FMCSA missed the point in gathering support for its hours rule justification
You can imagine my surprise in late December when, just as I’m perusing portions of the new hours rule’s text in preparation for stories I wrote for Truckers News and Overdrive’s February issues, I get an email from a colleague saying my reporting is sourced in part of the rule’s justification.
According to some observers, this rule was the single-most-commented-upon in U.S. Department of Transportation history. Reams of text were put together by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration staffers as they attempted to respond to the many objections to provisions of the proposed rule — and explain their conclusions. My name in all that text wasn’t exactly easy to spot. But there it was, in the agency’s response to commenters on the potential for the rule to create or further exacerbate “driver shortages” among some carriers:
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).
The lack of a clear justification for the rule is perhaps the most significant objection industry participants have. Many agree the primary effect will not be improved safety at all — but rather it will possibly reduce weekly driving time for operators, a stress-increasing pay cut for many. The fatality crash statistics bandied about, for instance, often do not take into account the cause of the crashes. Studies have indicated 75-80 percent of all truck-involved crashes are the fault of the driver of the four-wheeler. All the same, truck-crash fatality numbers were up for 2010, as FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro noted in late November.
But given the uptick in smartphone use that year, including the inappropriate use of the devices by the general motoring public, the rise in fatality crashes is as much a product of big technological and cultural shifts as might be the “truck driver fatigue” some groups want to name as the no. 1 problem.
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, whomever wrote the above-quoted segment didn’t bother to attempt to fully understand the context in my reporting — as the story I wrote in Truckers News (January 2011) made clear, drivers who claim there is no “driver shortage” are in large part objecting to the term itself. There’s no question many carriers find it hard to attract the quality professional driver they want, but characterizing this fact as an industry “shortage” ignores the root causes.
Willful ignorance on the part of some, as well as the root causes themselves — low pay, inadequate home time, parking problems, lack of operational flexibility, etc. — are ultimately what my story was about. Addressing those problems would net a definite safety gain. FMCSA hasn’t done anything close to that with the new rule.
| Auction action | The American Truck Historical Society Music City Chapter’s meeting and auction Jan. 14. in Lebanon, Tenn., drew nearly 100. Made up of members and their families as well as representatives from other regional ATHS chapters and the organization’s sponsors, the crowd was remarkable for a couple reasons. By the end of the afternoon — after a buffet lunch, chapter meeting and silent and live auctions — the chapter doubled the proceeds from last year’s event, raising $3,000 to fund show activities. Secondly, the individuals I met represented an exemplary cross section of trucking communities … Meet some of the drivers and find links to ATHS’ main site, with chapters all across the nation, in the Jan. 17 entry on the Channel 19 blog: http://www.overdriveonline.com/channel19.