Cover Story
OOIDA ready for 2009
Spencer delivers truckers' perspective to President Obama's transition team

By Jami Jones
senior editor


The new administration assumed office with a firm understanding of the issues facing truckers on the road thanks to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer accepted an invitation from President Obama’s transportation transition team and met with the group on Nov. 24, 2008.

The team heard from a variety of groups representing different aspects of the trucking industry. Groups that met with the team included the American Trucking Association, the Truckload Carriers Association, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, National Private Truck Council and the truck manufacturers.

Spencer said he was in the fortunate position to present the Association’s position on many of the issues raised by other groups.

 “It worked to our advantage that the other groups presented first,” Spencer said. “It gave us the opportunity to express our points and to address issues other organizations didn’t get quite right.”

One example of an issue Spencer was able to counter was one centering on “productivity improvements.” ATA’s representative mentioned truck size as a way to improve productivity.

In addition to taking a toll on the nation’s highway infrastructure, Spencer highlighted safety concerns in using longer and heavier trucks. The overwhelming majority of truck owners and drivers, he said, are not in support of bigger and heavier trucks.

If “productivity improvements” is truthfully the objective, Spencer told the transition team that addressing loading and unloading is paramount in the industry. Too many drivers spend 30 to 40 or more hours per week to get loaded or unloaded.

In addition to improving productivity, addressing long wait times at the docks would benefit the industry in terms of hours-of-service compliance and safety.

Another example of an issue countered by Spencer was ATA’s push for speed limiters.

 Although the motor carrier group wraps its argument advocating speed limiters in the “green” argument, Spencer urged the transition team to look at the “real” motives behind reducing the speeds on trucks and the negative impact that would have on highway safety.

Spencer explained that the ATA’s proposal would hurt driver pay.

 “It’s easy for people who aren’t on the road to advocate things like lower speed limits or speed limiters. It’s not their time they’re giving away,” Spencer said.

In addition to hurting driver pay, speed limiters would create huge safety hazards if all trucks were speed limited. Truckers must have the ability to change lanes and move with the flow of traffic.

 “It’s not the trucks running over cars out there,” Spencer said. “It’s cars running into trucks. It just makes no sense to make trucks bigger roadblocks.”

In addition to being able to counter misguided proposals made by some of the other groups, issues near and dear to truckers were brought to the attention of Obama’s transition team.

Spencer called into question the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s failure to fully enforce the regulations the agency is charged with overseeing.

 “We’re concerned that FMCSA has continually misdirected its limited resources in a manner that diverts enforcement priorities away from efforts that would have a greater impact on highway safety,” Spencer said.

Rather than targeting drivers exclusively on enforcement, the agency must exert its enforcement authority related to motor carriers and transportation intermediaries, or brokers.

 “Enforcement priorities that ignore the relationship between highway safety and the coercive demands of freight brokers, shippers, receivers and motor carriers upon drivers are doomed to miss the mark in achieving real improvements in highway safety,” he said.

He pointed out that truckers are under immense pressure from motor carriers, shippers and receivers. And that pressure is far more pervasive than the threat of any inspection scheme put out there by the FMCSA.

 “Unless those economic issues are addressed, drivers who become disqualified from driving … for safety violations will simply be replaced by new drivers facing the same economic pressures,” Spencer told the team.

In the meeting, Spencer was also able to address issues such as electronic on-board recorders, parking shortages, idling regulations, highway financing and driver training.

He encouraged Obama’s team to look at the issues facing truck drivers from a national perspective and not leave issues such as parking and idling restrictions in sole control of the states.

Spencer said the Association will now be working toward one-on-one face time with members of the incoming Obama administration to further educate the key players on these issues facing truckers. LL