursuant to Section 204 of the Motor Carrier Act of 1935. This covers employees of motor carriers or private motor carriers. It also affects drivers, driver’s helpers, loaders, or mechanics whose duties affect the operational safety of vehicles on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce. There is a small vehicle exception, where employees who work with vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less are not exempt from overtime pay requirements.
Implementation of the CSA scoring system
From FMCSA: “CSA is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s data-driven safety compliance and enforcement program designed to improve safety and prevent commercial motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and fatalities.” It took quite a bit—and quite a lot of debate—to get there starting in 2010. The regulator’s safety scoring system is controversial to say the least—it’s still being challenged and tweaked to this day—and it has broad implications for trucking as a business, insurance, and liability. CSA stands for Compliance, Safety, Accountability and consists of three core components: the Safety Measurement System (SMS), interventions, and a Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rating system to determine the safety fitness of motor carriers. It’s all about whether a carrier is judged to be safe to operate on the nation’s highways and byways. The SMS uses data from roadside inspections and crash reports from the last two years, and data from investigations to identify carriers with safety performance and compliance problems for interventions. FMCSA investigators are equipped with a variety of interventions to contact and work with motor carriers that have safety performance and compliance problems. The SFD assesses the safety fitness of motor carriers to help FMCSA stand down carriers that are unfit. CSA is among carriers’ biggest concerns, Steve Keppler, co-director at Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, observed. “FMCSA has been silent on that for a while,” Keppler said. “Liability is a big issue right now with a lot of trucking companies and their insurance rates. A carrier concern is not knowing what the outcome of CSA will be and what [FMCSA] will do with that.”
New regulations in the trucking industry and rapid innovation have created a flurry of software and hardware offerings for trucks and everything else connected to logistics.
These advancements have helped with recruitment, training, routing, safety, communication and retention among other day-to-day operations. But when it comes to implementing new technology, a common failure private fleets experience is managing “change” — how it’s perceived by those expected to learn and use the new product or service offering.
Why do you need to manage change?
Like with other industries, integrating new technology can be a challenge for trucking companies and private fleets as those expected to use the new systems may not initially see eye-to-eye with those rolling it out. This is especially true with drivers, since experience using technological devices varies considerably as most in the workforce didn’t “grow up” with tech.
Just because the people leading the technology implementation see the benefits and know how to use the tech being rolled out, it doesn’t mean someone else will understand it right away. It’s why a multistep process that clearly communicates why and how the new technology will make a driver’s job easier — not harder — is key.
Some people adjust well to change, others do not. From an organizational perspective, when you make a change that affects how people do their job day-to-day, it can cause stress. Stress leads to a fight-or-flight response. People can get uncomfortable or annoyed when a change is made. If it’s perceived as a burden to how someone does their job, they may seek employment elsewhere.
When integrating new fleet technology, here are four things to consider to help with a successful transition.
Historically, drivers have not been involved in selecting new technology — despite often being the primary users. When possible, ask drivers for input into the technology you’re looking to add before it’s purchased. In the most recent Best Fleets to Drive For survey, a program that recognizes the top for-hire carrier workplaces for drivers, 75% of drivers strongly agreed that their companies implement new technologies to improve efficiency and overall productivity, but less than half had the opportunity to provide their input. Those who do involve drivers find they’re more accepting of the change.
Use pilot groups to test out new products and services. Create a list of potential pilot users from different age groups and technological expertise, then determine a base number for participation. Start with a small group (with an upper limit of between 150 and 200 drivers for large fleets). This way, any technical hiccups and bugs can be easily addressed without getting overwhelmed by requests.
Once your pilot group is identified, conduct a survey and create a tech profile, which covers both what is available with the drivers and what’s available at the company. There should be an implementation team assisting the pilot users, coaching them how to correctly use the new devices or software. If the pilot program is conducted in a way that sets participants up for success, they should be able to recognize the benefits or at least be able to easily use the new technology.
After validation — when the pilot group and management are both comfortable with the process — you’re ready to expand to other drivers in the company.
Create a plan to communicate information that drivers will need to feel comfortable about the program. Use town halls, Facebook Live, email newsletters or other communication channels to clearly communicate what is happening with the tech integration. Ensuring drivers are on board and supported makes a big difference in a rollout. It’s important that drivers don’t perceive the program as a chore or punishment. Position the new program as an investment in professional development, and as a benefit that helps them do their job better.
The second part of the communication plan is to identify early adopters, especially senior drivers who command trust, and have them speak with those who are struggling with the change or the technology. Peer-to-peer communication inspires more confidence and simplifies the messaging. Word-of-mouth about personal experiences is often more thorough and relatable than a how-to guide.
Communication, however positive, is ineffective if people are overwhelmed by too much information and too much work at the start of the program. The goal is to start slowly and build confidence and trust that the new program is worthwhile and easy to navigate.
Feedback shouldn’t be restricted to just the pilot stage. It should be a part of all stages of implementation. You can solve problems and make people feel heard by asking for their opinion as the change is happening and checking in with them after it has happened. This can be done with a town hall-style format or one-on-one phone calls. By understanding the effectiveness of your approach in integrating and training those on new technologies, you can improve integration practices moving forward or follow up with employees that need additional assistance using the technology.
With the necessary checkpoints throughout the implementation of new technologies, the fluidity of the transition will be much easier. Being transparent with the changes you’re looking to make with drivers is important in building trust.
|This is an abbreviated, edited excerpt from Roadway Human Factors: From Science To Application, 2nd edition, 2022 (hopefully). To aid the causal reader, most references are not included. The original text contains the fully referenced version.|
Cell phone distraction has become a research cottage industry. A Google Scholar search, for example, of driver+distraction+phone returns 65,900 hits, which is up 20% from only three years ago. What has been learned from all this research? The answer is: surprisingly little.
This might come as a shock to most people, who read the popular press and safety advocate blogs, not to mention much of the experimental and epidemiological literature, that is full of dire predictions about the mayhem that would/could/should be caused by drivers talking on their cell phones. The evidence for believing that conversing on a cell phone will increase accident risk falls into three general categories:
Researchers continue to churn out these experimental and data mining studies with dire predictions despite a very simple and basic observation: in the last 20+ years, the use of cell phones has skyrocketed, yet road accidents have fallen (at least up until the last couple of years). The explanation for this disconnect is a cautionary tale of the problems inherent in using research to identify and solve real-world problems and allowing the “White Hat” zero harm lobby to determine public policy.
In this article I explain the reasons why the research has so badly failed to predict cell phone safety risk. The discussion centers on what is known about the most researched and presumably most common type of cell phone distraction: having a conversation. This is often termed “cognitive distraction” as opposed to two other possible sources of distraction. “Visual distraction” is looking away from the road. “Physical distraction” is removing the hand(s) from the steering wheel to reach for or to hold some object, i.e., holding the phone, reaching for the phone, dialing, etc. In sum, the term “cell phone distraction” without a qualifier is meaningless because it conflates different tasks which, as explained below, have very different effects on road safety. To foreshadow the conclusion, there is little compelling evidence that conversing on a cell phone while driving is a risky behavior. On the other hand, there is much evidence to suggest that visual distraction is the only distraction type that is highly significant.
In the Beginning…
Almost from the invention of the automobile, the intuitive notion of limited attention raised concerns about the use of in-car technology. As early as 1906, highway authorities denounced a new technology that would increase mishap rates by hypnotizing and distracting drivers from the road. Despite the protests, the new technology, called “windshield wipers,” became a standard automobile feature in 1913. A similar concern over driver distraction arose in 1923 when the Springfield Sedan introduced car radios. Nicholas Trott, for example, wrote in the 1930 Farmer’s Almanac that some authorities believed that radios would “distract the driver and disturb the peace.” His solution was ban radio use except when the vehicle was parked. (Clearly, he was a man ahead of time.) Again, technology triumphed over caution and radios became standard within a few years. Except for some mild concern about CB radios in the ’60s, the issue of driver distraction from in-car technology lay dormant for 40 years until the dramatic spread of cell phone-wielding drivers reawakened fears that new technology would cause mayhem on the roadways.
Data Mining Evidence
The first major piece of evidence against cell phone use was Violanti (1997; 1998) which reported that cell phone use increased collision risk by a factor of nine, i.e., and odds ratio of 9:1, or 9 for short. This research had a limited sample size as well as other obvious methodological limitations, so it is not often cited these days. The real Patient Zero for the condemnation of cell phones is a statistical data mining study (Redelmeier & Tibshirani, 1997) that used data from a collision reporting center. It found an odds ratio of 4, lower than Violanti but significant because it conveniently allowed demonization of cell phones by comparison to drinking and driving which produces the same odds ratio. If it is dangerous as the ultimate bogeyman for road safety, then cell phones must be a menace indeed. Interesting, less dramatic studies published about this time were and are seldom sited. Laberge-Nadeau, Maag, Bellavance, Lapierre, Desjardins, Messier, & Saidi (2003) found an odds ratio of only 1.38 or less while Min & Redelmeier (1998) using different methodology found no effect of cell phones.
The methodological problems with Redelmeier & Tibshirani (1997) are extensive. The list is too long to explain in detail (See Green, 2022) so I’ll just note four of the obvious issues. First, there was no conclusive evidence that the driver was using the phone at the time of the collision. Second, and more significantly, the sample was biased. The study only examined drivers who had collisions, possibly a population of the worst drivers. Further, the reporting center dealt only with minor, property-only collisions. There is other evidence (see below) suggesting that if cell phone conversations have any effect, it is likely to be only on minor fender-benders. Third, the collision reports had nothing about the conditions at the time of the collision. They had no data on speed, traffic conditions, etc. In short, the study was weakly controlled. Lastly, a statistical re-analysis of the Redelmeier & Tibshirani (1997) data concluded that they did not an increased risk from cell phone conversation while driving.
Newer data mining studies using the more detailed naturalistic data do not support the Redelmeier & Tibshirani (1997) odds ratio of 4. The common finding is that that drivers talking on a cell phone had the same (Klauer, Dingus, Neale, Sudweeks, & Ramsey 2006) or even lower collision and near-miss rates than non-cell phone users (Olson, Hanowski, Hickman, & Bocanegra, 2009; Hickman, Hanowski, & Bocanegra, 2010; Young & Schreiner, 2009). That’s right – talking on a cell phone resulted in safer driving. In the case of handsfree sets, it was much safer driving.
However, other recent studies found an odds ratio somewhat above 1. Owens, Dingus, Guo, Fang, Perez, & McClafferty (2018) found an odds ratio of 1.83 combined across all classes of cell phone use. When examining only cognitive talking on a handheld the cell phone, the odds ratio was only 1.16 and an even lower 1.05 odds ratio for moderate and severe collisions. Recall that Redelmeier & Tibshirani (1997) examined only minor collisions. Drivers using a handsfree sets had so few collisions/near misses that no odds ratio could be computed, suggesting a small manual distraction effect. However, studies that examined the effects laws banning handheld phones find that they have no effect on crash rates while some experimental evidence finds no difference. The issue is not yet settled.
Another recent naturalistic study (Dingus, Guo, Lee, Antin, Perez, Buchanan-King, & Hankey, 2016) did find a moderate odds ratio of 2.2 for talking on a handheld cell phone. There are no data for talking on handsfree phones. Like Stutts, Reinfurt, Staplin, & Rodgman (2001) before them, however, they found that other generally ignored distractions caused about the same degree of risk: in-vehicle device (other) 4.6, using the climate control (2.3), manipulating the radio (1.9), eating (1.8), personal hygiene (1.4), and passenger interaction (1.4). Visual distractions that caused extended looking away from the road for any reason produced much higher odds ratios, e.g. 6.2 for texting.
The reasons for the discrepancies between early and later research and even between different newer naturalistic studies reveal the limitations of data mining problem. Data miners must decide what variables to include and what to ignore. They are creating a model of the real-world which is not the real-world. The accident reports provide insufficient information to build a reliable model. Still, naturalistic studies have their own problems. Different studies create different models. They must select operational definitions for terms such as “distraction”, “attention”, PRT, and “critical event.” Different studies also use different operational definitions, sometimes even within the same article. This is most obvious in the rather arbitrary category called “critical event.” The base data for early studies were actual accidents occurrences. Since actual crashes are so rare, however, the naturalistic literature has created a category called “critical events” which combines near-misses with collisions. In most cases, the number of near-misses is many multiples of collisions, so the research’s conclusions depend heavily on 1) the definition of near-miss and 2) the assumption that collisions and near-misses are interchangeable. There is no reason to make this assumption. Close examination of operational definitions is critical in science. They allow researchers a means of altering the statistical significance of their results. Two researchers with different operational definitions looking at the same data could come to opposite conclusions.
There are even deeper issues in the entire enterprise of performing statistical data mining to draw conclusions about road safety. Some relate to the general backward looking nature of case-control studies. The entire concept of odds ratio as a risk measure can be misleading because it expresses relative risk and not absolute risk. To say that that talking on a cell phone creates a critical event odds ratio of two says nothing about how many more crashes it would cause. Does it add one crash for every thousand miles driven? Ten thousand? Million? How many extra crashes is it likely to cause? How many micromorts1 does it increase the risk? Since actual crashes are so rare, the number is likely very small, especially given the evidence that talking on a cell phone has little or no negative safety effect at all.
Several bias factors are also likely at work. The drivers must volunteer to have their vehicles instrumented. It seems unlikely that those who drive aggressively, take risks, drink and drive, etc., would want their behavior closely monitored. Naturalistic studies likely reflect bias sample of safer and more conservative drivers. Other problems lie the many biases that affect the scientific literature. “Publication bias” refers to the fact that negative results are less likely to be published than positive ones. This means that data mining studies failing to find odds ratios greater than 1 and experimental studies finding no performance decrement with cell phone use are much less likely to see the light of day. “White Hat” bias means skewing the data for a righteous end, such as promoting safety. And of course, all researchers are biased by the need to churn out positive, publishable results in order to obtain grants, tenure and fame. Negative results are career killers. No researcher, safety authority, grant agency or news medium benefits in any way by concluding that talking on a cell phone is safe. Creating hysteria over a public safety hazard is good for all interested parties. Such considerations must be kept in mind when evaluating any scientific data.
Objective data do not exist because a human must decide what to measure, how to measure it and how to interpret it. These decision originate to some extent in previously held beliefs, theories, values and cultural identity.
Lastly, even if data mining were to demonstrate a correlation between phone conversations and collision risk, it would not prove causation. For example, there is evidence that drivers who use a cell phone while driving are a more aggressive population. Given the negative publicity, it also is reasonable to suppose that people who drive and converse are greater risk takers. (The same issue holds true for intoxicated driving.) Ironically, Violanti (1978), who was the first to publish a correlation between cell phone use and risk, was sufficiently circumspect to warn:
This analysis implies a statistical, but not necessarily a causal, relationship. A multitude of factors are involved in any traffic collision, and the exact cause of an accident and its severity level is difficult to disentangle. (Violanti, 1978).
Experimental research studies typically find that cognitive distraction causes performance losses, such as impaired detection and longer perception-response time, that the authors claim will create mayhem on the roadway. Yet, the data mining research provides no compelling confirmation and the mayhem has not occurred. Controlled research studies have not always generalized to the real-world and predicted events. What is the problem? There is a broad array of reasons, mostly due to the limitations of controlled research.
Statistical vs. practical significance. There is a distinction between statistical significance and practical significance. Not all effects are meaningful because statistical significance does not necessarily imply practical significance. Strayer, Drews, and Couch (2003) called the drunk drivers more “aggressive” because they followed more closely, 26.0 m compared to 27.4 m for control drivers. Statistically, the result was significant to the 0.05 level. The difference was only five percent. It hardly seems likely that such a small effect would have much real-world practical importance. It certainly does not warrant labeling drivers as “aggressive.” This is a classic example of taking a questionable statistic, giving it a verbal label, and using the label to overstate and to mislead. Further, a 0.05 level of significance is a borderline result. (Perhaps more importantly, using p-values to determine what is and is not a real effect is highly problematic.
Demand characteristics. Experimental demand characteristics can create artificial results. The subjects cannot decide to drive slowly, to pull off to the side of the road to make their phone calls, or to postpone their phone calls. The importance of self-regulation was demonstrated in a study the compared drivers who were performing a secondary task under two conditions. In the first, they acted at the pace dictated by the system. Although there was some risk compensation through reduced speed, drivers exhibited large performance decrements. In the second condition, drivers self-paced their behavior and showed little performance loss.
Task cognitive load. Not all cognitive loads are the same. Cell phone conversations of high “intensity” produce longer PRT and presumably more impairment. Research studies often use intense pseudo conversation such as performing complex mental mathematics and pseudo tasks, such as counting backward by non-prime numbers, that perhaps create an artificially high cognitive load. There is no obvious way to compare typical research intensity levels with typical real driver conversation intensities.
Automatic behavior. Humans reduce focal attention’s limited capacity by learning to automate behavior. Much of normal driving is controlled by automatic processes that run under minimal attentional supervision. As behavior becomes more automated, there is less need for the attention that might be diverted by the cell phone conversations. The consumption of attention by a cell phone conversations does not much disrupt automated behavior. For example, cognitive load can slow responses on tasks that require cognitive (i.e., attentional) control but not slow a driver’s response to a braking lead vehicle. Another study supports this conclusion by finding no difference in brake light detection in drivers with light or heavy cognitive load. Conversely, most controlled research studies put drivers in novel situations for short periods and often have them performing novel tasks (counting backward), so the subjects don’t have time to adapt and to automate much of their behavior. Laboratory effects greatly overestimate real-world interference from cell phone conversations by artificially loading attention. This creates a bigger, more publishable effect.
Baseline behavior when not using the cell phone. Fisher (2015) suggested that experimental (big effect) and naturalistic data (little or no effect) are at odds because they are measuring different attentional baselines. Research subjects are on abnormally high alert because they are consciously aware of being tested in an experiment. Research conversations divert attention from a very high level of vigilance. In contrast, naturalistic studies use real drivers, who are likely less attentive anyway. A study found that drivers on a daily commute reported mind wandering in 63 percent of their responses. Other data showed that 52 percent of patients brought to emergency rooms after collisions admitted to mind wandering before the crash. Both studies suggest that controlled, focal attention to driving is not necessarily normal behavior, at least in familiar driving conditions. Compared to this natural low level of attention, cell phone use may increase awareness. More specifically, cell phone conversations may keep drivers alert during long, monotonous travel when they would otherwise drift off into low arousal and at nighttime into circadian rhythm troughs. Lastly, this criticism may apply to naturalistic studies, too. There is no certainty that the drivers of instrumented vehicles are also not more alert than normal because their behavior is being monitored.
Drivers may also have other “distractions” when not on the phone. For example, they may be conversing with passengers. A laboratory study found that drivers with passengers resulted in many “look but fail to see” (LBFS) errors where drivers failed to detect road users such as pedestrians and motorcycles. In the worst case, female drivers with female passengers detected only 17 percent of motorcycles. A supporting study of hospital admissions claims that the presence of passengers correlates highly with increased collision accident risk. Having two passengers “is associated” with a doubling of risk. Is it time to ban passengers from cars?
The locus of attention. Cell phone conversations may also improve driver safety by reducing eye movements. Normal drivers spend some time glancing sideways at roadside objects. In contrast, drivers talking on cell phones concentrate gaze more intently on the center of the road ahead and exhibit less lateral variation in lane position. That is cell phones combat visual distraction. Cell phone users are ironically doing more of what drivers are supposed to do – looking where they are going. Of course, there is much more to attention than looking in the right direction (Green 2022).
Risk Compensation. Perhaps the biggest factor missing from the experimental research is risk compensation. Most views of driver behavior treat it as a skill-based task and that this is what experimental studies typically measure. However, driving is not simply based on skill, as the higher number of crashes and traffic tickets for professional race car drivers attests. Instead, driving is a self-regulated behavior that changes with task demands, so drivers’ pacing may be even more important than their skill. Drivers moderate their driving to compensate for high demands and risk.
The amount of compensation may depend on testing conditions. Compensation in a simulator where there is no real risk may underestimate compensation in the real-world. Still, research has demonstrated many types of compensation.
· Less Phone use. The simplest compensation strategy is to avoid using the cell phone. As might be expected, older drivers who have reduced attentional capacity are most prone to performance decrements from cell phones. However, according to self-report data, they are the demographic most likely to avoid using a phone;
· Use in low demand situations. Drivers prefer making phone calls in low demand situations, such as when stopped at intersections;
· Reduce speed. Cell phone conversing drivers also travel at reduced speed, although this may not be due to risk compensation. Distracted pedestrians also walk at a slower pace. Ironically, this increases rather than decreases their risk exposure;
· Leave longer headway. Many studies contradict the claim that cell phone users are more “aggressive.” On the contrary, many others found that they allow greater headway. The slower PRT in cell phone users is often cast as their major performance decrement, but the slower speed and longer headway would provide compensatory offsets. Moreover, the PRT-headway tradeoff presents a possible chicken-and-egg quandary. Do cell phone drivers leave more headway because they know that they need more time to respond, or do drivers respond more slowly when they have more headway? The second scenario is supported by research showing that even non-distracted drivers respond slower when the headway is greater. Drivers are simply slower to respond in less urgent situations;
· Restrict attention to relevant objects. Other evidence suggests that drivers also compensate by using strategies that conserve attention. While drivers on cell phones are allocating attention to a non-driving task, they conserve attention by first ceasing to attend irrelevant objects and exhibit no attentional loss to roadway objects and to hazards. They also cease relatively minor tasks such as checking speedometers and mirrors;
· Withdraw attention from the secondary task. They also conserve attention by withdrawing it from the distracting task. Driver ability to relate and remember stories declined while conducting a cell phone conversations, which suggests that they reduced attention to the call;
· Scale compensation to secondary task demands. When the secondary task demands more attention, compensation is greater. For example, drivers who are texting have greater headway compensation than those who are only conversing. Drivers similarly compensate more when using a handheld than a handsfree phone; and
· Scale compensation to driving task demands. When drivers encounter a mentally demanding road situation, they decrease attention to the secondary task. Drivers compensate more in complex urban roads than on simpler rural ones.
What really causes driver distraction?
The overall evidence that the cognitive “distraction” of talking on cell phones constitutes a general driving hazard is not compelling. This does not mean that cell phone conversations never contribute to collisions. Impairment is a joint function of dose and task. From what is known about attention, cell phone conversations should most likely contribute to collisions when they are the most intense and when the situation is most complex and demanding. However, these are situations where drivers exhibit the greatest compensatory behavior. Cell phone conversing drivers are similar to older drivers. There may be extreme cases where they create “unsystematic” risk but overall they do not constitute a system risk.
Some believe that driver risk compensation is not “adequate”. This presumably means that risk homeostasis does not occur- the cell phone risk is not brought back down to zero or to some other target level. The failure to perfectly compensate is unsurprising because humans are satisficers, not optimizers. It might be better to say that drivers perform risk “hedging” rather than risk “compensation.” They hedge the risk to a “good enough” level for the circumstances, even if it is not always zero. Even if cell phones increased risk slightly, they have benefits such as allowing drivers to perform tasks during driving, providing entertainment, reduce boredom and obtain information. The reasonable question has never been whether talking on a cell phone creates zero harm. Every human activity creates some risk. The proper question is whether talking and driving creates an acceptable risk, given its benefits and the cost of preventing it. As in most safety initiatives, such as Zero Vision, such benefits (and costs) are completely ignored in the name of achieving zero harm. Maybe they should remember the axiom:
If your world is just about safety, then your world is too small. (Long, 2014)
Despite what has been said, driver distraction is a real phenomenon and a serious concern. The conclusion that cell phone conversations are relatively benign does not extend to all potential distractions. Visual distraction produces greatly increased collision risk. The existing research strongly suggests that looking away from the road for an extended period is the main driver distraction risk. A behavior such as texting/emailing on a smartphone is undoubtedly a public safety concern. It doesn’t just draw the eyes away from the road, it 1) causes intense focus of attention on a small target or possibly an extended time and 2) changes accommodation and convergence to short distances. One naturalistic study found that texting produced an odds ratio of 163(!) of creating a safety-critical event compared to only 0.089 for talking on a hand-held cell phone and 0.65 on a handsfree cell phone (Olson, Hanowski, Hickman, & Bocanegra, 2009). (Another study found a testing odds ratio of only 2.1. Welcome to world of data mining research.)Even looking at the phone to dial only had an odds ratio of 3.5. It is hard to imagine a much more dangerous activity during driving than texting and emailing.
The bottom line on all this distracted driver research is that there is at best weak evidence that simply talking on a cell phone while driving is a particularly risky real-world behavior. Looking away from the road for any reason, be it dialing, texting, viewing the GPS navigation screen, adjusting the temperature, or opening a sandwich or water bottle likely poses a higher risk. One study suggests that tuning a radio increases crash risk by a factor of three to five. Perhaps Nicholas Trott was right all along.
The story of talking on a cell phone as risky behavior is a cautionary tale, especially for those “White Hats” who wish to save society from itself by adding rules and regulation that restrict behavior to avoid absolutely all harm. There is little compelling evidence that talking on a cell phone, especially with a handsfree set, increases collision risk. The “common sense” notion that cell phone conversations are risky because they divert critical attention from the driving task created a strong “confirmation bias” that has failed in the face of the real-world evidence. The sharp negative correlation between accident rate and cell phone use argues heavily against the common sense belief. Of course, this is just a correlation and there may be some strong countervailing factor that has lowered collision rate in spite of the cell phone menace. (Fatal collisions related to alcohol are way down.)However, this argument receives no support from the data mining literature. Although early studies using accident data suggested that the risk is high, more recent and better studies employing the detailed naturalistic data find little or no effect especially on absolute risk. Close examination of the experimental evidence shows that it has little ecological validity since it omits many factors operating in the real-world. If the White Hats were really serious, they would be calling for bans on car radios, passengers, and in-car eating, etc. Moreover, while studies typically find that while distraction is indeed a major crash cause, the large majority lie outside the vehicle. If the White Hats believed in zero harm, they would also call for bans on advertising signs, roadside flowers and skimpy clothing.
Conversely, visual distraction is a real and dangerous risk. For example, A study that directly compare cognitive and visual distraction found that only visual distraction produced a significant performance decrement. Amazing while cell phone condemnation continues, moreover, vehicles increasing come packaged with new visual distractors in the form of map displays and complex infotainment systems that are certain to consume some visual attention while driving.
However, visual distraction is not so easy to define. There is some dispute in the literature about when and how long the driver must look away from the road before he can be said to be distracted. After all, driving does not require full attention in most circumstances. The term distraction only applies when the competing behavior intrudes into the driving task. When exactly is that? It depends on the context.
So what is the sum total that the world has definitively learned about distraction from the 65,900 Google hits? If you don’t look down the road for a bit, you won’t see what is there and might have an accident. Who would have guessed!
1A micromort is a measure of risk equal to one death per million, usually per day. For example, every 250 miles driven equals one additional micromort. Climbing Mt. Everest is worth about 38,000 micromorts.
The science is simple—the air pressure in a tire is what carries the load, explained John Ramaika, regional fleet manager at Double Coin. Therefore, an underinflated tire requires more energy, meaning more fuel to roll. “The simplest and most neglected maintenance item which will impact tire performance and fuel economy is proper inflation,” he said.
The math is simple as well—there is a rule of thumb that 10% underinflation will cost about 1% in fuel economy, related Jim Garrett, long haul product category manager at Michelin North America. “Tires are designed for a specific amount of deformation for traction and stability and underinflated tires have more deformation,” he said. “The energy used to deform the tire comes from somewhere– ultimately it comes from the fuel tank.”
It’s easy to see how effective tire pressure management can help lower fuel costs.
“Tire maintenance and good policies and procedures contribute greatly to fuel economy because proper air pressure allows tires to perform at their maximum design levels,” said Tom Clauer, Yokohama Tire’s senior manager of commercial product planning. “Air pressure is the single most important component of any fleet maintenance practice as underinflated tires have a direct correlation to increased fuel consumption.
“Every fleet should set, maintain and enforce a strict policy concerning air pressure and it should be checked cold and daily,” Clauer added. “Drivers are the point of the spear for this and each time that equipment is in the shop for any service or maintenance, air pressure should be checked and adjusted. They should also take note of any irregular wear, which is usually an indication of a deeper issue, including the possibility of improper air pressure.”
Greg Kidd, application engineer at Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, U.S. and Canada, said the manufacturer encourages drivers and fleet managers to be proactive about tire management.
“As a routine part of a pre-trip inspection, fleets should check all tire inflation pressures,” Kidd advised. “During normal operating conditions, tire inflation pressure can increase 15% to 20%. Therefore, it is recommended to evaluate tire pressures before driving begins when the tire is cold to ensure a more accurate pressure check. Bridgestone also recommends replacing the valve stem seal, core and steel threaded flow-through cap every time a tire is mounted.
“There is no significant difference in proper maintenance practices between the steer, drive and trailer tires,” Kidd continued. “ However, it is important to keep the tractor and the trailer axles aligned. That will ensure the tires are rolling straight down the road, which will maximize tire life as well as fuel efficiency.”
Michelin’s Jim Garrett said fleets should invest in new valve stems every time a tire is replaced, digital tire gauges for maintenance personnel, pressure stickers on the vehicle for each wheel position, and driver and maintenance personnel training, which the company offers on request.
“Training is also available through your trucking association, your local tire dealer and suppliers of any specialty equipment you might purchase,” Garrett added. “We also recommend becoming familiar with the service manual provided by the tire manufacturer.”
At Yokohama, according to Tom Clauer, classroom training can be accessed through associations and onsite training can be conducted by a tire manufacturer representative and/or engineering staff. The company also offers a commercial video training series.
ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council is an excellent resource for fleets, noted John Ramaika at Double Coin. For example, he pointed to the TMC Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide for a comprehensive review of tire conditions covering probable causes and recommended actions.
Bridgestone’s Greg Kidd went on to point out that there are several options available for tire maintenance training, including on-site courses for fleets or sessions at the Bridgestone Texas Proving Grounds facility. TMC, he added, offers manuals such as Tire and Wheel Maintenance Basics for Drivers.
“While it would be difficult to quantify exact fuel savings from proper inspection and service procedures,” Kidd said, “one of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by working closely with a tire manufacturer to create a comprehensive tire management program.”
“Many of today’s trucks have sophisticated on-board monitoring systems that can be used to measure fuel economy,” said Jim Garrett at Michelin. “The data can provide an understanding of variables such as routes and drivers and can take time to collect, but many fleets are getting good at this and clearly recognize the quick payback in improved tire maintenance.”
Personal conveyance: How and when to use it
With strict regulations for hours-of-service, the use of personal conveyance can be an important tool for truckers. However, it can be a confusing area for some.
Personal conveyance is used to account for the movement of a truck while the driver is off-duty. Current regulatory guidance from the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration states that:
“A driver may record time operating a commercial motor vehicle for personal conveyance as off-duty only when the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work by the motor carrier. The CMV may be used for personal conveyance even if it is laden, since the load is not being transported for the commercial benefit of the motor carrier at that time. Personal conveyance does not reduce a driver’s or motor carrier’s responsibility to operate a CMV safely. Motor carriers can establish personal conveyance limitations either within the scope of, or more restrictive than, this guidance, such as banning use of a CMV for personal conveyance purposes, imposing a distance limitation on personal conveyance, or prohibiting personal conveyance while the CMV is laden.”
Drivers can use personal conveyance in a number of ways
Tom Crowley, a compliance and regulatory expert with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, says the use of personal conveyance can benefit drivers looking for safe parking following the end of their 14-hour clock.
“You would have drivers that were at a shipper-receiver who would run out of their 14-hour clock. And so technically they couldn’t drive off of their shipper-receiver’s property,” Crowley said. “Yet the property owner was saying, ‘Hey, you get your truck off my property or I’m going to call the cops!’ That would leave the drivers in the lurch. So the feds came back and said, ‘You can use personal conveyance from a shippers-receivers, if you run out of hours, to the closest option for parking, Not in the way of your next load, but the closest option. So the personal conveyance comes into play there where you’re out of hours, but you got to leave the property. You can use personal conveyance so that you don’t have to show violation to your closest parking option. That’s one way it’s used for the average driver out on the road.”
A former driver, Crowley would drive his truck to the yard and back home every day. By using personal conveyance, his hours would start when he got to the yard and would end when he left the yard.
Additional instances for the use of personal conveyance, according to FMCSA guidance:
Logging personal conveyance
Crowley said that drivers using a paper record of duty status can use the provision without changing their current logging procedures. However, drivers using an ELD will want to account for the miles put on their truck while they’re off duty.
“You don’t have to keep any records. Technically, when you are on personal conveyance, there are no hours of service to cover you, so you don’t have to log anything,” Crowley said. “That said, you’ve got an ELD that’s tracking every mile you go, most folks do now. So they need to put the ELD into a status that will show personal conveyance rather than keeping their hours. So that’s when they would either use the PC button, or technically they could log totally out of the system. But then they would still have those unaccounted for miles to deal with.”
As part of the FMCSA’s ELD rule, manufacturers are required to include a special driving category for personal conveyance.
Crowley said drivers need to be aware of instances where personal conveyance and its use can be misinterpreted.
“You’re out of deodorant. You run to Walmart, buy some deodorant and go back to the truck shop. That’s a personal conveyance move,” he said. “But here’s the thing. If while you’re at Walmart, you buy you a gallon of oil for your truck, you’ve negated the personal conveyance. Because now it was a business-related move. Just to, you know, keep it complicated.”
While some gray areas still exist for the use of the provision, Crowley said that the most common instance for its misuse stems from drivers inaccurately determining off-duty status.
“A lot of drivers have the tendency to think if they are not under a load that they are on personal conveyance,” he said. “So I leave Kansas City, I go out to L.A. to deliver my load and then I’m going back to KC empty. You cannot personal conveyance back to Kansas City empty because that is part of your trip. But drivers tend to think that if I am not under dispatch, you know, I’m not under a load that I can use personal conveyance. And I all the time have to say no. ‘Well, I’ve been doing that.’ Well, you haven’t been caught. That’s the only thing.”
Other instances that would not qualify as personal conveyance, according to the current FMCSA regulatory guidance, are as follows:
Knowing when to use – and more importantly when not to use – personal conveyance is important. Drivers who inaccurately use personal conveyance are subject to penalty.
“That would be falsification of the logbook and that would equal immediate out of service for 10 hours,” Crowley said. “And that is absolutely what happens to them.”
Changes to FMCSA’s guidance on personal conveyance
On March 29, 2022, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance petitioned FMCSA to amend the current guidance regarding the use of personal conveyance. In its petition, CVSA has requested the administration better define it by adding a maximum distance and/or time drivers could operate under that designation.
“Under the current guidance, a driver could, in theory, drive hundreds of miles over the course of several hours all under the designation of personal conveyance,” the alliance wrote in its petition to FMCSA. “This presents the opportunity for increased driver fatigue and risk on our roadways, as drivers may decide to travel hundreds of miles in order to strategically relocate to an alternate location after driving a full day. Without a maximum daily distance and/or time limit, the guidance presents a legal way for drivers to significantly extend their driving time and the furtherance of their load while recording personal conveyance. The hours-of-service limits exist to mitigate the impacts of fatigue on highway safety. Allowing significant extension of driving time with the use of personal conveyance undermines the goals of the hours-of-service regulations.”
CVSA initially petitioned FMCSA to make this change on Dec. 17, 2018, prior to the current revised guidance being put into effect. That petition was denied on Sept. 18, 2020.
The request by CVSA is not ungrounded
Canadian truckers are limited in the distance they can travel under the use of personal conveyance. Current guidelines limit its use to 75 km (around 47 miles) per day. The driver must logged as off-duty with the truck unloaded and trailers unhitched.
According to CVSA, false records of duty status violations represented the 3rd most documented driver violation in 2021. In June 2021, a violation code was added to roadside inspection software which allowed inspectors to note when false record of duty status violations were a result of the misuse of personal conveyance. As of Jan. 28, there had been reported 3,041 violations indicating the misuse of personal conveyance. Additionally, 61% of those violations resulted in the driver being placed out of service because their misuse of personal conveyance was an attempt to conceal extra driving time.
“By establishing a maximum allowed distance or time for personal conveyance, FMCSA will not only eliminate confusion and inconsistent enforcement among inspectors on this issue but will also ensure safer roads as commercial motor vehicle drivers and motor carriers are on notice that personal conveyance time cannot be used as a safe harbor for driving hundreds of miles after exhausting their hours of service.”
Motor Carriers can often find themselves in a frustrating scenario trying to defend why they do not have a current “SATISFACTORY” safety rating. It is understandable to question a motor carrier’s safety rating when they are currently “CONDITIONAL” or even “UNSATISFACTORY.” However, a non-rated motor carrier is often put in a position of defense when questioned by a variety of entities, such as shippers, receivers, brokers, and even insurance providers.
The current rating process is outlined in 49 CFR Part 385. This rating process has been in existence before CSA was ever developed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It dates back to the SAFESTAT days (for those of you that have been in the brokerage/motor carrier space that long). We then found our way to the Safety Measurement System (SMS) and CSA.
In moving to SMS – CSA, there was an attempt to replace the current rating process with the Carrier Safety Fitness Determination, but that has gone by the wayside. This would have eliminated an antiquated rating process and replaced it with one that would have included roadside inspection data as well as results of compliance reviews.
What we are left with is an often misunderstood process. Here is an attempt at explaining each of these ratings:
NON-RATED: Simply stated, this a carrier that has either never undergone a “FULL” FMCSA compliance review in which all parts of compliance were checked, or a “FOCUSED” review in which some parts, but not all were checked for compliance. Additionally, they could have undergone a FOCUSED review whereas nothing was found that would have resulted in a proposed Unsatisfactory or Conditional rating, as outlined in Part 385, thus resulting in being non-rated.
UNSATISFACTORY: Simply stated, this carrier would have undergone a FULL or a FOCUSED review, and the findings of that review for the carrier would have resulted in a UNSATISFACTORY rating, as outlined in Part 385. It should be noted that ratings are proposed and do not take affect for 45 days if you transport hazardous materials and 60 days if you do not transport hazardous material. Proposed UNSATISFACORY carriers must complete a 49 CFR 385.17 upgrade request prior to the 45/60 day time frame or be subject to a FMCSA Out-of-Service Order.
CONDITIONAL: Simply stated, this carrier would have undergone a FULL or a FOCUSED review, and the findings of that review for the Carrier would have resulted in a CONDITIONAL rating, as outlined in Part 385. Proposed Conditional carriers can complete a 49 CFR 385.17 upgrade request during the aforementioned timeframes, or they simply attempt to operate with this rating until which time they feel corrections have been made to warrant an upgrade.
SATISFACTORY: Simply stated, this carrier has undergone a FULL review at some point in their history. You cannot be a SATISFACTORY carrier without having undergone a FULL review. FOCUSED reviews do not result in SATISFACTORY ratings. You can maintain a previous issued SATISFACTORY rating if you pass a FOCUSED review, but cannot be issued a new SATISFACTORY rating without a FULL review.
Let’s summarize this:
Since SMS – CSA, there has been a substantial move in the types of reviews that are completed. Under SAFESTAT, the majority of the reviews were primarily FULL reviews. Under SMS – CSA, the majority of the reviews are FOCUSED. This has resulted in far fewer SATISFACTORY ratings being issued since SAFESTAT went away.
Shippers, receivers, brokers, and insurance providers have to understand that in many cases a NON-RATED motor carrier is actually better than SATISFACTORY motor carrier.
When applying this information it is important to not confuse a New Entrant Safety Audit with any of these ratings because ratings are only assigned for FULL or FOCUSED reviews as noted here, not for New Entrant Safety Audits. New Entrant Safety Audits result in Pass/Fail.
The following is a brief overview of the Entry Level Driver Training program. For complete information click on the link below.
Interested in ELDT?
Select a scenario below to determine if you are required to complete entry-level driver training.
You must complete the required entry-level driver training for the class of CDL to which you are upgrading before you will be permitted to take the CDL skills test.
You are not required to complete entry-level driver training, as long as you obtain a CDL before the CLP, or renewed CLP, expires.
You must complete the required entry-level driver training for the endorsement(s) for which you are applying before you will be permitted to take the S or P skills test or H knowledge test.
You must complete the required entry-level driver training before you will be permitted to take the CDL skills test, the S or P skills test, or the H knowledge test.
You are not required to complete entry-level driver training to obtain a CDL, even if the previously-issued CDL has since lapsed.
You are not required to complete entry-level driver training for the previously-issued endorsement, even if it has since lapsed.
You must complete the required entry-level driver training before you will be permitted to take the CDL skills test.
What are the Entry-Level Driver Training regulations?
The ELDT regulations set the minimum Federal requirements for training that entry-level drivers must complete before being permitted to take certain commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills or knowledge tests on or after February 7, 2022.
Who is considered an entry-level driver? Individuals applying to:
The ELDT regulations do not apply to individuals excepted from the CDL requirements under 49 CFR part 383.
Study finds trucking accidents up after ELDs
On its way to publication in the Journal of Operations Management last year, a study by researchers at the University of Arkansas previously reported on in 2019 in Overdrive ended up highlighting a significant outcome of the electronic logging device mandate implemented fully in 2017-’18.
The mandate, the study concluded, did not result in any reduction of accidents. Its implementation correlated, rather, with an increase in both accidents and in recorded unsafe driving incidents, specifically speeding.
Researchers found that compliance with federal hours of service regulations has significantly improved since the ELD mandate took effect in December 2017, especially for small carriers and independent owner-operators the researchers viewed as most impacted by the mandate. Large carriers, researchers assumed, had been using ELDs or their predecessor, the automatic on-board recording device, long before the mandate.
Despite higher levels of hours of service compliance, researchers found that the number of accidents increased for most carriers after the ELD mandate took effect. That was especially true for independent owner-operators, who saw an 11.6% increase in accidents, and small fleets of between two and 20 trucks, with a 9% increase, the study found.
An analysis of unsafe driving violations for different sizes of carriers showed an increase compared to violations before the mandate took effect. This was true for all sizes of carriers, the researchers said, but the increases were greater for small- and medium-sized carriers who had not been using ELDs prior to the mandate.
“Our results indicate the electronic logging device mandate did not immediately achieve its goal of reducing accidents,” said Andrew Balthrop, research associate in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. “Drivers have reacted in ways the FMCSA has not fully anticipated, and these behaviors should be accounted for as the FMCSA revisits their hours-of-service policies.”
ince the mandate was handed down, FMCSA has responded in some measures to operators’ calls for hours of service flexibility by adding a 7/3 sleeper berth split in addition to the previously-allowed 8/2 split; adding the ability to pause the 14-hour on-duty clock for up to three hours a day via those split regs; and allowing drivers to take their 30-minute break in on-duty, non-driving status within the first eight hours of drive time rather than the first eight hours of on-duty time in off-duty status; and more.
The ELD mandate coincided with an increase in unsafe driving and speeding citations among truck drivers, and this likely caused an increase in accidents, Balthrop added. Researchers concluded that the stricter hours of service enforcement seems to have led more drivers to try to compress their routes into the time allotted.