In 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) told the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) they would develop a rule requiring trucks to be equipped with technology capable of wirelessly transmitting a unique ID to law enforcement. Last month, they finally put pen to paper, publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) requesting advice on how to fulfill their promise. The notice has sparked considerable debate, with more than 1,000 comments in the docket and nearly a month remaining in the comment period. Until FMCSA fleshes out the details of the proposal, it’s impossible to measure the benefits or drawbacks, but engaging in the conversation is helpful. STC sees four primary themes to keep an eye on as rulemaking develops.

The efficiency problem –The trucking industry is huge – 3M CDL drivers working for 637K motor carriers operating 3M tractor trailers. The law enforcement community is small – 13K CMV enforcement personnel capable of conducting around 3M inspections and 12K compliance reviews annually. Law enforcement encourages safety by holding drivers and carriers accountable to rules aimed at reducing crashes. But countless carriers and drivers go years without any interaction with law enforcement. To drive safety and compliance improvement, we need more cops, or more efficient inspections, or some combination of the two.

The value of data –It’s no surprise that STC believes data is power. With it, users can identify trends and deploy tactical tools to make improvements and drive innovation. Likewise, when law enforcement can quickly access and analyze data they can improve their efficiency problem. In fact, over the last 15 years, law enforcement, with the assistance of Congress and the private sector, has been deploying tools to do just that. Inspection bypass systems and DOT number and license plate readers are in use today and are effective. The question being asked today is which data should be shared, when, and with whom? And it’s an important one with significant ramifications and strong feelings on all sides.

Prescriptive vs permissive –As is always the case, the details will matter. If FMCSA proceeds with this rulemaking, exactly how they write the rules may have the biggest long-term impact. CVSA contends it is merely looking to “electrify the VIN,” to help them more accurately identify the responsible motor carrier. Detractors say it’s merely a pathway for unnecessary data sharing and more government intrusion. Ultimately, FMCSA will decide whether to cap the data transfer at the VIN or to leave the door open for other data, like hours of service, to be transferred as well. As CVSA begins outlining what a “Level VIII” – fully electronic inspection looks like, some may encourage a permissive approach.

FMCSA vs NHTSA – FMCSA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have very different purviews. While FMCSA is charged with regulating motor carriers, NHTSA’s focus is vehicles. CVSA petitioned both agencies on this issue, but FMCSA is first out of the gate. If FMCSA acts without NHTSA, the onus is on motor carriers to select, purchase, equip and maintain any device necessary to comply. If the agencies act in concert, the likely outcome is vehicle manufacturers will bear responsibility for equipping trucks with devices that comply with the rules and motor carriers will be required to inspect and maintain the devices. Also, with NHTSA involved, what data is transmitted, when and how will most likely be precisely defined, thereby limiting the scope of the rule.

It’s too early to know what will be proposed or what the costs or benefits may be to this rulemaking. As it proceeds, these four pillars may frame the debate. Don’t sleep on this one, the impacts on trucking companies and law enforcement could be significant.