Some windshield time for FMCSA administrator

By Land Line staff

The nation’s top trucking official logged a couple of days on the road in April and called it more than a ride-along. It was “a great adventure.”

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Acting Administrator Scott Darling also said the ride-along gave him a better understanding of what truckers do – specifics he took back to Washington, D.C., with him.

In a trip arranged by OOIDA, Life Member Leo Wilkins from Michigan picked up Darling near Cleveland, Ohio. For the next two days, he worked alongside Wilkins on a nearly 900-mile trip.

Wilkins drives a Peterbilt 389 and pulls a step-deck trailer.

“The sleeper’s a 132-inch ARI,” he said. “We wanted to make Scott comfortable. It’s not about making someone miserable when they ride along.”

The trip took them through Toledo, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Indianapolis. Darling stayed in the sleeper when the pair stopped overnight in Pocahontas, Ill., and Wilkins took a motel room. The trip ended with a drop in Olathe, Kan.

Wilkins then headed the Pete toward Grain Valley, Mo., where the OOIDA Board of Directors meeting was in session at the Association’s headquarters. On Friday, April 15, Darling joined the board meeting for discussion, but not before he spoke to OOIDA media about the trip.

In an interview with Land Line Now’s Reed Black, Darling spoke enthusiastically about the trip.

“I told Leo it’s the adventure of my adult life being out there, seeing the road, seeing how he handled himself as a professional driver,” he said. “And I appreciate all the things that he did to be courteous and to use his common sense as he was on the road. I wish every driver who drove a truck or a bus or even a passenger car took the same approach that Leo had everywhere we went.”

At one point, a four-wheeler cut across from the far left lane on a three-lane highway to make an exit right in front of Wilkins’ truck. Darling noted that he didn’t notice what was happening, but Wilkins – with 47 years of trucking experience – did.

“Leo said, ‘That’s going to happen,’ and it happened.”

Darling said how Wilkins reacted was from experience he showed “all the way through the trip; it’s about wisdom, experience and knowledge.”

Darling said the ride-along reinforced the need for the involvement of professionals in making regulations.

“The FAST Act allows us to be looking at negotiated rulemakings as we go through some of the significant rulemakings. Negotiated rulemakings allow us to put all the stakeholders in the room. And I think as we do regulations it’s key to have truck professionals in the room as we make regulations, to hear their input and take their input. I think that would be very helpful. Leo has a lot of knowledge, which I think would be very helpful as we move forward to doing other regulations that we should capture and hear from.”

Darling said it wasn’t just a ride-along.

“Leo put me to work. I helped him unload two trucks and did whatever he told me to do, to the best of my ability. I did a bit of everything. I’ve learned a lot. I experienced a lot. It’s not just about being on the road. It’s actually experiencing the professional, the career-oriented, the knowledgeable driver that moves our economy. And as I always say, safe trucking moves our economy. If it weren’t for drivers like Leo, we wouldn’t be able to bring things to the shelves and products to different companies because he cares about his job.”

Wilkins said he and Darling stopped at a truck stop where the FMCSA chief got a chance to mingle with some of the other drivers.

“We had a very, I think, productive meeting at the Petro in Effingham, Ill.,” said Wilkins. “Scott introduced himself and took a lot of questions from the drivers, asking what their complaints were about FMCSA, anything they wanted to discuss. He was very willing to discuss it with the drivers. They had a very interesting conversation going.”

Darling said he introduced himself and “the whole place busted out in a discussion.”

He said he saw the “complaints” as “opportunities and challenges.” One of the biggest issues talked about, he said, was parking.

“Hopefully, I will be helpful to solving some of the parking problems before I leave (the position), but I clearly hear it, that it’s a major issue, and we’ve got to look at it, collectively.”

Wilkins said much of the discussion was about flexibility in hours of service.

“It was a good opportunity for all of us,” Wilkins said. “We wanted to be able to discuss some of the problems that we have in the trucking industry with the FMCSA, and the Congress, so he can take that information back to Washington. We can’t look at the FMCSA as the complete bad guy in this situation. They’re doing what Congress says.” LL

Land Line Now News Reporter Reed Black contributed to this article.