Lifting and Moving the World

Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association

One of America’s oldest and most venerated trade organizations, Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association of Washington D.C. represents 1,400 members from 46 different nations. The SC&RA speaks for the industry on key issues affecting safety, profitability, and efficiency.

From small family-owned businesses to large multinationals, SC&RA’s members are active in the specialized transportation sector, crane and rigging operations, manufacturing, industrial maintenance, heavy machinery moving, erecting, and other support industries.

SC&RA provides these members with benefits ranging from education and training to free advertising, information-packed webinars, and independently produced magazines American Cranes & Transport and International Cranes and Specialized Transport.

If there is a unifying thread to the activities of the 72-year-old Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association throughout its history, it is that of making the working lives of its membership easier.

Representing their interests, the SC&RA addresses governing bodies – both in North America and internationally, and policy makers at state and local levels – about critical issues that include improving permitting, regulation exemptions, and issue representation such as oversized/overweight permits, and hours-of-service reform.

Specialized transportation symposium
Along with its part in many industry initiatives and events, the Association is behind the Specialized Transportation Symposium, the largest annual event of its kind in North America and one of the biggest transportation symposiums in the world.

The symposium will welcome some 600 attendees, including representatives from state departments of transportation, Canadian provinces, and the Federal Department of Transportation. This also includes permit officials, mid-level management, state engineers, law enforcement officials, and policy and planning people.

The 2020 Specialized Transportation Symposium will be held at the Sheraton Charlotte Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina from February 18-21.

“We’ve been so successful with building this symposium over the years that AASHTO – the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – now conducts its annual meeting as part of our symposium,” says Steven Todd, SC&RA Vice President of Transportation. “That has helped greatly – increasing the number of relevant government officials coming to our trade association meeting, and it makes for an incredibly unique experience.”

With the SC&RA for seven years now, Todd has had an extensive career that takes in the IDOT – the Illinois Department of Transportation – the agency responsible for state-mandated public roadways. As Chief of Permits, he oversaw oversized and overweight permits, along with working with fixed and mobile weigh scales.

Engaging with experts
“I have government officials like I used to be telling us they get as much or more out of these meetings as we do, which is wonderful, because they get to meet with their colleagues,” adds Todd. State-level officials hold carriers’ futures in their hands when it comes to issuing permits, and the Specialized Transportation Symposium gives members the opportunity to spend days interacting with state Department of Transportation (DOT) officials.

“You can’t put a price on that in terms of learning and relationship-building. That networking between state officials and carriers is just priceless on an annual basis,” he says.

Along with state and regional meetings, leadership forums, and safety and permit committees, the 2020 Symposium will feature important regulatory updates from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA).

Three former state DOT officials will address delegates on the Future of Harmonization. Lectures on topics including ‘Five Ways SC&RA is Positioning Heavy Haul for the Next Decade,’ and ‘The Science Behind Driver Retention,’ join many other wide-ranging and not-to-be-missed discussions. A breakfast with Hauling Job of the Year finalists and winners promises to be both sociable and informative.

Addressing the issues
Officially kicked off at the 2019 Symposium, Uniform Permit Transport – better known as UPT2021 – is the SC&RA’s initiative advocating for the “harmonization of oversize overweight (os/ow) configurations issued under automated, auto-issues single trip permits.”

A serious and costly issue and the subject of a final report, Assessing the Cost and Operational Impacts of State Practices for Minimum Quad Axle Weights Granted for Routine Over-Weight Permits (https://www.scranet.org/SCRADocs/2018_ATRI_Study.pdf), UPT2021 has been in progress for several years, working its way through various committees and the governing group board.

One of the key points uncovered in the report is the serious financial cost – between 45 and 82 percent – incurred by carriers and customers in interstate movements of overweight vehicles. For clients, this cost in aggregate dollars ranges from US$4,245 to US$5,440.

The study, the first of its kind by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), supports SC&RA’s UPT2021 initiative and its goal of establishing permit harmonization in all 50 states.

According to the Association, two of its main goals “are to encourage all states to allow minimum weight thresholds for the most common industry configurations,” and “to analyze and issue permits via automated permit systems, 24-7. Over 30 states use systems that auto-issue permits, sometimes greater than 16 feet wide and high and 250,000 gross pounds. The aim is to gain 100 percent compliance across the country by the year 2021.”

About 15 to 20 years ago, some states began automating a portion of their oversized/overweight permit office. Still, many state rules and regulations are an out-of-date mishmash, “not based on any empirical data or evidence.”

The SC&RA’s definition is very specific: if you have a system in place within a state or province that issues any single trip permits without any human intervention, 24/7, that is considered automation. Some states are suggesting that the issuing of an annual permit for 12 months, whereby a specific type of load may be moved, should be considered automation – not a proposal that finds favor with the Association.

Harmonizing the industry
Over the years, the SC&RA discovered that the industry has dozens of harmonization issues, and was constantly striving for harmonization between all 50 states and the Canadian provinces. During this process, the Association found that if and when a state became automated for oversize and overweight single-trip permits and began raising the thresholds – for both dimension and weight – by which they auto-issue single trip permits, many other problems with harmonization issues begin to resolve themselves.

This was a revelation, especially with member carriers attempting a move and finding themselves stuck at a state line, either waiting on the next state over to issue a permit – sometimes still issued by hand – or because of a two to three-day process to line-up required police escorts in that state.

And because of the size of member truck vehicles, finding acceptable parking is often another issue. “Often time, our loads require more than just the typical space required for typical tractor-trailers,” says Todd. “These are just a few examples of convincing states to automate their permitting systems.”

If trucks are traveling from one state to another, automation would enable members to apply for both state permits, and receive a response in minutes. This is especially useful when making moves late at night, and helps prevent vehicles being stuck at state lines.

A weighty matter
For the SC&RA, another key related issue is weight. More states are increasing the dimension threshold by which they will auto-issue permits, some to 16 to 17 feet wide and high without any human inspection, but what has lagged behind is the auto-analysis for weight including gross weight, axle weight, and tandem weight. As part of UPT2021, the Association hired ATRI to conduct a study, with a follow-up study of that data conducted by the Association’s own foundation.

The initial ATRI study found that states themselves have admitted that their methods may be based on outdated data and studies, with some state engineers conducting weight analyses based on studies from the 1950s and 1960s, not taking into account tremendous changes in equipment manufactured more recently.

“In our world, specialized trailers are being manufactured so much differently in terms of better distributing weight across the structure,” says Todd. “In a nutshell, Uniform Permit Transport 2021 is all about improving efficiencies first and foremost.”

Automation for safety’s sake
In addition, the Federal Highway Administration study concluded in a recent report that states employing automation of single-trip permits were safer because of automation, in some cases dramatically so. The report also revealed, surprise, surprise, that when humans made decisions issuing permits, mistakes were occasionally made; with automation, states have reported few or no recent errors.

This has caused a ripple effect. When permits are issued more accurately and quickly, safety improves for everyone using roadways; the more carriers running on properly issued permits, the less likelihood of incidents or accidents from oversized loads going where they shouldn’t.

Second, infrastructure is better preserved, because the more permits that are issued accurately, the more oversized loads are running where the states intend them to run.

And third, because of automation, revenue is increasing for states across America, with 29 out of 30 states reporting at least a moderate increase in revenue from the permits they sell, with some costing thousands of dollars for a single trip.

“We are talking about a significant amount of revenue here. Approximately nine million permits are issued across the country. So the reason revenue is increasing for the states is the ripple effect of automation,” comments Todd. “When carriers know they can rely on getting their permit instantly, 24/7, they are going to do the right thing and purchase the permit.”

Another positive benefit from automation is a reduction in bootlegging, where carriers are sometimes faced with a difficult choice of deciding to make a move or not while waiting for a permit to be issued manually.

“Those are just a couple of the positive ripple effects,” Todd says, “and what went into the two years of decision-making for us to go all-in on automation as a means to solve not all, but some of our harmonization problems. By putting all of our eggs in that one basket rather than one single issue seems to have had a positive effect on resolving any other issues.”

Hours-of-service reform
For the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, another important issue is hours-of-service reform. Years ago, commercial drivers could break up their 10-hour rest breaks. As regulations tightened up, the most generous allowance was eight hours and two hours of sleep. Last August, the Federal Government announced it was open to splitting this up to seven hours and three hours; the SC&RA is advocating for six and four hours, and five and five hours.

According to the Association, drivers should be able to determine for themselves if they need a full eight hours and two hours later of sleep, or if they can do best with six hours of sleep followed by four.

A related issue is the 30-minute break requirement, which essentially tells the driver he or she has to stop everything they are doing at a specific time, a potential challenge when moving very large, heavy loads and being required to stop for a mandatory 30-minute rest break, rather than postponing it for an hour or two to a more convenient time.

“If they stop too soon to take that break, they lose several hours of drive time that the federal government would have allowed them if they had another hour to take that mandatory 30 minute break,” explains Todd.

Permit loads have specific curfews, which differ by state and by load. It is often difficult for drivers to pull over and stop within a few minutes of a set time because of the unavailability of parking for a 30-minute break exactly when federal rules require.

In other instances, taking the situation to its absurd extreme, drivers might be 30 minutes away from the next state line and have police escorts and utility trucks set-up; having to take a mandated break means they have to start all over again securing escorts, police, permitting, and utility companies to lift lines.

When an exemption was filed for the drivers who were being forced to take a 30-minute break exactly when the service regulations required, even if they were hauling an oversized/overweight load, the Federal Government replied that it is open to removing the mandated break, or at least not stipulating a specific time.

“If that happens, our industry will be very satisfied,” says Todd. “If it doesn’t, we are hopeful we can continue in June 2020 when our current exemption for the thirty-minute rest break expires. If it doesn’t pass, we’ll be hopefully filing for another exemption. So there’s a lot going into the hours-of-service rule – going on right now – which is still at least two years from now.”

Successfully maintaining and building its membership since it was formed in 1948, the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association remains dedicated to advocating for the industry, education, and to offering many networking opportunities so members can operate safely and professionally.

July 3, 2020, 6:43 AM EDT