More than 200 people showed up for the first day of the hearing, and over 80 signed up to speak, making it one of the most well-attended hearings of the series. Suited CEOs rubbed shoulders with uniformed drivers and independent owner-operators. Truckload, less-than-truckload, private and specialty fleets were all represented.
Common themes of the testimony included the need for more trucks and more drivers to comply with the proposed regulations, the need to be able to split sleeper berth time, the general hatred of the "weekend" proposal, and how all of this would hurt productivity and driver pay and, because of more trucks on the road and less experienced drivers behind the wheel, actually make the roads less safe rather than more so.
As they have at previous hearings, utility companies testified that they should be exempt from the regulations, treated the same as ambulance drivers, fire truck drivers and other emergency vehicle drivers. Similarly, construction companies urged longer hours and the 24-hour restart they currently enjoy.
Representatives of several truckload carriers told the panel that shippers should be regulated along with truckers, and perhaps even that it should be illegal for drivers to load or unload their own trucks.
Ed Crowell, president of the Georgia Motor Truck Assn., said the regulatory system is the opposite of that in other transportation modes, which enforce regulations on customers as well as the transportation provider. He offered as an example an unruly passenger who threatens the safety of an airplane. The government would discipline this customer, he said, but will not do anything about trucking customers who set unrealistic delivery appointments and force drivers to suffer through ridiculous detention times. His remarks garnered many nods from the crowd, and even one "amen."
Gene Vonderau, director of safety for the Alabama Trucking Assn., echoed Crowell's remarks. "Many shippers and receivers will only cooperate when forced to," Vonderau said. "Granted, many of our customers bend over backwards to help, but many more simply do no care how long drivers must wait at their facilities."
But Clay Watkins, senior vice president for less-than-truckload carrier Watkins, saw it differently. "Loading and unloading is a part of LTL trucking," he said. "Always has been, always will be. If certain segments of the industry are unsatisfied with their customer relations, that's up to them to fix, not up to the government to regulate." Watkins, he says, included loading and unloading rules in its contracts and in its published tariffs.
Another common point in the testimony was the fact that the rules would require a driver to restart his 10-hour consecutive rest clock if he does any work, whether it's take a call from the company alerting him to a schedule change or checking his load. Crowell cited the example of a refrigerated carrier, who told him that "if a driver checks his load, as must, once he stops for his rest period, he'll never be able to move his truck again."
Quite a few drivers testified who currently make daily runs that get them back home every night. The new regulations would limit them to 12 on/12 off. While under normal circumstances, these drivers typically get back within 12 hours, they testified that they need flexibility for delays caused by traffic, construction, accidents, weather and other unforeseeable problems. One driver recited a litany of delays on Atlanta's infamously congested I-285. If he runs out of hours because of them, he asked, "Where am I going to stop for that 10 hours of rest? Hopefully not on 285!"
The parking shortage was cited as a concern by several who testified. Perhaps motivated by the sight of rows and rows of trucks parked overnight at the truckstop, moderator John MacGowan told the audience that while "parking availability is not addressed in the hours of service proposal, we recognize its importance. It is in the hands of the Federal Highway Administration, and we are working with them on a comprehensive study of truck parking availability."
And just about everyone complained that the rules were too complex. Roger Lanham, a 32-year, third-generation truck driver who drives for Overnite Transportation, told the panel, "We are truck drivers, not brain surgeons."