The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association expressed disappointment and disagreement with several talking points acting FMCSA boss Robin Hutcheson raised during the beginning of her Senate confirmation on Wednesday.The criticism came despite the organization having expressed support for her candidacy.
Hutcheson on Wednesday testified to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and promised to "expeditiously" implement parts of the 2021 infrastructure bill that would set up a pilot program to allow under-21 drivers to haul freight interstate after meeting training guidelines.
Hutcheson faced a grilling from Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi as to why the FMCSA had introduced additional hurdles for carriers to participate in the program, namely the requirement that participants join a registered apprenticeship under guidelines set by the Department of Labor.
"We didn't put that in the law," Wicker said. "There's no mention of that whatever, and as everyone knows there's alternative apprenticeships." He did note that the program came about before her tenure as the acting head of the organization.
"Are you aware of where that requirement originated?" he asked.
Hutcheson did not directly answer as to the origins of the regulation, but agreed to continue conversations with the Senator, who stressed that the bipartisan bill's language was specific, and that the FMCSA's added requirements may not have played well with the Senate.
But from OOIDA's perspective, it's a moot point. Hutcheson and several senators stressed that trucking was undergoing a "driver shortage," and frequently put forward the pilot program as part of a possible fix. OOIDA, in its statement, "adamantly refuted" what it called a "mythical" driver shortage narrative, as well as the idea that younger drivers could fix it.
"Some Senators and even Ms.Hutcheson herself seemed to indicate [the under-21 pilot program] is the best way to recruit more drivers," OOIDA President Todd Spencer said in a statement. "Make no mistake, this approach will result in more highway fatalities and will not address the systemic problems that make it difficult for individuals to sustain a steady career in trucking."
Hutcheson's "testimony acknowledged that enhancing driver compensation, reducing excessive detention time, eliminating predatory truck leasing schemes, and bringing in more women into the industry" represented "long term" solutions, the organization noted.
But, Spencer said, "if the agency is serious about reversing staggering crash numbers and improving driver retention, then these actions and many others must come before ensuring that younger drivers can enter the profession."
Further, he said the organization was "disappointed that there was no discussion about the need for expanding parking capacity at a time when Congressional Leaders are telling the Department of Transportation that the lack of parking remains a critical safety issue that requires immediate attention."
The issue of speed limiters, recently proposed for a mandate by the FMCSA under Hutcheson, also sent up red flags. "[A] recent proposal to advance mandatory speed limiters on commercial trucks and putting critical interests on the backburner raises concerns about what policies will be prioritized by the agency under Ms. Hutcheson. We look forward to reviewing any clarifications or further responses on additional questions submitted for the record," the organization's statement concluded.
For more coverage of Hutcheson's testimony, read an overview here.