Quote machine: OOIDA president delivers soundbites to Congress

June 14, 2019

Mark Schremmer


OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer testified to Congress on behalf of the Association’s more than 160,000 members on Wednesday, June 12, in Washington, D.C. As part of the subcommittee hearing titled “Under Pressure: The State of Trucking in America,” Spencer informed lawmakers about the many challenges truck drivers face and offered the truck driver’s perspective on many issues affecting the industry.

Below is a sampling of Spencer’s words delivered to the Highways and Transit subcommittee.

On claims there is a shortage of truck drivers

“All of you on this subcommittee have heard about the driver shortage. I have, too, for pretty much my entire career in trucking. Guess what? There ain’t one. Simple math tells the story. When the number you hear is 50,000 or some other number for the shortage … states issue over 400,000 new CDLs every year. Every year. What is incorrectly labeled as ‘shortage’ is turnover, attrition. People attracted to trucking with hopes of doing better for themselves and family are quickly met with unkept promises and then say goodbye to trucking.”

“LTL carriers don’t complain about a driver shortage, nor do private carriers. The reason is pay, benefits and working conditions. Much of the growth in trucking during the past two years has come from among small carriers. They treat their drivers better.”

On driver pay

The economic model for paying drivers has been broken for a long time despite the rhetoric you might hear about boosting pay and bonuses. If driver pay had been pegged to the consumer price index in 1980, most of today’s drivers would be bringing home six figures in wages. They don’t make that, because their value is set by what they can be replaced for no matter how good or safe they may be, or even how many millions of safe miles they have driven.

“Most over-the-road drivers are paid exclusively by the mile with nothing for their time.”

“The idea way back in the 1930s when drivers were mostly paid by the hour was to discourage really long workweeks. Now with mileage pay as the standard, it does just the opposite.”

“In theory, a trucking career is appealing because it’s all about productivity and if you work hard – a reasonable person would assume – you would get ahead. What too many figure out really quick is that everybody is working their tails off, and they’re not getting ahead.”

On proposals that would allow under-21 drivers to operate in interstate commerce

“I really can’t think of a worse response to the myth of a driver shortage than to lower the driving age or reduce the already low standard to get a CDL. This is really a highway safety issue. What’s not a myth is that new drivers crash more often and that younger drivers crash more often. There is no substitute to experience when it comes to safety and doing things that help perpetuate the churn for driver turnover is not only counterproductive to safety, but it undermines the economics of all drivers.”

“Our organization is not a proponent of lowering the permissible driving age for commercial driving age to below 21. Everything about this committee is about safety. When we look at where crashes take place among the drivers, you don’t take that age down. You take it up. You take it up to at least 25, which is largely what it was in the 1970s, when I entered trucking.”

On the regulations truckers must follow

“We’ve never had more regulations. We’ve never had more compliance of those regulations, we’ve never had more enforcement of those regulations. Still, the crash rates are going up. This is a copy of the regulations that all drivers are required to comply with,” Spencer said while holding up the 700-page Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations handbook to show lawmakers. “They are trained on virtually none, but they are there because they can be held responsible even when they should have no responsibility.”

“Looking at what the data shows, there is a disconnect between compliance with the regulations and improved safety outcomes. Most of the regulations that are enforced that make up CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability scores) have nothing to do with safety, but that has been the focus.

“The rigidity of the regulations sometimes force drivers to do things they don’t want to do.”

On highway safety

“You have to have experience and knowledgeable drivers. The other net effect of many of the regulations, more and more drivers have said there are other things they can do. They’ve retired. They’ve left our industry. They will be replaced with some level of new people who will be less skilled and are more likely to be involved in a crash.”

On detention time

“It is a monstrous problem that has actually cost trucking as much as $3 billion a year … The way it works out, it means that driver workweeks are always going to be 70-80 hours and sometimes longer. They are not always working all of those hours, but their time is being controlled by others. The biggest bandits on that deal are going to be shippers and receivers, and I should point out that some of them actually have the gall to charge drivers for late deliveries.”

On retaining drivers

“The reasons drivers stay is because of pay, benefits and working conditions. The reasons they leave are for the lack thereof. Many of the regulations that are on the books today hold drivers responsible for everything that could possibly go wrong, but none of those really address the frustrations the lost time that drivers will spend in shipping and receiving facilities. We’re talking about anywhere from 10 to as much as 45 hours per week. That puts the work week for a truck driver to 80 or sometimes more hours per week.”

“When someone is considering a career, do they take one that works 40-45 hours a week and you’re home or one that’s 80 hours or more with you being away from home and you don’t make more money? I don’t think that’s a real tough decision … We have to address the economic issues for drivers, how they are paid and the quirks that allow them to actually work unlimited hours without any kind of overtime compensation.”

“The market can’t fix that stuff if drivers aren’t paid for their time, and the vast majority are paid nothing for their time right now.”

On sleep apnea

“I know some are focused on that as the bugaboo right now, but it doesn’t cause drivers to crash trucks. What happened when we had increased focus and increased enforcement – and this was all economically driven – we put a lot of those guys out of trucking. And, as a result, we believe that is a contributor to fatalities on the road going up.”

“Looking at the crash data, I would take considerable issue with people that claim that sleep apnea is causing crashes, because all sleep apnea does is cause you to not get the quality of sleep you may need. Whether or not you crash a car or truck has to do with driving while you are sleepy, driving when you are drowsy. That is something no driver should do.”

On speed limiters

“Speed-limited trucks, whether they are speed limited through technology or through artificially low speed limits simply serve as impediments or barriers to other people trying to drive down the road.”

On the electronic logging mandate and hours of service

“When I drove, I drove when I felt like driving. I drove to accommodate weather. I drove to accommodate shippers and receivers, and it wasn’t always in blocks of 10, 11 or 14. What ELDs have done is create a stress level for drivers, but what they have pointed out is the problem we have with existing hours-of-service regulations.”

“ELDs were a monstrous mandate on small-business truckers … that realize no safety benefit. If it has a direct impact on safety, it is quite likely a negative one because of the pressures it puts on drivers.”

On autonomous vehicles

“We recognize the potential for automated systems to tremendously improve highway safety … The potential, but we struggle to separate the reality from what are simply marketing claims. I heard some statistics a while ago from a big carrier that reports marvelous results with a use of different technologies. Well, I’ve heard this stuff before, and I’ve had our people look at the safety data that gets reported to FMCSA, and we don’t see any difference in real road safety.”

On truck parking

“One of the key dilemmas that professional truck drivers have is that they don’t have places to park to get off the road where they can actually get a break or a long eight or 10-hour restorative sleep. That’s the biggest challenge that virtually all in trucking deal with right now, and it’s not a new challenge. It’s been an issue for 20 years. We talk about infrastructure. We talk about safety. The environment that drivers are in has to come with some way for people to get off the road when they need it. I hope that can be an ongoing focus going forward.”


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.