Trucking Update from Washington

Congress met on April 29th to discuss issues affecting truck drivers and the trucking industry. The title of the hearing was The Future of Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety: Technology, Safety Initiatives, and the Role of Federal Regulation.

The congressional hearing covered everything from hours of service to CSA scores to entry-level driver training. Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association’s (OOIDA) Danny Schnautz spoke on behalf of his group, while the American Trucking Association (ATA) was represented by Tom Kretsinger.

What the congressional hearing showed is that Washington still has a long way to go in squaring government regulation with the needs of the trucking industry. At times the hearing grew heated on both sides, with passionate points and counterpoints being lobbied back and forth.

From Trucking’s Perspective

In his testimony, Schnautz, who is an operations manager for a national freight line, explained how burdensome regulatory actions and technological “solutions” run amok are affecting the industry. The shadow of government mandates and ever-changing rules can hinder small businesses and push longstanding safe drivers and carriers out of business.

“The current focus on technology initiatives actually hinders safety by placing more pressure on drivers when they are already caught between a regulatory rock and an economic hard place,” Schnautz said.

In his expansive testimony Schnautz tried to convey that technology can never be a substitute for skilled, professional truck drivers. He states that the focus on an alert system, rather than drivers making real-time safety decisions, degrades the skill of the truck driver and de-values the entire supply chain.

From Washington’s Perspective

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, convened the meeting. After the opening hearing, he didn’t waste time jumping right into the issues. His first target was the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Graves stated that he is concerned about the agency’s rapid growth since it was created in 2001. “While I support a strong safety program,” he began, “we need to ensure that funds are being spent on initiatives that will move the needle in terms of reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities on the nation’s highways.”

One of the initiatives that Graves mentioned as a solution seeking a problem was the push to increase insurance requirements for motor carriers. Brian Scott, who spoke on behalf of the United Motorcoach Association stated that raising insurance requirements on carriers would surely put some out of business.

Assessing Regulatory Burdens

For much of the session, subcommittee members focused their questioning on rules recently outlined by the FMCSA, with hours of service being the most talked about. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., said that the hours of service rule “actually made the world less safe for people in your industry.”

Speaking on behalf of the ATA, Tom Kretsinger highlighted how micromanagement of truckers’ hours can end up with “laws of unintended consequences.”

The final target for committee members was the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. Schnautz testified that “under its current methodology, CSA inaccurately paints small carriers as unsafe, reducing access to business and opening them up to misguided enforcement activities.”

Even law enforcement got in on the action, as Idaho State Police representative Captain Bill Reese endorsed legislation to remove CSA data from public view. OOIDA also backed this view, saying some of the data doesn’t have real bearing on a fleet’s ability to carry out safe operations.

Not All Bad

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., stated that she was pleased to see the industry and FMCSA working together on rules for entry-level truck driver training programs.

“More robust driver training is something Congress has directed DOT to consider for nearly 25 years,” she said. “The first directive was in a bill in 1991. To say this rule is overdue is putting it fairly mildly. I hope this new Entry Level Driver Training Advisory Committee can facilitate a rule that all parties can agree on,” she concluded.

Even though there was some good and some bad on both sides, the hearing highlighted a glaring deficiency between industry and government, and within government itself. As Republicans drive for less regulation, and Democrats more, which way this regulatory battle plays out is anyone’s guess.

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