You can imagine my surprise yesterday when, just as I’m perusing portions of the new hours rule’s full text in preparation for a story or two I’m putting together for Truckers News and Overdrive, I get an email from a colleague making note of the fact that none other than my own reporting is sourced in part of the rule’s justification.
Sure enough, right there on the 13th page of the 55-page document, in response to a comment or series of comments (according to some observers, this rule was the single-most-commented-upon in DOT history) regarding the potential for the rule to create or further exacerbate “driver shortages” ongoing among some carriers, there is this bit of discussion:
FMCSA recognizes that the rule may lead to more driver positions. Whether the driver shortage that commenters cited is real is a matter of considerable debate in the industry. OOIDA has been quoted as saying ‘‘The industry purged itself of 30 percent of its drivers in the last two years. They’re everywhere, but they are not coming back to work for you if you’re not going to pay them anything’’ (Dills). An etrucker.com survey asked about the causes of the driver shortage; 40 percent of respondents attributed it to low pay, but 24 percent said there was no shortage (Dills). Industry press reports indicate that carriers have many more applications than they have positions.
The lack of justification for the hours rule is perhaps the primary and most significant objection industry participants have to the new rule, the primary effect of which many agree will not be relative to safety — rather, it will be to reduce possible weekly driving time for operators, effectively a pay cut for those who find any occasion to maximize their cumulative on-duty hours, a frequent occurrence given the prevalence of long waits at shipping/receiving facilities.
The fatality crash statistics continually bandied about, for instance (and numbers were up this year for those crashes that in some way involved a large truck, as FMCSA administrator Anne Ferro noted in late November quite prominently), do not take into account the cause of the crashes. Past studies have indicated that in the neighborhood of 75-80 percent of all truck-involved crashes are the fault of a noncommercial driver involved.
Given the uptick in use of smartphones that occurred in 2010 after the profusion of low-cost devices beginning in 2009, and their widely-remarked-upon inappropriate use behind the wheel by the members of the motoring public, the rise in fatality crashes is in my mind as much a product of big technological and cultural shifts as might be the “truck driver fatigue” interest groups want to name as the no. 1 problem on the nation’s highways.
In any case, the “driver shortage” business is perhaps a small example of the agency searching hard for justifying data regardless of its original context. Clearly, whoever pulled from my reporting in writing the report didn’t bother to attempt to fully understand the context of the “disputed” notion of a “driver shortage” — i.e. as you and I know, and as the story I wrote makes clear anecdotally, respondents among the driver population who claim there is no “driver shortage” are in large part objecting to the term and the characterization. There’s no question that many carriers find it hard at times to find the kind of quality professional driver they want, but characterizing this fact as an industry “shortage” often ignores the root causes. That willful ignorance on the part of some, as well as the root causes themselves — lack of pay, lack of home time, parking problems, lack of operational flexibility given the rigid hours clock, etc. — are ultimately what my story was about, not whether a shortage exists or not. You can read the story, from January 2011, in full via this link.
In any case, like you I imagine I’m still digesting many of the particulars of the hours rule, and would love to hear your feedback on it here in the comments or by email: tdills [at] rrpub.com. For all who’ve weighed on the Overdrive news piece already, thank you for all the thoughts. Let’s keep the conversation going, there or here. And here’s wishing you a Happy New Year this weekend. (Keep an eye out for the Channel 19 2011 year in review Sunday — sure to be a wild ride!)