Steve Keppler leaving CVSA to join intermodal freight group

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Friday, August 28, 2015

Steve Keppler will soon leave the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and join the Intermodal Association of North America. As he prepares for his last day on Friday, Sept. 4, Keppler shares some of his thoughts on trucking safety, the role of training and technology, and why it’s important for Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill.

Keppler, of Ellicott, Md., has dedicated much of his life to commercial vehicle safety and enforcement. He has been executive director at CVSA since 2009.

“It was a very difficult decision for me,” Keppler told Land Line Magazine on Friday, Aug. 28. “I’ve been at CVSA almost 16 years and have really enjoyed working with the membership. I love their membership and love their mission.”

OOIDA has a seat at the table at CVSA meetings and participates in various committee discussions to offer the perspective of small-business truckers and drivers.

Keppler said the Intermodal Association of North America, IANA, created the position of senior vice president for him, something he could not turn down.

“The intermodal freight sector is growing, and it’s going to continue to grow,” he said.

IANA is a trade association representing 1,000 corporate members, including short-line and regional railroads, water carriers, port authorities, intermodal truckers and some over-the-road highway carriers.

Keppler views his new role as a serious but exciting venture.

“As long as we have limited ability to expand our capacity – Congress can’t get a highway bill passed and we’re having trouble funding it – it’s going to continue being a challenge for the foreseeable future,” he adds. “It’s going to take everybody working together, across all the different transportation modes, to be able to fulfill the expectations of the ultimate customer – which is you and I and everybody else.”

Keppler says freight growth is projected to grow exponentially over the next 20-30 years.

“If we don’t have a vision that can help get us there, we’re going to continue to drop our performance in the world of our transportation system and not be able to get past other countries,” he said.

Collin Mooney will serve as acting director of CVSA until the position is permanently filled. He has 26 years’ experience in transportation, all of it in truck and bus safety, according to a CVSA statement.

Keppler tried to narrow down what the biggest improvements to trucking safety have been in recent years. After careful thought, he decided it’s the role of technology.

“It’s really information,” he said. “Information that’s available to the driver to enable him or her to make more informed decisions about what’s going on around them, what’s going on inside the truck, and the same goes for enforcement … deploying technology-based tools to get more information,” he added.

“The flipside of that is you can get too much information and it can create problems. But I think the value of giving that information to drivers, and enforcement and the companies – whether it’s anything from travel alert to asset management systems to better route their drivers, to rollover/collision systems – I think technology in its forms has made a tremendous impact and will continue to do so in the future. It isn’t a single thing, but it’s multiple things.”

Keppler says that whenever he speaks, he gives drivers credit for being the “critical pieces” to the highway safety equation. Same goes with law enforcement officers – the men and women deployed in their respective fields doing the work.

“If we’re not giving them the tools to be successful, all of us that sit in these chairs in an office, we’re not doing our job,” he said.

“We’re not the ones making the difference. It’s the ones that are out on the road, day in and day out, that are making the difference. And if we’re not giving them the tools, and we don’t have a good leadership and succession plan, and not enabling them to be successful, it’s all for naught.

“And training is critical,” he continued. “We’ve got a major driver challenge going forward into the future.

“The average age of the driver is 52 or 53, and we have difficulty backfilling those jobs. There are many reasons for that,” he said, “but at its core, we need to do a better job of selling why people should get into this business in the first place and giving them the tools to be successful. And if you don’t train them effectively, we’re failing them out of the gate.”

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