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.