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Talking trucking with DOT Secretary Foxx

By Ryan S. Bowley, OOIDA Director of Government Affairs

Recently, OOIDA President Jim Johnston and Executive Vice President Todd Spencer traveled to Washington, D.C., to have a personal meeting with Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Truckers certainly had a long list of things not to love about former Secretary LaHood, from his outsized focus on bicycles to his approval of the most recent hours-of-service changes. The new secretary is a bit of a blank slate when it comes to issues that matter to truckers.

Secretary Foxx was involved in some important freight projects as the former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., but he didn’t have much of a role in issues related to highway safety and motor carrier enforcement. While he doesn’t have a long voting record, he does have a long connection to trucking.

Secretary Foxx’s great-grandfather was a trucker – probably an owner-operator – and supported his 14 children with the job, putting each of them through college. The sacrifices of his great-grandfather to the job, and his passion for trucking, were shared with Foxx at a young age. 

The discussion inevitably turned toward the challenging economics facing truckers today. Johnston and Spencer explained the interconnection between hourly pay, the pressure from HOS and other regulations, and the effect that detention at the docks has on truckers and their ability to operate safely and make a suitable living. The pair explained that truckers must navigate all of these pressures,  and many more, on a daily basis.

All the while, drivers are treated by many carriers as nothing more than warm bodies to fill the seats and move freight.

What other industry but trucking could see an executive for a major company in one speech bemoan the fact that “experienced” drivers are those with six months behind the wheel and then in another speech to investors talk about how keeping driver pay down is a major profitability goal?

While DOT does not have a direct regulatory role in issues surrounding driver pay, the department can certainly highlight the issue. Anything that can bring a more realistic view of trucking to the department as it looks at policies and regulations is a major step forward.

Making some of the motor carrier attitudes possible is the fact that there are currently no entry-level driver training standards – a safety opportunity that DOT has missed since the early 1990s – and you have today’s race to the bottom.

Driver treatment and driver training were items from OOIDA’s Truckers for Safety agenda that were highlighted during the meeting.

Conversations related to enforcement need to change to finding ways to reduce the negative impacts of CSA and the emphasis on placing drivers out of service for minor violations. Both of which are major goals of OOIDA moving into the next highway bill.

Another priority is fighting back against efforts to legislatively mandate speed limiters and other costly technologies. The secretary must sign off on moving a speed limiter rulemaking forward, so Mr. Johnston and Mr. Spencer were sure to stress the many safety problems related to speed limiters and other technologies. They also emphazed that there is a lack of real-world data that shows any safety benefit from their use.

The secretary had some questions for OOIDA as well – especially as Congress approaches the reauthorization of the highway program with a Highway Trust Fund that could run out of money this fall.

Secretary Foxx asked what small-business truckers thought about the different ideas out there to address transportation funding. The negative impact of tolls was quickly pointed out, and not just from a cost perspective. OOIDA’s leadership noted the role of Board Member Terry Button on DOT’s National Freight Advisory Committee, which is focused on improving efficiency for goods movement. By pricing trucks off our most efficient roads, tolls significantly reduce freight efficiency.

There are far more issues and problems facing small-business truckers and company drivers than could be covered in one meeting with the new head of the DOT. But that’s just one of many approaches OOIDA is taking to educate the administration, regulators and Congress that safety and fair treatment of truckers will do more to reduce crashes than some economically driven agenda pushed by big fleets.

From here, OOIDA’s membership will be needed to provide constant input to their lawmakers. Dispelling the myths perpetrated by large fleets and groups that do not have a driver’s best interests in mind is job No. 1 heading into this next highway bill.

The meeting with Secretary Foxx was just the start. With the membership’s help, this next highway bill could prove to be a game changer on the regulatory pressures truckers face. LL