The undeclared war on owner-operators

Greg Fulton | July 30, 2013

Why would our government make war on one of the most productive and safest groups in the transportation sector?

While there is no declared or undeclared war on owner-operators and independent drivers by government, it sure feels like it for many of them.  How else can one explain the variety of laws, regulations, and rules that have come out or are pending that may adversely affect them?

The title of this letter to Overdrive by Colorado Motor Carriers Association President Gregory Fulton, he says, is "a phrase that I heard from a frustrated owner-operator."

The title of this op-ed for Overdrive by Colorado Motor Carriers Association President Greg Fulton, he says, is “a phrase that I heard from a frustrated owner-operator.”

Let’s look at what this undeclared war looks like.

First, we have the federal and many state governments seeking to redefine and reinterpret what constitutes an independent contractor in trucking and the relationship between motor carriers and owner-operators.  The independent contractor model and use of owner-operators in the trucking industry has  been in place for more than 50 years, and many of the owners of the largest trucking companies in the country started as independent drivers. While this model is not perfect, it has generally worked well for both independent drivers and companies. Now we have a number of states pushing for these owner-operators to be considered employees instead of independent contractors. This concept fails to recognize that there are thousands of employee-driving jobs available across the country that these talented individuals could accept. Instead, they choose to be  owner-operators because of the freedom it provides them and the opportunities (and risks) of being their own boss and running their own small business. Unfortunately, this push by some state governments and other interest groups has had a chilling effect as some companies reconsider the use of owner-operators for fear that they may be subject to unwarranted investigations and fines.

In the end this push by government acts to limit the opportunities for owner-operators and independent drivers.

Second, there are the new hours of service (HOS) rules, which have disproportionately affected many owner-operators. The timing of these rules is particularly frustrating as those independent drivers, who recently survived the country’s worst recession in our generation and are still struggling, now face another  blow to their financial well-being. Probably even more vexing is that the new rules are not based on sound science and offer little benefit in their eyes in the way of safety.

While the new HOS rules are disconcerting, more regulations are on the way. The recent federal highway reauthorization (MAP-21)  requires FMCSA  to complete 29 new safety regulations within 27 months. Included in this list are several that will affect owner-operators, including rules for electronic logging devices, a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results, new guidelines for safety inspections and others. While many of these proposed regulations and rules may have value in improving safety, the sheer volume of them will pose a further challenge for owner-operators in the way of costs and trying to stay compliant.

Third, the changing standards for vehicles have increased costs while posing a challenge in reliability. The 2014 engine standards are estimated to increase costs for a tractor by thousands of dollars. Based on the fact that large fleets buy significant numbers of new trucks, their costs will be substantially less per truck than those of an owner-operator buying one vehicle. Unfortunately, these new engines come on the heels of the 2010 models, which have had their share of problems from a reliability standpoint. New standards for brakes and other safety features will further push up vehicle costs in the near term, creating an even greater cost gap between owner-operators and fleets.

Finally, there is the staggering number of new state and local regulations targeted at trucking. These include local air quality regulations, idling standards, parking restrictions, noise ordinances, new fees and etc. The changes created by these new regulations are usually poorly communicated to the trucking industry and even more so to independents. In many cases, the fines for violating one of these laws can be very steep, as local governments equate big trucks with big income. In many cases independents only find out about a new regulation after they have been fined for it, which may wipe out the entire profit from a run for an owner-operator.

How do we get to a truce in this undeclared war? As in any battle, one stops firing the weapons. In this case, the weapons happen to be regulations and laws that are ill-considered and lack input from the people most affected. We need the government at all levels to “disarm” by curtailing new regulations and rules and reconsidering some of the existing ones, such as the new hours of service. Owner-operators and independent drivers have helped to build the trucking industry in our country into the most efficient freight operation in the world. Let’s not strangle these industrious and hardworking individuals with voluminous rules which are long on paper and short on benefit.

  • USMC 69-75

    Looks can be deceiving dolt!
    If it came down to you and Jimmy… money would be on Jimmy. Just the way you talk, you couldn’t find your way out of that 53 foot trailer you drag, around with the doors wide open!

  • Brad K

    I was reading some of the comments and you wonder why truckers are being picked on? Listen to us; slashing each others throat with absolutely no class remarks. Most don’t even know how to spell. We truckers are not the only ones reading this. I have been driving since a teenager and now I am almost 60. it is disgusting what I have seen on the roads. Look at our truck stops; they look like what the inside of a dumpster should be. Urine bottles all over the parking lots. The smell on a hot day will knock you down. Many truckers have destroyed the image we once had. If we are not smart enough to stick together and help one another how could we be smart enough to stop driving when we are tired. Many truckers just keep driving endangering yours and my families. How many times have you seen a bully truck driver trying to run off a 4 wheeler. Sorry, but when I go home from driving all week I drive home in a 4 wheeler. I am all for safety, but I agree we don’t make enough money to justify the hours we should be parked. I think the 30 minute break in 8 hours is a smart move. Think about it, are you really focused properly while driving that long, Don’t you ever stop to even check tires? Truckers, that 30 minute break you could maybe read a dictionary or an English book to better be able to speak properly without the “F” bomb every sentence. Remember the public see what we do and hear what we say. We are getting what we deserve, so lets clean up our act and act professional and maybe higher authorities may take us serious. I love trucking, but many of my so called fellow brothers have ruined it. Sorry guys and gals, but it is the truth and ya all know it. First lets clean our back yard then work on Government.

  • cordopolitin

    Organizing a union and you would like some help?

  • steve4447

    A 3 Day Shut Down would shut down the whole country ..

    But you guys will never stick together….I am sure that you would scab your own strike..

    Keep doing what you are doing ..And…Keep getting what you are getting!….And be happy with the crumbs that they throw you..

  • Ed

    This is one of the reasons I sold all my trucks. Good luck everyone, trucking is a thing of the past as an owner operator.

  • Steve

    Under Bush, we didn’t see any of these oppressive laws. Even the cross border program was blocked on his watch. Yet, in less than 5 years, under the Obama administration more damage has been done to the small business man than the entire 8 years of Bush!

  • Dave Nichols

    Wow, someone actually ‘gets it’

  • Dave Nichols

    In the end, business is about profit. (or loss) This in turn is governed by supply and demand. If shippers or brokers have enough or more trucks than needed, rates fall. When there are too few trucks, rates rise. Simple enough. We as business people have some control over the supply of trucks by declining cheap freight. When we wont roll, the rates will rise to a point we will roll. Chances are if you are still in business today after the past 6 years, you know a little about how to make this work for yourselves.
    If rules say we run fewer hours, take a break now and then? Lets just make it work as a good thing for ourselves. Work less, charge more.

  • John

    The government would love to consider owner operators employees. That way they could include us in paying for the Obama care that will bleed the Country dry if it cannot find more contributors.

  • John

    Many states have more people on aid then people working. What is wrong with that picture? Nothing good for sure and its not sustainable no matter how many wealthy people their are.

  • kevin chevalier

    there right about the bottom dollar being affected, these idiot logs are designed to slow you down and to make sure your late for appointments, why is it you run your ass off against extreme opposition to meet some unrealistic deadline set by some butthole that dose not take in consideration any extra obstacles that you will encounter daily, shippers, receivers and logistic companies, do not or will not revise or
    change their way to accommodate hours of service, these people have more influence than the ATA or OOIDA put together, shutting down your truck is a good way to get attention ,if you remember the air traffic controllers union tried that shit, it didn’t work because the Nazi party in control stepped in and forced them under duress to return to work
    or suffer the consequents, drivers are only part of the problem, the constant push and piss poor time management,
    of everyone involved has a confound influence on your product, these new rules are the product of board idiots who have no idea what its really about other than what they’ve read in a book or paid for information by C.R.A.S.H. or P.A.T.T., these people are your real enemies ,these focus groups are responsible for most
    of your rule changing, these pricks have shown the worst
    end of trucking they could possibly dredge up.
    The interstate system was designed for military and commerce use, not for dangerous aggressive morons
    with no common sense on 4 wheels, for the most part
    we all try to drive safely, unfortunately that’s probably
    less than 50% of licensed public. in nut bag where a hell
    of a source of revenue ladies and gentlemen, why kill your
    self over undue stress, its going to take a hell of a lot of force to affect a change in the rules, FMCSA is made up
    by office workers, board house wives, and old farts with nothing better to do but dream up dumb shit that dose not affect them in any way, how can you put something so vital in the hands of people with no experience, these are not experts just ordinary people who rely on second hand
    information fed to them by special interest groups.
    I wonder what the kick back is? anyway this will be an ongoing subject for a while till these rocket scientist
    figure it out or not, if you want to affect change slow down
    be late, show them how HOS will affect your ETA,
    THIS MEANS YOU WILL ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO THE SPEED LIMIT, trying to beat the log has increased the
    danger 2 fold , why? you didn’t cause this so why try to
    fix some other assholes problem.
    good luck drivers, stay safe.

  • joetrucker

    all drivers need to band together and file a discrimation lawsuit on the federal GOV as there are nowhere near the laws on airlines and railroad as well as any business as there is in trucking!!!

  • barbitrout

    Maybe it is time to penalize the government for not planning budgets and trying to cost Americans even more in taxes. Instead of new rules and regs… Put all of them out of business and independent o/o in….
    Look at Texas. Only ones smart enough to fine 4 wheelers for driving stupidly around big trucks and saving insurance companies, owners and medical facilities millions in $$$$.
    Fine these people for safety issues violated….

  • barbitrout

    fine government officials for not doing their job

  • ProgressisKillingus

    The mileage thresholds for practical Rail service are approaching the 600 miles We can log in a day.
    It`s all over but the crying I think….

  • Diesel666

    …after 31 years OTR I have to agree with you

  • Diesel666


  • Barton van Buskirk

    being an owner/operator is ever changing job…with any small business.. that being said it wont matter what the government changes if you make a dollar somebody else wants to make your dollar..;

  • Barton van Buskirk

    being an owner/operator is ever changing job…with any small business.. that being said it wont matter what the government changes if you make a dollar somebody else wants …



  • peddle pounder

    War is right! but its pretty much a one sided to me we bitch and grown but we can’t get along long enough to fix the problem. You put four trucker in the same room and you will get four different answers. I think its time to call it quits with the me, me look and say OK Guys and girls it time to fix this problem and help ourselves , cause the less wee roll the less we eat!

  • jr023

    the independent concept made sense for long haul when you can take different loads from various shippers but co are firing employees and changing status to independent for fixed route product del, appliance del parts del. labs last mile courier and the responsibilities are exactly the same just all the expenses are the employees and the rates are so low there’s no way to run decent equipment the plan i was offered 8-9 hr day 140 miles tolls using a 4 cyl tk i already owned i might make $6.00
    before taxes and no way to save to get a replacement vehicle
    not to mention no workman’s so most companys are abusing the status the driver has no control of anything they even require the purchase and wearing of there uniform so even if you could grab some small fill in stops when your wearing abc not your co name the co has 100% you have nothing

  • espfan

    i am shutting my truck down from September 20th till November 15th. Wanna join? Or just make it October.

  • Dave Robbins

    ooida needs to form a shut down.

  • Dave Robbins

    HA CAL HOW ARE YOU GOING TO GET ALL THEM VEGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGS OUT of cal this winter.if I cant come to your state no more?

  • Jess McClure

    so sorry for the american trucker right now – if i could i would pay for you guys to shut down for two months and see how the economy works out – it would only have to happen one time and the nation would want truckers back on the road and see how we are the real engine of america – God Bless the Independent Trucker in america and the drivers too – strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.