What Should the FMCSA Do? – Part 2

In this part, I would like to start by addressing driver pay and detention time. When this system of pay per mile was originally set up, it allowed for detention time to be included as part of the rate quote without being broken out as a separate charge. There was adequate profit in the rate to allow for “normal” loading and unloading times. Since deregulation, competition has caused many services to be broken out of the rate to make a more competitive rate on the haul. Detention is one of those services, yet trucking companies and brokers have been reluctant to ask for that adjustment to a rate for fear of loosing an account. Ultimately, this expense has been ignored to be more competitive in the market, but the driver is the one that has lost the most in this transaction. Driver pay has not risen significantly since the early 1980s. We are working today for 30-year-old wages!

Next we move to the effects of the regulations that have been put in force in the last five or so years. This industry runs on flexibility due to the needs of the customers. There simply cannot be a “one size fits all” approach. When the rules changed from 10 hours on duty/8 off duty to the 14-11-10 regulation. Drivers lost the flexibility of working when they needed to work and resting when they needed rest. Their day was limited to 14 hours from the very first moment of on duty time regardless of how much of that time was spent taking a nap somewhere. This forced a tired driver to keep going to maximize the allowed time. The last set of HOS adjustments really reduced flexibility! 34 hours off duty no longer meant that you got to refresh your 70 hour clock. You must elapse 168 hours from the start of the last restart. That time period also must include two periods from 1 am to 5 am to qualify. This reduced flexibility. Regulations such as the 30 minute break cost drivers valuable time in a schedule. Instead of having 14 usable hours, you now have 13 1/2. All these regulations reduce flexibility and force trucks onto the road at the worst times of day causing greater gridlock and risk of crash.

What is the cause of crashes? I would argue that it is the loss of flexibility and improperly trained and underpaid drivers. However, FMCSA and other advocates and lobbyist in the business think otherwise. Even though there has been a congressional mandate for over 20 years to establish minimum driver training standards, FMCSA has looked toward more restrictive regulations and technology to compensate for the lack of well-trained drivers. Anything to allow the large companies to reduce driver cost and reap greater profits. Most of this process has caused a greater danger to the public. The accident rates have started to climb since these measures have been put into place. As this greater danger starts to become more obvious, the ambulance chasers became truck chasers. Lawyers realized that commercial trucks were an easy target. Lawyers and media have changed truckers from being the guardians of the highway to “killers on the road” as a recent law firm ad suggested. They even have a congressman pitching their interest. Rep. Matt Cartwright of the 17th district of Pennsylvania. His family owns a law firm that specializes in commercial truck accident claims. It’s no surprise that he introduced a bill to increase minimum insurance liability from $750,000 to upward of $4.4 million per truck.

This leads to my next point. Increased liability does NOTHING to make the roads safer. No driver ever sets out and says, “I think I’ll go out and have a wreck today”. Furthermore, the statistics on accident costs do not support any reason to increase the current minimum. There is less than 1% of commercial accidents that exceed the minimum requirements now. For those catastrophic accidents that do occur, there is no evidence that $4.4 mil. would cover even the smallest percentile of those. The only reasonable conclusion to this suggestion of higher insurance minimums is to allow law firms to reap super settlements for its lawyers. The real irony to this is that the large carriers would not have to bear any additional expenses for this mandate. They are self insured! Their costs would hardly change. In fact most of these companies support the increase because it would force many seasoned Independent Operators and leased Owner/Operators out of business. They would be forced to drive for the large companies that helped to put them out of business or simply leave the industry all together. FMCSA has publicly stated that there is no significant benefits to safety with the self insured provision. In fact, my position is that it makes us all less safe because a large percentage of drivers working for self insured companies are the least experienced drivers on the road. That is why I am calling for the repeal of the self insurance provision for motor carriers in the competitive market. This provision can be repealed in the next highway bill if we demand it to be. Every motor carrier should purchase insurance on their drivers based on a risk assessment made by an outside party (insurance company).

In conclusion, the burning question that needs to be answered is, “Who is making the rules”? Depending on who you ask, you will get a wide variety of answers. The will and welfare of the public seems to be falling prey to special interest and any technology group or lobbying group with the promise of large financial gains. The short answer to the original question of “what should FMCSA do?” is really not that hard. Put politics aside and use advice from the safest drivers on the road to protect the public and preserve the integrity of our industry.

What Should FMCSA Do? – Part 1

The other day I saw a post from LandLine Magazine on Facebook. It asked the question, “What should the top priority be for the next administrator of FMCSA?” I thought and pondered for awhile then decided that the answer was not that simple. Of course there were many suggestions in the comment section. Most of which had some credibility to them in one capacity or another. I decided to tackle that question in a forum that allowed a little more elaboration on the subject. Considering that I try to keep these posts to a reasonable length, I will address the issues in 2 parts. I have no intention of ranking them based on importance because of the diversity of the industry. Each of us have problems unique to our own businesses.

An article released by Land Line Magazine Senior Editor David Tanner addressed many of the issues we will face in the future from pressures applied to the FMCSA by many special interest groups. None, except OOIDA, actually represent the driver or the small business trucker. It’s easy to say that the next administrator will have his/her hands full. Many of us would pretty much like to suspend almost all of the regulations put in place under this administrator until they could be independently reviewed and validated. This is not a personal attack on Anne Ferro. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the HOS hearing in DC in Nov. 2013. She is a very nice lady and easy to talk to. That said, her reign over the FMCSA has been a failure on many levels. That is what I intend to address in the next two parts of this blog post.

Let’s start with the HOS (hours of service) regulations adapted as of July 2013. Summarized, we have the 30 minute break and the 34 hour restart provisions. I won’t define those here because most of you that read this already know what they are. What I will say is that different aspects of this rule have been shown by different sectors of the industry to Decrease safety rather than Increase safety. Much of the data used in designing these rules was skewed to reinforce the direction FMCSA wanted to go. Other data was simply ignored. All of the research behind these changes need to be reviewed and all research considered.

The next issue is the listening sessions. Much of the information gathered at the listening sessions turned out to be an exercise in tolerating the working class while bureaucracy went on its merry way. In these listening sessions, if you were from one of the larger lobbying organizations, you were adorned with much thanks for your input. If you were a working class stiff like me, you were tolerated until your 5 minutes were up. The highest quality information coming from drivers with millions of miles of safe driving and decades of experience was pretty much ignored because it didn’t fit the agenda. The next administrator should go back and watch the listening sessions and embrace the valuable information produced by the safest drivers in the industry. We know how to do our job safely.

The next issue is technology. ELDs, Speed limiters, collision avoidance systems, in cab video. This list seems to keep growing as the next company producing these gadgets stands to make a buck. I support any company’s right to use these devices if they choose. That said, imposing a mandate to use these devices on all trucks does not fit the business model of about half of the trucks on the road that are made up of single truck or few truck operations. The cost is prohibitive and hasn’t been shown to increase safety of this group of drivers which is also the safest drivers on the road. Technology is no substitute for training and experience.

Driver training and driver trainer qualifications is the next big issue. How would the public feel if they realized that there are no real driver training standards? Better yet, no driver trainer standards! Many trainers start training with less than one year of experience. They haven’t even driven in all the conditions a normal year has! This has been a mandate set by congress that has been ignored for over 20 years! Safety been the focus of OOIDA for many years, going back to the early years of the association. The effort has been revived again as a public statement of OOIDA’s commitment to safety. In the last year they created the website TruckersForSafety.com . There you will find the associations recommendations on how to improve safety on our roadways.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 of “What Should FMCSA Do?” It should be out by the end of the week. Thanks for following.

1. http://m.landlinemag.com/Story.aspx?StoryID=27428#.U9h7-tS9KSMĀ 

OOIDA: Safety Should Involve Training New Truckers, reforming FMCSA

Reefer Madness

This subject came to me last week as I ended my day and parked for the night. I had my curtains up and was busy with my end of day routine. Now, to set the scene, this is a square shaped lot that will park about 75 trucks. The lot was only about 1/3 full when I got there. I went to the back row where there were other flat beds and a couple dry vans. The reefers had parked further to the front. I was satisfied that this should be a peaceful undisturbed night of sleep. That’s when it happened. This truck driver with a reefer (unit) decides that his ideal spot was right beside me! That’s when I flew into “Reefer Madness”. Now I know that I learned in a different time but…. When I started, you would see flats, steps and, RGNs in one area. The reefer units parked on the other side and dry vans usually were in the middle. This arrangement seemed to be the standard for most places although there were some exceptions. I had to ponder what has changed? I came to the conclusion that the short answer was, a lot.

Respect was one of the first answers that came to mind. There used to be respect for your fellow drivers. Even though the older drivers would give you a piece of their minds rather quickly, they were the standard bearers for that time. Those same people would also jump through hoops to help a fellow driver. Drivers in that time also would sometimes pull different trailers depending what was in demand at the time. They understood what the other drivers had to deal with and would help a newer driver (like myself at the time) understand and become better at my job if I was willing to listen. I learned respect for and from these drivers that had much more knowledge and experience. I miss that.

Many of the people that came into trucking had some sort of background that made trucking a good fit for them. It could be a background in farming, military, warehousing, even mechanics. Of course there were some that just grew up wanting to see the country and experience the freedom. All of these have something in common. It is a profession of choice or one that they could easily adapt to. In my case, I grew up on the farm then went to the oilfield for almost 15 years. That made the transition into trucking relatively easy. Today, many people are going into trucking because it is an option for employment. Not necessarily the job they want to do but a job that will get them through until something better comes along. Many older people are starting a career in driving today to supplement their retirement or to carry them to retirement. How many times have you heard someone say, “I can always drive truck.”?

Training also quickly came to mind. When I started, only a few had officially been trained by a school. Most of the training programs were offered by a Voc-Tech school with high standards. The majority of drivers worked up through the industry until they had achieved the skill and trust of a superior. In the case of farmers, most kids started driving in the fields to help out then, after they got their license(or sometimes before), they would take the grain trucks to the elevator. After harvest, many of these young drivers started going out on runs and became OTR drivers to make more money in the off season. Most of these new drivers had 5-10 years experience before they went over the road. The military was another great source of drivers. Many soldiers returning home had gained some experience in service and found that driving truck made a good fit for them. Others took positions in a warehouse and eventually started moving trailers around as their introduction to driving. Regardless of how you got to the drivers seat, you listened and learned from the old timers. One of the things that seems to have gone by the wayside are the days when drivers used to stop for meals and sit at the counter or big tables and tell the stories of their time. You could learn a lot by simply listening to those stories.

The combination of all these things that have changed is what I determined that brought on my “Reefer Madness”. A lack of respect. A lack of training. A lack of understanding. A lack of standards and frankly a lack of caring period. I don’t know that there will ever be a cure for reefer madness but what I can say is that we could all do a little more to help the industry regain some respect.

Appropriation H

Deciding what topic that is most pressing in the transportation business at this time is almost anyone’s bet. You could choose truck parking, HOS, ELD’s, driver training, insurance, pay, FMCSA, ….. The list goes on and on. The hot topic this week seems to be the transportation bill. While it’s not settled yet what exactly will be in the final bill, it seems there is one thing for certain, the can will be kicked ( rather hard ) down the road again.

It seems the biggest stumbling block for this congress is appropriations. How do we fund the things we need to keep the trust fund alive? It seems that it depends mostly on which party you are from. This is rather strange because both parities get their needs from businesses supplied by trucks. Trucking and infrastructure is neither republican or democrat. It is a vital part of our economy and supports almost every business in America. How could there be so much reluctance and indecision to support our highways, infrastructure, and the thousands of small business truckers?

I have a solution. I call it “Appropriation H[elp]“. That’s right, Appropriation H. If you wonder what should be done, just ask yourself:

  • How many can be helped by funding our infrastructure?
  • What is the most efficient way to collect money to not only fix our immediate problems but make us the envy of the world once again?
  • How many jobs could we create?
  • How much more efficiently and less costly would goods be delivered to their destinations?

That list of questions seems to be endless as well. I say the best way to determine the answers to those questions are to ask small business truckers. That is where every dollar counts. Apply Appropriation H (ask small business truckers) to solve the problems. Small business truckers are the backbone of our transportation system. Although most of the lobbying dollars come from large corporations and associations, it is small business truckers that do all the things the “big guys” can’t do. While there are a few different opinions about how to fix the problems, most people (small business truckers and some large companies) agree that the best way to fix the problems in the short term is increase fuel tax across the board and apply it ALL to the roads and bridges.

Appropriation H is the most effective solution to a problem. It is not red or blue. It is no less effective on big problems. It helps the largest number of people immediately. It can also be applied to solve future problems. There is a plan out there that has been offered up that puts a small sales tax, by percentage, on all goods sold to support the infrastructure. Considering all goods sold used the infrastructure, this plan could be the solution to the long range problems as well. As we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, our “leaders” struggle to figure out how to raise the money for infrastructure without raising taxes. Once the coffers are refilled, this plan could settle that question for many years to come by removing and replacing the current fuel tax with a set sales tax. This plan was offered up by a small business trucker. Does this plan get much consideration? It gets some lip service but not much in the way of press as a solution. I contend that this is because individually we don’t contribute enough to be taken seriously.

While I make light of this serious problem with some so called humor, these questions about what to do are still out there looming and lurking awaiting some real leadership and vision to put them to rest. I personally don’t have all the answers. What I do have is a voice. Combined with other voices of like mind, the volume gets louder. Using the example of the Seattle Seahawks fans, (being the loudest in the league) we can put our voices together and affect the outcome. We need to set our individual opinions aside for a moment and listen to all the options. The best ideas will rise to the top if you have an open mind. With over 3 million truckers out there, just 10% of us could change the entire discussion if we spoke in one voice. The choice is ours. We can direct our destiny or let it be decided by the louder home team.

Fourth of July

Over the 4th of July holiday, I had some thoughts about trucking and our freedom. Now that I’m back to work and waiting at a shipper, I have a little time to recall some of those thoughts.

It started with the thoughts about patriotism and how blessed we are to have the opportunities that we have. Thoughts of freedom and what that means to each of us quickly followed. That’s when I started looking at my own situation. I’m a self employed independent truck driver. That’s when I realized that trucking is one of the ultimate expressions of what America stands for.

Our forefathers and the following generations fought to give us not just a country, but an opportunity to make our dreams come true. To allow us to achieve what ever our skills could afford and our ambitions would carry us to. America is about a place to make those things happen. Now, let’s apply those principals and ideals to trucking.

Trucking is truly an industry that will let you develop a skill and start the process of independence. Like many drivers today, I started in trucking because it was a job that was available to me. I needed to take care of my family. I had some skills that I brought to the table (as many do) to make me a good investment for training. That was the start of my life’s enduring career. It has been that American dream for me because it has provided the things that embody the very things our forefathers sought for the generations to come. Granted they could not have envisioned trucking as it is today, but they did envision our ability to produce with our talents and bring those things to market. They envisioned the free flow of commerce.

Trucking also is the ultimate expression of freedom in many respects as well. We are free to move throughout the entire United States at our will. There are rules to follow, otherwise it would be anarchy. We are free to choose what level of participation that suits us. We can go local or coast to coast. We can be an employee, private contractor, or independent. You can learn enough to simply operate the truck and no more or you can learn enough to be a very successful company owner. That choice is one that is sometimes decided by ambition, talent, or mentality. Other times, it is a situational choice. Either way, it is an expression of our freedom.

The quality of our job is always on display whether or not there is an understanding by others of what it takes to produce that quality. Quality still sells for a premium. There is higher value for higher quality. As we look at all of what is wrong in the world, we often fail to remember that here in America, we do have a say. We must first set our own standards high and live by them before we can expect it of others. Then we must find people of like mind and speak together. We must not be afraid to have these conversations with others to see if someone else has a better understanding of the problems. That is an educational process that is available to us all. The only enemy is a closed mind. We are free to dream, pursue, achieve, learn, prosper, fail, worship, or a number of other things. The choice is ours as to what we shall pass on to our descendants. Such is true in trucking as well. We have to stop looking at our differences and look at our common goals and take the tough and sometimes uncomfortable steps to work together in spite of the differences our freedom affords us. The strength of many can overcome the power of the few. We are the custodians of our industry and our country. We, as truckers, stand to be the most visible symbol of what it is to be Americans.