Truckers ‘are the solution’
OOIDA implores lawmakers to value drivers’ opinions on highway safety.
Truck drivers aren’t the cause of the problem with the trucking industry. Instead, they are the solution.
That was the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s message to lawmakers at a U.S. Senate Transportation and Safety Subcommittee hearing in February.
Serving as one of five witnesses during the hearing titled, “Keep on Truckin’: Stakeholder Perspectives on Trucking in America,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh stressed the flaws of the current state of trucking and implored lawmakers to start valuing drivers’ opinions on what can be done to improve highway safety.
“Most truckers don’t wear suits on a daily basis,” Pugh said. “They don’t have advanced degrees in engineering or economics, but they know trucking. Truckers aren’t the problem. They are the solution, and Congress should treat them accordingly.”
Pugh testified to lawmakers that now is time for change in the trucking industry.
“From the perspective of small-business motor carriers and professional drivers, the state of the trucking industry is dysfunctional,” Pugh said. “This is because too many people who know virtually nothing about trucking have an oversized role in shaping trucking policy. Drivers feel the negative effects of this firsthand, myself included.
“The hours-of-service rules are broken. There are hundreds of regulations that have nothing to do with highway safety. The lack of available truck parking is a national crisis. Enforcement is often motivated by profit. And drivers work extremely long hours with notoriously low pay.”
Pugh, who learned how to drive a heavy-duty truck in the U.S. Army and has more than 20 years of experience as an owner-operator, said the perception among truck drivers is that Congress has done nothing to improve their profession. Pugh accumulated nearly 2.5 million safe miles before joining the OOIDA staff in 2017.
“If you ask most drivers what Congress has done recently to improve their profession, the answer would be simple – nothing,” said Pugh, who still holds a CDL. “In fact, most of our members would tell you that Congress enacts laws that drive people away from the industry and decrease highway safety. This isn’t a partisan attack against Republicans or Democrats, but rather an honest reflection of how truckers view Congress.
“Too many drivers are forced to haul cheap freight; too many motor carriers mistreat and underpay drivers; too many shippers and receivers detain drivers for excessive periods of time; too many safety advocates seek mandates that don’t work; and too many motorists don’t even attempt to operate safely around big trucks. I make these claims based on firsthand experience. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it.”
Pugh provided lawmakers an outline of specific measures they can take to improve the lives of truck drivers and improve highway safety simultaneously.
- Repeal the failed electronic logging device mandate.
- Repeal the overtime exemption for drivers in the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- Provide dedicated funding for new truck parking capacity.
- Create a fair process for drivers to appeal inspection violations written in error.
- Fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure in an equitable way.
- Do not mandate speed limiters.
- Do not mandate front and side underride guards.
- Do not mandate higher insurance minimums.
- Do not enact a truck-only vehicle miles traveled tax or expand tolling authority.
- Do not pass the DRIVE-Safe Act.
Other witnesses on the panel represented the American Trucking Associations, the Truck Safety Coalition, the Livestock Marketing Association, and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Association.
Some of the topics discussed during the hearing included the DRIVE-Safe Act, hours-of-service regulations, speed limiters, and truck parking.
Touted as a way to solve the nation’s purported truck driver shortage, the DRIVE-Safe Act was introduced. The bill would allow 18-to-20-year-old truck drivers to cross state lines. Current regulations prohibit under-21 drivers from operating in interstate commerce.
OOIDA has refuted claims of a driver shortage for decades. Instead, the Association said any issues are related to large fleets’ inability to retain drivers because of low pay and poor working conditions. A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics affirmed OOIDA’s stance and suggested that increasing wages could alleviate any issues with recruitment and retention.
“Far too many members of Congress have accepted the driver shortage myth, which illustrates a troubling lack of understanding about our industry,” Pugh said as part of his written testimony. “Taking a closer look at what’s actually occurring in trucking will reveal there is no driver shortage at all. It will also show that embracing some of the solutions proposed by those peddling the myth will only compound many of the actual problems facing our industry.”
Pugh, as well as Dawn King of the Truck Safety Coalition, said that lowering the truck driving age would be a detriment to safety.
“There is ample research available that shows teen drivers have significantly higher crash rates and are less safe than older drivers,” King said. “There is absolutely no evidence that introducing teen drivers will in any way improve safety.”
Chris Spear, ATA president, spoke in favor of the DRIVE-Safe Act, saying that the bill focuses on training young drivers.
Pugh called the DRIVE-Safe Act “a solution in search of a problem” and said that proper training should be a priority for all new drivers, not just those under 21.
Hours of service
OOIDA supports the repeal of the ELD mandate and hours-of-service reform.
As part of Pugh’s testimony, he supported FMCSA’s move toward reform and urged the agency to prevent motor carriers and shippers and receivers from coercing truckers to using the proposed regulations to their advantage.
“In order to maximize the safety benefits of these changes, drivers should have sole discretion over how and when they use each of these provisions,” Pugh wrote.
Pugh stressed that efforts to mandate speed limiters be placed on all commercial trucks would not improve safety. OOIDA contends that limiting trucks to such speeds as 65 mph would create unsafe interactions, especially on interstate highways where the speed limit is as much as 80 mph.
“Highways are safest when all vehicles are moving at the same relative rate of speed,” Pugh wrote. “Decades of highway research shows greater speed differentials increase interactions between truck drivers and other road users.”
King supported speed limiters and said reducing the speed of trucks would reduce the number of fatal crashes.
Pugh offered the truck drivers’ perspective.
“As someone who actually drove a truck, speed limiters are not a good thing from the drivers’ perspective,” Pugh said. “There have been many occasions in my truck – and I’m sure that you notice it in your car – that every once in a while I need the ability to get out of harm’s way, whether that means speeding up momentarily or whatever to get away from something for the safety of myself and the people around me. If I’m governed, I don’t have that control.
“They don’t want to not be speed limited because they want to drive 100 miles per hour. They don’t want to be speed limited because they want to have complete control of their vehicle.”
Pugh repeatedly referred to the lack of truck parking as a “crisis.”
“Professional drivers regularly report difficulty accessing safe parking for CMVs, especially during times of high demand,” Pugh wrote. “Surveys of our members routinely reveal most truckers have been forced to drive beyond the point where they feel safe and alert simply because they could not find a place to park. This not only jeopardizes their own safety but also the well-being of the motoring public with whom they share the road. Truckers are commonly placed in no-win situations where they must decide to park in an unsafe or illegal location – such as a vacant lot – or violate federal HOS regulations by continuing to search for a safer and legal alternative.”
Pugh said the Association has been working toward the creation of a bill that would help fund safe truck parking.
“You asked what Congress can do for the safety of drivers,” Pugh said. “I’ve heard about the safety of cattle. I’ve heard about the safety of the motoring public, and I agree that all is very important. I’ve heard no one talk about the safety of the driver. Truckers do die too. Truckers know better than anyone how dangerous the highways are. I saw horrific things when I drove a truck.
“What Congress can do is find some dedicated funding and support the bill that OOIDA is working on for places to park. That’s one of the biggest crises we have in trucking right now. Our drivers are forced to follow the rigid hours of service. They are forced to use ELDs. Just like the cows need a safe place to be, so do our truckers.” LL