Washington Insider
Congress set to endorse June Safety Month

Paul Cullen Jr.
The Cullen Law Firm, PLLC

Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) has joined OOIDA’s efforts to support June as National Truck Safety Month. A resolution will be introduced at the end of April “to raise public awareness about the contributions, responsibilities and needs of truckdrivers to make the nation’s highways safer.” The same resolution is also expected to be introduced in the Senate. This resolution asks President Bush to name June “National Truck Safety Month” for the purpose of commending all truckers for their extra efforts to comply with truck safety regulations, making June a model month for highway safety.

This measure is a congressional resolution, which means it does not create or amend any laws or regulations. It simply expresses Congress’ endorsement of National Truck Safety Month. Like other resolutions introduced this year that recognize the heroism of our troops in the war against terrorism and recognize the courage of our Vietnam Veterans and POWs, a resolution giving support to truckers complying with the safety rules should be a bill every official gets behind. You can get your elected officials to co-sponsor the National Truck Safety Month resolution just by asking them.

Once Congress’ attention is on the resolution, the challenge to truckers and OOIDA will be to teach them about the serious problems in the industry. They need to hear how much time you work without pay each week waiting to load and unload, doing the loading and unloading, and restacking pallets. Lawmakers need to learn about the pressures you face on one side from shippers, brokers and carriers, and on the other side from the regulations. They need to learn how these conflicting pressures make it difficult and sometimes impossible to run a business or make a living as a trucker.

Some members of Congress have bought into the complaint of carriers that there’s a driver shortage. They need to know that if drivers were not forced to waste so many hours doing uncompensated work that existing drivers would be far more able to make a living within a reasonable hours-of-service rule.

OOIDA is gearing up to use the publicity and attention generated in June to highlight these problems. OOIDA also intends to underscore the fact that all members of the public — automobile drivers, carriers, brokers, shippers and receivers, as well as truckers — share the responsibility for making our highways safe.

Lawmakers in Washington, DC, really do need to hear from truckers. Make a telephone call. Ask for your congressman’s transportation assistant. If you get a voice mail, leave a message asking them to call back. Send an e-mail, or write a letter asking your representative to call Rep. Graves’ office to cosponsor the resolution. Give them your name and address and make sure they know you are one of their constituents and an OOIDA member. Part of OOIDA’s growing strength is its number of members. That strength does not come from the ability of Jim Johnston or Todd Spencer to say the OOIDA has almost 100,000 members. It comes from the ability of nearly 100,000 members to speak louder to Congress.

FMCSA reveals HOS timetable
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is planning an eight-month rollout of the new hours-of-service rule. Once the new rule is announced, there will first be a two-month period to allow members of the public to challenge the rule’s legality in court. Should there be no legal challenge by the end of 60 days, the rule will be final. The FMCSA will then begin a six-month effort to educate the trucking and enforcement communities about the new rule. During that six-month period, only the current rule will be enforced.

According to various reports, we may learn about the new rule in early May or as soon as April 24. The rule may not be published in the Federal Register April 24 because FMCSA is planning to brief key congressional oversight committees that day, in addition to briefing industry groups, advocacy groups and the media.

While FMCSA is holding tight to details about the new rule, it did reveal that there would be a separate rule to establish what “supporting documents” (logbooks or black boxes) would be required to prove compliance with the rule. That rulemaking is on a later track and will be announced sometime after the announcement of the hours-of-service rule.

As a condition of receiving Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) funding, the states will have three years to adopt the new hours-of-service rules. Some states adopt the federal safety rules “by reference.” This means their statutes or regulations automatically point to the federal rules and change whenever they do. Other states must adopt new rules individually. Therefore, some states may adopt the new rule quickly, and others will adopt it more slowly. This presents the disturbing possibility that some states will enforce the new rules at the same time other states are enforcing the old rules. OOIDA will be pursuing this issue to ensure that interstate truckers are not burned by inconsistent enforcement.

Fuel surcharge bill reintroduced
As fuel prices reach record high levels, as they already have once this year, Reps. Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) were preparing to reintroduce a mandatory fuel surcharge bill. With a slightly revised name, “The Motor Carrier Fuel Cost Recovery Act” is basically the same legislation introduced into the last two Congresses. This legislation would require all truckload carriers (who don’t already do so) to impose a fuel surcharge on their shippers and then pass on that fuel surcharge to the owner-operators. OOIDA has made progress on this legislation each Congress as senior elected officials become more comfortable with the need for a mandatory fuel surcharge.

There is still work ahead to get this bill passed. Senior members of Congress need to be reminded that fuel prices are a big problem for truckers and that a mandatory fuel surcharge is the solution. Freshmen members of Congress need to be educated from scratch on the subject. As always, letters and telephone calls from you, their constituents, are the most influential forms of communications. You don’t need to know anything about Congress to write such a letter or make such a phone call. When you call them, be sure to ask for their “transportation assistant.” Make sure they get your name, address (to confirm that you are one of their constituents), tell them in your own words how fuel prices affect you, and ask them to cosponsor and support the “Motor Carrier Fuel Cost Recovery Act.” This bill imposes no cost to the federal treasury and should help truckers’ businesses ride out spikes in the price of fuel.

OOIDA is a big supporter of a strong national energy policy that will help insulate us from the volatility of the world oil market. That is the proper long-term solution to the problem. In the meantime, however, OOIDA is pushing a mandatory fuel surcharge to help truckers cover those times that fuel prices go up, but freight rates do not.