Navigating FMCSA’s proposed rule changes for 2024

23 January 2024

New year, new rules. Or so the saying goes, at least at the U.S. Department of Transportation. To that end, there was a lot of talk in the latter half of 2023 about what companies in the transportation industry might need to ready themselves for in the year ahead. The federal government has been quite vocal about big changes, no matter the outcry from various trucking associations or drivers.

Looking ahead at CSA scores in 2024, SC&RA believes that FMCSA has done a good job in creating its new scoring rubric – with scoring details that positively represent specialized transportation.

Well over 200 new rules are currently in various stages of development or implementation at the DOT through agencies like the Office of the Secretary, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and quite a few more.

They won’t all land in 2024, or perhaps at all, but as one can imagine, they pretty much run the gamut. And for SC&RA members, certain proposed changes require more attention than others.

“CSA scores, good or bad, should be a focal point for our members,” said SC&RA Vice President, Transportation Chris Smith. “And from what we’re seeing, FMCSA has done a pretty good job here in creating a new scoring rubric – with scoring details that specialized carriers can be comfortable with because it’s going to reflect the nuances of our industry versus lumping us in with everyone else out on the highway.”

Chris Smith, SC&RA

Smith pointed out that this is also an issue for crane companies, since mobile cranes are very much treated like commercial motor vehicles. “So, yes, the mobile crane operators absolutely needs to stay up on this information as well.”

Major focus

At the 2023 SC&RA Specialized Transportation Symposium, Dave Merrill, General Manager at Pahoa Express, and chair of SC&RA’s Transportation Safety, Education & Training Committee, shared with his audience how he ran his company through a CSA score “preview” exercise via FMCSA’s website, and it paid off.

“It helped me to realize where some of our inadequacies were, such as noticing that my mechanics needed to do a better job – or the fact that drivers weren’t doing pre-trips properly,” he explained. “So, it allowed me to see some insights that I missed through the old system.”

Merrill also advised SC&RA members to do their best in checking their scores in both systems regularly – CSA and the FMCSA portal. “Be as engaged as possible, proactive. Check your scores on a monthly basis, if not weekly. Case in point: they normally update CSA once a month. But they update the FMCSA portal daily.”

According to SC&RA, speed limiters, automatic emergency braking, drug and alcohol clearinghouse, fraudulent brokers and safety fitness determination are all areas members should be keeping an eye on in 2024.

That said, according to Merrill, the portal itself should be a major focus for everyone going into 2024. “People need to remember that various government systems – like the FMCSA portal – are being migrated over to a launching site for security purposes. If folks aren’t aware of this, they could end up getting locked out of their portal. It’s very important that folks go ahead and get those accounts migrated over.”

Significant shift

Both Merrill and Smith agree that CSA scores is only part of the puzzle for SC&RA members as 2024 takes shape. “Speed limiters, automatic emergency braking, drug and alcohol clearinghouse, cracking down on fraudulent brokers and safety fitness determination are all areas we should be keeping a close eye on,” emphasized Smith.

Merrill noted, “The automatic emergency braking issue is concerning. They’re wanting most motor carriers to retrofit their vehicles, even older ones, with ABS – similar to what is being produced stock from the factory. There’s a lot of open-ended questions here. And it could potentially be an enormous financial burden for the entire industry to have to retrofit all the vehicles that are out there.”

Dave Merrill, Pahoa Express

Similarly, Merrill is concerned about a proposed rulemaking from the NHTSA that would require trailers be equipped with side underride guards. “This is another one where the cost they’re projecting for each trailer above a certain height is going to be insurmountable – around three thousand dollars each. It’s only going to drive prices up even higher.”

As for the Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rule, the proposed changes could represent a significant shift in how carriers get rated by FMCSA, said Steve Keppler, co-director at Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, LLC. “Right now, it’s a three-tiered rating system [satisfactory-conditional-unsatisfactory], and they’re contemplating moving to a one-tier system [unfit: broken down into three categories], and the thing that we’re watching for is whether they include CSA data from the SMS into the rating process.”

Keppler pointed out that a decision hasn’t been made yet if they’re going to do a rule (comments closed in October 2023), but he suspects they will.

Keppler also acknowledged proposed changes to the DataQ System. “It allows motor carriers to challenge violations from roadside inspections that they don’t believe are accurate for whatever reason,” he said. “Right now, when a carrier challenges the violation, it goes back to the state that did the inspection for judication, and there’s been some negative feedback to that approach by industry. So, in this new proposal, FMCSA has created a third level of appeal, where if carriers don’t feel they’ve received due process from the state, they can appeal to FMCSA to make a final determination. Additionally, that same system also allows carriers to submit their crash preventability determinations.”

A lot at stake

Spotlighting California, the Golden State’s ongoing AB5 independent contractor legal battle will remain a focal point for SC&RA members in 2024. Originally implemented to make ride-sharing and delivery companies classify their drivers as employees, thus enabling certain benefits and rights enjoyed by regular employees, AB5 also largely affects trucking companies, as it changes the classification of workers in the majority of trucking and logistics companies operating in California.

“I’m not sure if this will spread into various states,” said Merrill. “I’m not so sure it does any good at all outside of California, and I don’t even know if it’s working there. It’s a touchy subject, and it’s also difficult to speculate on. But parts of AB5 have been adopted in Michigan – in regards to owner operators and insurance, workers’ comp., etc. California argues that AB5 isn’t having an impact in the industry, but it does beg the question: where does government oversight stop, and personal accountability begin?”

Steve Keppler, Scopelitis Transportation Consulting

Similarly troublesome, said Smith, is the resurgence of California’s meal and rest break law. “About six months ago, the current administration reopened this issue and basically said that folks could petition the federal government for a waiver from the law. No one that we know of asked them to do it, or said it was an issue, but now California has filed a petition – which would essentially allow them to enforce a rest break beyond the federal one.”

The question, emphasized Smith, centers around why FMCSA went through with it. “And then we have carriers here in the East and in the Mid-West who are watching and saying, okay if there’s a victory on this out there, similar to CARB, then who or what is the next domino to fall? A snowball that could lead to a dis-harmonization of federal policy.”

All the more reason, said Merrill, to pay attention. “There’s a lot of moving parts shifting around at the federal level this year. We owe it to ourselves to stay hyper-focused and as unified as we can. There’s a lot at stake for this industry in 2024, and beyond.”


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