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A Comprehensive Look at the FAST Act

The law mandates that FMCSA provide recognition for motor carriers that make voluntary use of advanced technologies and enhanced driver fitness measures.

On Dec. 4, 2015, an extensive transportation bill encompassing five studies, six working groups, 20 rulemaking mandates, and 15 FMCSA reports to Congress was signed by President Obama. The Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, also known as the FAST Act, is a five-year bill that mandates several different steps in order to help keep transportation infrastructure safe.

The law features many different parts, each of which will be covered in this article. As a bit of an overview, the main takeaways from the bill are that it’s a five-year bill that sets Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration funding through FY2020; MCSAP grant programs will be restructured and see an increase in funding; and operating expense levels have been slightly increased.

Grants
Starting in FY2017, several different grant programs will be distilled into two: The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) Basic program and the MCSAP High Priority Grant program. The basic program will include funding for activities and programs that were a part of the Border Enforcement Grant, New Entrant, Safety Data Improvement Program (SaDIP), and Performance and Registration Information Systems Management (PRISM) grant programs. The High Priority program will include funding for activities that were previously a part of the Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CVISN) grant program and the MCSAP High Grant Program.

More money will be available as a result of this consolidation. The FAST Act requires full participation by grantees no later than Oct. 1, 2020.

Compliance, Safety, and Accountability
As part of the FAST Act, the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science (NAS) will conduct a study of the Safety Measurement System (SMS) component of the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program. The law has outlined elements it wants the agency to analyze on the FMCSA website, which include:

  • How accurately the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC) can identify high-risk carriers and predict future crash risk and crash severity.
  • The methodology used to identify carriers for enforcement, including weights assigned to violations and the tie between crash risk and specific regulatory violations.
  • The value of inspection information and roadside enforcement data.
  • Any gaps in data in data collection or sufficiency problems.
  • The accuracy of safety data, including crash data.
  • Whether or not BASIC percentiles for passenger vehicles should be separate from vehicles for freight.
  • How members of the public use the SMS and what effect making it public had on reducing crash rates.
  • The recommendations and findings of the Comptroller General of the United States and the DOT inspector general and independent review team reports.

Beyond Compliance
After previous steps to consider the impacts of a company's proactive implementation of best practices, the FAST Act has refined and mandated that FMCSA provide recognition for motor carriers that make voluntary use of advanced technologies and enhanced driver fitness measures. The agency can now authorize qualified entities to monitor carriers that receive recognition.

Veterans
An FMCSA rule will now provide military personnel with an extension to apply for a skills test waiver and also allow active-duty military to apply and be tested for their commercial learner’s permits and commercial driver's license in the state where they are stationed.

The agency also will establish a process that allows veterans to obtain DOT medical certification exams, while the CMV Operator Safety Training grant program will provide grant funds to commercial driver training schools that train veterans to transition into civilian motor carrier careers.

Rulemaking
FMCSA has identified 19 provisions in the FAST Act that require rulemaking and has issued a final rule to implement eight provisions in it. The eight provisions include:

  • Applications—extends the amount of time for an approved exemption from two years to five years and prescribes related provisions.
  • Electronic Logging Device Requirements—permits a motor carrier when transporting a motor home or recreation vehicle trailer to user either paper records or electronic logging devices to record hours of service status.
  • Covered Farm Vehicles—a state may not have federal funding terminated because a covered farm vehicle is exempt from certain regulations.
  • Operators of Hi-Rail Vehicles—"hi-rail vehicles" are now defined.
  • Ready Mix Concrete Delivery Vehicles—defines "driver of a ready mix concrete delivery vehicle" and adds an exception to the hours of service rules.
  • Transportation of Construction Materials and Equipment—similar to previous changes, this modifies the exemption to the hours of service rules.
  • Exemptions from Requirements for Certain Welding Trucks Used in Pipeline Industry—operators of certain vehicles, as well as the vehicles themselves, are not exempt from regulatory requirements.
  • Hazardous Materials Endorsement Exemption—states can waive the requirement of a holder of a Class A CDL to obtain a hazardous materials endorsement to transport 1,000 gallons or less of diesel fuel under certain conditions.

Working Groups
A number of working groups have been established in order to help implement the new law. They include:

  • MCSAP Allocation Formula. This group analyzes requirements and factors that are necessary for establishing and issuing a new allocation formula for the MCSAP.
  • Preventable Crashes. This group will make recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on processes that will allow motor carriers and drivers to request a determination in regards to the preventability of a crash if such a process has yet to be established, as well as issue a report to Congress on how the secretary intends to address the treatment of preventable crashes.
  • Post-Accident Report.After an accident, this group will review data from the reports for tow-away accidents involving commercial motor vehicles and report findings, including best practices for state post-accident reports.
  • Military Commercial Driver Pilot Program. This group will review data collected as part of the military commercial driver pilot program and provide recommendations on feasibility, benefits, and safety impacts of allowing a covered driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.
  • Household Goods Consumer Protection Working Group. The purpose of this group is to develop recommendations on how to communicate relevant information to consumers with respect to laws concerning the interstate transportation of household goods by a motor carrier.

A Challenge to the 30-Minute Rest Provision
Part of the law requires FMCSA to post any petitions on the changes on its website. One petition that has gained attention is the request to delete the 30-minute rest break provision. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) submitted a petition voicing concern about how easy it is to enforce a 30-minute break, given that the inspector would have no way of verifying whether or not the driver actually took time off or used that time to perform other work-related duties.

"This provision gives problem drivers, and motor carriers, an opportunity to falsify their record of duty status (RODS) in an attempt to disguise, or conceal, on-duty hours," CVSA said, quoting the 2011 filing. "Enforcing this proposed rule is impossible without supporting documents to either verify, or refute, such entries. Further, CVSA does not believe there is evidence that the requirement improves a driver’s overall CMV operational capabilities or increases safety."

FMCSA responded by saying that whatever enforcement difficulty may be present, that doesn't negate the safety benefits of requiring the break. "There is no basis for rescinding the 30-minute rest break requirement," the agency wrote in a letter to the CVSA. "Neither the scientific studies that were relied upon nor the roadside inspection data reviewed for calendar years 2013, 2014 and 2015 support the contention that the safety benefits are questionable or that enforcement is particularly difficult, even after granting limited exemptions for certain industry segments."

The nonprofit association's petition also makes note of the fact that numerous exemptions to the rule have been made by FMCSA. By simply removing the rule, said the CVSA, any confusion regarding enforcement would be cleared up.

FMCSA's letter is consistent in saying it "finds no merit in CVSA's challenge."

The FAST Act is broad and covers several different facets of transportation safety. By consolidating grants, studying compliance, developing incentives, and producing new groups that will work alongside the agency, the law will have a lasting effect on transportation safety and enforcement in ways that might not be immediately apparent but are ultimately necessary.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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