DALLAS, Texas -- A serious disconnect between the realities of trucking and the decision makers in Washington and state capitols around the US is threatening to seriously hamper the industry’s productivity.
That was the message from Dan England, chairman of C.R. England and also the American Trucking Associations as he spoke at the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference today in Dallas.
England held up the new hours-of-service rules as Exhibit A. He noted that since the current rules were put into place in 2004, truck-related fatalities have declined 29% and injuries even more so.
“With this kind of performance, you ask yourself ‘Why is the government coming forward and wanting to change the hours-of-service rules?’ It seems to defy reason. It’s all about politics. It’s very clear the current Administration is beholden to certain interest groups, labour being one of them,” England said.
The ATA has sued the FMCSA, and given the flawed data the agency has used to support its case, England said he’s optimistic the association will defeat the proposed changes. In a cost-benefit analysis prepared by the FMCSA, England noted the agency deviated from its usual consensus that 2.2% of truck accidents were caused by fatigue and now uses a figure of 13%. This is because the agency now considers all “associated factors” to be the cause of the accident, and in some cases fatigue may be just one of several so-called associated factors.
As an example, England said a crash involving a mildly fatigued driver, on an unfamiliar road, in bad weather after being cut off by another motorist is now categorized as a fatigue-related accident.
“This is the kind of reasoning that’s being used by the agency in trying to justify these changes,” England said. “That’s a tremendous error they’re making. Instead of looking for one causal factor in an accident, they’re looking for associated causes and there could be five or six associated causes.”
Even using that flawed logic, England said the costs of the new rules will still outweigh the benefits. England figures his company itself would require six to 13% more hours to complete some of its dedicated runs than it does today if the new rules go into effect.
England also pointed out the FMCSA overstated the benefits of the new rules. According to England, the FMCSA says there would be US$170 million in savings if 10% of drivers got an additional 4.8 minutes of extra sleep per night under the new rules and another $20 million would be generated for every 14.4 seconds of extra sleep per night.
“Does that make sense to you?” England blasted. “This is the kind of reasoning we’re dealing with here.”
England also had some critical words for CSA, which the ATA originally supported - and still does, though it too has its flaws. England said the FMCSA has rushed the rollout of CSA and lost sight of its original charter, which was to improve safety and reduce truck-related fatalities.
England said too many carriers are being deemed unsafe by shippers and insurers, even if they have garnered alerts in categories that aren’t directly linked to safety. For example, the new Haz-Mat BASIC has seen many part-time HazMat haulers red-flagged for seemingly minor violations such as improperly displaying placards. An uninformed public sees the red flags and assumes the carrier is unsafe.
“Most carriers who haul HazMat on a regular basis don’t seem to have a problem in terms of it showing them as being on alert and so forth, but carriers who haul HazMat on an irregular basis, they tend to show poorly in this area,” England explained. “What it really does is measure how well you put placards on your trailer. I ask you, what does that have to do with safety and crash risk? It really has nothing to do with it.”
Another issue south of the border is the attempt by desperately broke state governments to reclassify independent contractors as employees, so they can generate more employment taxes. England said the movement is gaining steam and is supported by labour unions and trial lawyers - the former so they can organize them and the latter so they can sue carriers for not extending benefits that company drivers are entitled to.
“We at the ATA are working very hard on a state-by-state basis in fighting this issue,” England said.
Another battleground for the association is that of highway funding. Many legislators are leaning towards road tolls to generate revenue without introducing new taxes. However, England said the industry favours higher fuel taxes. The reason?
“When a road is tolled, of every $1 taken in by tolls, 35% goes to administrative costs,” he said. “In the case of fuel taxes, it’s about 1%. The politicians support tolls so they don’t have to support taxes, so the taxpayers won’t be angry. But the end result is the taxpayer pays more money anyway because of the tremendous administrative costs.”
When asked what four more years of Obama may mean to the trucking industry, England was candid: “I just don’t like the direction the country is going in right now,” he said. “There’s a certain demonization taking place of businesspeople and that demonization is reflected in increased regulations and poor regulations…What it ultimately means is that there’s going to be more costs associated with doing what we do and I don’t think there will be an improvement in safety.”