Operation Open Road, announced last week by a group of 15 Republican governors, has been backed up by several actions taken on the state level that loosen regulations in a few specific jurisdictions.
While Operation Open Road is mostly a call to action to the federal government, governors do have powers to implement regulatory changes that impact trucking in their states. And several have done so in conjunction with the release of the Operation Open Road document.
For example, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a prepared statement that he had directed his state’s Department of Transportation to lift the weight limits on truck loads to 90,000 pounds from the previous limit of 80,000 pounds. Preapproval is not necessary, DeWine’s statement said, “as long as they agree to report where they traveled after the trip is complete.”
The waiver handed down by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster appears to be one of the most sweeping. It authorizes the state’s transportation and public safety departments to “waive or suspend” a variety of rules regarding registration, permitting, length, width, weight, load and hours of service for commercial vehicles.
Governors can waive certain rules for 30 days with the agreement of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Additionally, those waivers can be extended, as was done recently in North Dakota.
The McMaster statement includes the now standard disclaimer that a waiver should not be interpreted as permitting an “ill or fatigued driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle.” That verbiage can be found in other waivers that have been granted by states in connection with incidents such as fire or hurricane relief.
The order signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is less specific on the changes to be made in that state’s regulations. “There appears to be state statutes, rules and policies that unduly burden commercial drivers and that may be amended without jeopardizing public safety on Tennessee’s roadways,” Lee said in his executive order.
But the rest of the order mostly calls for studies to be done by Tennessee officials looking for those regulations that can be lifted by Lee without any federal involvement. The declaration calls on the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security to “identify internal policies that are candidates for amendment in the normal course of business.”
It also calls on the state’s Homeland Security department to work with several other state departments, such as Correction and Labor and Workforce Development, to promote training for candidates to earn a commercial driver’s license.
Other actions taken by states appear more limited. For example, Missouri will create a state supply chain task force “charged with convening public and private stakeholders across the state to identify potential improvements and solutions to supply chain issues occurring in Missouri.” Meanwhile, the declaration by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is focused mostly on taking state action to encourage growing the base of CDL holders.
The statement signed by the governors does say they “commit to using our authority, where allowable, to modify weight, size or load restrictions to allow more cargo to move more efficiently.” It also said the governors are committed to adjusted hours of service rules and to “deregulate” the issuance of permits and CDLs.
But the statement also has numerous criticisms of the Biden administration. It recaps the basics of the current supply chain crunch and says the pending rule requiring vaccines for companies with 100 or more employees — which is likely not to impact solo truck drivers — “(puts) more jobs in jeopardy as we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.” The statement also cites the figure of the economy being short 80,000 truck drivers, which is the latest figure provided by the American Trucking Associations.
The statement also calls on the Biden administration to suspend its planned vaccination mandate for all private employers, but then goes on to single out the trucking industry “so that driver shortages are not further exacerbated by an additional barrier to employment.”
The Operation Open Roads statement also calls for the Biden administration to implement the rule pushing for CDL owners to be able to drive interstate if they are 18 years old. The current rule is 21 years of age, and allowing drivers between 18 and 20 to drive is the focus of the DRIVE-SAFE Act, which has been introduced in Congress. There also have been discussions by FMCSA to launch a pilot program to allow 18- to 20-year-old drivers to drive interstate, but it has not yet been launched.
“From coastal ports to inland ports to road and rail, our states can take action to address workforce shortages and prevent bottlenecks, logjams and other transportation issues,” the Operation Open Roads statement said.