More from congressional hearing: Trucking issues abound

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 4/30/2015

A congressional hearing on Wednesday contained plenty of discussion on issues affecting professional truckers, from hours of service and CSA to detention time and cross-border trucking. OOIDA Senior Member Danny Schnautz provided testimony on behalf of the Association.

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., convened his first meeting as chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, part of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The title of the hearing was The Future of Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety: Technology, Safety Initiatives, and the Role of Federal Regulation.

During his testimony, Schnautz, operations manager for Clark Freight Lines, conveyed how aggressive regulatory actions and overuse of technological “solutions” can hinder small businesses and force longstanding safe drivers and carriers to leave the industry.

“The current focus on technology initiatives actually hinders safety by placing more pressure on drivers when they are already caught between a regulatory rock and an economic hard place,” Schnautz said.

“Technology is not a substitute for skilled professional drivers, as it results in drivers more focused on not triggering an alert than on making smart, safe driving decisions. With technology in the name of safety further de-valuing the skill of the driver, the longstanding approach by the entire supply chain to pay drivers for their productivity – not their value – pushes for more miles and decreases safety.”

Read more testimony from Schnautz here.

After opening the hearing, Graves jumped right into the issues, saying that he is concerned about the growth of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – an agency of the Department of Transportation that regulates trucking – since the agency was created in 2001.

“While I support a strong safety program, we need to ensure that funds are being spent on initiatives that will move the needle in terms of reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities on the nation's highways,” Graves said.

Graves highlighted a push to increase insurance requirements on motor carriers as an example of a solution in search of a problem.

“Of particular concern to me is a recent regulatory proposal to raise the minimum levels of financial responsibility, potentially by millions of dollars,” Graves said.

Later in the hearing, panelist Brian Scott of Escot Bus Lines, on behalf of the United Motorcoach Association, said increasing insurance requirements on carriers would definitely put some out of business.

Entry-level driver training
The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, of Washington, D.C., said she was pleased to see a negotiated rulemaking on entry-level driver training making progress.

“More robust driver training is something Congress has directed DOT to consider for nearly 25 years,” she said. “The first directive was in a bill in 1991 … To say this rule is overdue is putting it fairly mildly. I hope this new (Entry Level Driver Training Advisory Committee) can facilitate a rule that all parties can agree to which will expedite DOT’s publication of a rule and limit litigation once it is finalized.”

Hours of service
Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., outlined his concerns about FMCSA’s changes to hours of service and a current study underway – as mandated by Congress – to re-examine the overnight rest period contained in the 34-hour restart provision.

Hanna pointed to a recent study by the American Transportation Research Institute that showed increased accident rates due to truckers being forced to drive more of their hours during the day and on weekdays rather than at night when there is less traffic.

“This rule actually made the world less safe for people in your industry,” Hanna said, addressing the panel of witnesses.

Tom Kretsinger, president of American Central Transport, on behalf of the American Trucking Associations, said the micromanagement of truckers’ hours shows a “law of unintended consequences.”

Schnautz added that restrictions to HOS are flawed because they can’t predict what a driver is thinking.

“I have made a living under hours-of-service regs, and I can tell you that the more flexibility we have the better they are,” he said … “There are so many times that a driver just needs a different hour that day.”

Detention time
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member of the full T&I Committee, used detention time to illustrate how changes to hours of service alone will not fix ongoing problems.

“In order to look holistically at safety we’ve got to look at the realities and the pressures on the ground or on the highway and in the industry and understand what drives decision making and behavior by companies and drivers,” he said. “Federal rules are just one part of that.”

“I don’t think we can get there until we address some underlying issues such as detention time,” DeFazio said. “Changes in hours-of-service rules will have limited impact if we haven’t dealt with detention time, particularly as it relates to independent and small-business truck drivers.”

Compliance, Safety, Accountability, CSA
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., asked panelists for their thoughts on how CSA scores affect motor carriers.

“Under its current methodology, CSA inaccurately paints safe small carriers as unsafe, reducing access to business and opening them up to misguided enforcement activities,” Schnautz said in his testimony. “Meanwhile, truly unsafe carriers that crash frequently get ignored.

Captain Bill Reese of the Idaho State Police, on behalf of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said CVSA stands with Barletta’s legislation to remove certain CSA data from public view. OOIDA stands with Barletta on that legislation as well, saying some of the data has no bearing on a carrier’s ability to operate safely.

Truck size and weight
Barletta said he would like to see local roads included in a federal study of truck size and weight. The study is past due in Congress and is supposed to be comprehensive, he said, yet it has not set out to show the effects of longer and heavier trucks on local roads.

Cross-border trucking
Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., highlighted a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that pokes holes in FMCSA’s data used to justify allowing long-haul truckers from Mexico to operate in the U.S.

“We need to be sure that if we are going to allow these trucking companies that they meet all safety requirements that we have on our (U.S.) companies,” she said.

Schnautz said OOIDA does not believe the inspections and the data used to open the border to long-haul trucks from Mexico are at all adequate.

“We saw a lot of non-conformances in inspections during the (pilot) program and pointed those out,” he said, “and it wasn’t even really meeting the definition of pilot program because of the way it was structured.”

Independent contractors and coercion
Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., said an issue in her district right now is striking port drivers in Los Angeles and Long Beach due to being classified as independent contractors rather than employee drivers who would receive benefits.

“These drivers told me they’re overworked and underpaid, which I think leads to unsafe roads because of the welfare of the driver,” Hahn said, addressing panelist LaMont Byrd with the Teamsters.

Byrd said a proposed rule by the FMCSA that would prohibit coercion of truck drivers by carriers and shippers could help give independent drivers some leverage at the ports.

An archive of the hearing is available on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s website.

See related story:
Compliance at the expense of safety? Lawmakers get it

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