DOT regulations are complicated—make sure your drivers and vehicles are in compliance
As technology has increased, so have the sizes and capabilities of the trucks that supply the things we need. Trucks haul more and are capable of traveling at faster speeds than ever before. But they also are becoming more dangerous. The U.S. Department of Transportation''s (DOT''s) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration''s (FMCSA''s) Analysis Division reports that during 1998, 5,374 people were killed and an estimated 127,000 others were injured in crashes that involved at least one large truck.
These losses weren''t all caused because of a lack of compliance with DOT regulations; some occurred because of poor driving habits. Therefore, it is important not only to understand and follow DOT regulations but to teach your drivers safe driving practices so you and they can avoid being fined. Following is information about DOT regulations, as well as some changes to the regulations you should know. Keep in mind these are only a small portion of DOT regulations.
How it affects you
Roofing contractors who employ workers who operate any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 pounds (4500 kg) or more, use tankers or haul hot materials are regulated by DOT as operators of commercial motor vehicles. GVWRs and gross combination weight ratings (GCWRs) trigger different DOT requirements when they are exceeded.
GVWR is a set value or weight established by a vehicle''s manufacturer and is stamped on a specification plate or sticker mounted on the inside of the driver''s door jamb. If a vehicle''s GVWR is greater than 10,001 pounds (4500 kg) and it is involved in interstate commerce, its owner and driver must comply with FMCSA regulations.
GCWR is a value specified by a vehicle''s manufacturer and represents a vehicle''s loaded weight limit while pulling a trailer or being pulled. GCWR is calculated by adding a vehicle''s GVWR and total weight of a towed unit and any load in or on it. If a vehicle''s GVWR or GCWR is 26,001 pounds (11700 kg) or more, an operator must possess a commercial driver''s license (CDL) and comply with additional DOT regulations regardless of where the truck is driven.
DOT is composed of 12 administrations. Owners and operators of commercial motor vehicles are governed by three of the 12: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), and FMCSA.
FHWA coordinates highway transportation programs with states and other partners to enhance safety, economic vitality, quality of life and the environment. FHWA dictates size and weight requirements for road systems and oversees the operations of roadside scale and weigh stations.
FHWA requires oversize vehicles to apply for permits and pay fees to travel on roads. Major program areas include the Federal-Aid Highway Program, which provides federal financial assistance to states to construct and improve the U.S. highway system, urban and rural roads, and bridges. FHWA also manages a research, development and technology program.
RSPA manages the safe transportation and packaging of hazardous materials by all transportation modes, excluding bulk transportation by water. Among the regulations overseen by RSPA are registration requirements for businesses working with hazardous materials, shipping papers, placarding and markings, materials of trade and nonspecification cargo tanks.
RSPA helps local and state authorities train for hazardous-material emergencies, and research and development plays a major role in RSPA''s mission. With responsibility for research policy and technology sharing, the agency partners with national and international organizations and universities.
In addition, RSPA operates the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass., which is dedicated to enhancing the effectiveness, efficiency and responsiveness of other federal organizations with critical transportation-related functions.
FMCSA was established within DOT on Jan. 1 pursuant to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. Formerly a part of FHWA, FMCSA''s primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.
FMCSA''s activities contribute to ensuring safety in motor carrier operations through strong enforcement of safety regulations; targeting high-risk carriers and commercial motor vehicle drivers; improving safety information systems and commercial motor vehicle technologies; strengthening commercial motor vehicle equipment and operating standards; and increasing safety awareness.
To accomplish these activities, FMCSA works with federal, state and local enforcement agencies; the motor carrier industry; labor safety-interest groups; and other organizations. FMCSA reports that compliance inspections increased 142 percent during the first quarter of this year compared with the same period a year ago.
These three agencies are responsible for the development of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which govern the spectrum of trucking-related topics. Following is an overview of some of the regulations that likely affect your business.
If you transport hazardous materials, such as propane, in quantities that require placarding, you must register with RSPA. Businesses that meet the Small Business Administration''s (SBA''s) definition of a small business must pay a $300 registration fee. (SBA defines a small business as one that bills less than $7 million worth of work annually. For businesses that exceed $7 million, the annual registration fee is $2,000.)
Roofing contractors are given a special classification, and the definition of "small business" applies to contractors who bill less than $11.5 million annually.
Kettles and tankers
Kettles and tankers that have capacities greater than 118 gallons (448 L) and content temperatures in excess of 212 F (100 C) must have shipping papers accompanying loads with the following description and format:
(Asphalt), UN 3257
P.G. III, 1-750 gallon kettle
The description must follow this exact format, and it is not necessary to list the quantity of a material being shipped. However, a kettle''s capacity must be shown as in the example. The kettle volume and material listed in parentheses will change (for example, to "coal tar") to reflect the type of material being towed.
A 24-hour emergency telephone number also must be listed on shipping papers; the telephone number would be used to aid emergency response crews in the event of an accident. A DOT interpretation of this requirement states the emergency telephone number need only be manned during the time period when a hazardous material is in transit or bitumen is in a molten state.
Placards and markings
As a roofing contractor, you often haul hazardous and elevated-temperature materials, and it is important to understand the differences between placards and markings. NRCA helped develop a regulation that allows operators who haul materials at elevated temperatures to use markings instead of placards on their kettles and tankers. This is important because placarding triggers the requirement for an operator to possess a CDL. Note that the use of markings does not cancel shipping-paper requirements.
Kettles and tankers must be marked in one of the following three ways as described by RSPA:
1. Markings must be located on two opposing sides with the word "HOT" spelled in black lettering on a plain, white, square-on-point configuration that is the same size as a placard. Kettles and tankers with capacities of less than 1,000 gallons (3800 L) must be marked on two opposing sides with an orange panel or white square-on-point configuration with the number 3257, which indicates the material being transported is at an elevated temperature. If a kettle or tanker has a capacity greater than 1,000 gallons (3800 L), the marking must appear on the sides and ends.
2. RSPA allows the "HOT" and 3257 markings to be displayed on placard-like signs. The markings should have the same dimensions as a placard and can be used in placard holders that already may be attached to a kettle or tanker. RSPA makes this option available because roofing contractors often have difficulty keeping markings on tankers and kettles clean. This option facilitates easy removal and replacement of a dirty (noncompliant) marking with a clean marking when a kettle or tanker is to be transported.
3. To avoid having to separately mark kettles and tankers with "HOT" and 3257 panels, RSPA allows the markings to be combined on a square-on-point placard with an entirely white background. The word "HOT" should be located directly above 3257.
Materials of trade
Materials of trade are small amounts of hazardous materials that are exceptions to the hazardous-material regulations. These exceptions are designed for companies that use these materials in performing a job function within their trades. Therefore, shipping papers, placarding, and emergency information and training are not required. For roofing, less than 220 pounds (99 kg) of propane would be considered a material of trade. Transportation of greater amounts of propane require a placard and CDL.
Effective July 1, nonspecification cargo tanks are not allowed to be transported in interstate or intrastate commerce. These single- or double-axle trailers, commonly used in the roofing industry to transport propane gas, have different names depending on region. Some common terms include trap wagons, bobtails and road bombs.
Only tanks that comply with various engineering specifications may be used in interstate or intrastate commerce of propane gas. Check with your local propane dealer or welding supplier for locations of area testing facilities for these tanks. Nonspecification cargo tanks can be hauled to a job site empty and filled for use on-site by a propane supplier. A tank must be purged of propane before it is legal for transport again.
Alcohol and drugs
Because alcohol and drugs negatively alter drivers'' abilities to operate vehicles, DOT developed regulations that address alcohol and controlled-substance testing for those who operate commercial motor vehicles. Included in the regulations are random and reasonable-suspicion testing guidelines.
No employee is allowed to perform a safety-sensitive function, such as driving, or report to duty or remain on duty within four hours after consuming alcohol or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater. Additionally, if a driver is involved in an accident and required to take a postaccident alcohol test, he is not allowed to consume alcohol for eight hours after the accident. Postaccident testing requirements are described in Figure 1.
|Figure 1: DOT’s postaccident alcohol testing requirements for those who operate commercial motor vehicles vary depending on damages and whether a citation was issued.
Note that if an alcohol test is required, it must be conducted within two hours of the accident or you must prepare and maintain a record explaining why it was not conducted.
For accidents that require testing for controlled substances, tests must be performed within 32 hours of an accident. After 32 hours, you are not allowed to administer a controlled-substance test. You also must prepare and maintain a file explaining why a test was not promptly administered.
An employer who allows a driver who tests positive for drug use or above the legal alcohol limit to report to duty or remain on duty can be cited or fined. You may require drivers to inform you if they use any therapeutic drugs because such drugs may cause drowsiness or fatigue. Keep in mind that over-the-counter drugs that are used to stay awake, such as "pep" pills, are considered illegal by DOT.
Among the requirements for those who have CDLs is the obligation to notify their employers after being convicted of violating any state or local law relating to motor vehicle control or speeding. This applies to a driver regardless of the vehicle owner or type of vehicle the driver was operating.
In addition, a driver who has been convicted of violating a traffic law in a state other than the one that issued his license must notify an official designated by the state or jurisdiction that issued the license of such a conviction.
Drivers can have their licenses revoked or disqualified for committing serious traffic violations, some of which follow:
A driver will have his license suspended for 60 days if he is convicted of two serious violations within a three-year period. If convicted of a third serious violation during a three-year period, a driver will have his license suspended for 120 days. Serious traffic violations exclude vehicle weight and defect violations.
Owners of commercial motor vehicles operating in interstate, foreign or intrastate commerce must maintain certain levels of financial responsibility, usually through insurance. Figure 2 lists such requirements.
|Figure 2: You must be financially responsible for your commercial motor vehicles; insurance coverages vary according to type of vehicle and material transported.
If your employees operate vehicles subject to DOT regulations, you can be held accountable for your drivers'' actions if you aid, abet or require drivers to violate regulations. An example of this occurring in the roofing industry would be a situation where a superintendent directs a driver to "do whatever it takes" to get needed supplies to a job site because a crew is running low on materials.
Contractors also are required to maintain and make available records and information to assist FHWA representatives in investigating an accident for a period of one year after an accident occurs. An accident record must indicate the date of occurrence; city and state in which the accident happened; driver''s name; number of injuries; number of fatalities; and whether hazardous materials were released. (Fuel spilled from fuel-supply tanks of vehicles involved in an accident is not applicable to this rule.)
Fatigue and inspection
DOT regulations also explain various requirements for ill or fatigued drivers, drug-use restrictions, and equipment inspection and use. A driver is not allowed to operate a vehicle if he is impaired because of illness or fatigue or could likely become impaired because of fatigue, illness or other causes. You cannot require or permit a driver to operate a vehicle if these conditions exist.
A commercial motor vehicle must not be driven without a driver first inspecting it, as well as its parts and accessories, and being satisfied that all are in good working order. A driver must inspect service brakes, including trailer brake connections; parking brake; steering mechanism; lighting devices and reflectors; tires; horn; windshield wipers; rear-view mirror; and coupling devices.
Hours of service
Hours-of-service requirements are complicated and can be difficult to comprehend. It is necessary to understand the following two important definitions when reviewing DOT hours-of-service regulations:
1. FMCSA''s current definition for "driving time" is "all time spent at the driving controls of a commercial motor vehicle in operation."
2. The definition for "on duty" is "all time from the time a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the time the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work."
FMCSA has set time limits that a driver is allowed to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Commercial motor vehicle operators are not allowed to drive more than 10 hours following eight consecutive hours off duty. In other words, an employee has to have eight hours off before driving up to 10 hours. No employee is allowed to be on duty for more than 15 hours after having eight consecutive hours off duty. In addition, an employee can be on duty only up to 60 hours during seven consecutive days or up to 70 hours during eight consecutive days.
Commercial motor vehicle operators also have to record their duty status by maintaining logs that track their driving and off-duty times. A driver is exempt from these reporting requirements in the following circumstances: 1. He operates within a 100-air-mile (160-km) radius (shortest distance from point to point) of his regular reporting location or returns to the location where he reported to work and is released from work within 12 hours of starting; 2. He has at least eight consecutive hours off duty separating each 12 hours he is on duty and does not exceed 10 hours driving time after any eight consecutive hours off duty; and 3. A contractor maintains and retains accurate time cards that show daily reporting times, total number of daily on-duty hours, times of drivers'' releases each day, and total time in the preceding seven days that any first-time or intermittent driver has worked.
DOT has proposed changes to the hours-of-service regulations, and a Special Report is being developed by NRCA outlining those proposed changes. The comment period deadline has been pushed back several times and now is Dec. 15.
The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century established safety requirements for commercial motor vehicle owners and operators who haul hazardous materials in amounts that require placarding or transport 15 or more passengers. FMCSA assesses companies'' safety performances through compliance reviews. These reviews consider a company''s accident history, drivers and vehicles that have been placed out of service, hazardous-material violations and other violations. A safety rating then is assigned and compared with a set standard to determine a company''s "fitness." If you receive an "unfit" rating, you have 45 days to improve safety fitness or cease operations.
As of Nov. 20, this rule will include all commercial motor vehicle operators. The current 45-day compliance period granted to unfit companies that transport 15 or more passengers or hazardous materials requiring placarding will remain the same, and any other commercial motor vehicle operator found to be unfit will have 60 days to comply. Unfit operators can extend the compliance period 60 days if FMCSA determines a company is making a good-faith effort to improve its safety fitness.
The bottom line
Obviously, it is necessary to comply with DOT''s safety regulations to reduce the possibility of being cited and fined. But accident prevention goes much further than following regulations. To avoid potentially fatal accidents, as well as minor ones, train your drivers on the regulations frequently. Too often, mistakes are made that could have been avoided.
Editor''s note: For more detailed information about DOT requirements, contact Joel Martin, NRCA''s safety programs manager, at (847) 299-9070, Ext. 230, or e-mail email@example.com. In addition, you can access DOT''s Web site, www.dot.gov.
Joel Martin is NRCA''s safety programs manager.
Watch out for fines!
U.S. Department of Transportation fines can range from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Web site lists citations and fines given each month. Following are a few examples of fines given to owners and drivers of commercial motor vehicles:
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