By now, we all know that the Mayans weren’t correct. The world did not end on Dec. 21, 2012, but anyone involved in trucking is certainly facing a number of problems and might feel as though the Mayans were onto something. These include emission and mileage standards; the California Air Resources Board; SmartWay; Compliance, Safety, and Accountability; EOBRs (electronic logging devices); driver shortages and employee turnover.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have announced a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2017 and beyond.  Tractors will be required to achieve up to an approximately 20% reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2018. Delivery trucks will be required to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10% by model year 2018.

Natural gas has been receiving considerable attention recently as a possible fuel for long-haul trucks. Slightly over half of the carriers contacted by ACT Research are considering natural gas but they see problems, such as the complexities of choices in terms of type of fuel, fuel supply systems, payload impact and fuel station availability. This fuel is cheaper and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions over diesel.

The California Air Resources Board is applying stringent new rules starting this year which affect engines and refrigeration units, and require SmartWay-related enhancements. Truckers with model-year 2000 through 2004 engines that aren’t modified to meet CARB’s rules are subject to minimum fines of $1,000 per violation per month.

All refrigerated trailers must comply with the new emissions limits. CARB’s SmartWay Rule requires a specific combination of aerodynamic additions to 53-foot trailers and reefers. By 2017, the rule requires all trucking companies to have installed low-rolling resistance tires on 2010 and older model year trailers and reefers. 

The Safety Measurement System, within the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Operational Model, quantifies the on-road safety performance of private and for-hire carriers and drivers to identify candidates for “intervention,” determines the specific safety problems that a carrier or driver exhibits, and monitors whether safety problems are improving or worsening.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently implemented “improvements” to the Safety Measurement System which it says will provide more precise information to assess a trucker’s performance.

The Drivers’ Hours of Service final rule will become effective on July 1, 2013. However, the rule is subject to a court action. As the jury is out, no one is sure what the final outcome will be; Congress may be the final arbitrator.

While the use of electronic on-board recorders is currently voluntary, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has initiated a study into whether EOBRs reduce the risk of fatigue-related crashes. In response to legislation which mandates recorders and required that any rule ensures the devices cannot be used to harass or coerce drivers, the FMCSA recently announced that it is requesting comment on a proposed survey to examine this factor.

And if truckers needed more grief, driver turnover at “for hire” truckload carriers remained high in the third quarter 2012. There is little reason to suspect it will get any better. The annualized linehaul driver turnover rate at large truckload fleets remained over 100% for the second straight quarter, and the churn at smaller truckload carriers rose to a five-year high, according to American Trucking Associations’ Trucking Activity Report.

All this makes it appear that the old curse, “May you live in interesting times,” is being applied to the trucking industry.