Trucking Regulations 2021: Everything You Need to Know

2021 has brought about many shifts to the ways that U.S. and state governments regulate trucking. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented several changes to keep goods flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government codified some of these after testing them in 2020, such as the revised hours of service regulations.

Congress is set to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) in 2021. This bill contains several measures that will affect the commercial trucking industry. After the bill passes, the Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin drafting regulations to implement its provisions.

Here are some regulations the trucking industry should watch in 2021.

Hours of Service

The FMCSA dictates the number of hours truckers can operate a vehicle. It also dictates when drivers must take breaks and how long those breaks must last.

The hours of service regulations improve road safety by reducing the likelihood of truck accidents caused by drowsy driving. According to the FMCSA, the revised regulations balance driver flexibility and cost savings with safety.

The hours of service regulations went into effect on September 29, 2020. However, 2021 will provide the DOT with a full year of data to assess how the new regulations have affected trucking.

The most significant change was an expansion of the short-haul exception. Under this exception, short-haul truck drivers have different shift durations and break requirements. When the FMCSA changed these regulations, it expanded the drivers eligible for the exception.

Before the change, the short-haul exception was only available to truckers who operated within a 100-mile radius. The new regulations expand eligible truckers to include those who operate in a 150-mile radius.

The new regulations also adjusted the hours of service for short-haul truckers. Before the change, the maximum on-duty period for short-haul truckers was 12 hours. After the change, short-haul truckers could remain on duty for up to 14 hours.

Insurance Requirements

Before getting into what the BIF included, you should understand what was left out. Democrats had proposed increasing the minimum insurance requirements for trucking companies. The minimum insurance requirements currently stand at $750,000 for trucks carrying non-hazardous material.

The proposals would have increased the minimum financial security to $5 million for trucks carrying non-hazardous materials. This increase would give trucking companies more resources to pay for personal injury lawsuits, property damage, and environmental cleanup after a truck accident.

But these insurance policies would have increased the cost of operating a trucking company significantly. While no one can say how much more these insurance policies would cost, they would likely cost more than the old policies.

The BIF omits this change in the financial security laws. The proposal could reemerge in a later bill.

Safety Equipment

The BIF includes two regulations intended to improve the safety of trucks.

Underride Guards

Rear underride guards block vehicles from going under the trailer in a rear-end collision. The FMCSA and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) had different standards for rear underride guards. The BIF adopts the NHTSA’s standards, which were stronger than those of the FMCSA.

Most trailers already have rear underride guards that comply with the stricter strength requirements from the NHTSA. But those that do not will need to be retrofitted after the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework passes Congress.

Additionally, the bill directs the DOT to study side underride guards. If the DOT determines to require side underride guards, it may pass regulations in the future to implement the requirement.

Automatic Emergency Braking

The BIF requires the DOT to implement regulations requiring automatic emergency braking systems on trucks. This mandate means that within two years, the DOT will enact regulations setting out the timeframe for retrofitting trucks with automatic emergency braking systems and the standards these systems must meet.

Trucking in 2021

Trucking has been beset with many challenges. A driver shortage, a pandemic, and supply chain issues have made trucking difficult. Going forward, the U.S. government has a difficult challenge when it comes to implementing regulations that balance growth with safety.