Every year pundits, commentators – and, yes, even PrePass – play the role of fearless forecaster. Of course, were we all that prescient, we would be rich and famous! Still, signs and indications provide a glimpse of what may lie ahead, and offer a reminder of the importance of planning for eventualities. So, when we look back on the now waning year of 2021, we got some things right and some not quite right. Let’s take a look at 2021 and what did happen in the trucking industry and the world of regulation.
COVID-19. As predicted, in 2021 COVID-19 continued to occupy national attention and actions by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration toward trucking. Those FMCSA actions included extensions of license renewals and medical card waivers, as state offices often remained shuttered by the pandemic.
Speaking of extensions, COVID-19 led FMCSA to further extend hours of service waivers, first through August, again through November and then finally through February, 2022. The pandemic also introduced what may become a permanent change in FMCSA operations – the increase in offsite audits.
Year one of the new administration. Following the presidential election in 2020, we anticipated how the new administration would look at trucking in 2021. Many looked for indicators in the White House regulatory agenda, in the direction given to regulatory agencies by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and in the possible scope of the infrastructure legislation. While we await the confirmation of a new FMCSA Administrator, what occupied FMCSA in 2021 turned out to be more pragmatic than political.
Clearinghouse crackdowns and medical exams. FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse launched on Jan. 6, 2020. After a year of experience, the clearinghouse results were much as anticipated, more than 52,000 commercial drivers with one or more drug and/or alcohol violations. However, FMCSA cannot regulate safety alone; it must work in conjunction with law enforcement agencies and driver licensing offices in 52 states and territories. A DOT audit discovered that the states were not communicating well about violations that had occurred in their backyards. FMCSA stepped in to plug that hole in the dike. Similarly, FMCSA sought to recover missing records of driver medical exams caused by a seven-month website outage.
Technology moves to the forefront. Regulatory affairs at FMCSA were once the realm of paperwork and people. In 2021, technology became the buzzword. Whether it was a joint effort by FMCSA and the trucking industry to adopt advanced technology, moves by FMCSA to facilitate safety devices, or government research into specific technological equipment, it is clear that FMCSA is determined to stay relevant as technology changes the world of trucking. And it’s not just FMCSA – our neighbors in Canada have joined the U.S. in requiring electronic logging devices.
Congress passes an infrastructure bill. Money for roads and bridges amounted to just a part of the $1 billion infrastructure package adopted by Congress and signed by the president. Trucking-related provisions included a mentorship program for truck drivers under the age of 21 and a coming rulemaking to require automatic emergency braking on new trucks. FMCSA will study side underride guards, as well as mileage taxes, crash causation, and whether highway users are paying their fair share.
Despite early discussion provisions on truck parking, mandatory speed limiters, increased minimum insurance levels for trucking, or limits on the personal conveyance use of commercial motor vehicles failed to appear in the infrastructure bill.
Safety concerns continue. 2021 also saw a dramatic uptick in highway fatalities with particular concerns about speeding, failure to use seat belts, and failure to obey a traffic control device by truckers. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called this “a crisis,” and said the U.S. Transportation Department would produce the first “National Roadway Safety Strategy” by this coming January.
Keep in mind that 2022 will bring the mid-term elections for Congress, with 435 House seats and a third of the Senate up for grabs. That could mean politics may once again emerge at the forefront of developments on the federal level when it comes to both trucking and non-trucking issues.