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Fleet Experts Answer Clearinghouse, Driver Shortage and More!

It’s time again for “Ask the Fleet Expert.” In this post, leading fleet experts answer your questions on actual knowledge as it relates to the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, what the driver shortage may look like next year, and more. The experts answering your questions include:

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1. Can you explain what “actual knowledge” means for purposes of the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse?

Answer – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides a very specific definition for actual knowledge as it relates to a motor carrier’s drug and alcohol testing program.  It can be broken down into three distinct circumstances: 1) when a trained supervisor directly observes an employee’s prohibited alcohol or controlled substance use; 2) when information about a driver’s drug or alcohol use is provided by a previous employer; or 3) when a driver is issued a traffic citation for driving a commercial motor vehicle while under the influence. Only these three circumstances are considered actual knowledge, despite what the name may imply. Actual knowledge is not a positive non-DOT drug test (like a hair test or one conducted under company policy, rather than DOT and FMCSA rules), or a witness report from someone other than a trained supervisor.

Actual knowledge reports must be made to the Clearinghouse by the employer within three days of the violation and must be accompanied with strong documentation including an attestation under penalty of perjury.

2. Is the 70-hour rule still in effect for the short haul driver?

Answer – Yes, the 70-hour rule still applies to a truck driver operating under the short-haul exception in Section 395.1(e) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.  This short-haul exception, recently modified by FMCSA and effective on September 29, 2020, only exempts a driver from completing a record-of-duty status (RODS) and submitting “supporting documents” such as fueling records.

The newly modified short-haul exception exempts a truck driver from the RODS and submitting supporting documents if:

  1. The driver operates within a 150 air-mile radius of the normal work reporting location;
  2. The driver returns to the normal work reporting location and is released from duty within 14 consecutive hours;
  3. The driver has at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty between each work shift;
  4. The employing carrier retains accurate and true time records for the driver, for 6 months, showing
  • Time the driver reports for duty each day
  • Time the driver is released from duty each day, and
  • The total number of hours the driver is on-duty each day.

Answered by David J. Osiecki, Scopelitis Transportation Consulting

Ask the Regulatory Expert Dave Osiecki

David J. Osiecki spent 20 years at the American Trucking Associations in Washington working on behalf of the trucking industry in safety, policy, regulatory and advocacy-related positions. Mr. Osiecki rose to Executive Vice President for ATA, and represented the industry before State legislatures, federal agencies, the U.S. Congress and in the national media, including appearances on national network news programs. He now serves as president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, LLC.

3. In this softening/declining marketplace (less robust earnings), will more “senior” drivers finally decide it’s time to retire?

Answer: This may have been the case for some early on in the pandemic during the lockdown phase, but not anymore. Sure, there were some fleets that took advantage of PPP loans and parked some trucks between March and May when rates were at the lowest and truckers were protesting in Washington D.C., but now we’re six months into the new normal and most drivers see the freight market very differently. The industry has not only risen to the challenge of keeping supply chains moving with much-needed supplies during the pandemic, a spotlight has been focused on the industry and how critically important truck drivers are in keeping the economy afloat. As we go to press, spot rates are at their highest level in the last five years for the start of Fall after the longest rate rally we’ve seen in five years. Since the low point in freight rates in May, based on data from DAT Freight & Analytics, contract rates have risen $0.25/mile and spot rates have jumped by $0.90/mile from $1.32/mile to $2.22/mile for dry van freight. Large fleets are now finding it harder to find drivers, and shippers are finding it harder to find trucks – the trucking industry is thriving more so than ever before.

4. What do you believe are the expectations of newer drivers entering into the industry (under 5 years) and how have they changed over the veteran drivers (5+ years in the industry).

Answer: I see three main areas where expectations vary:

1. Work-life balance: The most notable difference between newer and veteran drivers would have to be expectations around work-life balance. Most newer drivers without experience want to spend more time at home these days, but to gain experience they typically need to be away from home for extended periods of time to learn their new trade. These opposing forces can create a lot of stress on both the driver and their family, which is often known to result in the driver choosing to work multiple jobs so that truck driving becomes just one of their sources of income.

2. Technology: Newer drivers are often tech-savvy, many being digital natives who rely on the technologies available to help simplify and enhance the time they spend on the road and lives generally. Typically, more experienced drivers are less dependent on technology. Not because they are not capable of using it, but more because they’ve been very successful over a long career without having to depend on it.

3. Safety: The one standout difference between newer and veteran drivers is the most important safety technology a trucker can use – a C.B. Radio. Most veteran drivers see a C.B. Radio as a life-saving device that’s critical to not only keeping themselves safe, as well as all road users. Can you imagine an airline pilot flying without any form of communication with nearby planes? That’s what is happening more and more these days, with newer drivers operating in a bubble without being made aware of the hazards that lay ahead of them. Sometimes and tragically, this can result in disastrous consequences such as massive pile ups during winter snowstorms and white outs.

5. What do you feel are the top 3 items newer drivers are looking for?

Answer: There’s no magic here – all drivers whether they be new or experienced, understandably expect to be home more often and at specific times. They want to drive a nice, comfortable truck, and to run plenty of miles and make money. Successfully achieving these three things is where the real work is, and newer drivers entering the industry will often experience a shock when the gap between their expectations and the reality is far greater than anticipated. As most truck drivers can testify to, reality bites hard when you’re alone and a long way from home.

Answered by Dean Croke, Chief Industry Analyst, DAT

Dean Croke, FreightWaves

Dean Croke has a long history in the trucking industry. Now at DAT, Dean was previously Chief Insights Officer at FreightWaves, where he was active in vehicle telematics, data analytics, data science and standards development at BiTA. Prior to joining FreightWaves, Dean was Vice President of Data Products at Spireon and head of Omnitracs Analytics prior to that. He has over 40 years of experience in trucking, fleet ownership and management, supply chain management, data analytics and insurance risk management. Dean still holds a CDL and has completed over 2 million miles as an over-the-road driver in Australia prior to moving to the U.S. in 2000.

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