ATA has of course been a major trucking voice in Washington since the early 1930s, but last month it came out with a new agenda that will significantly expand trucking's role in the national conversation about highway safety.
Traditionally, ATA's emphasis was on its members' safety, operational and financial interests as they are affected by federal safety regulations. Now the association wants to take the industry to a new level. It is proposing tough new regulations on the industry itself, but also is calling for substantive changes in the national approach to highway safety for automobiles.
"There was a time when we were perhaps defined by what we were in opposition to, more than what we advocated for," said Don Osterberg, co-vice chairman of the ATA Task Force that wrote the new agenda. Osterberg is vice president of safety and driver training for Schneider National.
But there has been a shift in the industry, Osterberg said.
"Because safety is such an important value to the association and to our industry, we need to be defined by what we advocate for. We need to develop a proactive and comprehensive safety agenda and then advance that agenda with anyone who can help us, whether that be regulators or other safety groups."
Osterberg is convinced the industry can be far more effective if it enables collaboration between regulators, motor carriers and even public safety advocacy groups. "I view myself as a public safety advocate and I recognize that we have a lot of common objectives. Can't we accomplish more working together than as adversaries?"
Dave Osiecki, vice president of safety, security and operations at ATA, put it this way: "This is probably the first time in a comprehensive way we've looked outside the box on highway safety. We are not just talking about truck driver safety, company safety and truck safety. We are expanding our reach and our thinking to the broader highway safety arena."
ATA does not see itself necessarily taking the lead on all of these policies, Osiecki added. "But it puts us in a position to stand up with other organizations that are the leads on those issues, stand with them if they choose to have us, just like we hope they will stand with us on truck safety issues."
The nearest major legislative event where this agenda can come into play will be reauthorization of the federal highway program, due to get under way next year. ATA Senior Vice President Timothy Lynch said that while ATA sees reauthorization as an opportunity to advance some of its ideas, some have already been aired and others will take more time. He sounded a note of realism about how this will be received on Capitol Hill.
"There will always be some who will say it's not enough, not fast enough and not mandated enough, but I'm not sure there's any level that will satisfy that group," he said. "But this clearly puts us squarely out there with a very progressive agenda that is actually tied to real results."
Notably absent from the agenda are positions on truck driver hours of service and electronic onboard recorders for driver logs, although ATA does have policy positions on both issues. And both are in the news: A final rewrite of the hours rule was released as we went to press (see story page 12) and a final EOBR rule is due by the end of the year. Osiecki said the task force spent considerable time on both issues and ATA is considering changes in its policies but is not ready to make any announcements.
At the core of the new agenda is the recognition that with traffic congestion and driver distraction increasing, continuous improvement is no longer good enough. "So we asked what we can do to drive a dramatic breakthrough in public safety," Osterberg said.
The answer includes a number of initiatives that have been around for a while and some that are currently in the rulemaking process, but also some new ideas and an aggressive reach beyond traditional truck safety issues.
For example, ATA wants to tighten the proposal it made two years ago to require 68 mph speed limiters in all new heavy-duty trucks, a proposal now under consideration for rulemaking by federal safety agencies.
ATA is now recommending that trucks made after 1992 - virtually all highway trucks - have speed limiters set to 65 mph. Moreover, the association wants the national speed limit for all vehicles set at 65 mph, and while it does not take a position on speed limiters in cars, it does suggest that states consider requiring limiters for drivers who have been convicted of certain traffic violations.
These moves arise from the conviction that the best way to improve highway safety is to go after the main cause of accidents: driving too fast for conditions, said Osiecki.
"I really believe that if we're going to make a difference in the short term, there has to be political will to deal with speed, and not just truck speed but all vehicle speed," he said. "Our members think trucks need to slow down, they think all traffic needs to slow down [and] there needs to be better enforcement."
Osterberg focused on an additional item: ATA wants the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to come up with crashworthiness standards for heavy-duty trucks, the same as it has done for cars.
"Most of us wouldn't buy automobiles for our families without researching the crash rating of those vehicles," he said. "There is no corresponding standard or relative scale upon which to measure the crashworthiness of large trucks. If I ask myself the question - because I feel a very strong moral obligation to our drivers to put them in the safest vehicle I can - can I say what is the safest vehicle? There is no credible way to answer that today."
Osterberg acknowledged he was at risk of offending manufacturers who take great pride in building safe trucks, but said the point is to create a public standard so carriers can be informed consumers. "Without standards, you don't have any good way to know. Far more importantly, I believe it will create an incentive to improve the overall safety and crashworthiness of large trucks."
Another emphasis in the agenda has to do with giving carriers access to more and better information about the drivers they hire.
ATA wants a mandatory national notification system that gives carriers access to state information about accidents, moving violations and convictions. The system should have a standard protocol for the type, format and frequency of information that would be posted by the states.
"I think this is a game-changer" for truck safety," said Osiecki. "If it is robust, if all states are required to be a part of it and if carriers are required to participate, then this is a significant change in the way this industry would operate and how carriers would receive information about their drivers."
The model for the system would be California's Employer Pull Notice program, which notifies carriers when a driver has an accident or gets a violation. Osiecki said carriers in general support the California concept, but some have complained about its implementation. The program has worked well for Schneider, he said.
Schneider also is working on a private notification system, contracting with a third party that has agreements with a couple dozen states to provide driver information.
"We feel very strongly that we need to take that concept national," Osterberg said. "This is an instance of the industry trying to get out in front of a cumbersome regulatory process and then use our experience to help the policy makers come up with a national system."
An obvious question is the right of privacy. Osiecki said this should not be an issue because the information the carrier will get is the same information that comes out in standard quarterly motor vehicle record reports. "We're talking about getting same information in a far more timely fashion," he said.
A related item pertains to the Driver Information Resource, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration database that contains information about truck driver safety and compliance. Enforcement personnel tap that data, but carriers are not able to, Osiecki said. "We want carriers to be able to use it when drivers show up for a job."
Given the amount of driver turnover in the business, access to that information will greatly increase transparency between fleets and employees, he said.
ATA also wants federal regulators to tighten the safety barrier to entry into the trucking business. FMCSA is close to publishing a rule that will raise the bar for compliance with the initial safety audit, but it does not go far enough, Osiecki said.
"Today, almost no one can fail the pre-entry safety audit," he said. "Under the new rule, there will be a pass-fail line and up to 40 percent of new carriers may fail. Our recommendation goes further: We believe that the principal of a new company should have to pass a safety management and compliance training course before they get a DOT number and begin operating."
Here's a rundown on the other agenda items.
CDL Testing: Current standards for commercial driver testing are not adequate, the Task Force contends. All states should have to comply with a rigorous, national, performance-based standard, at the risk of losing federal highway funding.
FMCSA is working on a rule that would toughen the knowledge and skills tests for the CDL, but ATA wants the agency to do more, Osiecki said. "We still see far too many differences state-to-state on CDL testing," he said.
As an example, he cited the on-road driver skills test. "In some states it is very comprehensive and tough to pass, and in other states it's not comprehensive and not tough to pass. That's not right. The standard needs to be higher and the oversight needs to be better to make sure the states are indeed meeting the higher standard and that there is more uniformity."
Graduated Licensing: Research shows that the risk of an accident is higher with younger drivers in general, but not enough is known about how this affects younger truck drivers. ATA would like to see a study of the cognitive functioning and behavior of drivers between 18 and 25, as a possible prelude to establishing a graduated licensing program for commercial drivers.
Also, ATA supports graduated licensing for teenage car drivers. A complete program would include a minimum age for a learner's permit, a minimum age and mandatory waiting period for an interim license, minimum hours of supervised driving, and nighttime and passenger restrictions, as well as a minimum age for a full license. No state has this full program, but the 29 states that have some elements of this package have reduced crashes from 10 to 30 percent.
Seat Belts: ATA is recommending a range of initiatives to increase seat belt use by car and truck drivers.
Buckling reduces the risk of death by 45 percent, yet only 26 states have a "primary law" that allows police to ticket drivers for not buckling. Twenty-three states have a "secondary" law that allows ticketing for being unbuckled while violating another traffic rule. ATA recommends that there be incentives and penalties to drive passage of primary laws in all states.
ATA wants trucks to be equipped with audible seat belt reminders like cars have. Also, seat belts should come in contrasting colors so police can see them easily; states should adopt laws that limit the damages a person can collect if he was not wearing a seat belt; and drivers who were not buckled up should be denied workers' compensation.
Aggressive Driving: The 2005 highway bill included a provision that ordered federal agencies to target problem behavior by both private and commercial drivers. Out of that came a pilot program in Washington state, Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT), that combines outreach, education and an evaluation process to teach safe driving behavior. Osiecki said the Washington program has been successful and should be taken national. "Right now it's sort of piecemeal in its implementation and there are different approaches [from state to state]. We are calling for a national approach, or at least greater implementation in more states, arriving at a national program at some point."
Electronic Technologies: The Task Force is waving a caution flag about technologies such as cell phones and positioning systems that can distract drivers. Research shows that a driver talking on a phone, for example, can be more impaired than a driver who is legally drunk. ATA supports use of these technologies but strongly encourages the entire transportation community to get involved in promoting awareness, training and safety policies.
Truck Parking: The shortage of parking space for truck drivers to rest is not getting the attention it needs from state transportation agencies, ATA said. "In the hierarchy of state-level priorities, commercial motor vehicle parking ranks well below highway and bridge construction and maintenance." The last highway bill created a four-year, $25 million parking pilot program - a good start - but the issue needs more money and a higher priority, ATA said.
Automated Enforcement: In keeping with its observation that driver behavior is the key safety issue, ATA wants to see broader use of cameras for traffic violations and speeding, particularly in high-risk areas such as work or school zones.
The technology works, ATA said. Research shows that red light cameras and automated speed enforcement are effective deterrents that save lives and money.
The association wants an enhancement to the systems, however. It wants the photo to identify the driver as well as the vehicle, so there will be no doubt about who's behind the wheel. Without positive ID, the carrier has no recourse if a driver says someone else was in that truck.
The association also cautioned against use of these systems to raise revenue.
National Clearinghouse: ATA reiterated its support for a database containing positive drug and alcohol test results that employers have to consult before hiring a driver applicant.
A bipartisan group in Congress is pushing a bill to create the database, require more oversight of collection agencies and toughen enforcement of testing requirements for carriers. Also under consideration is a ban on products that are used to cheat the tests.
Medical Examiner Registry: At press time, a regulation that would create a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners was being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget and is due for release this year. It would tighten enforcement of driver health requirements by compiling a list of examiners who have been trained and certified.
Blood Alcohol Content: ATA supports a legal limit of .08 grams per deciliter or less for car drivers, and .04 g/dl or less for commercial drivers.
Also, ATA aligns itself with advocates of enforcement techniques such as administrative license revocation, ignition interlocks and open container laws.
MEMBERS OF THE ATA SAFETY TASK FORCE
The ATA Safety Task Force was chaired by Barbara Windsor, president & CEO of Hahn Transportation. Co-vice chairmen were Don Osterberg, vice president of safety and driver training for Schneider National, and Marty Fletcher, director of technology and equipment R&D for U.S. Xpress Enterprises.
Other members include: Rob Abbott, vice president of safety for Transforce; Brian Booker, manager of driver safety and training for Air Products and Chemicals; Mike Card, president of Combined Transport; Randy Clifford, chairman of Ventura Transfer Co.; Chirag "CD" Dua, Vehicle Solutions Business Unit sales manager for Eaton Corp.; and Reggie Dupre, CEO of Dupre Transport.
Also: Anne Ferro, president and CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association; Mark Goodwin, vice president of corporate public affairs for UPS Freight; Brent Hilton, director of maintenance for Maverick USA; Tom Lee, safety director for Mile Hi Frozen Foods; David Parker, senior legal counsel for Great West Casualty Co.; and Rick Preston, director of maintenance for ABF Freight Systems.
Also: David Pohl, vice president of finance for Pohl Transportation; Karen Rasmussen, president and CEO of the Arizona Trucking Association; Dan Umphress, managing director of maintenance solutions for FedEx Freight; Ronald Uriah, vice president of safety and risk management for Pitt Ohio Express; Greer Woodruff, senior vice president of corporate safety for J.B. Hunt Transport Services; and Skip Yeakel, principal engineer for Volvo Trucks North America.