OOIDA's Spencer speaks to lawmakers on trucking safety

| 7/10/2002

On July 9, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer delivered comments before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Speaking on behalf of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Spencer highlighted several areas from comments prepared by the association.

"If we are to make great strides in highway safety, we have to look at these long-neglected issues rather than merely intensifying the efforts that have been giving us incremental improvements in truck safety," said Spencer.

"The more than 80,000 members of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association are the most professional of truckdrivers. They care deeply about safety because they know they have a dangerous occupation they plan to do for their entire careers," said Spencer. "They are on the front line. They don't drive desks. They drive trucks, and they witness every type of driving behavior every day, both good and bad."

The first area addressed by Spencer dealt with driver training. "As amazing as it must sound, there are no meaningful driver training requirements for an individual to receive a commercial driver's license," pointed out Spencer, "that will be their entry into a job operating a vehicle 70 to 75 feet long and weighing 40 tons, sometimes more, to operate that vehicle on the same highways with thousands of other vehicles everyday."

Spencer told lawmakers: "We all hope this new guy doesn't crash and kill people, but as it is today, we really have no assurance it won't happen. Most new CDL drivers are about as qualified to drive big vehicles as we were to safely drive a car when we first received our licenses at 16 years old."

OOIDA's executive vice president said "Yes, we knew how to start 'em and we sort of knew how to stop 'em, but it would be years before we would learn how to really avoid crashes - and some drivers never learn."

The exact same scenario plays out for new commercial vehicle drivers, he said. Comprehensive mandatory driver training should be required, with a graduated licensing system and an apprenticeship period.

"It is inconceivable more training requirements exist for hair dressers than for drivers of large trucks," he said. "Actually it is down right scary."

The association seriously questions the prudence of pumping even more millions of dollars into highway enforcement programs. Spencer called this "turn 'em loose and try to catch 'em" philosophy of enforcement an expensive use of tax dollars that is grossly inefficient. To the extent on-highway enforcement can take bad truckdrivers off the road, the current licensing and entry system allows them to be replaced with another equally untrained and unqualified CDL holder, he said.

Spencer said the other neglected issue is the tremendous abuse good, safe drivers endure in loading and unloading. Drivers of truckload van and refrigerated equipment will expend from 33 to 43 hours every week in loading and unloading situations. Sometimes they are required to hand unload up to 48,000 pounds of the receiver's cargo and even sort and segregate the cargo for the receiver's customers. This work is donated, said Spencer, since few truckers receive any compensation for their time or effort. Sometimes drivers have the option of paying a lumper to do the manual labor at a cost from their pocket of between $75 and $200, but they lose the time anyway. Since most drivers are compensated only for miles driven, if they are to make enough to feed their families they have to be driving on top of the hours spent loading and unloading - on top of the full workweek they donate to the shippers and receivers.

"It should surprise no one that fatigue is an issue for many drivers as is compliance with hours-of-service regulations," he said. "Drivers have no way to fix this problem themselves, and it's not a problem the market will fix on its own. Lawmakers should bring shippers, receivers and brokers into the safety equation to fix this problem once and for all."

In conclusion, Spencer pointed out that the economics in trucking have been in turmoil since the run-up in fuel prices over two years ago and encouraged the approval of the fuel surcharge legislation, a top priority on the OOIDA agenda. "We all know more oil shocks lie ahead," he said. "The safety of any trucking operation is tied to its financial integrity. I encourage this committee to pass the Motor Carrier Fuel Cost Equity Act introduced by Representatives Nick Rahall and Roy Blunt. It is the right thing to do."

To read the full text of OOIDA's submitted comments, click here.