By Jaden Tareta and Christopher Parker
Many of the top issues facing the trucking industry this year all roll up into one prime source: the economy.
In 2022, the cost of operating in the trucking industry reached a 15-year high, with the cost of operating a single truck reaching $2.251 per mile and an average $90.78 per hour. While the driver shortage is down for the second straight year, to about 60,000 in the second half of 2023, the underlying problems driving this market continue. Long work hours, competitive pay and driver qualifications remain top of mind concerns, and since the number of job opportunities for drivers is on the decline post-pandemic, the funding to improve these areas is scarce.
These trends are compelling reasons for fleet owners to explore innovative ways to cut expenses. However, concerns heighten when the wrong corners are cut.
To navigate this strain and ease the hiring process, a growing number of fleets are buying or using trucks that are below the weight threshold that requires the operator to hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL), thereby expanding the pool of drivers and usually available at lower pay. Some fleets may also do so to avoid the many regulatory requirements for CDL qualified drivers and their employers, including but not limited to drug and alcohol testing.
Some companies are going as far as modifying trucks to alter their purpose and avoid CDL compliance requirements.
Issues arise when the actual gross weight of a truck is not taken into consideration. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is a crucial safety metric representing the maximum loaded weight of a vehicle or trailer as determined by the manufacturer, encompassing not only the weight of passengers and cargo but also the vehicle itself.
According to federal regulations, if a vehicle has a GVWR of 26,000 pounds or less, the operator is not required to possess CDL, but this exemption does not authorize loading the truck beyond the specified GVWR and having it operated by a non-CDL driver. Any truck weighing 26,000 pounds and above requires a CDL to operate, regardless of whether the truck is designed for it or at what weight it is registered.
The 26,000-pound rule creates regulatory gray areas, especially for moving and storage fleets, where the weight of the goods being transported is difficult to accurately determine. In the event of a crash, even if it’s not the fleet’s fault, liability may fall on the fleet if the driver lacks the proper licensing.
5 best practices for ensuring compliance with CDL regulations
Navigating the regulations surrounding CDLs in a challenging economy requires a balance between cost-saving measures and responsible fleet management. Noncompliance with CDL regulations can have severe long-term financial and reputational consequences. To safeguard your fleet’s success, follow these five best practices for prioritizing compliance.1. Focus on not overloading. Train drivers to recognize what constitutes a full load within the limits of their vehicle’s GVW and CDL qualifications and look for opportunities to obtain accurate weight readings from certified scales before embarking on a trip. Both the driver and the estimator responsible for cost and run estimates need to be vigilant during the initial assessment of the load. When estimating requirements for a move, the estimator should consider the number of trucks needed to safely transport the goods without overloading.
2. Weigh trucks early in travel. Encourage drivers to have trucks weighed early in their journey, preferably at certified scales available at truck stops before arriving at DOT weigh stations. Being proactive allows for the identification of potential overloads before reaching the point of inspection. Drivers can then take necessary actions to remedy any overweight, such as redistributing the load or removing excess weight.
3. When in doubt, send a second truck. Err on the side of caution when there’s uncertainty about the load approaching its limit. In the event of a roadside inspection, authorities may require sending another truck to alleviate the load. While this incurs minor costs, the potential consequences of not complying, including reputational damage, fines and insurance complications, far outweigh the initial investment.
4. Invest in CDL-required trucks and hire qualified drivers. While this may incur higher initial costs, it significantly reduces the risk of legal complications and liability in case of accidents. The expense of purchasing CDL-required trucks is a prudent investment in ensuring compliance, safety and protection against potential financial and reputational losses.
5. Prioritize ongoing education for drivers. Equip drivers with knowledge on legal limits, safety protocols and the potential effects of non-compliance on their records and the fleet’s reputation. Know the actual weight of your truck empty but fully fueled. An informed driver is more likely to make responsible decisions on the road, contributing to a culture of compliance, safety and professionalism within the fleet.
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