It’s almost like lawmakers didn’t listen

September 6, 2019

Wendy Parker

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When I was a kid there was one phrase my momma used (often) to freeze me in my tracks and listen.

She’d sneak up on me and my brothers like a well-trained ninja and at just the moment any of us (mostly me) did something stupid she’d appear out of thin air to question our complete understanding of how decent human beings are supposed to act with one simple query.

“What in the world is wrong with you?

Woe be unto the offender if it was followed up by, “You better look at me when I’m talking to you,” because the answer could be, “My hair is on fire,” and it wouldn’t matter. Whatever was done in the process of catching your own fool hair on fire was an affront to the general population and, most importantly, something momma couldn’t fathom.

My mom is the kind of parent who would pat out the flames, put some Mercurochrome on the open wounds, and promptly whip a hind-end for playing with matches.

(Side note: Anyone else remember Mercurochrome? I believe it was made of lemon juice and battery acid, mixed with fire ant venom and enough orange dye No. 2 left over to paint your toenails. Pretty sure it was outlawed in the Geneva Convention as “cruel and unusual.”)

I was reminded of the terror momma’s simple question invoked in me as a child while chatting with her a couple weeks ago. Our conversation wandered to trucking, like it always does. She asked, “Honey, why do all these big trucks just pull over to the side of the highway to park? It’s so dangerous.”

I explained to her about the ELD, hours of service and lack of parking all being contributors. She asked, “Well, who makes those rules?”

I told her the FMCSA enacts and enforces rules made by politicians.

I was unprepared when she whipped out the dreaded question, “Well what in the world is wrong with them?”

Of course, her question was rhetorical this time, but it got me thinking about some things.

Trucking’s hair is on fire, and truck drivers didn’t have anything to do with setting it aflame. It’s almost like professional drivers told lawmakers how bad things could get and they didn’t listen.

Trucking advocates asked lawmakers to “look at us” when we were talking to them about the devastating effects enacting the ELD rule would have without amending the HOS. They need to listen. The lawmakers countered with, “It will increase compliance which in turn will save lives.”

Cue a Maury Povich voice-over, because that’s how I imagine this information should be presented to lawmakers: “In the case of HOS Compliance Equates to Safety, the numbers gathered since forced ELD implementation reveal: That is a lie.”

Well isn’t that special? Let’s carry on.

Trucking advocates asked for mandatory driver training rules to make sure new drivers were properly trained. The powers-that-be agreed and set about an arduous process of gathering information with which to craft effective, comprehensive laws regarding driver training.

In my best Morgan Freeman voice, because this sad soliloquy is worthy of Freeman’s vocal timbre: “After many, many hours of unpaid time and travel, the recommendations made by a committee of transportation professionals were almost completely ignored. Further insult was added by failing to require any physical behind-the-wheel requirements in mandatory training. The driver training rule was, in fact, reduced to little more than lip service that will end up taking half a decade to come to fruition.”

Oh my.

And just in case there needed to be more fuel added to the hair-on-fire status, for many years trucking advocates have insisted to anyone who would listen that detention time was one of the most pressing issues in the industry.

Again, lawmakers assured, “An ELD will help drivers get paid for detention time. It will also even the playing field and drive up rates.”

In my best Oprah voice, because she once epitomized the frantic jubilation of unfettered screaming joy: “Who wants an HOS exemption?! Does everyone want one? YES! Does it completely undermine the rules to give out multiple exemptions? WHO CARES? Here’s an exemption, and here’s an exemption! Level playing field? What’s that? We’re giving EXEMPTIONS!”

“Level playing field” is a stupid business term and it is impossible to achieve while outside forces (like slow-poke shippers and receivers) aren’t held responsible for screwing up the flow of commerce by keeping drivers for ridiculous amounts of (often unpaid) time.

Well whaddya know? Drivers have been telling lawmakers this very thing for many years now.

They didn’t listen.

So to answer your question momma, what’s wrong is, we have lawmakers who believe more regulation is the answer, when in fact, it is not. And until we can convince the folks in charge of making rules that compliance does not equal safety, you will continue to see trucks parked on the side of the highway and hear of trucking companies closing the doors.

Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker has covered the trucking industry since 2012 after she says she “lost my mind and decided to climb inside my husband’s big truck to travel with him as an over-the road, long-haul trucker.” Her unique writing style that ranges from biting satire to investigative journalism coupled with her unbridled passion for fighting round out a wildly talented stable of writers.