The beat goes on …

By Greg Grisolano, associate editor

A new president and a new Cabinet means an opportunity for new dialogue and fresh perspective on issues of federal regulation. But a group of so-called pro-trucking advocates representing some of the largest motor carriers in the nation continue to trot out the same old song-and-dance when it comes to adding burdensome regulations to the industry in the name of “safety.”

In an April letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the Trucking Alliance asked the newly minted administrator to support their agenda for safety reform.

The Alliance is made up of several large motor carriers, including J.B. Hunt, U.S. Xpress, Swift Transportation, KLLM Transport Services and Maverick.

Among the proposals touted by the Alliance are the usual suspect policies with dubious claims to making the roadways safer. The Alliance is a big proponent of speed limiters, electronic logs, hair testing for drugs, and an increase in the minimum for liability insurance. Alongside those items, they advocate for the inclusion of onboard safety technologies such as collision mitigation systems and for beefing up pre-employment screenings, background checks and driver training programs that “exceed federal standards.”

“These standards can improve the safety and security of commercial drivers, as well as the motoring public with whom we share the highways,” the letter states.

The letter goes on to bang out all the familiar notes that alleged safety advocates have been trumpeting for decades: ELDs will “save lives” and improve truckers’ quality of life; hair-testing for controlled substances will save companies from “spending unnecessarily on a second urine exam;” all trucks, whether engaging in interstate or intrastate commerce and whether old or new, should have a maximum speed of no more than 65 mph to reduce the severity of injuries and fatalities in large truck crashes; and minimum insurance premiums should be increased from the current $750,000 minimum imposed by federal law.

In response to the Alliance’s letter, the OOIDA Foundation developed a point-by-point rebuttal of the purported safety benefits of the Alliance’s agenda, and a request for relief for an industry that OOIDA says has been overburdened with regulation.

According to the Foundation’s research, between 2010 and 2016 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration alone has promulgated 71 final rules upon the truck and bus industries, many of which have had no positive effect on safety.

Case in point – a proposed speed limiter mandate. When it comes to speed limiters, OOIDA has repeatedly pointed out that research contradicts the claimed “safety benefits” of forcing large vehicles to move slower than the rest of traffic. In fact, such a mandate would likely make roads less safe, and increase the number of interactions and the maneuvering between passenger and commercial vehicles.

The claimed benefits of an ELD mandate are equally suspect, according to research by the Foundation. The response points out that the baseline establishing how electronic logs will benefit the industry was built on research from three companies that installed the devices as a means to address their “habitual HOS compliance violations.” In its own Regulatory Impact Analysis, FMCSA admitted point-blank that it was “not able to construct statistically significant measures of safety improvement” on carriers with ELDs, because crashes involving CMVs are a rare occurrence.

But the Foundation’s takedown of the Alliance’s agenda doesn’t stop there. Calling the hair-testing provision “a solution in search of a problem” the Foundation points out that fewer than 50 of the 30,000-plus fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2013 involved a tractor-trailer driver operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The Foundation also pointed out that studies of the effectiveness of hair testing have shown that the method can be biased based on hair color and texture – particularly for individuals with dark hair – making it a less reliable form of testing than the standard urinalysis.

“The Trucking Alliance has yet to demonstrate that they have experienced a reduction in crash rate since their voluntary adoption of hair testing; neither have they presented evidence showing that their hair testing labs meet the rigorous standards of scientific methodology for testing or that their hair testing equipment and protocol has been consistent and unbiased,” the Foundation stated.

The Foundation’s analysis also points out that more than 99 percent of the damages associated with truck accidents fall under existing liability requirements. FMCSA’s own data shows that the insurance costs associated with most crashes is $18,000, and that “the vast majority of CMV-caused crashes have relatively small cost consequences.”

The Foundation attributes that lack of tangible benefit to what it described as the “ready, fire, aim” approach FMCSA has taken toward crafting regulations that don’t address the problems or concerns of the industry.

“While the total number of crashes consistently decreased by 27.5 percent from 2004 to 2009, crashes have increased by

56 percent from 2010 to 2015. And that’s despite the influx of federal regulations,” the Foundation stated. “OOIDA contends that a decrease in flexibility, along with an intensification of regulatory burdens, has created an unsafe and unrealistic environment for the trucking industry, especially the small-business trucker who represents 96 percent of the industry.” LL