The real reason The Trucking Alliance plays the safety card

July 25, 2018

John Bendel

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The Trucking Alliance wants mandatory ELDs in all trucks, including those that don’t cross state lines. Currently, ELDs are not required in intrastate operations. At least not by the feds.

States should “require all large trucks to install these devices (ELDs) to make sure drivers are obeying the law. Electronic logging devices should be as common in large trucks as seat belts are,” said Lane Kidd, the Alliance’s camera-ready managing director in a news release.

This recommendation is all about safety. That’s what the Trucking Alliance is all about. Lots and lots of safety. These guys are for ELDs, hair testing, speed limiters, higher insurance minimums, and federal standards for safety technology. Talk about safety. It’s like a giant condom for the entire trucking industry.

But is it truly about safety? Do you really think Alliance members Cargo Transporters, Dupre, J.B. Hunt, KLLM, Knight, Maverick, U.S. Xpress and Swift got together at coffee hour after church and had an epiphany of public spirit and civic duty?

Do you honestly believe these guys decided the ATA, the AAA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (not to mention individual insurers), the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and all the safety-advocating arms of the U.S. Department of Transportation weren’t doing enough? That things were so bad the angels of heaven were calling out for their intervention?

Neither do I.

The real idea was to use safety issues to level the playing field between the Alliance carriers and the small carriers who were bugging them in the marketplace. Of course, the expense to level the playing field to this degree would be one they could afford and the little guys could not. But it’s all safety. Nothing but safety. Who could possibly argue?

So here they come again with another 55-gallon drum of safety. It may not smell like safety, but it’s safety for sure. It’s also onerous for smaller competitors, just like every other issue the Alliance takes up, each issue they lobby for.

I don’t know for sure why after having won the fight for ELDs these big, national carriers are now targeting intrastate truckers. But I’m willing to speculate.

Somewhere out west where the miles pile up, one of these big guys had a customer who shipped intrastate as well as cross-country, and the big guy had all the freight. That was great until a small carrier undercut the big guy on that intrastate stuff. If you have ever met a carrier rep who has lost a piece of business, however small, then you know what the word ugly means.

So the salesman tells his manager he lost the freight to a low-down, paper-log cheat. His manager tells the regional manager who offhandedly keys “low-down, paper-log cheat” into his cloud-based customer relationship management software. That pops up at headquarters where the assistant vice president of sales is writing an email for his boss explaining a recent dip in tonnage. She likes it and passes it on to the CEO, who happens to check his email while at a church coffee hour with his Alliance pals. If you happened by the crumb cake at just the right moment, you might have heard the words “low-down, paper-log cheat.”

OK, maybe it’s more complicated than that. Maybe it’s simpler. Maybe the small carrier doesn’t cheat. Maybe he does. Either way, a little guy has aggravated a big guy who pays dues to the Alliance and figures, hey, let’s give the Trucking Alliance and Kidd something to do for our money.

Or maybe that’s not it at all. The point is the Alliance wants to do at the state level what it has already done nationally. That’s force competitors to buy and maintain technology the Alliance carriers adopted voluntarily.

But I’m sure the Alliance people have repeated the safety mantra so long and so often that they truly believe it themselves. Happens all the time. It’s a public relations phenomenon.

 

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John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon and two trucking magazines, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many U.S. newspapers.