When 2020 started, the outlook for trucking looked good, especially on the regulatory front. But no one anticipated the issue that dominated federal actions, the trucking industry, and everyone’s daily life — the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) alone issued at least six national emergency declarations in 2020 related to COVID-19. PrePass also provided guidance many times on COVID-related topics, with several of these entries updated along the way.

Despite COVID-19, some federal trucking regulations advanced in 2020 while others saw delayed implementation. Here are key trucking regulations from the year:

The Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. FMCSA expected to announce findings of its internal review using Item Response Theory (IRT) in the CSA program by September 2020. So far, that’s yet to happen.

IRT demands significant amounts of data – and FMCSA has found that data hard to come by. For example, FMCSA said it would investigate obtaining data on driver turnover rate, type of cargo, and method and level of driver compensation to determine whether those factors influence the IRT calculation of safety risk. But FMCSA found the industry as a whole unwilling to part with proprietary or competitive data. This led some analysts to say the use of IRT for CSA is dead, even though the agency made no such pronouncement.

Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. The FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse had a projected start date of Jan. 6, 2020 – and it launched on time. PrePass published a whitepaper to help motor carriers understand how to use the clearinghouse and how to meet the upcoming first annual review of driver records.

Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT). FMCSA finalized the ELDT rule in 2019 and set a start date for Feb. 7, 2020. However, FMCSA delayed two aspects of the regulation until February 2022 to allow state and federal information technology systems to talk to each other. Many commenters said FMCSA should delay the entire ELDT rule rather than take a piecemeal approach. Partly in response to COVID-19, FMCSA did exactly that, delaying the ELDT rule until Feb. 7, 2022.

REAL ID. Oct. 1, 2020 was to be the start date for REAL ID, when standard driver licenses would no longer be accepted for boarding commercial airlines, admission to nuclear facilities and entering federal buildings on business. COVID-19 closed many state driver licensing agencies to in-person visits, so the REAL ID deadline was changed to Oct. 1, 2021.

Crash Preventability Determination Program.  In May 2020, FMCSA issued a final rule on the Crash Preventability Determination Program. The agency announced that it would exclude any crashes in ten distinct categories determined to be not preventable from the Crash Indicator BASIC calculation in the CSA program. While the crash records themselves won’t disappear, motor carriers and drivers can point to a federal finding that they could not have avoided the crash and it will not count against their safety rating.

Hours of Service. The FMCSA final rule on hours of service changes came out mid-year, with a Sept. 29, 2020 effective date. Rules affecting the 30-minute required break for drivers, sleeper berth exceptions, driving in adverse weather conditions and short haul exceptions all received modifications. As expected, several interest groups petitioned to reverse these changes, but FMCSA denied those petitions. So far, litigation, a product of past HOS rulemakings, has not been initiated.

A proposal to allow drivers to take a single, off-duty break from 30 minutes to three hours before resuming work did not find its way into the HOS final rule. Instead, FMCSA proposed a “Split Duty Period Pilot Program” to study the concept, with comments due last month.

So, what will year 2021 bring? After a national election (and two U.S. Senate races in Georgia in January that will determine which party controls the chamber), plenty could change. But as we have seen with the pandemic, predicting the future is challenging. Challenge accepted, in this PrePass blog installment.