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Clear voice of truckers cuts through partisan bickering

By Ryan Bowley, OOIDA Director of Government Affairs

Recent weeks in Washington have been some of the most difficult in the recent history of our country. The big issues facing our nation, including those that are being debated, are at risk of getting crowded out, simply by the hot air of argument from all sides.

Who would have thought then that D.C. publication Politico would write during this time that Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate had come together on an issue to be the “most efficient Congress has been in years”?

How was legislation on its way to the White House just a few weeks after introduction, following unanimous votes in both chambers – without a single speech in opposition?

This happened because OOIDA members did not shy away from reaching out to lawmakers. You put in the time, made the phone calls, and spoke to the staffers working for representatives in Washington.

You communicated, you made the issue real to them, you told your story – and this time, because of your hard work, they heard it loud and clear.

The issue was the path FMCSA had been on regarding setting policy for sleep apnea screening, testing and treatment. Before OOIDA urged Congress and others in the industry to get involved, the agency was going down the path of setting policy without considering the costs it would pass on to truckers, especially more experienced and safer drivers.

Nor did the agency even consider whether the policy was the best way to ensure that those truckers with apnea get the help they need. There are also significant questions about the role apnea plays in actual wrecks.

This was a clear example of something we have seen often: agency overreach driven by someone with an economic gain to make (in this case, the “sleep apnea industry”). Except here was an opportunity for truckers to get ahead of the game, and to raise our concerns, not after the ink was dry on the policy but before the process even got started.

With this in mind, OOIDA worked with bipartisan allies – Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind.; Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill.; Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. – to introduce HR3095.

This bill was all about common sense, telling FMCSA that before they set a sleep apnea policy, they had to consider things like the costs and the impact it might actually have on reducing wrecks. They also needed to take into account the views of truckers.

And to ensure that took place, truckers made their views known to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, calling and emailing so that support built for the legislation seemingly overnight.

HR3095 passed the House 405-0 two weeks after it was introduced, and it was unanimously approved by the Senate on Oct. 4, almost a week into the first government shutdown in 17 years. The voice of you, the small-business trucker and the OOIDA member, had bridged this extraordinarily deep partisan divide.

Now certainly not every fight we have in the coming months and years here in D.C. is going to be as straightforward as this one was.

Fighting on issues like entry-level driver training, needed improvements to CSA, and long-term highway funding are just some of the major challenges ahead, much less others like speed limiters, EOBRs, and the push by some for higher insurance minimums.

But in today’s Washington – when progress, much less a victory, is so difficult to come by – every OOIDA member who made a call or sent an e-mail should take pride in knowing that you played a role in getting HR3095 across the finish line. 

We can’t rest on our success, however. We need to take the good work on sleep apnea and apply it to future bigger fights. We need to remember the influence that truckers can and do have in Washington. LL