The most recent episode of our podcast “Solving the Driver Problem” features Irwin Shires, a longtime driver and safety expert, who works as Vice-President of Education and Engagement Ohio Trucking Association & Ohio Association of Movers. He also worked for 19 years at Panther Logistics and as the Government Qualification Coordinator specializing in contractors who needed to wade through the complex process of transporting explosives and hazardous materials for the government. Our conversation covered several critical topics involving DOT compliance and audits, which allowed Shires to share his expertise with us.
FMCSA Going Digital
In discussing the challenges of maintaining compliance, Shires acknowledges the difficulties of keeping up with files, paperwork, and rule changes, often while also juggling the financial, HR, hiring, and training aspects of the business. While it is easy to get bogged down and fall behind in this part of the job, it has never been more important to stay on top of things. One way in which technology has helped in this regard, as Shires points out, is in the wider use and acceptance of electronic documentation, which has helped with maintaining a schedule, organization, and communicating with both drivers and the DOT in the case of audits.
This latter perk has directly impacted policy, as a recent FMCSA study showed that electronic audits could be performed 33% faster, thus saving auditors valuable time (and cost where travel would normally be concerned). In addition, more audits have been performed electronically due to necessity during the pandemic under an emergency provision. Shires also adds that the government may continue to experiment with using electronic audits both in general and as a potential “feeler” to see if a larger, on-site audit is necessary, again due to the limitations of time and resources available to them against the huge number of fleets that operate in the US.
The Gray Areas of Legislation
Sudden and subtle rule changes frequently cause competing interpretations by state and federal agencies. In these situations, Shires recommends go right to the source and ask for an interpretation so you have it in writing from an agency and make it a part of your policy. Compliance is like tax law - you need to prove you were trying to do the right thing and have documentation that shows it. We use Irwin and the Ohio Trucking Association for clarity on regulations because they’re on top of it. From a carrier's perspective, sometimes you want a third party who can “ask for a friend” so the question cannot get traced back to you.
Like many areas of business, COVID-19 expedited trends that were already happening. It appears to be the case with the FMCSA going digital. If you aren’t going digital yet, check out our version of an electronic hiring and compliance system for an example of how they work and save oodles of time and paper. Then you can turn your filing cabinets in to barbecue smokers.