Although a bit tardy, the Biden Administration has published its Unified Agenda for Spring 2021, which highlights the regulatory priorities of the various executive branch agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation and its sub-agencies. Included in the DOT's portion of the agenda are the issues the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) views as near-term priorities for highway transportation safety. Chief among them are Drug/Alcohol Clearinghouse revisions, revised vision standards for drivers, and automatic emergency braking for commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). What follows is a brief summary of the more significant agenda items. The full list is available at this link.
Broker/freight forwarder financial responsibility requirements
In 2018, the FMCSA sought public comment on potential revisions to the existing minimum financial responsibility requirements for brokers and freight forwarders. According to the agenda, FMCSA now plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on this topic in Spring 2022.
Automated driving systems
In mid-2019, the agency requested public comments on portions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) that may require updates or modifications to facilitate the safe introduction of automated driving systems (ADS) equipped CMVs. According to the agenda, FMCSA plans to push forward with an NPRM to make these necessary changes later this year.
Later this summer, the FMCSA plans to propose a rule to amend existing 49 CFR 392.10 to allow drivers of buses and hazmat vehicles to obey traffic control devices and signage at controlled railroad crossings, rather than stopping in every instance.
Vehicle safety technology installation
In the coming weeks, FMCSA plans to propose a rule that would amend 49 CFR 393.60(e) to expand the area on the interior windshield of a CMV where vehicle safety technologies can be legally installed. According to the agency, this change supports its efforts to promote advances safety technologies.
Drug/Alcohol Clearinghouse revisions
Early next year, the FMCSA plans to propose certain changes to its Drug/Alcohol Clearinghouse to "streamline and improve error-correction procedures, queries, and consent requirements." The agency says these changes are "based on experience in administration" the Clearinghouse over the last year.
CDL downgrades based on drug/alcohol violations
In the coming weeks, the FMCSA plans to push forward with a final rule that would prohibit state driver's licensing agencies from issuing, renewing, upgrading, or transferring a driver's CDL or CLP if that driver is prohibited from driving a CMV due to drug/alcohol program violations. Drivers will be required to complete the return-to-duty process in order to reinstate their CDLs.
Elimination of annual certificate of violations
Last December, the FMCSA proposed eliminating the existing requirement that drivers annually provide their motor carriers a list of their convictions or traffic violations. According to the agenda, the agency plans to issue a final rule on this topic later this year.
Revised vision standards
This past January, the FMCSA proposed reducing the burden on monocular vision individuals seeking to operate CMVs in interstate commerce, as well as the motor carriers that employ them, by revising the existing physical qualification standards in 49 CFR Part 391. The agency plans to issue a final rule on this topic early next year.
Entry-level driver training delay
In late 2019, the FMCSA proposed a new rule that will require drivers seeking to obtain their CDL for the first time, seeking to add a hazmat, passengers, or school bus endorsement, or seeking to upgrade a Class B CDL to a Class A to receive classroom and behind-the-wheel training from a certified training provider before being eligible to take the skills tests necessary to complete those licensing transactions. The implementation date for this new rule has since been pushed back to January 7, 2022, a date the FMCSA intends to solidify in its new agenda. For a detailed breakdown of the new entry-level driver training rule, check out this article.
Rear impact guards
Late last year, the agency proposed amendments to its parts and accessories regulations to update its current certification and labeling requirements for rear impact guards and to include those guards on the list of items that must be examined as part of a CMV's annual inspection. FMCSA proposes to finalize this rule later this year.
Interpretative rules for passenger carriers
In early 2022, the FMCSA plans to clarify, through written guidance, existing statutes and regulations related to the determination of interstate commerce in the context of highway transportation of passengers immediately prior or subsequent to air transportation. According to the agenda, "[u]nder certain conditions, motor carriers performing intrastate movements of passengers immediately before or after interstate air travel do not need FMCSA operating authority registration. However, such motor carriers are operating in interstate commerce and, unless otherwise exempt, are subject to applicable FMCSA regulations. The interpretative rule would confirm and clarify for motor carriers of passengers and the public FMCSA's interpretation of applicable regulations and requirements."
*BONUS - NHTSA rule on automatic braking
For its part, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (FMCSA's sister agency) plans to issue a proposed rule in April of 2022 that would require and/or standardize equipment performance for automatic emergency braking on heavy trucks. The proposal would likely require automatic forward collision avoidance and mitigation systems on newly manufactured heavy trucks.