Statehouse Primer
Ohio lawmakers target alleged ‘driver shortage’ issue

By Mike Matousek, OOIDA Director of state legislative affairs

In recent months, the Ohio Legislature has introduced multiple trucking-related bills.

Specifically, state legislators have proposed measures to provide tax credits to motor carriers that train commercial drivers (SB114), establish a grant program for students enrolled in a commercial driver’s licensing program (HB154), and create a study committee to look at ways to reduce the cost of insurance premiums for truck drivers between the ages of 18 to 25 (HB284). In short, they are all intended to address the perceived “driver shortage” within the trucking industry.

SB114 would provide motor carriers with a tax credit for eligible training expenses capped at $3 million annually but no more than $50,000 for any single carrier. Similarly, HB154 would create a CDL student aid program for eligible students enrolled at a certified CDL school or career college. The program would be supported by $5 million in taxpayer dollars from Ohio residents.

In communicating with lawmakers, we argued that these proposals are nothing more than subsidies for large motor carriers based on the false premise of a non-existent driver shortage. In reality, there is chronic overcapacity in trucking – too many trucks, trailers, and drivers and not enough freight.

While our comments are not directed at every large carrier, most of them have an issue with driver turnover – not a driver shortage. In fact, many large carriers can easily have a 100 percent driver turnover annually, which is a reflection of non-competitive pay and poor working conditions. Their goal is to simply churn out new drivers rather than address the underlying issues. We argued that SB114 and HB154 actually provide carriers with a taxpayer subsidy to continue this alarming trend.

We are also concerned about potential impacts to safety these proposals might create. If large carriers can increase the supply of drivers, there is no incentive to retain more qualified drivers or to pay a competitive wage. Generally, we believe more qualified drivers equates to safer drivers and safer highways. We are not opposed to addressing potential barriers to entry, but that is not what these bills are about.

At press time, SB114 and HB154 are pending in their respective committees of jurisdiction. We are hopeful that that is as far as they get in the legislative process.

More recently, HB284 was introduced to create a group of government and industry stakeholders to study the issue of and to provide recommendations on ways to decrease insurance premiums for younger drivers. The group would be made up of select Ohio state lawmakers, representatives from the insurance industry, motor carriers, and labor.

We have requested that the bill sponsor amend the bill to include someone on the study committee with actual experience behind the wheel of a truck – in other words, a representative of OOIDA.

While we are not currently opposed to the bill, here again legislators are considering ways to potentially flood the trucking industry with more inexperienced drivers at a cheaper cost so carriers can pay them less. Insurance premiums should be data-driven and not arbitrarily lowered or subsidized based on the misperception of a driver shortage, especially considering the fact that someone with 20 years and 2 million miles of safe driving experience could be paying more in insurance premiums under HB284 than someone with none to very little driving experience. Our position on this bill will change (i.e., we will oppose it) if our amendment request is rejected.

For those who live in Ohio, we would encourage you to share your thoughts on these issues with your respective state lawmakers, even if your opinion is different than ours. For those who live outside of Ohio, we would certainly like to know if legislators in your state are considering something similar. Should you hear of any additional legislative initiatives related to this or any other issue, please contact Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of government affairs, by email at Mike_Matousek@ooida.com.

As always, we appreciate your support of OOIDA. LL