Pilot program could see 18-year-old truck drivers cleared for interstate trips

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. regulators are taking a key step toward a pilot program that would see truck drivers as young as 18 operating commercial motor vehicles for interstate commerce.

While CDL holders under the age of 21 can drive trucks in 49 states and the District of Columbia, their trips between jurisdictions are restricted. For example, the younger drivers can complete a trip between Houston and El Paso, Texas, but not complete an extended journey across several states.

Public comments about the proposal are now being collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The pilot project would be limited to 18-20-year-old CDL holders taking part in a 120-hour probationary period and subsequent 280-hour apprenticeship program established by an employer, or 19-20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated in intrastate commerce for at least one year and 40,000 km. Participants wouldn’t be allowed to operate vehicles transporting passengers, haul hazardous materials, or operate special configurations.

The idea was first proposed in May 2019, as regulators began to ask questions about the required training, qualifications, driving limitations, insurance, and vehicle safety systems, among other topics.

“This is a significant step toward improving safety on our nation’s roads, setting a standard for these drivers that is well beyond what 49 states currently require,” American Trucking Associations (ATA) president and CEO Chris Spear said on Friday in a bulletin for members.

“The pilot program would require drivers to meet safety and skill requirements far and above current standards.”

They won’t be the first young drivers cleared for interstate commerce. The latest proposal builds on a similar project unveiled in July 2018, which involves 18-to-20-year-olds who completed heavy vehicle training while in the U.S. military.

Research by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration supports the idea that younger drivers can be safe. In the years 2012-17 studied for Traffic Safety Facts: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data, male drivers from 16-20 had a lower involvement in fatal crashes than those from the ages of 21-24. However, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) look at 2017 data found that drivers aged 18-19 were 2.3 times more likely than those 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

Interest in allowing younger drivers hasn’t been limited to the U.S.

Quebec has trained hundreds of youth in pilot projects of its own, and is currently preparing legislation that will allow truck drivers as young as 18. That legislation is expected to come into effect this fall.

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Trimble tool holds truckers accountable

SUNNYVALE, Calif. – Collecting data is the easy part, but the information is useful only if we can analyze and make sense of it to reduce risks.

That was the message at a Trimble Transportation webinar Wednesday on using analytics to elevate driver compliance, safety and accountability. The session was held on the third day of Trimble’s virtual user conference.

Senior product manager Mike Soricelli said what matters is how can we turn the data into actionable items to increase safety.

“With many data points available, it can be difficult to determine what data is useful and how to confidently analyze it to make effective decisions,” he said.

Soricelli said Trimble’s Video Intelligence and Safety Analytics portal simplifies big data so fleets can properly coach and hold drivers accountable on speeding, behavior, hours-of-service (HoS) compliance and fatigue.

He said the platform has the ability to import various data inputs into an easy-to-read dashboard, making it simpler for fleets to identify potential risks, whether it is related to driver behavior or fatigue.

And speaking of fatigue, Soricelli said Trimble has partnered with Pulsar Informatics to deliver a fatigue monitoring and risk management solution.

He said Pulsar has done work for the U.S. space agency NASA, and also has a project going right now with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The FMCSA estimates that driver fatigue may be an associated factor in 13% of accidents involving commercial trucks.

“Eighteen hours without sleep is like having a blood alcohol content of 0.05. That is crazy when you think about it,” Soricelli said.

“So, when you think about the amount of time drivers spend on the road and how much sleep they are getting, fatigue definitely plays a significant factor into that driver behavior.”

The Trimble portal constantly monitors and updates driver fatigue, and that information is available in real time to carriers, he said.

The portal also offers a printable driver scorecard, which Soricelli said is a great way to establish key performance indicators.

The Trimble analytics tools are optional. They can be customized to fit the needs of all fleet sizes, Soricelli said.

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NATDA cancels Nashville trailer show

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Covid-19 has claimed yet another trucking industry event.

The North American Trailer Dealers Association (NATDA) said Friday it has been forced to cancel this year’s NATDA Trailer Show in Nashville, Tenn.

In its place, NATDA will launch a three-week virtual event starting Oct. 26, the group said.

“Unfortunately, recent developments, including bar and restaurant closures, state-to-state restrictions and citywide phase extensions, convinced us there’s no way to maintain our physical show during these incredibly unpredictable times,” said president Andy Ackerman.

“After speaking to hundreds of dealers, a strong majority felt they simply were not ready to venture to Nashville under the current circumstances.”

More information about the virtual show will be announced in the coming weeks, NATDA said.

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Don’t rule out clean diesel: DTF

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New-generation diesel-powered trucks are vital in achieving near-term climate and clean air goals, the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF) said, in response to a 15-state mission to achieve 100% zero-emissions commercial truck sales by 2050.

“While the recently announced MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) takes a long view for commercial trucks in the region to be all electric, there are equally important proven and available near-term opportunities to advance progress for cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions right now,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the DTF.

“Rapidly accelerating the turnover of the existing fleet to the newest generation of diesel technology as well as expanding the use of low-carbon advanced biofuels can deliver benefits today, and should not be overlooked.”

The Forum points out diesel is the primary fuel choice for the trucking industry because it’s the most energy efficient internal combustion engine, has superior power density and driving range, is reliable and durable, and widely available fueling infrastructure already exists. The fuel can now deliver near-zero emissions.

“Since 2010, a new generation of diesel technology has become the standard for heavy-duty trucks, delivering reductions of 98% of emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions,” Schaeffer added. “Getting more of this generation of vehicle into the hands of truckers now will pay large benefits in terms of lower emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, particularly trucks operating in the most sensitive communities.”

The 15 MOU states and the District of Columbia, currently have a 43% penetration of the latest diesel engine technologies, the Forum pointed out, adding “57% are of an older generation that have higher emissions and lower fuel efficiency, making the opportunity for accelerating turnover substantial.”

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Werner founder, namesake easing out of leadership role

Leadership of one of the trucking industry’s leading companies is changing.

Saying, “There comes a moment when you know it’s just time to move on,” CL Werner, the man who founded what was to become Werner Enterprises, took a step toward easing out of his role on the company’s board of directors.

The company this week announced Werner stepped down as executive chairman, effective May 31. A statement from the company said he will continue to serve as chairman of the board of directors through the end of his current term, which ends in May of 2021. Werner is expected to become chairman emeritus then.

In connection with this transition, the board of directors appointed Derek Leathers, the current chief executive officer and president of the company, as a member and vice chairman. Werner recommended Leathers be named chairman of the board of directors, in addition to his roles as chief executive officer and president next May.

CL Werner founded the company in 1956 with one truck. Today the company has almost 11,000 drivers.

“All I ever wanted to do was drive a truck,” said the founder in a statement from the company. “As the first driver for our company, I know first-hand that professional drivers are, and have always been, the backbone of our country. America is witnessing that now more than ever.
“I’ve been proud to have created such a company. But my intent was nothing more than being able to drive a truck, provide exceptional service, meet good people, and hope I could convince the best of them to come to work for me … and it worked.

“There comes a moment when you know it’s just time to move on. I’m in good health, and Werner has never been in a better position than it is today. So now is the time. I have the utmost confidence in Derek and his leadership team to continue to take Werner to the next level and beyond.”

In a statement on Werner’s website, Leathers said, “Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such foresight as CL has. He’s passionate about our company, our drivers, our associates, and life in general. There is no doubt he will stay committed to Werner’s success going forward.

“He put over 64 years of work into this company, and I appreciate the confidence he has in me and our leadership team going forward. We will continue to concentrate on the things that have made Werner great – being a driver-focused company, with core values that reflect who we are as we serve our customers.”

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Re-Opening Measures Positively Affect Truck Freight, Rates

With all 50 states relaxing COVID-19 shutdown orders to various extents, trucking shipments and rates are heading back up – but don’t expect a true recovery until 2021.

For the week of May 18-24, truckload markets continued to follow seasonal trends, and load-to-truck ratios on the DAT network continued to climb as a result, according to DAT Solutions. That put pressure on prices, which rose going into the long holiday weekend as more and more businesses reopen.

The number of posted loads actually dropped 16.5% during the week ending May 24, which includes the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, but truck posts fell 29%. Shippers and brokers paid a premium to secure capacity ahead of the holiday, DAT said.

“The demand for trucks has steadily increased throughout May, following seasonal trends that are typical for this time of year,” wrote Matt Sullivan on the DAT blog May 27.

“The upward trends offers plenty of reasons to be optimistic going forward. Last week saw some of the biggest increases since late March, with many shippers paying a premium to get freight moved ahead of the long Memorial Day weekend.”

National averages for van and flatbed rates are still below where they were in April, although refrigerated rates were up slightly, reported DAT.

  • Van: $1.57 per mile, 6 cents lower than the April average
  • Flatbed: $1.88 a mile, 6 cents lower than April
  • Reefer: $2.00 a mile, 7 cents higher than April

The rolling national average van, flatbed, and reefer rates were 6, 7, and 8 cents higher, respectively, on May 24 than they were on May 1. Rates are low but trending in the right direction.

There are still many markets where truckload supply outweighs demand, Sullivan said. Hot markets, on the other hand, included Atlanta, Memphis, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Ontario, California.

Look for 2021 rebound

ACT Research is predicting that the economy will transition from contraction to growth over the course of the third and fourth quarters. “Clearly the global economy does not have the luxury of waiting a year or two for a vaccine to be developed before the current solution itself becomes the greater risk,” said Kenny Vieth, ACT president and senior analyst. “Our forecast anticipates that the U.S. economy, as defined by GDP, will not return to its Q4’19 size until after 2021.”

It’s not easy to restart supply chains that were totally shut down due to the pandemic, Vieth said. “In the supply chains that support complex OEM-level assembly operations, from raw materials to finished goods, it is not just about opening one plant, but opening thousands of plants simultaneously, making tens of thousands of parts that go into those assemblies in an orchestrated fashion, all with new layers of safety and testing protocols in place.”

On top of that, he said, getting buyers to market is another challenge “when the economy has so recently cratered and going outside poses an existential risk.”

However, Vieth said, because the pre-COVID economy was “structurally sound… with strong Federal Reserve and Congressional support, and rising pent-up demand, there is a case to be made that the economy will respond strongly into 2021.”

Coyote Logistics is predicting a similar recovery. “Though we expect a steep drop once all Q2 numbers are in the books, we have likely already hit the bottom in Q2,” writes the third-party logistics provider in an article explaining its latest Coyote Curve forecast for the truckload market.

“We’ll see a slow recovery the rest of the year and then rocket into 2021,” with spot market truckload rates rising year over year in the first quarter of the year, said Chris Pickett, chief strategy officer of the third-party logistics provider and author of the Coyote Curve forecast, in a recent webinar. Coyote said it expects contract and spot rates to more or less converge from here, and an inflationary 2021 spot truckload environment (barring a major economic setback).

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DOT to mail masks to truck drivers

The U.S. Department of Transportation will distribute some 2.1 million cloth masks to truck drivers as part of a larger initiative to distribute masks to transportation workers across the country. The department will distribute about 15.5 million masks to various transportation sectors.

“Transportation workers are on the frontlines of keeping our transportation systems operational during this public health emergency and their wellbeing and safety is paramount,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

DOT says the masks will be secured by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be sent out over the coming weeks through the Mail. The breakdown of masks by transportation sector is as follows:

  • Mass transit and passenger rail – 4.8 million
  • Aviation – 3.8 million
  • Maritime – 2.4 million
  • Freight rail – 2.2 million
  • Highway and motor carrier – 2.1 million
  • Pipeline systems – 258,000

An agency spokesman said further details about how and when the masks will be distributed will be forthcoming.

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Yokohama ends Covid-19 shutdown at truck tire plant

SANTA ANA, Calif. – Yokohama Corporation of North America has reopened its plant in West Point, Miss., which had been silenced as a precautionary measure in the early weeks of Covid-19.

The facility was closed on March 28 in what was originally announced as a a two-week shutdown. The shipping department and maintenance operations continued to operate.

“To ensure the health and welfare of all personnel upon their return, [Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi] has implemented several new safety procedures at the plant based on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as from local authorities,” the company says in a related notice.

“Several preventative measures are also in effect at all Yokohama facilities.”

The 1-million-square-foot factory began production in the fall of 2015, representing a US $300 million investment, and was set up to produce up to 1 million tires per year.

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TravelCenters of America lays off more than 3,000

WESTLAKE, Ohio – TravelCenters of America, one of North America’s largest truck stop chains, has laid off 2,900 field employees and 122 corporate employees in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

All TA, Petro Stopping Centers and TA Express travel centers remain open with fuel, showers, restrooms, quick-serve restaurants and convenience stores. But the full-service restaurant business has been affected by limits on such establishments and lower consumer demand linked to broader stay-at-home orders.

“Employees continue to take precautionary measures consistent with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to minimize the spread of coronavirus, including social distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols,” it adds in a related press release.

“This decision was very difficult, but these are unprecedented times. We believe this step is necessary to preserve the long-term success of our company and to ensure our essential services remain available for the millions of professional drivers who rely on us daily,” said Jon Pertchik, CEO of TA.

Founded in 1972, TravelCenters of America has more than 21,000 employees in more than 260 locations.

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Goodyear offering free DoT inspections

AKRON, Ohio – Goodyear Commercial Tire & Service Centers in the U.S. are offering free DoT inspections for truckers as they continue to move commerce during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Valued at US$120, the inspections will include the tractor and trailer, including brake systems, tires and wheels, exhaust systems, lighting and more. The Goodyear CTSC locations are remaining open, even in states with stay-at-home orders, as they have been deemed an essential business.

“Goodyear is dedicated to meeting tire and service needs for the many hardworking professional drivers, first responders and other essential workers who are making countless sacrifices to protect public health and safety and deliver needed goods during these difficult times,” said Frank Payne, director, Goodyear Commercial Tire & Service Centers. “With the health and wellbeing of our customers and associates top of mind, we are taking a number of precautions to minimize the spread of Covid-19 at all of our centers so we can remain open and keep vehicles on the road.”

To reduce the spread of illness, all centers are following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and taking a number of preventive measures, including enhanced disinfection, visitor protocols and physical distancing, the company claims.

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