Top executives of two of the leading lobbying groups for the trucking industry testified on Capitol Hill on Feb. 4 on what truck operators want to see Congress make happen to rebuild and expand highway infrastructure and enhance highway safety among other topics.
Their testimony was given to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety, which held the hearing to take in stakeholder perspectives on the state of trucking.
American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear outlined what ATA sees as trucking’s top priorities and stated the “concrete steps Congress can take to enhance highway safety, expand job opportunities in trucking and revitalize America’s sagging infrastructure.”
On safety, Spear emphasized the dangers of speeding and distracted driving among the motoring public, pointing out that “72% of large truck crashes had no truck driver-related factors recorded, fueled largely by the growing addiction to speeding and texting.”
He said ATA opposes the Federal Communication Commission’ proposal to drastically reduce the Safety Spectrum for transportation safety purposes and reallocate it for unlicensed Wi-Fi use. Spear also urged the committee to end the Department of Health and Human Service’s delays in producing a rule—as required by law— for hair-testing for the use of controlled substances.
On the positive side, Spear called for the support of committee members to support passage of the bipartisan DRIVE-Safe Act, which would provide a legal pathway for 18- to 20-year-olds with CDLs to drive in interstate commerce.
“Forty-eight states currently allow an 18-year-old to drive a Class 8 commercial vehicle, making it legal to drive an 850 mile stretch of California,” Spear argued. “Yet, it is federally illegal driving from Providence, Rhode Island, to Rehoboth, Massachusetts – a mere 10 miles. The heavily bipartisan DRIVE Safe Act would require 400 hours of apprenticeship training and safety technology.”
He added that 48 states “require none of this, making the DRIVE-Safe Act a leap toward safety, and ATA recommends its immediate passage.”
As for highway infrastructure, Spear again pushed ATA’s own proposal– known as the Build America Fund – as the most viable, cost-effective and fiscally conservative funding mechanism available in the near-term.
“The BAF would be supported with a new 20 cent per gallon fee built into the price of transportation fuels collected at the terminal rack, to be phased in over four years,” Spear explained. “The fee will be indexed to both inflation and improvements in fuel efficiency, with a five percent annual cap. We estimate that the fee will generate nearly $340 billion over the first 10 years. It will cost the average passenger vehicle driver just over $100 per year once fully phased in. We also support a new fee on hybrid and electric vehicles, which underpay for their use of the highway system or do not contribute at all.
“Trucking now loses $70 billion each year sitting in congestion,” he added. “That’s 425,000 drivers sitting idle for an entire year. Sixty-seven million tons of CO2 being emitted. Passenger vehicle drivers now lose $1,600 a year due to traffic and repairs. These are the mounting costs of doing nothing.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said it delivered “a blunt message” at the hearing
“It’s time to listen to the hard-working men and women that drive for a living.”OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh testified that, “If you ask most drivers what Congress has done recently to improve the profession, the answer is nothing. Washington has allowed trucking policy to be overly influenced by executives looking to maximize profits, activists who’d like to regulate truckers to oblivion, state and local governments who view truckers as rolling piggybanks and self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who don’t even know what the inside of a truck looks like.”
Pugh’s testimony included suggestions on which policies Congress should enact and which ones they should reject if it is to help improve highway safety and working conditions for owner-operators and other professional drivers.
OOIDA recommended several ways that the committee “could make a positive difference,” such as repealing what it considers to be “the failed ELD mandate” and the overtime exemption for drivers in the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The group also wants to see dedicated funding for new truck parking capacity and for fixing crumbling infrastructure.
And OOIDA made no bones about what it wants to see go away, arguing that the committee should “abandon meaningless, unproven and unsafe proposals, such as requiring speed limiters, mandating front and side underride guards, raising insurance minimums, and allowing under-21 drivers to engage in interstate commerce.”