United against costly mandates

OOIDA leads coalition opposed to four bills that could cost motor carriers tens of billions of dollars.

November 2019

Mark Schremmer

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations Handbook is 700 pages. It’s full of information motor carriers and truck drivers must know and follow or there will be consequences.

Each year, it seems lawmakers are determined to make that book even larger.

In many cases, the regulations can be extremely pricey for owner-operators. It’s a cost most in the industry can swallow when the regulation is directly tied to increased safety on the highways. When those purported safety benefits are questionable, however, truckers understandably have a much more difficult time coughing up the dough.

The most notable and expensive mandate of recent years, of course, was the requirement for trucks to be equipped with electronic logging devices. The ELD mandate went into effect in December 2017 despite bringing an estimated $2 billion in costs to the industry and no quantifiable safety benefits.

Actually, the early returns indicate the mandate may have made things worse. In January, researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Arkansas and Michigan State University released a study using preliminary crash statistics from the first year of the mandate. The researchers found that use of ELDs have not reduced crashes and may cause an increase in unsafe driving habits. According to preliminary numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatality crashes involving at least one large truck were estimated to increase by 3% in 2018.

Now, lawmakers have introduced four more bills that could cost the trucking industry tens of billions of dollars.

In response, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is leading a coalition of 31 trade groups opposed to bills that would mandate underride guards, speed limiters, automatic emergency braking systems, and a minimum of $4.9 million worth of liability insurance.

On Sept. 16, the coalition sent a letter of opposition to the leaders of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“As Congress begins to craft the next surface transportation reauthorization, we write to express our opposition to a series of bills that would impose tens of billions of dollars in unfunded mandates on American businesses engaged in trucking,” the coalition letter stated. “Collectively, these proposals neglect the diverse operations and working conditions of our members and would mandate extremely costly and excessively burdensome one-size-fits-all requirements. Perhaps most concerning, these bills would do nothing to improve highway safety.”

Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs, told Land Line Now that the cost of these four mandates combined has the potential to put a lot of owner-operators out of business.

“We talked about the ELD mandate as being one of the most expensive in trucking history,” Long said. “I think these would put ELDs to shame.”

Some of the trade groups in the coalition include the Agricultural Retailers Association; American Dairy Coalition; American Farm Bureau Federation; American Pipeline Contractors; Corn Refiners Association; National Asphalt Pavement Association; National Cotton Council; National Grain and Feed Association; National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association; Towing and Recovery Association of America; and the United States Cattlemen’s Association.

“(The members of the coalition) really runs the gamut,” Long said. “It speaks to the fact that when elected officials start writing policies involving trucking that they really don’t understand how broad of a swath that will impact. They certainly need to be educated like this letter does to let them know that you’re not just affecting folks like OOIDA and ATA. You’re also affecting other associations. (This includes) the folks who grow the hay, the folks who grow the corn, and those who carry livestock across the country. Then we have a lot of folks from the materials industry.”

The Stop Underrides Act

In March, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., introduced bills that would require tractor-trailers with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more to install rear, side and front underride guards.

“Congress has the ability to make simple and commonsense changes that would save lives on the road,” Gillibrand said in a news release. “Truck underride guards are one of the best and easiest solutions for protecting passengers and preventing them from being killed when a car collides with a truck.”

Similar measures were previously introduced in December 2017. Those advocating for the bills say that studies show that an underride guard, which is a barrier attached to the lower area of a truck, would help prevent a car from sliding underneath a truck during a crash.

The OOIDA coalition argues that the mandate isn’t practical and doesn’t take into account the uniqueness of segments of the trucking industry.

“The requirements of this legislation are simply unworkable,” the coalition stated. “Certain trailers, including lowboys and auto transporters, aren’t capable of being fitted with side or rear underride guards. The bill mandates front underride guards on single-unit trucks, yet no front underride equipment is currently on the market because the concept lacks any practicality.”

Long said the mandate would cost owner-operators in more ways than one.

“The Stop Underrides Act would require installation of, obviously, four devices,” Long said. “Unfortunately not only would it be expensive to install those devices, they would displace a lot of payload for owner-operators, which would certainly cut into your pockets on a daily basis.”

In April, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a 46-page report on truck underride guards. The report made four recommendations:

  • The administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should help provide a standardized definition of underride crashes and to include underride as a recommended data field.
  • The NHTSA administrator should provide information to state and local police departments on how to identify and record underride crashes.
  • The administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration should revise the agency’s regulations to require that rear guards are inspected during commercial vehicle annual inspections.
  • The NHTSA administrator should conduct additional research on side underride guards to better understand the overall effectiveness and cost associated with these guards and, if warranted, develop standards for their implementation.

OOIDA, which was one of the dozens of stakeholders that participated in the report, said the report showed the statistics don’t justify a mandate.

“As part of the report, OOIDA conveyed to GAO that there’s not enough data to justify what the Stop Underrides Act would mandate on virtually every tractor-trailer in the United States,” said Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s manager of government affairs. “OOIDA has never been opposed to practical and cost-effective solutions that improve highway safety, but the Stop Underrides Act doesn’t fit in either category.”

Other key findings from the report include that about 95% of all newly manufactured trailers already meet the proposed requirements for rear guards, and that manufacturers told GAO that they would be unlikely to move forward with the development of side underride guards without research that determines the effectiveness and cost of the guards.

According to the GAO report, less than 1% of the total number of traffic fatalities from 2008 through 2017 involved underride crashes.

Current underride guards can withstand 35 mph. Advocates for the guards hope to develop the technology to withstand 65 mph in the near future.

“This would mandate that you install front, rear and side underride guards on all of your equipment,” Matousek said. “And then just a few years after that, theoretically, you might have to replace all of it.”

OOIDA President Todd Spencer said there is a reason underride guards haven’t been mandated in the past.

“Over the last several decades, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has considered numerous options involving underride guards but has consistently concluded federal mandates would be impractical and costly, thus outweighing any perceived safety benefits,” he said.

Speed limiters

Mandating speed limiters in commercial vehicles would not only fail to improve safety but “would lead to more crashes involving commercial vehicles.”

That’s the position OOIDA took in a recent letter to a pair of U.S. senators who have introduced a proposal to mandate speed limiters in commercial vehicles.

Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced legislation in June that would impose a speed limiter mandate. To date, the amendment has not received any additional co-sponsors.

The Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act of 2019, or S2033, would require vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds be restricted to a top speed of 65 miles per hour. Isakson has since announced his plans to retire from the Senate due to health reasons.

OOIDA has long opposed any effort to require the devices on commercial trucks, citing research that risks posed by increasing vehicle interactions via speed differentials outweigh any purported safety benefit of slowing down large trucks and buses.

“Truckers required to operate below the posted speed limit are forced to drive maximum hours to cover the same distance, which increases their fatigue and places even greater stress on them to comply with burdensome hours-of-service regulations,” wrote OOIDA President Todd Spencer in a July letter to Coons and Isakson.

Cullum Owings was killed in a crash in 2002 by a tractor-trailer traveling 8 miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit using cruise control. His parents, Steve and Susan Owings, founded Road Safe America, an Atlanta-based group that seeks to impose the speed limiter mandate, as well as advocates for increasing mandatory insurance minimums.

The OOIDA Foundation has published several papers about the risks associated with split-speeds for passenger and commercial vehicles.

The Foundation points to studies that have demonstrated that variable vehicle speeds in traffic flow increases the risk of a crash “and speed limiters cause speed variance.”

“Regardless of the average speed on the highway, the greater a driver deviates from the average speed, the greater his chances are of being involved in an accident,” The Foundation stated in its white paper. “The frequency of interactions with other vehicles by a vehicle traveling 10-mph below the posted speed limit is 227% higher than when moving at traffic speed.”

“Thus, low-speed drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents than high-speed drivers are, as 80% of rear-end collisions involving a large truck and passenger vehicle, which result in a fatality, are caused by the passenger vehicle rear-ending the truck,” the paper continues.

The Foundation also points to a 1993 study by the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council, which found that vehicles traveling at or about the same speed minimized the need for overtaking, passing and lane changes and, as a result, caused fewer crashes. A more recent study in the United Kingdom produced similar results. In April 2015, commercial drivers in the U.K. were allowed to increase the national speed limit for heavy goods vehicles from 40 mph to 50 mph in order to reduce risky overtakes by frustrated car drivers.

The pressure on drivers to make up for lost time could have other negative implications for safety, the Foundation warns.

A 2008 survey of fleet safety managers by the Transportation Research Board on behalf of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, found that 88% of those respondents stated that their drivers travel faster than normal in lower speed areas to make up time.

“There is a serious safety concern that a speed limiter mandate will incentivize truckers to speed in lower speed limit zones, including construction zones, in order to make up for lost time,” the Foundation states.

Automatic emergency braking

The Safe Roads Act, or HR3773, would require new commercial motor vehicles to be equipped with and use an automatic emergency braking system. The bill was introduced on July 16 by Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

OOIDA and the other groups in the coalition contend that automatic emergency braking technology is still in the early stages.

“While AEB is designed to help reduce or prevent rear-end collisions, this technology is still in its infancy and can create new challenges and dangers for drivers, such as false or unexpected system activation,” the coalition letter stated. “AEB technology is also very expensive, and studies have shown it is not clear that the benefits of these systems would outweigh the costs.”

The OOIDA Foundation recently published a one-pager looking at the effectiveness of automatic emergency braking technology.

“Most AEB systems are designed to only work at low speeds as sudden braking at higher speeds can startle a driver, leading to erratic driving behavior,” the OOIDA Foundation wrote. “Most AEB systems lack sophisticated situational awareness, meaning they may not be able to recognize if an object ahead is in the current travel lane or the next lane over – and whether or not it is a temporarily stopped car, a pedestrian, or a bag of garbage.”

In 2017, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted a report on automatic emergency braking systems for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The report said the average AEB system costs $2,500 per truck and that it would cost $41.2 billion to retrofit the entire U.S. fleet of large trucks with AEB systems. According to the report, the price tag would be $1.1 billion if only new heavy-duty trucks were equipped.

“These results provide insight into the feasibility of government regulation for large-truck automatic emergency braking systems,” the VTTI report stated. “There was not a strong case for government regulation requiring automatic emergency breaking systems for the entire U.S. fleet of large trucks given the cost/efficacy rates used in this study.”

The OOIDA Foundation concluded that the technology isn’t far enough along to require a mandate.

“While some proponents are eager to push such technologies as a panacea for highway safety, OOIDA implores caution,” the Foundation wrote. “A hurried mandate of advanced driver-assist-systems-equipped trucks is an imprudent approach with possibly devastating consequences upon owner-operators, professional drivers, and the motoring public. Instead, improved entry-level driver training standards would have a far more positive and a far more reaching impact than pushing unproven technology, and at a much-reduced price tag.”

Long wants to make it clear to lawmakers that the technology still has a long way to go.

“There are promising results coming out of automatic braking systems, but to mandate it today in 2019, we think, is certainly getting ahead of ourselves as far as the technology is concerned,” Long said. “We know there are still lots of problems with the technology – false positives and how the driver interacts with the technology.”

Minimum insurance

Reps. Matthew Cartwright, D-Pa., and Garcia introduced the INSURANCE Act, or HR3781, that would raise the federal minimum insurance requirement for motor carriers from $750,000 to nearly $5 million. The bill would also require the U.S. secretary of transportation to adjust the rate every five years to take into account inflation costs related to medical care.

The bill has received support from the American Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers.

OOIDA and the other groups in the coalition say that increasing insurance minimums is “primarily an opportunity for trial lawyers to receive greater payouts at the expense of U.S. businesses.”

“The studies have indicated the current minimum insurance level adequately covers damages in all but 0.06% of crashes,” the coalition wrote. “This is a clear sign today’s level of coverage is adequate. What studies haven’t shown is any improvement to safety associated with increasing insurance requirements.”

In September, OOIDA reached out to its members to encourage them to write to their respective lawmakers in opposition of the mandate.

On FightingForTruckers.com, the Association has a form letter that truck drivers can use to send to their respective lawmakers.

“The INSURANCE Act is a solution in search of a problem,” the form letter states. “Approximately 0.1% of truck-involved crashes have costs that exceed the current minimums.

“If Congress mandates these unwarranted insurance increases, it would threaten my livelihood and that of thousands of other small-business truckers throughout the country.”

OOIDA contends that the mandate could force professional truck drivers off the road because they wouldn’t be able to afford the expensive insurance premiums.

“It imposes yet another unnecessary and expensive federal mandate that will force the safest and most experienced truckers off the road while further lining the pockets of our nation’s trial lawyers,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer said.

The coalition

In order to prevent another expensive mandate like ELDs, OOIDA is working with dozens of other trade groups to show lawmakers that traditional trucking companies aren’t the only ones that would be affected by the four bills in question.

“We need to make sure that every member of Congress knows where their local constituents and local employers stand on these issues,” Long said. “Because if you don’t keep them informed, they’re potentially going to make bad decisions. ELDs are a good example. OOIDA was out there screaming about the problems with ELDs, but they weren’t hearing from everyone who was going to be impacted, therefore it doesn’t have that dramatic of an impact on my constituents, so they were more comfortable letting it get through.

“I think setting the stage now … is really getting ahead of the game and making sure there’s kind of a line drawn in the sand with legislators that these bills are going to have a very broad and significant impact within your districts and getting on board would be bad news for a lot of folks back home.” LL

 

Coalition Members

Agricultural Retailers Association

Agriculture Transportation Coalition

American Dairy Coalition

American Farm Bureau Federation

American Pipeline Contractors Association

American Pyrotechnics Association

Associated Equipment Distributors

Associated Oregon Loggers

Association of Professional Towers of Ohio

Corn Refiners Association

Distribution Contractors Association

Mid-West Truckers Association

National Asphalt Pavement Association

National Association of Small Trucking Companies

National Cotton Council

National Cotton Ginners’ Association

National Council of Farmer Cooperatives

National Grain and Feed Association

National Hay Association

National Ready Mixed Concrete Association

National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association

National Utility Contractors Association

National Wildfire Suppression Association

NFIB

North American Millers’ Association

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association

Police Towers of America

Power and Communications Contractors Association

Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute

Towing and Recovery Association of America

United States Cattlemen’s Association

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, associate 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 nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.