ISSUES AND POSITIONS: On the offense for driver training and for a highway bill

By Jim Johnston, OOIDA President | Monday, March 31, 2014

The last time Washington was focused on a highway bill, much of the talk focused on issues that, quite frankly, small-business truckers turned their nose up at.

On-board recorders and truck weight increases were the focus areas for OOIDA in that bill, and we were playing defense on both. Legislatively, we came out batting 50 percent, successfully beating back the big carriers push to increase truck weights. While the on-board recorder fight is far from over, the venue has shifted away from Congress.

With that last bill set to expire at the end of September, OOIDA and our staff in Washington are hard at work with the goal of not simply playing defense this time around, but being on the offensive both for our priorities and for getting a new long-term highway bill. 

But our priorities won’t get signed into law unless a highway bill can get through the House and Senate. 

Two of our biggest priorities, messages that you the membership have sent loud and clear, have been on improving safety through entry-level driver training and on addressing the broken system of regulations and rules over at FMCSA. I will have more on the mission of fixing FMCSA next week, but today I want to focus on driver training.

Last year, after much feedback with members and internal development, OOIDA launched the “Truckers for Safety” Agenda as the agenda of professional truck drivers for improving highway safety.

Key to this effort has been addressing the long-standing missing link in highway safety: minimum training standards for entry-level truckers. The response from all of you to this has, to say the least, had an impact in the industry and on Capitol Hill.

For the first time since Congress first called for training standards back in 1991, lawmakers are routinely talking about the need for training and offices and Committees are engaged on the issue.

Our opportunity to make headway on this issue – to actually ensure that new drivers coming into the industry meet a basic level of training, not simply that they can pass a CDL test – is now.

But unless Congress can get a highway bill passed, there will be no action on this critical safety issue, and we risk the possibility of another 20 plus years of CDL mills making promises of being ready for the rigors of the road after only a day, or a few hours, of instruction. Indeed, for a long time a billboard near OOIDA HQ at the next exit off I-70 beckoned motorists to earn their “CDL in One Day”

When OOIDA’s D.C. staff visits offices and talks about highway safety and training, most Congressional staff and Members of Congress are surprised to learn that unlike so many other positions in and out of transportation, entry-level truck drivers are not required to complete a basic level of training. We need to build upon this reaction.

Airliners pretty much fly themselves, yet pilots must meet significant training requirements. The city bus driver, a locomotive engineer, and even the barber that cuts your hair is required to meet a basic level of training before they can drive in neighborhood streets, operate a train on a fixed track, or use a pair of clippers.

Yet trucking, where drivers operate equipment that demands special skills on a good day – much less in bad weather or when something goes wrong – does not follow the same commonsense practice.

In the more than 20 years since Congress first told DOT to change that, we have seen more restrictive hours-of-service regulations; the flawed development and implementation of CSA; and now a push to require EOBRs, speed limiters, and who knows what other form of “safety technology on trucks. 

The focus has, for too long, been on the “back end” of the safety equation, treating the drivers as if they are the weak link in the safety equation instead of as an opportunity to be part of the solution.

OOIDA’s efforts, through Truckers for Safety, aims to change that. But we need your help. 

With Congress debating and developing a new highway bill as you read this, now is the time to pick up your phone and call your lawmakers. If you don’t already have your lawmakers on your speed dial, you can go through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Tell your lawmakers you want a new highway bill that focuses on issues of importance for truckers, like entry-level driver training.

You can also point your web browser on your PC, tablet, or smartphone to www.fightingfortruckers.com. On the site we have a pre-written message you can send to your lawmakers about training and about the need for a new highway bill. 

Tell them why you are passionate about trucking and passionate about highway safety, and why you support getting something done on training.

Copyright © OOIDA

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