Truck driver concerns relayed to MCSAC

December 7, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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Providing truck drivers a place at the table is critical to improving highway safety and maintaining an efficient supply chain.

That was OOIDA President Todd Spencer’s message to FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Spencer, who also serves as chair of MCSAC’s new Driver Subcommittee, presented the report from the subcommittee’s first meeting in July. The subcommittee consists of more than 20 commercial motor vehicle drivers.

“The pandemic has certainly placed drivers in much greater visibility to the overall public, but drivers have always played a critical role,” Spencer said. “Drivers provide all of our basic needs. (In times of crisis) drivers are always there to save the day. Coming up with accommodations to make it easier for them to do what they do is in all of our best interests.”

As part of Spencer’s report to MCSAC, some of those accommodations suggested by the subcommittee include compensating drivers for all of their time, providing more truck parking, and giving drivers some benefit of the doubt for such incidents as a light outage that are out of their control.

MCSAC Chair Lamont Byrd, director of safety and health for the Teamsters, agreed that listening and acting on drivers’ concerns is vital to improving recruitment and retention.

“It’s a really tough job, and I would agree with Todd that truck drivers don’t get enough recognition for the role they play in our supply chain,” Byrd said. “What can we do to recruit and retain drivers? What are things that should be done to make the job more appealing?”

Danny Schnautz, manager at Clark Freight Lines in Pasadena, Texas, said the creation of the Driver Subcommittee is an important step toward making drivers feel they have a voice.

“Drivers are always looking to be heard and considered, because they so often feel like they aren’t,” Schnautz said.

MCSAC was tasked with taking recommendations from the Driver Subcommittee to provide recommendations to FMCSA on how to improve driver recruitment and retention.

Driver compensation

Stephen Owings, founder of Road Safe America, said one of the ways to retain drivers and increase safety is by compensating truckers for all of their time.

“Truck drivers are the backbone of our whole economy, and they should be treated that way,” Owings said. “Too often, they are treated the exact opposite. Paying truck drivers by the mile is literally telling them to get there as fast as they can. Drivers should be paid for every hour they work whether the truck is moving or not, and they should get paid overtime.”

Spencer said the subcommittee spent a considerable amount of time discussing compensation, including the lack of pay during detention time.

“I think pay will always be the top issue,” Spencer said. “It’s not the only issue, but it’s the top issue. No matter how crappy a job is, people will come to do it if it pays enough. That’s simple economics.”

Spencer added that the industry can’t complain about drivers leaving until they start putting some value on their time.

“If we as an industry show that a driver’s time doesn’t really have any value, how can we attempt to fix the problem? If you can’t recognize the value of a driver’s time, how can you complain when they don’t stick around?

“If we want to keep people behind the wheel, they need to feel appreciated,” Spencer said. “One of the best ways for them to be appreciated is for them to get paid.”

MCSAC planned to make recommendations regarding driver compensation in three parts.

Encourage the industry to provide drivers with accurate transparent income awareness and work expectations
Research current driver compensation practices and available benefit models with the industry.
Support compensating drivers for all hours worked to improve driver recruitment and retention.

Truck parking

The lack of truck parking was discussed in terms of safety and in making the profession of truck driver a more attractive long-term career.

“This is a problem that has been around a long time,” Owings said. “And it’s getting worse, not better.”

Greer Woodruff, a senior vice president on safety, security and driver personnel at JB Hunt Transport, said drivers are often placed in a difficult spot because of the lack of truck parking.

“There are many cases where drivers have to try to make a decision on which is safer,” Woodruff said. “Do they continue driving while tired or do they pull over on a shoulder where may not be an ideal location?”

Spencer suggested that the committee send a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking for discretionary funds to be used toward the construction of truck parking. In November, OOIDA wrote the U.S. Department of Transportation to request of $1 billion for truck parking.

Benefit of the doubt

Spencer said the current system holds drivers accountable for a variety of events that involve no wrongdoing on their part.

“Any time a truck is going down the road, the driver is the recipient of all responsibility for what happens,” he said. “Occasionally, lights go out and tires go flat. I think of myself as an automobile driver. If a light goes out and I get pulled over, law enforcement’s first question is going to be whether I knew the light was out. My answer is going to be no, and the officer is going to tell me to get it fixed and let me go down the road.”

That is typically not the case for truck drivers.

“There’s nothing a truck driver can do about a light going out while they are driving down the road,” Spencer said. “It’s not an indication that the driver has done anything wrong, but the system holds them accountable like they have done something wrong.”

Members of the committee suggested implementing a system where drivers, in such instances, can have the ticket waived if they can prove the problem was fixed within a certain time period.  

MCSAC

The committee concluded its second day of meetings on Tuesday, Dec. 7. On Monday, MCSAC recommended that the agency acquire more data on how smaller last-mile delivery vehicles affect safety. LL

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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.