In the forty years I have been involved in the trucking industry (30 at Mercer), there has never been a time when so many different aspects of the business are changing. It is important that everyone is aware of these changes but more importantly that everyone has an action plan to deal with the changes. Here are some things that everyone needs to be thinking about, planning for and taking the appropriate action:

  • CDL/Medical Card. It is a federal requirement that your state have a copy of your current medical card on file before your CDL can be renewed. Beginning last January, many states (but not all) sent drivers questionnaire letters and requested copies of their medical cards. If you have not complied with this, you could risk having your CDL suspended on January 1. If you haven’t received a letter, you need to contact your home state DMV (not Mercer) and find out where to send your medical card copy. This is serious business. If you get stopped with a suspended CDL, you are dead in the water until it is cleared, plus you are awarded 30 CSA points. This needs to be a priority of yours before the end of the year;
  • CSA. Speaking of CSA, we are now two years into it. Frankly, there are a bunch of drivers at Mercer and other places that couldn’t adapt to the tighter standards and are no longer in the industry. For the past two years, I have told everyone that to survive CSA it is important to take care of four things: Do not exceed the posted speed limit at any time for any reason, log legal and keep your log book current (including matching ALL receipts), secure cargo properly (use more than enough chains or straps and check often), and keep tires and brake adjustments within FMCSA requirements. Drivers who pay attention to that have no problems. Ignoring even one of those can put a driver’s career in jeopardy. The FMCSA has indicated that it is moving in the direction of tying the motor carrier’s safety rating to its CSA BASIC scores. We expect to see a notice of proposed rulemaking out on this in mid-2013. You can expect all motor carriers, including Mercer, to be much tougher on drivers with DOT write ups in 2013, particularly for Unsafe Driving and Hours of Service Violations. Read my lips;
  • BMI. Body mass index (BMI)/obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been on the FMCSA back burner for a year or so but expect to see it in 2013. It is important that every driver is aware of their BMI and embraces a healthier diet and lifestyle. It appears that at some point in the future, BMIs of 35 or above will require a sleep study and possible treatment for OSA  to remain qualified. If your BMI is 35 or above, the time to take action is now. There is time to get your health under control. Take advantage of it, lose weight and exercise;
  • EPA/CARB. If you are going to stay in this business over the long term, you need to have a business plan in place to upgrade your tractor. Anyone with a 96-06 engine without a particulate matter filter retrofit will be out of California by January 2014. You need to be working towards a 2007 engine or newer. It’s no longer a matter of simply not going to California. Last Friday the EPA , in the first major regulation since the election, imposed a new air quality standard that reduces by 20 percent the maximum amount of soot (particulate matter) released into the air from diesel trucks, smokestacks and other sources of pollution. The EPA monitors motor carriers, including Mercer, through their SmartWay program. Pollution formula numbers from older trucks, as well as excessive fuel consumption compared to miles travelled because of speeding or idling skews Mercer’s score. We expect to see the EPA continue to get tougher on this in the next four years. Many observers see the CARB stuff in California as the model of where the EPA is headed nationally. Drivers should be closely following new technologies, especially diesel electric hybrids and CNG (compressed natural gas) powered engines. Several manufacturers are working on combination diesel/CNG units. Cummins is pretty far along on this technology. As the EPA toughens these standards, expect all motor carriers, including Mercer, to have tighter maximum age requirements on tractors. We are monitoring these developments closely;
  • Electronic On Board Recorders. Everyone asks about EOBRs. Congress made it law and FMCSA is working on the standards. They are coming. The exact timing is still uncertain, but we expect to be testing them in 2013. My advice on EOBRs is the same as on BMIs: You have time now to get ready for it, use that time wisely. I would get on Eclipse Logs now and be sure you are logging legal and current at all times. If you can’t do it, you will not survive under EOBRs. Electronic logs require more trip planning on your part. You need to get used to this environment to continue in this industry;
  • Physician Registry. Soon, you may not be able to use any old doctor to get your DOT physical. The FMCSA will have standards and a registry for medical professionals who are approved to do DOT physicals. If your doctor is not approved, your physical won’t be valid. Mercer applauds that rule because there are too many physicals now that are submitted with missing or incorrect items by medical staff that are not fully aware of DOT requirements. Mercer verifies all physicals and will not update a driver unless the physical is complete. The new registry will make this process much easier for everyone.

Like I said at the beginning, there is a lot going on and many changes in the works. The coming year will be a challenging one for this industry, particularly for owner-operators. The time to plan your strategy is now. Be safe and have a joyous and blessed holiday season.