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FMCSA takes steps to expedite apprentice driver pilot program

From Transport Topics.

Federal trucking regulators are seeking emergency White House approval to take a first step toward a driver apprenticeship program included in last year’s sweeping $1 trillion infrastructure bill as a near-term measure to help alleviate the trucking industry’s ongoing driver shortage.

The DRIVE-Safe Act, included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden in November, creates an apprenticeship program under which drivers younger than 21 can drive commercial vehicles interstate. Previously, under-21 drivers were limited to intrastate operations.

In a Jan. 7 Federal Register announcement, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it is seeking emergency authorization from the Office of Management and Budget to initiate data collection from motor carriers for the pilot apprenticeship program. FMCSA is asking OMB to act by Jan. 13.

“The request for emergency OMB approval was issued to help meet deadlines for establishing the apprenticeship program outlined in the bipartisan infrastructure law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” said an FMCSA spokesperson. “At this time, nothing is being requested from the motor carriers. This ICR is informing the public of the information collection and the opportunity to comment.”

See the complete article online at Transport Topics.

USDOT Number

USDOT updates innovation, technology principles

From Transport Topics.

The federal regulatory landscape for transportation operations must prioritize safety, economic growth and climate change, the leadership at the U.S. Department of Transportation recently affirmed in a series of guiding principles.

To improve transportation users’ access to technological advancements anchored on safety features, the department updated a statement of priorities meant to reflect President Joe Biden’s vision for the country’s mobility networks.

Specifically, the department noted officials would benefit by pursuing policies that would facilitate the development of infrastructure capable of withstanding the impact of severe weather events. Such infrastructure resilience would need to complement the adoption of technologies that would boost safety and communication across transportation modes.

“Innovations should reduce deaths and serious injuries on our nation’s transportation network, while committing to the highest standards of safety across technologies,” per the “U.S. DOT Innovation Principles” updated Jan. 6.

“The department must play a meaningful role in future-proofing infrastructure, enabling adaptability and resilience, and helping communities and public sector partners to bring legacy systems into the digital age,” according to the document. Additionally: “The department should identify opportunities for interoperability among innovations and foster cross-modal integration. In addition, DOT’s posture must remain nimble, with a commitment to support technologies that further our policy goals.”

See the complete article online at Transport Topics.

MG+M law firm logo

The ATA’s fight against truck-only tolls

From MG+M The Law Firm.

Recently, some states have enacted “truck-only” tolls, with the goal of raising funds to improve road infrastructure by tolling the trucking industry exclusively. In 2016, Rhode Island led the charge with RhodeWorks, legislation aimed primarily at repairing the State’s many inoperative and deficient bridges.[1] The law targets tractor-trailers, hoping to raise $490 million by 2025 through a bridge tolling program.[2] On June 8, 2021, Connecticut followed suit, implementing a “highway user fee for trucks” which is set to generate $90 million per year for road repairs.[3] In Alabama, the state Department of Transportation is considering prohibiting tractor-trailers from passing through the Wallace Tunnel in Mobile, and instead constructing a Mobile River Bridge, to be used – and paid for – largely by commercial truckers.[4] Phase 1 of the three-phase plan, the construction of the eastbound section of the bridge, along with some changes to the already existing roadway, is estimated to cost $650 million, about half of which will come from the tolls.[5] At the same time, Pennsylvania is considering a plan to establish truck-only tolls on nine separate bridges throughout the state, providing money for road improvements.[6]

These acts and proposals have proven extremely controversial and representatives across the trucking industry  continue to fight against the proposed measures. In fact, intense scrutiny of the effectiveness and legality of the tolls forced Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut to back off the proposal in 2018, when he was originally campaigning on the idea.[7] The legal fight has centered, however, in Rhode Island, the first state to convert truck-only tolls from a threat to a promise. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has sued the State in federal court, arguing that the tolls are unconstitutional.[8] The ATA argues that RhodeWorks violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against out-of-state economic actors. In support of its argument, the ATA cited comments made by the Governor and House Speaker of Rhode Island, among others, which suggest that the proposal was enacted because of the cost to out-of-state trucking companies, rather than Rhode Island citizens.[9]

So far, it has been an uphill battle for the ATA. First, The United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island dismissed their suit, American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Alviti, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a decision which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed.[10] Next, the District Court denied the ATA’s attempt to enjoin Rhode Island from enforcing the tolls while the case is pending.[11] Finally, in September of this year, the First Circuit ruled that legislative privilege prevented the discovery of certain information, which may have helped the ATA’s case.[12]

Now, the challenge for the ATA is to demonstrate that RhodeWorks is unconstitutionally discriminatory against other states, and should be struck down, like other protectionist laws. Either way, the ATA’s RhodeWorks suit will certainly pave the way for legal battles in other states, challenging the constitutionality of similar truck-only tolls.

[1] Chris Hill, RhodeWorks signed into law: RI transportation funding initiative to create 6,000 jobs, Equipment World (Feb. 15, 2016), https://www.equipmentworld.com/better-roads/article/14964646/rhodeworks-signed-into-law-ri-transportation-funding-initiative-to-create-6000-jobs.

[2] The RhodeWorks Tolling Program, Ridot, https://www.dot.ri.gov/tolling/index.php.

[3] Connecticut lawmakers pass truck-only highway user tax, CDL Life  (June 9, 2021), https://cdllife.com/2021/connecticut-lawmakers-pass-truck-only-highway-user-tax/.

[4] Alabama truckers fight truck-only toll proposal in Mobile, Overdrive (May 27, 2021), https://www.overdriveonline.com/business/article/15065768/alabama-truckers-fight-truckonly-toll-proposal-in-mobile.

[5] Cory Pippin, ALDOT provides update on Mobile River Bridge project, considers two toll options, NBC 15 News (July 28, 2021), https://mynbc15.com/news/local/aldot-provides-update-on-mobile-river-bridge-project-considers-two-toll-options.

[6] Ed Blazina, Truckers to fight PennDOT plan to charge bridge tolls in Pa., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb. 23, 2021), https://www.post-gazette.com/news/transportation/2021/02/22/Pennsylvania-Motor-Truck-Association-PennDOT-bridge-tolls/stories/202102220120.

[7] Alabama truckers fight, supra note 4; Blazina, supra; and Matt Cole, Trucks-only tolls crop up again as legal fights drag on, Commercial Carrier Journal (Dec. 16, 2019), https://www.ccjdigital.com/business/article/14939128/trucks-only-tolls-crop-up-again-as-legal-fights-drag-on.

[8] Trucks-only tolls crop up again, supra.

[9] Complaint, American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Alviti, 2018 WL 3368423 (D.R.I.).

[10] See Am. Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Alviti, 944 F.3d 45 (1st Cir. 2019).

[11] See Am. Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Alviti, No. CV 18-378-WES, 2020 WL 5443551 (D.R.I. Sept. 10, 2020).

[12] Am. Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Alviti, 14 F.4th 76, 81 (1st Cir. 2021).

law book

Supreme Court justices skeptical of vaccine-or-test mandate

From Fleet Owner.

Judging by their Jan. 7 queries, a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices sounded skeptical about the federal vaccine-or-test mandate—or “emergency temporary standard” (ETS)—set to take effect today nationwide. Justices questioned the sweeping scope of the ETS, stressing that such measures to battle the COVID-19 pandemic should come from Congress or states individually and not the single federal agency that actually put it out.

“It appears the federal government is going agency by agency because it can’t get Congress to act,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch said at one point during the back-and-forth on Jan. 7. “[Such a mandate] might be for the people’s representatives in the states and the halls of Congress.”

The rest of the conservative bloc of justices—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Amy Coney Barrett—also questioned the scope of the mandate and the power of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to issue it.

OSHA did so on Nov. 5, and since then, the action has been opposed by a wide array of business interests, including trucking groups such as American Trucking Associations (ATA) and state trucking associations, and other stakeholders such as several conservative state attorneys general and religious organizations.

These groups have been petitioners in litigation against the OSHA mandate, which has wound through various appeals courts—some that blocked, or “stayed,” enforcement of it (the conservative Louisiana-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, forcefully, on Nov. 12) and others that let the vaccine-or-test rules go forward (the more moderate 6th U.S. Circuit on Dec. 17 by a narrow 2-1 margin).

See the complete article online at Fleet Owner.

Fearless supply chain predictions: Here’s what will happen in 2022

From FreightWaves.

Goodbye, 2021. Hello, 2022. What do you have in store for us? More supply chain issues? More port congestion? More driver issues? More topsy-turvy developments?

Probably a little bit of everything, according to FreightWaves writers. We asked our people on the front lines to look into the 2022 crystal ball and offer up predictions on their respective beats. It promises to again be a newsworthy year in the freight industry, which took center stage on many of the nightly newscasts in 2021.

TRUCKS by Alan Adler

Electric trucks will become a bigger part of manufacturing in 2022, but the semiconductor shortage that has hampered automotive and commercial vehicle production for months will remain. For how long is the question.

Autonomous trucks will stay top of mind as the first on-highway driverless pilots are examined and replicated and increased high-definition mapping expands the territory autonomous trucks can cover with safety drivers on board.

DRIVERS by John Kingston

The biggest development in the issue of worker classification in 2022 may get pushed to 2023. If it doesn’t, it will have enormous ramifications.

What the ever-changing legal landscape for worker classification is waiting on is a resolution to the question of whether California’s AB5 independent contractor law can be applied to trucking. How AB5 would affect trucking in the Golden State is the subject of much debate, but the mere fact that some observers think it would just about kill the IC model in the state indicates its importance.

See the complete article online at FreightWaves.

Insurance coverage of young drivers

MTAC is issuing this inquiry to all members regarding insurance coverage of younger drivers. A couple of members have recently told MTAC that their insurance carrier demanded that they fire younger drivers who were recently hired by the businesses. MTAC would like to know if this is becoming a widespread problem that might warrant some type of response or action.

Reportedly, the reasoning given to one MTAC member requiring the removal of the younger drivers is that they were too inexperienced. It should be noted that the drivers in question reportedly had a clean driving record. That does beg the question, how is a younger driver supposed to gain more experience if they are not allowed to drive?

Given the well-reported truck driver shortage, a small business in need of workers should not be forced to turn away any individuals who want to join this great industry.

If your business has experienced this situation, please contact MTAC’s Joe Sculley at (860) 520-4455.

US Capital

Proposed House bill, Highway Accident Fairness Act of 2021, targets staged-accidents

From MG+M The Law Firm.

On December 7, 2021, House Representatives Garret Graves (R-LA) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) introduced the “Highway Accident Fairness Act of 2021.”[1] The Highway Accident Fairness Act of 2021 (the “Highway Fairness Act” or “Bill”) targets so-called “staged-accidents” which occur when individuals intentionally enter into vehicular accidents with commercial vehicles to fraudulently claim injuries and other damages. In addition to the recent increase in prosecutions for staged accident schemes, the broader economic and political focus on supply chain issues may give political momentum to this or similar trucking related proposals going forward.

The Highway Fairness Act is aimed at protecting truckers and lowering insurance rates for the trucking industry.[2] In recent years, staged accident schemes, especially in southern states such as Louisiana and Texas, have evolved into semi-sophisticated criminal rings.[3] Such a staged accident resulted in the November 2021 guilty plea of Chandrika Brown in the Eastern District of Louisiana.  Brown, a thirty-year old Louisiana woman, plead guilty to mail fraud after a friend, Gibson, who was in need of money, recruited her to participate in a staged accident.[4] Gibson, prior to recruiting Brown, was himself recruited by another co-conspirator.[5] Gibson, Brown, and the initial co-conspirator (identified as “Slammer”) proceeded to drive in the same car and intentionally impact a commercial bus.[6] Slammer then advised Brown and Gibson to claim injuries, when they did not actually suffer any injuries. Slammer also advised Brown to seek out a certain attorney to pursue her fraudulent claim against the bus company, “Hotard.” Brown faces up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000.[7] The investigation that resulted in the guilty plea was part of a federal crackdown on a broader conspiracy in Louisiana known as “Operation Sideswipe.” Operation Sideswipe has resulted in 28 convictions thus far.[8]

The Highway Fairness Act would combat the phenomenon of staged accidents by levying substantial criminal penalties against accident participants. The Act would increase the maximum penalty for the operator in a staged collision to up to 20 years and for the operator in a collision that results in serious bodily injury, the maximum penalty will be no less than 20 years.[9] Notably, House members inserted a similar provision in the Biden administration’s recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act “Infrastructure Act.”[10] That provision did not make it into the final Infrastructure Act, but Representatives Graves and Cuellar hope with a second effort to capitalize on the attention still on national supply line and trucking issues. While the fate of the Bill as an individual measure is unclear, its re-introduction comes as supply line concerns occupy the national economic and political spotlight.[11] The Whitehouse recently unveiled a plan to help lessen supply line clogs by boosting the number of truckers on the road.[12] While a provision in the Infrastructure Bill that would have allowed 18-20 year olds to truck interstate in an apprentice program was struck out, the Biden administration’s most recent proposal seeks to lure and retain truckers with improved incentive programs and work conditions.[13]

The fate of the Highway Fairness Act in Congress is uncertain. It is likely, however, that economic and political focus will remain on the acute supply chain issues, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.


[1] Highway Accident Fairness Act of 2021, H.R. 6151, 117th Cong. (2021); Bill aims to protect truckers by making staged crashes a federal crime, CDL Life (Dec. 10, 2021), https://cdllife.com/2021/bill-aims-to-protect-truckers-by-making-staged-crashes-a-federal-crime/.

[2] H.R. 6151, at §2.

[3] Mark Reddig, Proposed Federal Bill Targets Staged Collisions with Trucks, Land Line (Dec. 10, 2021), https://landline.media/proposed-federal-bill-targets-staged-collisions-with-trucks/.

[4] United States v. Brown, et al, Criminal No. 20-92, Section: “R” (E.D. L.A. 2021).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] ‘Operation Sideswipe’: C.R. England Files Rico Suit to Recoup $4.7m Payout in Staged Crash Scheme, Land Line (Feb. 12, 2021), https://landline.media/operation-sideswipe-c-r-england-files-rico-suit-to-recoup-4-7m-payout-in-staged-crash-scheme/.

[9] H.R. 6151, §3.

[10] Mark Schremmer, Staged Crashes Amendment Rejected from House Highway Bill, Land Line (June 30, 2021), https://landline.media/staged-crashes-amendment-rejected-from-house-highway-bill/.

[11] O’Neal, Lydia, Push to Let Teens Drive Trucks Interstate Divides the Industry, The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 9, 2021), https://www.wsj.com/articles/push-to-let-teens-drive-trucks-interstate-divides-the-industry-11631179801?mod=article_inline.

[12] Smith, Jennifer, White House Revs up Trucker Recruitment Drive, The Wall Street Journal ( Dec. 16, 2021), https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-revs-up-trucker-recruitment-drive-11639648803?mod=Searchresults_pos2&page=1.

[13] Id.

Capitalize on growing interest in technical careers

From Fleet Owner.

Here’s some good news: Enrollment in trade schools is growing, according to several studies. But studies don’t always represent the real world, so I was happy to see the news that WyoTech, a diesel and automotive technician trade school, has seen its enrollment grow significantly—from 26 students in 2018 to 685 by October 2021.

“The growth of WyoTech, as well as other trade and vocational schools across the nation, is a sign of the changing times within the U.S. job market,” said Jim Mathis, president of WyoTech. “There has been a growing emphasis on skilled labor, as those jobs remain unfilled the longest.”

I know 685 is nowhere close to the number of technicians we need, but it represents a significant growth in people interested in pursuing careers as technicians. This increased enrollment comes at a time when enrollment in undergraduate programs at colleges and universities has declined. The press release included statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that indicated undergraduate enrollment has fallen 3% since the fall of 2020.

I think all of us in the trucking industry should try to take advantage of this small bit of momentum. The COVID-19 pandemic raised awareness about the true value of the trucking industry as many people realized—perhaps for the first time—just how all that stuff got on the shelves of their favorite stores and into their homes. While it is probably going a little too far to say trucking is enjoying a renaissance, I think more people have become aware of the important role trucking plays in the economy and in their daily lives.
All of us in the trucking industry need to seize this opportunity and spend some time making young people aware of the great jobs that are available in trucking—not just as drivers and technicians but also across our operations.

See the complete article online at Fleet Owner.

Looking ahead: Industry could be in for a steadier ride in 2022

From Freight Waves.

It’s no secret the logistics industry has faced significant pandemic-related volatility throughout the past two years. With 2021’s elevated rates and strained capacity, many shippers are holding out hope for significant rebalancing in the new year. They may need to wait a little longer, however, as experts suggest current market conditions could last well into 2022.

David Spencer, Arrive Logistics director of business intelligence, expects most of 2021’s challenges will bleed into 2022. Relief is unlikely to come quickly on the supply side as carriers continue to grapple with the driver shortage and parts shortages push delivery of 2021 new truck orders into mid-2022.

Instead, the reprieve is more likely to come from the demand side as consumers reevaluate their spending habits in light of rising prices and waning pandemic-fueled financial support, including the resumption of paused student loan payments in January.

“Demand will be impacted by consumer sentiment throughout the year. Costs of both goods and housing are rising, and despite recent news of President Biden’s Cabinet extending student loan debt relief, the impact on consumer spending is just pushed out further down the road,” Spencer said. “These influences on consumer spending should then translate to declines in truckload demand.”

Impact on demand is pushed further down the road. The impact to consumer sentiment should be the same, assuming the relief does not get extended again. President Biden’s Cabinet recently extended the relief on student loan debt.

As of right now, however, demand is stronger than ever and shows no indications of an immediate post-holiday crash. Changes on the demand front are likely to be slow and steady, leading to gradual market shifts over the course of the next several months.

See the complete article online at Freight Waves.

Diesel Fuel Pump

Diesel price drops again as New Year approaches

From Transport Topics.

The national average price for a gallon of diesel continued on its downward trend as 2021 drew to a close, falling another 1.1 cents in the Dec. 27 weekly report provided by the Energy Information Administration.

Trucking’s main fuel ended the year at $3.615 a gallon for its sixth straight weekly decline. Back in its first report of 2021, EIA reported the national average at $2.64 a gallon.

The price of diesel dropped in nine of the 10 regions surveyed. Only California saw an increase, by 0.3 cent to $4.771 a gallon. The largest decrease, 2.7 cents, was seen in the Rocky Mountain region, where a gallon now averages $3.704.

Over the previous six weeks, the cost of a gallon of diesel has shed 11.9 cents. It reached its 2021 high of $3.734 on Nov. 15.

The price of regular unleaded gasoline declined last week by two cents to a national average of $3.275 a gallon from $3.295 a week earlier. Over two weeks the price has fallen by four cents from $3.315.

Still, gasoline is $1.032 a gallon more expensive than it was this time last year, analysts said. This is due primarily to a return in demand from lows brought on by the pandemic.

The year closed with another event that threatened fuel supplies, a Dec. 23 explosion and fire that severely damaged the ExxonMobil-owned Baytown Refinery in Harris County, Texas, near Houston. Fortunately, it appears the damage is not as severe as first thought.

See the complete article online at Transport Topics.