Industry leaders peg top trucking issues

Industry leaders peg top trucking issues

Bill Graves, president & CEO of the Alexandria, VA-based American Trucking Associations believes the biggest issues facing the trucking industry in the near term revolve around highway safety, security, and hours-of-service (HOS) reform efforts

Bill Graves, president & CEO of the Alexandria, VA-based American Trucking Associations believes the biggest issues facing the trucking industry in the near term revolve around highway safety, security, and hours-of-service (HOS) reform efforts.

“Safety is of paramount concern to motor carriers and will always be our top priority,” he said in a speech June 3. “HOS is [part of] that safety issue and while they’re not perfect rules, and never will be, what counts is how they’re working -- whether they’re leading to more rested drivers and safer motor carrier operations. Finally, since September 11th, safety and security are forever linked. Yet it isn’t easy to develop ‘one-size-fits-all’ [security] solutions within the industry because of our operational diversity, from intermodal and agricultural transport to cross-border operations.”

Graves said that trucking has a good safety record and thus has a “good story to tell” in his words. “Our fatal and injury crash rates have each dropped by more than 20% in the last decade, while property damage rates dropped about 14%,” he noted. “In fact, over the last 20 years, the industry’s fatal crash rate has declined by 50%, while over the same period of time the number of large truck registrations has increased by 42% -- all while the number of passenger vehicles increased by more than 45%.”

Graves said ATA still strongly supports the revised HOS rules implemented by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in early 2004 and is working with the agency to get them codified by Congress.

He said the data ATA has collected to date indicates that the new rules are leading to more rested drivers and safer motor carrier operations. “The accident rate of ATA’s members in 2004 was as good and, in some segments, better than the accident rate in the previous year under the old rules,” Graves noted. “The driver out-of-service rate improved in 2004 as well, demonstrating that driver compliance with HOS has improved. Companies, drivers and the enforcement community have adjusted, so we need to move forward. That’s why we’re urging Congress to take the action necessary to establish certainty with respect to HOS.”

Although the National Private Truck Council (NPTC)—which also supports the current HOS rules-- does have some reason to believe that safety has increased because of HOS, they have also stopped short of drawing any conclusions. “We have anecdotal evidence from a survey [NPTC] did to support the notion that HOS has contributed to safety,” Gary Petty, NPTC president & CEO, told Fleet Owner. “But we won’t say there’s a correlation between the reduction of fatality accidents since the recent HOS rules went into effect. I think it’s just too early to tell. I think more and more companies are seeing the advantages of HOS and are paying particular attention to what are the changes of driver behavior as a result of HOS with respect to enhancing or being detrimental to safety.”

However, the upcoming highway bill, which has been front and center in the push by trucking interests to make the current HOS rules permanent, so far has not yielded any such proposal. Although industry interests say it is possible a HOS provision will arise when the House and Senate negotiate a final version of the bill, it seems unlikely.

“[HOS codification in the highway bill] is not very encouraging at this point,” said Petty. “I think regulations in place right now are certainly functional and certainly better then other scenarios the government has considered. We’d like it signed into law— the question is what’s the likelihood of crossing the finish line in terms of Congress.”

Finally, on the topic of security, Graves is concerned that anti-terrorist efforts may be unduly complicating the trucking industry’s ability to conduct business.

“We need to work on reducing the costs and compliance burden of multiple programs requiring worker background checks, developing security plans and security training requirements,” he said. “As trucking operations are ubiquitous throughout the transportation industry, efforts to secure maritime and airport facilities directly impact motor carriers as well.”

He believes one example of a well-intentioned security requirement that is harming the industry is the new background check requirement for truck drivers with a hazardous materials endorsement on their CDL.

“Unfortunately, the Transportation Security Administration has constructed a process that is not uniform throughout the states, is inconvenient for drivers due to a lack of sufficient fingerprinting locations and limited hours of operation, and costs the industry nearly double what background checks for aviation industry workers costs,” Graves explained. “The fingerprint checks, which went into effect for new entrants on January 31 and for existing holders seeking renewals on May 31 are already having the effect of reducing carriers’ ability to haul hazardous materials or their interest to do so and will result in higher prices for shippers and consumers.”

“The government is increasingly posing regulations that appear to enhance security but in fact restrict the flow of goods,” said Petty. “It’s going to have an impact on the economy, no question about it.

“The things we’re not seeing in regulations are incentives for companies that are among the top safe practitioners in operating vehicles,” Petty continued. “ For example, the highway infrastructure can’t possible increase to accommodate the increasing volume of traffic. The government creates HOV lanes— this accommodates human cargo. It should be the same in trucking. In hybrid car purchases you not only get a tax advantage but HOV lane advantage. I think with trucking the same should apply— the government needs to not treat the trucking industry as an undifferentiated mass of commercial vehicles but a group of best practitioners and worse performers.

“And the focus on the regulatory side should be more on the bottom 20% of worse performers and on providing incentives to the top companies that prove their commitment to safety.”

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