Administrator Ferro gets a fresh perspective on trucking during ride-along

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 11/4/2013

and Reed Black, "Land Line Now" news anchor

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro says a two-day ride-along with experienced owner-operator Leo Wilkins has given her a “much different and much clearer view” on the issues and problems facing truckers on the highway and in the regulatory realm.

This was not some ride around the D.C. Beltway, either.

Wilkins in his 2012 Peterbilt 389 picked up Ferro on Sunday, Nov. 2, in Marlboro, Md., made a delivery in Harrisburg, Pa., and proceeded to Indianapolis before calling it a day. Then, they made a second delivery in Riverton, Ill., on Monday morning before Wilkins dropped Ferro off at the St. Louis International Airport.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Whalen

OOIDA Life Member Leo Wilkins and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro say they both learned a lot during the ride-along trip.

Ferro says trip planning and time management were the first things that really stood out.

“I wouldn’t call it as much of a surprise as much as a new perspective to me,” Ferro told “Land Line Now” on Monday.

“I’ve been one of those people who have said a driver just needs to plan his or her trip, that they just need to plan better. Well, smack in the face to me, I think I’m finally getting why it’s so hard to plan.”

Ferro, the administrator of the federal agency that regulates trucking safety and compliance with the rules, says the challenges became much more real to her as a result of the trip with Wilkins, an OOIDA life member from St. Charles, Mich.

“Certainly the shipper and receiver have a lot to do with that, but so does traffic, so does the weigh inspection station, and clearly being stuck between that 14-hour window creates one heck of a challenge and pressure and stress for the driver that they’ve got to deliver,” Ferro said. “They don’t have a choice but to deliver based on what that receiver is expecting or what that shipper is demanding.”

Ferro says she felt safe traveling with Wilkins, who recently received an award for 21 years of safe, accident-free driving during OOIDA’s Heart of America Trucking Show.

“The challenges the owner-operator faces are much more real to me as a result of this trip with Leo,” she said. “It’s not that I wasn’t aware of that. I’ve certainly always known it in theory and from reality from conversations I’ve had, but experiencing it firsthand as a passenger gives me a much different and a much clearer view.”

For example, Ferro says she can relate to the call from drivers during listening sessions and in comments to the agency to include more flexibility in the hours-of-service regulations. She also realizes that truckers don’t have a lot of choices on the road. That revelation became clear during the overnight stay in Indianapolis.

“Leo took a hotel room so I could sleep in the truck,” she said. “It is a lovely sleeping cabin. I looked at that and thought about what it would be like to be in a normal sleeper berth, and how difficult it is to change your clothes, how difficult it is to get fresh water, how you have to get up in the middle of the night or in the middle of your rest period to go to the bathroom at the truck stop if you don’t have something like this accommodation; how little access you have to healthy food if you’re in a regular-sized sleeper berth. So that has been very enlightening for me.”

Also enlightening, according to Ferro, are the factors at play putting downward pressure on freight rates and driver pay.

“Driver pay is such a serious issue, and it’s so much at the heart of achieving what I want to achieve and what professional drivers across the country want to see. And that’s a safe operating environment,” she said.

“And for a driver to earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year working upwards of 70 hours a week or more is absolutely outrageous if you ask me. Better compensation and better accommodation are the core to getting to a better, safer operating environment and one that recognizes the professionalism of these drivers.”

Wilkins says he was glad for the opportunity to show the administrator the ropes, but also for the opportunity to learn more about what she does in Washington.

“It’s given me a chance to see the opposition that she faces in Washington, D.C., from other political groups,” Wilkins said.

“It’s really hard to get something done. She understands our problems. She’s working very hard. I mean, coming along with me to get a firsthand look at things, I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart for doing that for me and for other truckers out there that are facing these problems. We’ve enjoyed it, I would say. I’ve learned a lot about her job and she’s learned a lot about ours.”

Although traffic was light, Ferro did get to witness some interactions with four-wheelers including one on Monday that caught her off-guard.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Whalen

Noon Monday. Delivering control boards to Reagan Traffic Control in Riverton, Ill.

“This morning we had, of all things, a police car come in on a ramp right into Leo’s blind spot, and that police car had no plans on slowing down, even though it was clear that if we would have had a car on the other side of Leo we would have been in real trouble,” she said. “But fortunately that was not the case. That’s just one example.”

Ferro says she’ll take away a lot from her trucking trip halfway across the country.

“I can tell you that riding along with Leo Wilkins has absolutely energized me in some areas and opened my eyes to some others in terms of the real impact of some of the constraints that drivers operate under,” Ferro said. “That goes without question.”

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