The MAP-21 transportation bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama is welcome for the fact it is not another temporary funding extension, but it does postpone some significant actions.
Two of those actions relate to productivity. One is the issue of increasing size and weight limits for trucks, and the other is addressing the driver hours-of-service rules. Both will be studied and reports will be due to Congress, effectively postponing any action for about two years.
There is plenty of discussion on those issues, but buried deep in the language of the bill is an interesting nugget. The existing law already contained language stating that the operation of a commercial vehicle should not have a negative effect on the physical condition of the driver. The new law added, “. . .and an operator of a commercial motor vehicle is not coerced by a motor carrier, shipper, receiver, or transportation intermediary to operate a commercial motor vehicle in violation of a regulation. . ..”
A few years ago, I received a call from a lawyer pursuing a wrongful death case where a driver exceeded his hours of service, fell asleep at the wheel, and struck a passenger vehicle. Recognizing that the driver would not be capable of satisfying the claim and the settlement they were seeking would bankrupt the small trucking company, the lawyer was trying to make a case that the customer (consignee), a major automaker, had put undue pressure on the carrier and the driver to meet just-in-time scheduling demands and this had caused the driver to violate the hours-of-service limits and cause the crash.
My comment at the time was that it is the driver’s responsibility to comply with the regulations even if his employer threatened termination – the driver has recourse to settle that issue of wrongful discharge in another venue.
The addition of the “coercion” language in the new law could have changed the wrongful death case if the lawyer could establish that the driver was coerced by the automaker into violating the hours-of-service regulation and causing the crash. Since the only one with significant means to settle the claim was the automaker, the lawyer would have had an excellent chance of winning his case.
From an operations management perspective, the fact that the transportation bill does not add any productivity and could constrain current productivity levels, means we need to plan and execute well to maintain and improve productivity.