House Hearing Looks at Trucking Workforce, Safety Concerns

June 13, 2019

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a hearing on Wednesday, June 12. The hearing called eight expert witnesses to testify on the state of trucking in America, where the focus was largely centered on the truck driving workforce, safety standards, and incorporation of technology. The panel of witnesses had a diverse set of views on these issues which led to a lively debate on the minutia

Workforce Concerns

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair DeFazio (D-OR) began his questioning, seeking clarification on the issue of driver shortage. Todd Spencer of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association took exception to the notion that there is a shortage of driver s in his opening remarks. Spencer cited the issuance of over 400,000 new commercial driver’s licenses issued each year, and instead pointed to driver attrition rather than a lack of qualified drivers. Spencer largely blamed the methods of driver compensation, relying on per mile rather than time based payment models.

Andy Young, a trucking safety advocate, and Cathy Chase of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, went further questioning the role of detention time, time spent by a driver at a loading or unloading facility, as a reason for considering alternative payment models for drivers. Both advocated for a new funding model that compensates drivers for their time, rather than distance. This would allow for drivers to decrease the total number of working hours, by resting during times they would otherwise be driving to make up for lost wages caused by traffic congestion or detention time. Spencer tied this issue back to workforce retention, highlighting that many of the operators in his organization work over 70 hours per week, with no overtime compensation.

Safety Standards

Testimony on safety revolved around a number of issues; lowering the interstate truck driving age from 21 to 18, mandating currently optional safety devices in all trucking vehicles, and the veracity of claims regarding the safety benefits of side guards on trailers.

Lamont Byrd of the international Brotherhood of Teamsters concurred with Spencer on opposing a lowering on the interstate trucking age. Byrd went on to advocate for the use of apprenticeship programs that begin training around 18 years of age, so when an apprentice approaches 21, they have years of experience and have been fully trained on how to properly drive.

This was in stark contrast to Chris Spear, President of the American Trucking Associations, who believes there should be no barrier based solely on age for entering the trucking industry. Spear highlighted the importance of proper training and advocated for the passage of the DRIVE-SAFE Act, which would mandate 400 hours of in cab training for new drivers along with requiring vehicles that they operate be fully equipped with a wealth of safety assistance equipment.

The liveliest argument in the hearing revolved around requiring trailers to install side guards to prevent underride collisions. Spear was adamant on resisting calls to require side guards, calling the technology unproven, understudied with regards to effects on the structural integrity of the trailer, and likely ineffective at speeds that would be common on interstates. Andy Young countered with studies that have shown effectiveness at 45 MPH, though it should be noted that this is well below average speeds on interstates.

Video of the hearing can be found here.

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