American Trucking Associations (ATA) CEO Chris Spear and Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) Executive Lewie Pugh testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety Feb. 4. The subcommittee called the hearing to provide stakeholders to offer their views on the state of the U.S. trucking industry. Both organizations’ leadership touched on numerous issues facing the trucking industry, as well as providing some broad insight into potential solutions – temporary and long-term.
Chris Spear provided an overview of ATA’s top priorities and steps Congress could take to improve highway safety, increase job opportunities in the industry, and upgrade infrastructure. On the other hand, as noted by OOIDA following the hearing, Lewie Pugh used his time to deliver a “blunt message” to committee members.
Spear told the committee members investigations indicate that in 72% of traffic accidents involving large trucks, the driver of another vehicle is at fault. Speeding and distracted driving is a “growing addiction,” fueled by drivers who text while driving. He also said the ATA opposes the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) proposal to reduce the safety spectrum for transportation purposes. He also called on the Department of Health and Human Services to comply with a law requiring the agency to prepare a rule allowing hair testing for controlled substances.
OOIDA’s Lewie Pugh called on the committee to reject some proposals that he called “meaningless.” Specifically, he noted requirements for speed limiters, mandates calling for front and side underride guards and increased insurance premiums. Unlike ATA, Pugh stated that OOIDA does not support the DRIVE-Safe Act, a measure allowing under-21 drivers to engage in interstate commerce. This stance is contradictory to that of ATA.
According to Chris Spear, “Forty-eight states currently allow an 18-year-old to drive a Class 8 commercial vehicle, making it legal to drive an 850 mile stretch of California.” “Yet, it is federally illegal driving from Providence, Rhode Island, to Rehoboth, Massachusetts,” a 10-mile trip. He said the DRIVE-Safe Act requires young drivers to serve a 400-hour apprenticeship, including training in safety technology. Forty-eight states, do not require this training period for young drivers receiving intrastate CDLs. The Act will both increase job opportunities for recent high school graduates and offer a step toward improving safety on the highways. OOIDA, on the other hand, opposes the Act.
On the issue of infrastructure, booth organizations agreed that Congress must move quickly to fund new and improved roads throughout the country. Spear said, “Trucking now loses $70 billion each year sitting in congestion. He compared the time wasted in traffic delays to be the equivalent of 425,000 drivers idling for a year. The idling time results in “67 million tons of CO2 being emitted. Passenger vehicle drivers now lose $1,600 a year due to traffic and repairs. These are the mounting costs of doing nothing.” While OOIDA agreed with the need for infrastructure improvements, the organization did not provide a specific proposal. ATA, on the other hand, reemphasized the need for Congress to consider it Build Amer Fund (BAF) proposal.
“The BAF would be supported with a new 20 cent per gallon fee built into the price of transportation fuels collected at the terminal rack, to be phased in over four years,” Spear said. He added that the proposal includes provisions to index the fee for inflation and improvements in fuel efficiency. ATA estimates BAF to generate almost $340 billion over the first 10 years. The funds will mostly be paid by commercial carriers and independent drivers, costing drivers of passenger vehicles an average of approximately $100 annually following the four-year phase-in period. Likewise, Spear recommended hybrid and electric cars pay some fee to contribute to highway maintenance as the owners of these vehicles do not pay fuel taxes.
As OOIDA noted, Lewie Pugh delivered a “blunt message” to the subcommittee. “It’s time to listen to the hard-working men and women that drive for a living. If you ask most drivers what Congress has done recently to improve the profession, the answer is ‘nothing.’”
Pugh added that Washington allows executives whose jobs are to maximize profits to overly influence trucking policy. Not all the blame rests with executives, Pugh said. Others holding too much influence on trucking policy include activists wanting to regulate truckers, state and local governments viewing truckers as revenue sources and ‘experts’ who know little about the industry.
Pugh called on Congress to repeal “the failed ELD mandate” and the Fair Labor Standards Act provisions to exempt truck drivers from receiving overtime pay. Both changes would make a “positive difference” in the trucking industry, he said. Pugh also encouraged the committee to “abandon meaningless, unproven and unsafe proposals.
David Heller, Vice President of the Truckload Carriers Association, commented on the hearing. “The overall theme of the hearing was the safety ramifications of all the topics being discussed in today’s trucking industry,” he said. “The presentations were really well done. They all directly addressed the topics at hand and everyone had the opportunity to tell their side of the story. I was glad to see the two senators who chaired the hearing had done their homework and were well versed on the industry.”
Others testifying at the hearing included Dawn King, President of the Truck Safety Coalition; Jake Parnell, Manager of the Cattleman’s Livestock Market, a committee of the Livestock Marketing Association; Sgt. John Samis of the Delaware State Police and President of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.