Werner tries to benefit from ‘driver shortage’ claims, OOIDA says

September 20, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association calls a recent exemption request from Werner Enterprises “another example of a large carrier using the false premise of a driver shortage to take advantage of safety regulations.”

Last month, Werner asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for an exemption from a regulation that requires a commercial learner’s permit holder to be accompanied by a CDL holder in the passenger seat. If granted, the exemption would apply only to permit holders who have already passed the CDL skills test but have not yet obtained the CDL document from their home state. The CDL holder also would have to remain in the vehicle but would not be required to sit in the front seat.

Werner used claims of a “historic driver shortage” as part of its reasoning for the exemption.

OOIDA filed formal comments on Friday, Sept. 17, in opposition of Werner’s request. First, the Association argued that there is not a driver shortage. Rather, OOIDA says it’s a driver retention problem that could be fixed by improving pay and working conditions.

“In reality, evidence from the federal government and industry analysis show that driver turnover is the problem,” OOIDA wrote in comments signed by President Todd Spencer. “For one, FMCSA estimates that over 400,000 new commercial driver’s licenses are issued every year. On top of that, the U.S. Department of Labor did not find any indications of a driver shortage when examining the issue in 2019. Instead, they identified the high turnover experienced by large carriers as one reason for the perception of a shortage.”

At a driver retention roundtable earlier this year, FMCSA cited statistics showing that the driver turnover rate at large fleets is 90% or more.

OOIDA contends that driver training rules should be strengthened, not relaxed.

“The regulations requiring an experienced driver in the front seat with a permit holder were implemented with safety in mind,” OOIDA wrote. “As we move closer to the entry-level driver training rule taking effect next year, FMCSA should be finding ways to further bolster training requirements instead of weakening them. Granting this exemption would do just that. Because Werner has not demonstrated that this exemption would achieve a level of safety equivalent or greater than the safety level under the current regulations, a waiver should not be granted.”

The deadline to comment on Werner’s request was Sept. 17. The request received 21 comments with a mix of support and opposition.

Previous exemptions

The FMCSA has granted similar exemptions to companies including Wilson Logistics, CRST and CR England.

When it granted Wilson Logistics’ exemption request earlier this year, FMCSA said it expected an equivalent level of safety to be achieved.

“Because these drivers have already met all the requirements for a CDL but have yet to pick up the CDL document from their state of domicile, their safety performance is expected to be the same as any other newly credentialed CDL holder,” FMCSA wrote. 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.