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4 steps to improving compliance and operations in 2023

Compliance and operations work hand in hand, and this year, fleets have put improving in both categories on their New Year’s resolutions lists.

It’s no wonder why.

In 2022, state and federal transportation departments conducted a total of 12,234 safety investigations, both on-site and off-site, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Approximately 95% of those investigations resulted in violations.

While the number of investigations and high percentage of violations is relatively on par with recent years, in 2023, fleets will find the consequences for breaking the rules to be costlier.

The Department of Transportation announced that effective Jan. 6, fines have been increased by 7.745% for violations across 68 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and Hazmat Materials Regulations. This yearly increase is tied to inflation, but unfortunately for fleets, it is hitting at a time when they’re already feeling the pinch from dropping rates and low demand.

When carriers are paying more to cover costs associated with violations, it means less money to spend on investing in optimizing operations.

To avoid paying more than necessary, fleet professionals should ensure they’re compliant with new regulations and plan ahead for changes in the future. 

Regulations can be complex and sometimes require additional work, but some of this year’s new standards and DOT proposals may actually make life easier and improve operations — such as the safety performance history changes, new hazmat regulations and oral fluid testing proposal — which are all outlined below.

At the same time, simply complying with regulations is not enough. In order to remain relevant and endure a soft market in this year’s competitive trucking sphere, fleets must put in the legwork to create a positive driver culture and grow their advantage.

To find out how fleets can improve, we talked to J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., the transportation industry’s trusted expert that helps carriers stay current with changing DOT regulations and follow best practices. 

J. J. Keller recommends fleets implement these key steps to keep good on their New Year’s compliance and operations resolutions: 

1. At a minimum, comply with new final rule regulations.

Carriers should ensure they comply with the final rules that have gone into effect this year. Ideally, fleets will have already planned well in advance for these new changes, but if not, it’s time to get compliant.

These are a couple of the major final rules that have already, or are soon, taking full effect this year:

Safety performance history check (effective date Jan. 6). Motor carriers hiring CDL drivers will no longer ask about drug and alcohol history when they contact applicant drivers’ FMCSA-regulated previous employers during safety performance history checks. Instead, they will conduct a search of the applicant in the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Why it matters: This change actually makes the screening process a bit quicker for fleets. Now that the Clearinghouse has been around for three years, as of Jan. 6, employers are able to search for a driver’s drug and alcohol history within the system instead of requesting that information from an applicant’s previous employers. 

Hazmat Rule Harmonization (HM-215P) (compliance deadline July 26). The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration administers updates to its regulations about every two years through its Hazmat Rule Harmonization to align with international safety standards, and HM-215P continues this trend.

The update includes but is not limited to, the following changes:

  • Simplification of regulations regarding vaccines and related medical materials.
  • An update to the Hazardous Materials Table.
  • Exemptions for data loggers and cargo-tracking devices powered by lithium batteries in use during transit.
  • Recognition of temporary certificates issued by Transport Canada that authorize transportation of hazardous materials via highway and rail within the U.S.

Why it matters: While keeping in step with international standards, these updates are said by the FMCSA to help move goods quicker. 

“The Final Rule improves safety, streamlines the transport of hazardous materials, including medical supplies, batteries, and components used in manufacturing, and encourages shippers to package goods more efficiently,” the DOT stated in a news release when it announced the changes.

Additionally, the reduced costs associated with this new rule could save consumers $250 million over the next decade, according to the DOT.

2. DOT proposals should be on the radar, too.

Fleets should keep an eye on newly proposed regulations by the DOT that are currently moving through regulatory processes. These are advance notices of public rulemaking (ANPR) with no set dates on the final rule, but fleets should keep them on their radar, especially the two proposals below that could affect many carriers.

Oral Fluid Testing: Carriers may soon have the option of requiring drivers to test for drugs and alcohol with saliva samples instead of urine. The FMCSA is currently waiting on other agencies to complete their work on the associated rules before oral fluid testing would be allowed.

Why it matters: This change would give carriers greater flexibility to choose their preferred testing methods in different situations, as there are benefits to both. 

According to the latest Clearinghouse data released by the FMCSA, positive drug tests and refusals to take a drug test increased by 18% in 2022, and marijuana use increased by 31.6%.

Saliva could better help carriers detect drivers who have recently used marijuana, the most common substance found during drug tests in 2022, with 40,916 drivers testing positive.

“Oral testing provides more details on recent drug use, which is good for post-accident or reasonable suspicion testing. In addition, it’s a lot easier to conduct the test, and it’s less intrusive,” said Josh Lovan, industry business adviser at J. J. Keller & Associates. 

So, this means saliva testing may be better for detecting recent marijuana use rather than urine (although it still cannot detect current intoxication). Saliva testing is also cheaper than urine testing, a big benefit for carriers, according to J. J. Keller. 

ELD rule cleanup. The FMCSA issued an ANPR addressing ELD regulations and potential updates. The FMCSA is considering changes in the areas of “applicability to pre-2000 engines, addressing ELD malfunctions, the process for removing ELD products from the FMCSA’s list of certified devices, technical specifications and ELD certification.”

Why it matters: Among the proposed changes is to “re-evaluate or modify the applicability of the current ELD regulation for rebuilt or remanufactured CMV engines or glider kits” because many trucks with pre-2000 engines are compatible with ELDs.

Even though the U.S. ELD mandate fully went into effect in 2017, drivers using pre-2000 engines have been exempt from this mandate and have been allowed to use paper logs for their record-of-duty status, even if the model year of the vehicle is newer than 2000.

This could change the current status quo, requiring some drivers to make the switch from paper logs to ELDs to be used in trucks with pre-2000 engines.

3. Create a good culture to attract and keep top drivers.

The driver shortage, followed in second place by driver retention, takes the top two spots on the list of issues facing motor carriers in 2022, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s rankings. 

Drivers are well aware of other carriers out there, and if they aren’t happy, they will find somewhere they are. Pursuing and supporting a driver culture where drivers want to stay can be the difference between keeping a driver and letting a good one slip away.

The following practices can help create a positive environment for drivers:

  • Providing driver coaching and skills training. Like any career, drivers want to continuously improve their knowledge and grow their trade. Coaching supports drivers and encourages growth in areas where they may be weak, helping them in their professional development.
  • Adhering to established policies and procedures. Establishing agreed upon policies and procedures — and sticking to them for both the carrier and drivers — encourages compliance and builds a foundation of trust between the motor carrier and driver. Ultimately, this paves the way for an integrity-driven relationship that can benefit any company.
  • Fair and equitable compensation and awards. Without drivers, freight wouldn’t move. In order to maintain and improve morale, drivers must be compensated fairly for their time and labor and recognized when they go above and beyond.

4. Pursue continuous innovation for long-term growth.

A solid driver culture is crucial to keeping top talent, but innovations — both in the cab and through general operations — are required to facilitate organizational growth and give fleets an edge. 

This is especially important for small carriers, which can often get lost among the crowd, considering the industry has over 1 million registered for-hire carriers and 718,000 private carriers, according to the American Trucking Associations.

For this reason, more fleets are equipping trucks with tech to solve problems and unlock new data that can better inform their decisions.

Dashcams, for instance, are powerful tools for risk mitigation and driver exoneration, while also improving Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) scores in the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC). 

“Dashcams keep fleets in business,” Lovan said. “They prove what happened in an accident, and they prevent future accidents. With tangible proof of risk, fleet professionals are empowered with facts and can work with drivers to improve their skills. It’s a tool to stay competitive in a tight driver market.”

Fleets should also leverage data from in-cab tech, such as ELDs and vehicle trackers, as they offer deep sources of information that carriers can tap to improve operations and driver productivity, reduce out-of-route miles and enhance efficiency.

J. J. Keller helps fleets keep track of all DOT safety and regulatory changes that will impact their operations. The company provides resources to aid in compliance, driver training and cutting-edge ELD, dashcam and tracking technology.

To learn more about J. J. Keller & Associates, click here.