Channel 19

Todd Dills

Rich Wilson’s ‘state of the industry’; and MCSAC apnea update

| January 13, 2012

You’re likely to remember Rich Wilson (pictured), former owner-operator and current regulatory manager with the Trans Products/Trans Services company, for his part in the Truck Driver Social Media Convention last fall, where he urged the drivers and owner-operators in attendance really be a part of the regulatory process — on the front end, in the planning stages, before the regs were written and codified and, well, gained staying power.

Wilson himself was at the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory and Medical Review Board joint sleep apnea subcommittee meeting in Washington last week, where he reports committee members worked at drafting language for potential official medical guidance on the sleep apnea condition. The upshot of the subcomittee’s conclusions? “It’s not looking positive for the industry,” Wilson says. “The BMI [screening] standard is likely to be between 31 and 35. The last number I really heard talk of was 31. That was probably going to be the guideline. They tended to lean toward 33 for a while – and a size 17 neck.”

As committee members debated standards, Wilson says, the general consensus was that a sleep apnea diagnosis would be a “disqualifiable diagnosis with a stand-down,” meaning a driver diagnosed with the condition would be required to undergo treatment to be reinstated. The next meeting of the full MCSAC committee Feb. 6-9 will see further action on the issue, Wilson notes. Watch for details about it to emerge at MCSAC’s website.

More broadly, Wilson’s thinking on where the industry is today is reflected in the analysis that follows, a sort of state-of-the-industry that began as a response to another post put up for discussion on the LinkedIn business networking site. I thought I’d throw it out there for you, as it contains clear indications as to why he thinks the sleep apnea debate will be a net negative for the business of trucking. He gets into what he sees developing in the realms of safety and opportunity, given the current unsettled regulatory environment and perhaps equally unsettled economy. My question for you: Is he correct? Are we in fact headed down a path that leads ultimately to no improvement in “conditions, pay, rewards, trust and attitudes toward drivers”? His full commentary follows.

I think that the major players in our industry are taking a “sit back and see” attitude to future regulations, including estimates of how they will affect their bottom lines. With hours of service changes, potential EOBR mandates, driver medical qualifications changes and the institution of the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (among which I think some are good and some unnecessary), how will the bottom line be affected?

Example: The new restart provision ultimately means fewer available hours of work time, more equipment, and more support personnel and, ultimately, more drivers will be needed to deal with the same logistical tonnage. The two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. provisions will create more heavy truck traffic during the already cluttered rush hour traffic jam, placing more trucks in the currently overburdened infrastructure, and cause increased crash rates by just adding additional trucks to the highways. Take into consideration that I did not mention any more revenue generated, just more trucks and drivers to haul the same amount of product. Some smaller carriers and owner-operators will feel the pressures, and try to adapt, but I can see a culture developing of violators just trying to survive.

Point 1: This is not a safe culture, either.

Point 2: More trucks mean more drivers, of course, and there is a discernible shortage of “qualified” drivers today. Average ages of over-the-road drivers have been getting higher and higher and in the last seven years and have increased from 47 to almost 53. Look at the numbers — it’s not older drivers entering our industry; it’s the phenomenon of the current drivers getting older and not many new drivers coming into the industry to replace them. These same 50+ drivers are slowly being shuffled out of the industry by more stringent medical standards as well. If you get rid of all your turkeys, you’ll not have any for Thanksgiving! If you get rid of all the older drivers and don’t replace them, you’re going to have a bunch of empty seats.

This brings up Point 3: Carriers have to fill the seats of the additional trucks, likewise the trucks vacated by the older drivers. Our industry, considered in total, has a weak training and mentoring system now! The so-called “CDL-mill” companies that generate more actual dollars from the company truck driver training schools than they do from freight in some cases have a 15 percent success rate putting those drivers in their trucks. At the same time, there’s in the neighborhood of a 4 percent retention rate for those same drivers that survive or stay with the carriers past the 274-day average retention period. This means they are collecting unpaid educational fees from more than 81 percent of the trainees that don’t make it. Those drivers are paying for the balance owed for the schooling, because of contractual agreements made when entering the school for another four to five years. Oh yeah, this encourages students to stay with the companies. So now we are still not filling the empty seats, or we are filling them with less-qualified or inadequately trained drivers. The larger companies will have to lower standards and place drivers behind the wheel quicker to keep the fleets moving and meet the proposed new regulations.

Point 4: These additional regulations are being implemented to lower crash and fatality rates, and, let’s be frank, to appease P.A.T.T., C.R.A.S.H., the DOT, FMCSA, NTSB and Advocates for Highway Safety we as an industry have reduced the crash and fatality rates over many years and have learned to live with the current regulations. They have shoved CSA at us, making drivers more accountable, and we have listened and adapted — and it’s working.

Regulations that will result in more traffic to move the same tonnage, less qualified and trained drivers to haul it, and fewer drivers in aggregate as CSA scores will force carriers to remove problem drivers to prevent an “intervention” is no formula for safety improvement. It will do nothing but increase crashes and fatalities and totally eradicate all the improvements we have accomplished by trying to improve the industry, as well as provide additional ammunition for the advocacy groups to further restrict our industry.

Improving conditions, pay, rewards, trust and attitudes toward drivers begins with the companies being able to afford improvements. I don’t see an atmosphere right now allowing that, or any company taking a chance with pending rules and unknowns venturing in a new direction for driver improvement. I see a recipe for disaster created by the burden of new regulations, and additional costs to the carriers to comply. One of the first cuts in an economically strapped company is resources for safety, and cutting safety will improve nothing.
–Rich Wilson, Regulatory Manager, Trans Products / Trans Services

  • Marc Mayfield

    Thanks, Todd. I have to agree 100% with everything Rich said. There doesn’t seem to be a way for drivers–those who know the job because they do the job–to be heard and, of more importance, to be taken seriously. I’ll have more comments after I take two consecutive 1 a.m.-5 a.m. breaks and climb down from the sleeper fully rested.

  • Kari Fisher

    We need industry standards for schools, mills and companies. Minimum qualifications across the board. Trainers need to be trained to train any student. No more of this team driving training either. Company training should be paid on the job training. If the student fails then part ways No more of the so called financing that is being pulled now with loans.

  • Bandit

    I agree Marc, Rich has pretty much hit the proverbial nail on the head with all that he is saying. I only have one thing to add to all of this….I have said for a very long time now, Please don’t try to regulate, control, or tell someone else how to be an active, safe and productive member of any occupation that you have no first hand experience in or that you have never personally done yourself. If you want to tell someone else how to do a job, no matter what it is, first go do that job yourself and then remember not to ask anyone else to do what you would not do yourself. I, like every other life-time truck driver could go on and on and probably write a book on this subject, so I’ll reserve the rest of my thoughts and give the rest a chance to express theirs. Thanks for another thought inspiring post Todd.

  • tribal

    There is no doubt, as in all occupations, that we truckers do need regulations, not just in the safety and health. we have a system, and some parts are certainly broken. Training IS HUGE. Education is important, there is much to know about the road and although it’s not rocket science, there is a lot of info that schools don’t even touch on, that is more than obvious. Political driven mandates are for the most part party pleasers and some are definitely going to have a huge detrimental impact on the economy. I have 15 + years OTR and see far more important areas of this business that REALLY need changed and there is not ONE line of that anywhere except our own. Shippers, Taxation, Tolls, PARKING and the list goes on. TrbAl

  • Bandit

    Very good post ‘tribal’. One huge change that needs to be looked at is ‘stop nickel and diming the trucker to death. Give him the honest opportunity to make a decent living and support his business and his family and you’ll be surprised how much of these other issues fall right into place.

  • Pro Driver

    As a “Older” driver at 54 and also one who graduated from a Legitimate Truck driver training school, then worked a year doing Driveaway, then Flatbed and Van, for another 5 years, and now drives expedited freight, Ive been affected by these new sleep apnea regulations because I have a large neck. Im a big guy been that way all my life, wore a size 18 neck shirt in High school, Have no issues sleeping or with fatigue EVER, But Im forced to endure a CPAP machine because they say I have sleep apnea, although I exhibit no sypmtoms !!! When does the witch hunt end with drivers.
    Overall Ive been driving trucks in one from or another for 20 years or more if you count my years in a straight truck, I have never had a accident, ticket, freight claim or Issue while driving, Ive got safety awards from several orginasations including the state, and past companys. But Im getting tired of the added regulations because the BIG SHOTS who have money can lobby a congress man and get these laws passed, which I have to pay for, its Hypocrisy at its finest. You dont care about the real underlying issues in trucking you just keep adding in CSA, PTA, IFBM FMCSA, and soon youll have to Pick up your lawnmower in Peoria from John Deere and drive it to your house in the back of your car, Because truckers are being forced to endure garbage like the Sleep Apnea issue, I was diagnosed by a doctor who said he couldnt see the back of my throat, then told at the sleep specialist they could see the back of my throat fine, Do I snore, WHO DOESNT…If I felt I was a safety risk Id NEVER get behind the wheel as many other drivers wouldnt. But keep on forcing this issues and creating more and more safety lobbys and bribing congressmen and soon we wont have the trucks to deliver anything….I hear the so called percentages etc, but where are the thousands of trucks that should be crashing as the driver sleeps….its not happening, somebody is profitting HUGELY off this new medical condition, These so called DOT Clinis=cs do the worst physical you can buy and Ill never go back, thats how I got in this mess, From now on my own doctor will get my business and if thats not good enough for the FMCSA and DFOT they can pay me to live on Unemployment and Disability.

  • Bandit

    Amen and Thank You Sir. I doubt that there is anyone who could say it any better than you just did. Best of Luck and Safe Motoring.

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