A better way

OOIDA goes to bat for truck drivers during the 2020 Truck Safety Summit, encouraging measures that value drivers and actual driver training.

October 2020

Mark Schremmer

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Whether it’s the chief executive of a large fleet or a single-truck owner-operator, pretty much everyone involved in the trucking industry will say that improving safety is the goal.

How to achieve that goal, however, never seems to reach a consensus.

Over the past several decades, the industry has generally attacked the problem by adding regulations and by relying on the latest technology.

The pocketbook version of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, or The Green Book, has grown to more than 600 pages’ worth of rules that truckers must follow. As part of those regulations, electronic logging devices track truckers’ driving time to the second for the purported goal of improving safety. Meanwhile, such gadgets as dashcams, automatic braking systems and other autonomous technologies have been added to thousands of trucks.

This approach has not yielded improved safety numbers in recent years.

From 2009 through 2017 (the most recent numbers available), large truck and bus fatality crashes increased by about 42% from 3,432 to 4,889.

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hosted its web-based 2020 Truck Safety Summit this past August, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said it was way past time for the industry to start listening to truck drivers’ ideas on how highway safety can be improved.

Instead of leaning on overregulation and technology, which OOIDA argues are both ways to drive some of the most experienced and safest drivers out of the industry, the Association says the better approach is to increase driver pay, improve driver training programs, and to do everything possible to reward the safest drivers.

“Most small-business truckers have a lot more experience and often have been driving for 10 years or more,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh said. “They own the truck. They own the trailer, so they have skin in the game if something happens. We feel like our guys are some of the safest guys out on the road.”

Déjà vu

In 1995, the Federal Highway Administration hosted a Truck and Bus Safety Summit in Kansas City, Mo. The participants of the summit ranked fatigue, a lack of data regarding heavy-vehicle crashes and their related causes, and a lack of driver training as the most significant safety issues.

OOIDA, which participated in both the 1995 and 2020 safety events, pointed out that not much had changed in 25 years.

Pugh, who served as a panelist at the 2020 summit, said he hopes this event will lead to actual change.

“Virtually every topic under discussion today, OOIDA told policy makers about at the first FHWA trucking safety summit a quarter century ago,” Pugh said. “We have solutions, but solutions require action – action from regulators, from lawmakers and others in the supply chain,” Pugh said during his opening remarks. “These issues won’t magically disappear, and I sure as hell don’t want to have this same conversation in another 25 years from now.”

A voice for truckers

Pugh began his trucking career in 1994. He became a member of OOIDA in 1996 and worked as a commercial truck driver for 23 years, recording 2.5 million safe miles before coming off the road and going to work at OOIDA headquarters in 2017.

Serving as a panelist for the first session of the summit, Pugh said he wanted to provide a voice for truck drivers and to express that the problems within the industry haven’t gotten any better since he started 26 years ago.

“All of these issues have gotten worse since then,” Pugh said. “I’ve seen it. I lived it.

“We’re committed to working with anyone who wants to make things better. We’re also committed to aggressively fighting against anyone who tries to make things worse.”

Some of the issues Pugh highlighted were the ELD mandate, hours of service, drivers not being valued in the supply chain, detention time, a lack of broker  transparency, a lack of driver training, and the truck parking crisis.

The Aug. 5 panel titled “Association Perspective” was moderated by FMCSA acting Administrator Jim Mullen (who stepped down from his post at the end of August) and included Pugh, ATA President Chris Spear, National Tank Truck Carriers Vice President Dan Furth, and Road Safe America President Stephen Owings as panelists.

ELD Mandate

OOIDA has said that FMCSA should put its resources behind regulations that have been proven to increase safety and that the agency should remove regulations that have no benefit to safety. The ELD mandate falls in the latter category, Pugh said. In addition, a recent FBI bulletin stated that ELDs have created cybersecurity issues.

“It’s no secret that most drivers don’t like the ELD mandate,” he said. “ELDs have created more stress, more costs, and more fatigue. There is simply no safety justification whatsoever for an ELD mandate.”

Pugh said the recent changes to the hours of service that were set to go in to effect on Sept. 29, should put more flexibility in the hands of the drivers but that they don’t go far enough.

Valuing drivers

Allowing drivers to have more control over deciding when it’s safe to drive and when it isn’t, as well as placing more value on truck drivers, are keys to improving safety on the highways, Pugh said.

“Too many drivers are forced to haul cheap freight,” he said. “Too many motor carriers mistreat and underpay drivers. And too many shippers and receivers detain drivers for excessive periods of time. This has to be addressed. In the short term, FMCSA should move forward with OOIDA’s petition to improve broker transparency. And the industry must properly compensate drivers.”

Driver training

OOIDA has long advocated for an entry-level driver training program, saying that a trained driver is one of the best approaches to improving safety. Not coincidentally, OOIDA said the same thing a quarter-century ago at the 1995 safety summit.

“We discourage FMCSA from further delaying the entry-level driving training rule, which is now pushed back until 2022,” Pugh said. “The initial delay granted earlier this year means that more new drivers will enter the industry without the basic skills needed to safely operate a truck. Driving a truck is a highly skilled profession. More proficient instruction would reduce crashes and prepare individuals for a safe and viable career in trucking.

“This should absolutely include a national training standard that requires, at minimum, several hundred hours of behind-the-wheel training. There is no other way to learn.”

Truck parking crisis

In addition, OOIDA supports the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act, or HR6104, which was introduced by Reps. Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Angie Craig, D-Minn., in March. The bipartisan legislation would set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to add truck parking.

Pugh said the crisis goes beyond the truckers themselves. A lack of parking can force truck drivers to park on the shoulder or continue driving until they can find a safe place to park.

“The truck parking shortage is a national crisis,” he said. “This is a safety issue for all highway users.”

Hair testing

Spear pushed for allowing motor carriers to use hair testing in lieu of urinalysis for its drug testing programs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was tasked by Congress to create hair testing guidelines. HHS released guidelines in September that required urinalysis as well for government agencies that choose to use hair testing.

OOIDA has voiced concerns about the potential biases involved with hair testing and has said it has not seen any evidence showing a connection between hair testing and crash reduction. Pugh added that hair testing looks back at exposure from six months ago rather than whether or not a driver is using now.

“Is the problem six months ago, or is the problem now?”

Based on the guidelines, it appears motor carriers would still be required to perform urine testing even if it chooses to use hair testing.

Speed limiters

Owings spent much of his time advocating for heavy-duty trucks to be required to use a speed limiter.

OOIDA has long contended that a speed limiter mandate would lead to more vehicle interactions, which would lead to more crashes.

Other sessions

While Pugh spent much of the opening session focused on looking at truck drivers as the solution, the later sessions turned the attention back to technology. Such sessions as “What’s Working I,” “What’s Working II” and “Technology” featured mostly representatives of large fleets as the panelists and spent much of the time discussing the gadgets of the present and future.

“There really was too much emphasis – a lot coming from the larger carriers – about these technology initiatives and mandates that we know aren’t going to be helpful for the drivers or for highway safety,” said Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs. “Really, I don’t think they got at the heart of how FMCSA and lawmakers can best address working conditions and highway safety for the entire trucking industry.”

OOIDA admits that technology can be one aspect of a plan to improve safety. However, the Association hopes that industry leaders will start listening to drivers so that it doesn’t have to talk about the same problems at a safety summit in 2045.

“We want to see better driver compensation, improved broker transparency, better treatment for drivers, (having) detention time addressed, increased truck parking capacity … and driver training,” Grimes said. “We need more comprehensive driver training. The delays to that long awaited driver training rule weren’t going to improve highway safety.” LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.