Dave Manning, whose term as the 73rd chairman of the American Trucking Associations wraps up at the end of this month, outlined ATA’s top seven legislative and regulatory priorities as 2018 heads into 2019. Manning, who is president of TCW Inc., a Nashville-based diversified transportation provider, was the guest speaker at an Oct. 9 dinner held in San Antonio, Texas, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Pressure Systems International (PSI), which makes automatic tire inflation and tire pressure monitoring systems.
Noting ATA’s responsibility as the voice of trucking in Washington and beyond, Manning said this year the association identified 22 issues, then winnowed that list down to seven priorities for lobbying.
First on the list is petitioning the Secretary of Transportation to make a determination that California’s meal and rest break rules are preempted by federal law. Manning explained that ATA has to date unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to pass legislation preventing states from enacting their own meal and rest break rules for CDL drivers.
While those who defend the right of states to set their own break rules frame it as a safety issue, Manning contended that allowing breaks beyond what federal rules allow is a safety issue because truck parking is so hard to find that “trucks end up parked in unsafe locations.” The argument underlying ATA’s petition is that the Federal Motor Carrier Administration has the power to invalidate laws that impact public safety.
ATA’s effort to appeal directly to DOT for relief is by no means an easy win, as Manning noted that “already trial lawyers are petitioning to extend the [FMCSA] comment period." On the other hand, he said that despite Congress not taking action on the preemption issue, six Democratic and six Republican lawmakers have signed a letter endorsing ATA’s position, which he said lends weight to the petition before DOT.
The next big issue for ATA is “making sure the Trump administration knows that trucking and trade are synonymous,” he said, “You mess with trade and you mess with trucking. We’re working to make sure the administration understands that.” Manning said it was “important to us that the Mexico and Canada deals got done, but we still have China, Europe and Japan to achieve."
Turning to the ever-advancing arena of autonomous driving technology, Manning said “our message is that it’s about driver assist, not driverless technology. The same as it is with airline pilots, we need trained drivers. Steering a wheel is just a small part of a driver’s job.” He pointed out that ATA is concerned that “legislation [for autonomous vehicles] in Congress so far does not address commercial vehicles.”
The fourth issue for ATA is that “the independent contractor is under attack by state departments of labor,” he stated, pointing out that “hundreds of millions in fines have been levied” by states ruling that owner-operators should be classified as employees by fleets. “I’ll tell you there isn’t an independent contractor working today that couldn’t go to work as a company driver. But independents choose to be independent.”
As for hours of service reform, Manning pointed out that ATA is seeking more flexibility so drivers can determine when they need rest. He said ATA would like to see the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption expanded from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty and allowing greater flexibility of the sleeper-berth rest provision.
Manning said progress on the last two issues on the list “will likely be seen in 2019,” with those being driver workforce development to help address the chronic shortage and instituting a hike in the fuel use tax to help better fund infrastructure improvements.
As for drivers, Manning related the usual grim statistics on the troubling scope of the shortage. He said trucking must add 90,000 drivers a year to keep up with demand. He said 30,000 drivers are needed yearly just to maintain current growth and 60,000 to replace retirees and other drivers leaving trucking. “The average age of a driver is 49 years old, compared to 42 for the rest of the workforce,” he noted.
Manning said ATA’s Workforce Policy Committee has made a number of recommendations to help boost driver numbers. These include working with the Department of Labor and its nationwide field offices to make sure trucking is a job on their list when they work with persons seeking employment.
He also mentioned the ongoing effort to change federal law to allow 18- to 20-year-olds to operate trucks in interstate commerce. “Forty-eight states allow 18-year-olds to drive intrastate, but the federal government doesn’t allow them to cross state lines,” Manning said, even though “safety technology enables us to do this in a safe way.” He added that the DRIVE-Safe Act that’s been making its way across Capitol Hill this year would require specific training for an 18-year-old CDL driver as well as the qualifications for the trainer and the safety technology needed on the truck. He noted that “lane departure warning systems etc. can help an 18-year-old” be safe behind the wheel of a truck.
Lastly, Manning said ATA is “advocating for raising the fuel tax by 20 cents per gallon. ATA’s position is to phase the increase in over four years and then index it to inflation. “The cost of doing nothing actually exceeds the costs of investing in infrastructure,” he said. Manning made the point that “there is a cost for accidents due to unsafe roads plus the cost of congestion.” But a 20-cent-per-gallon hike in the fuel tax would work out to “less than a hundred bucks a year for the average motorist.”