As the federal government continues to grapple with an infrastructure package, stakeholders are weighing in. On Thursday, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sent a letter to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to let members know what trucking issues should be included in any upcoming infrastructure bill.
OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer sent a letter to Rep. Peter DeFazio, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chairman, and ranking member Rep. Sam Graves outlining what the committee should consider when drafting an infrastructure bill. Spencer touched on major issues affecting the trucking industry.
Spencer emphasized the need to increase Highway Trust Fund revenues through the current user fee structure, including increasing the federal fuel taxes. OODIA views the fuel tax has the most equitable and efficient way for funding the highways.
OOIDA is open to the idea of a vehicle miles traveled tax. However, many questions need to be answered first. Furthermore, many OOIDA members have expressed frustration about excessive costs in states that current have VMT taxes.
The letter also informs the committee that research has shown that tolls are a wasteful method of funding compared with fuel taxes. Problems with toll roads include consistently failing to meet revenue projections, creating unanticipated funding shortfalls, inevitable rate increases and traffic diversion to nontolled routes.
Committee members were educated on the nationwide parking problem within the trucking industry. Spencer urged Congress to include dedicated funding that will actually expand truck parking capacity rather than pumping more money into ineffective technology and signs. OOIDA supports the commercialization of rest areas as one possible solution.
In 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century infrastructure funding bill was signed and included Jason’s Law. The provision was established to provide a “national priority on addressing the shortage of long-term parking for commercial motor vehicles on the National Highway System to improve the safety of motorized and nonmotorized users and for commercial motor vehicle operators.”
Jason’s Law requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a survey and assessment regarding truck parking across the nation. Since then, the results of one survey has been released. However, very little in the way of additional parking capacity has been done. Instead, federal grants have been awarded to states to install digital signs alerting truckers of how many spaces are available up ahead.
Addressing detention time, OOIDA recommends a two-tiered approach:
Repeal the truck driver exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act so drivers are paid for all time spent on-duty, including detention time. Federal law appropriately requires drivers to be on-duty while they’re being detained, yet federal law also precludes drivers from being compensated for that time.
Congress should establish reasonable detention time standards, including defining what constitutes “detention time.” Any standards should also reflect the diverse nature of the trucking industry and make distinctions among the operational costs
“Congress must address the negative impacts excessive detention time has on driver compensation and the economy, which collectively costs truckers billions of dollars in lost wages and productivity annually,” Spencer says in the letter.
Although entry level driver training standards are scheduled to go into effect in February 2020, OOIDA suggests adding a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel training. Such a provision will improve safety and reduce crash statistics.
A committee of 26 industry stakeholders, including OOIDA, met six times in 2015 to establish the framework of the driver training standards. Despite 24 of 26 stakeholders recommending a set minimum number of hours behind the wheel, the provision never made it in the final rule. The two dissenters were the American Trucking Associations and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.
One topic currently under review is lowering the interstate CDL age from 21 to 18. OOIDA opposes any efforts that would lower the minimum age requirement to engage in interstate commerce.
Citing safety concerns, OOIDA points to research that shows commercial motor vehicle drivers under 21 are more likely to be involved in crashes. Lowering the driving age requirement could potentially put downward pressure on wages across the industry because younger, less experienced workers typically demand a lower salary.
OOIDA also acknowledges operational challenges that exist for drivers near border cities, such as Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan. At the same time, the Association notes that driving across state lines is not the same as driving from coast to coast.
Another topic recently gaining attention in Congress is increasing the length of combination trailers. Also known as twin 33s, Spencer argues allowing longer trailers “would only benefit a handful of large corporate motor carriers but would have a negative impact on safety, infrastructure, and the rest of the trucking industry.”
OOIDA also argues against increasing the gross vehicle weight limit above the current 80,000 pounds. Spencer claims that in addition to decreasing safety and increasing wear and tear on the roads, such an increase will have a negative impact on small carriers. More specifically, smaller operations would have to update their equipment at a high cost with very little return.
OOIDA urges the T&I Committee to abandon mandating side and front underride guards, citing federal government studies that fail to conclude any effectiveness.
Regarding insurance minimums, OOIDA is against raising the current minimum insurance level above $750,000. Studies show that less than 0.2% of truck-involved crashes result in damages that exceed that amount. The recent fatal crash on Interstate 70 in Colorado has some mainstream media outlets questioning the insurance minimum.
The Association also opposes any legislation that would require speed-limiting devices on commercial trucks. Studies show that larger speed differentials between vehicles increases the risk of crashes.
With automated vehicles becoming a popular topic across the industry and the general public, Spencer implores the committee to include language that will mandate data transparency and address cybersecurity concerns.
OOIDA points out that ever since the Safety Measurement System and Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) programs were established in 2010, truck-related crashes have gone up. The Association calls for reform within the programs that would improve data.
OOIDA favors eliminating the Unified Carrier Registration program, stating that the program serves no purpose and is unnecessary.
Lastly, Spencer suggests that any proposals repealing the federal excise tax should include a practical pay-for to offset any losses to the Highway Trust Fund that would inevitable occur as a result.
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