Photo: U.S. Dept. of Transportation

Photo: U.S. Dept. of Transportation

A proxy war of words over how the Trump administration should approach existing and proposed truck-safety rules has erupted among some trucking and stakeholder groups.

The first powder lit came in the form of a Mach 21 letter sent to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao lobbying her to “prioritize” for elimination the final rule mandating electronic logging devices and the proposed rule to require speed limiters when the Department of Transportation culls regulations to comply with President Trump’s January 30 executive order, Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs. That’s the order that calls for killing two existing rules for every new federal rulemaking.

The letter was signed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association as well as the National Association of Small Trucking Companies along with an array of some 15 trucking stakeholder groups, such as the National Pork Producers Council and the Petroleum Marketers Association of America.

Noting that they “look forward to working with you to carry out the executive order in the safest and most responsible manner possible,” the signatories contend that together those two rulemakings would “cost our industries over $2.845 billion to implement, without providing any meaningful safety or economic value to our members or the American public. Both meet the cost threshold included in the administration’s interim guidance to be considered significant regulations under the executive order.”

The signers go on to argue that while the ELD mandate and its implementation deadline (this December) are required by statute— thus limiting what action Secretary Chao can take—  still “it is imperative for DOT to work with the regulated community and Congress to mitigate the negative impact of this excessive regulation.

"We are confident the administration’s full support for a delay in implementation and the eventual repeal of the ELD mandate would help encourage Congress to provide our industries the regulatory relief we desperately need,” they added.

As to the speed-limiter proposal, the groups strike at its well-recognized Achilles’ heel— setting up speed differentials between cars and trucks. “Without question, highway users stand to be negatively affected by the mandated use of speed limiters,” they stated. “States with speed limits above the maximum levels proposed by FMCSA would see their crash rates increase, as extreme speed differentials between automobiles and heavy vehicles make driving conditions more hazardous.” 

The groups also argued that states “already experiencing major congestion would find their problems compounded, as more trucks are needed to move the same amount of goods. And small businesses, the cornerstone of local economies, would struggle to overcome the economic impact of another costly federal regulation that provides no discernable benefit – a reality the agency even acknowledges in its proposal.” 

Not so fast, was the comeback fired off by the leaders of the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (aka the Trucking Alliance) in their own letter to Chao, sent on April 12.

The letter was signed by Steve Williams, chairman & CEO of Maverick USA, and Kevin Knight, Executive Chairman of Knight Transportation. Williams and Knight are president and vice president, respectively, of the Trucking Alliance.

In their missive, Williams and Knight cut right to the chase— telling Chao that lobbying for ELDs, speed-limiters and several other safety reforms is the very reason that the Trucking Alliance was formed and is now supported by eight carrier member companies that collectively employ 68,000 drivers, managers and logistics personnel, and operate 52,000 trucks and 175,000 semitrailers/containers.

They stated that they want to encourage Chao’s “support for continuing several safety reforms at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; regulations that can reduce large truck accidents on our nation’s highways,” alluding to the ELD final rule and the proposed speed-limiter rule.

Then comes the kicker: “Recent arguments by a few transportation and business groups that urged you to delay these safety reforms are not only self-serving to these groups, but would be counterproductive to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s mission to improve transportation safety for all Americans,” they wrote.

The two truckload leaders then laid out all the FMSCA safety reforms that Alliance members want to see adopted industry-wide and why:

Electronic logging devices

  • “ELDs will save lives. FMCSA has evaluated the inherent safety benefits that accrue to carriers that utilize ELDs – an 11.7% reduction in crash rates and a 50% reduction in hours-of-service violations. Further, the agency estimates that after ELDs are fully installed in all interstate commercial trucks, 1,844 large truck crashes will be avoided, reducing injuries and saving the lives of at least 26 people each year.”
  • “ELDs will improve a truck driver’s quality of life.” Drivers are “often placed at cross purposes, either directly or indirectly, with expectations that force drivers to extend their work hours beyond what the human condition can safely and legally perform. ELDs will provide drivers with a method to withstand these pressures.”
  • “ELDs are not ‘over-regulation.’ ELDs “enable trucking companies and drivers to proudly demonstrate their enviable work ethic, but within the legal framework of federal hours of service rules. Industrywide compliance will ensure that our drivers are better rested, safer and more secure in their jobs.”
  • “ELDs will improve efficiencies throughout the US supply chain. ELDs will define the maximum capacity of the trucking industry. That will enable the shipping community to shift its focus away from supporting longer truck driving hours to eliminating inefficiencies and waste within the supply chain.”

Truck-speed limiters

  • “FMCSA has proposed that large commercial trucks be equipped with a speed limiting device. The Trucking Alliance strongly believes that excessive large truck speeds are critical factors in the severity of injuries and fatalities in large truck accidents.” The Alliance “supports a truck-speed limiter rule in which the maximum speed setting is no more than 65 mph.”

Hair-testing

  • “Section 5402 of the ‘Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act’ contained a provision that directed the Department of Health and Human Services to issue scientific and technical guidelines for hair testing as a method to detect controlled substance abuse. After the HHS issues its guidelines, FMCSA may initiate a rulemaking to permit hair testing as an acceptable alternative to urine testing for commercial driver drug testing requirements.” 

Pre-employment screening (PSP)

  • “FMCSA created the PSP to help carriers make more informed hiring decisions, by providing secure, electronic access to the FMCSA’s commercial driver’s five-year crash and three-year inspection history. However, less than 1% of the industry utilizes the PSP. This is because the third party contractor that implements the program charges $10 per report, a fee that is cost-prohibitive to many motor carriers and more than twice the price that the contractor originally promised, once its start-up costs were recovered. The FMCSA should renegotiate the PSP fee with this contractor, or another, to encourage more industry participation and help carriers make informed hiring decisions.” 

Minimum financial requirements

  • In 1980, Congress directed motor carriers to be sufficiently insured, the expressed purpose for which was to adequately compensate the victims of truck accidents. Congress authorized the minimum insurance requirement at $750,000. That was 37 years ago. Most motor carriers today are woefully underinsured to compensate victims in the event of a catastrophic truck accident.”

In closing, Williams and Knight advised Chao that in 2015, per DOT data, “there were 414,598 large truck accidents on U.S. roadways, in which 116,000 people were injured and 4,067 people lost their lives. Of these fatalities, 594 were commercial truck drivers. Our industry cannot tolerate such tragic numbers every year.”

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