By Bob Johnson
NTEA Fleet Relations Director
No matter what type of business you are in, it’s important to know your territory. When it comes to fleet management, one of the hardest parts of the territory to learn — and stay up-do-date with — is government regulations. Fleets deal with both federal and state regulations, and if your operations cross state lines, you need to know multiple state regulations. As if that isn’t enough, you may also have to contend with local regulations.
Next, you need to know how your fleet is classified. Many fleets that only operate intrastate assume they are exempt from interstate regulation, but that is not always the case. The federal government is more aggressively regulating commercial fleets and is applying the “stream of intestate commerce” ruling more than in the past. As a result, you may be subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, even if your operations don’t cross state lines. For more information on this subject, visit www.fmcsa.dot.gov.
Any way you look at it, the number of laws and regulations directed at commercial fleets are increasing every day. On top of that, existing regulations are subject to change on a regular basis. For example, right now fleets are facing revisions to the Hours-of-Service rules; full implementation of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program; proposals for limiting the speed of heavy trucks to 68 MPH; truck energy efficiency regulations; and a proposed requirement for electronic on-board data recorders. Identifying which requirements apply to your fleet and determining how to comply in a timely manner adds to the already heavy workload faced by most fleet managers.
The commercial press and industry trade associations are great resources for information on current and pending requirements. In addition, you can find information on government Web sites (although these are not always user-friendly). Unfortunately, the current economic environment has made it difficult for fleet managers to stay informed. Budget restrictions have forced many to cancel professional association memberships and forgo attending industry trade shows and educational events. True, you still have access to the commercial press, but that isn’t the same as listening to experts discuss various requirements at seminars or talking face-to-face with your suppliers.
In my estimation, it’s important for fleet managers to be proactive in discussing with budget personnel the need to participate in trade events. The average budget manager may not realize the high cost of non-compliance. One of the biggest problems is that higher management typically views trade shows as an excuse to get away and party. It is incumbent upon fleet managers to ensure that the people making the budget decisions realize these events are primarily educational activities and that your participation can save the company many times over the cost of attendance.
Correcting Mistaken Ideas
Unless you are fortunate enough to work for a company where the fleet is the primary business, your upper management probably has some mistaken ideas about your operations. As mentioned earlier, just because you operate within state boundaries does not necessarily mean you are exempt from FMCSA regulations. Many government organizations believe they are totally exempt from vehicle weight criteria because they have been exempted from certain highway loading limits. Explain to those involved that these exemptions may only apply to certain types of vehicles engaged in specific functions. In addition, even when exempt from highway loading regulations, you are not exempt from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which means you cannot exceed the vehicle ratings regardless of highway loading considerations.
Simply put, make sure that your management understands the importance of participating in industry associations and trade functions. Attending events such as The Work Truck Show or the NAFA Institute & Expo is a critical part of your continuing education as a fleet professional. Let management know what you are facing as a fleet manager and try to negotiate an agreement which will allow you to maintain at least some of your professional training activities.
Contact Bob Johnson, NTEA fleet relations director, at email@example.com if you have suggestions for future Fleet Affiliation topics or for more information on how the NTEA can benefit your company.