The biggest regulatory target in the country

By Jack Roberts on
Illustration by David Q. Watson

Illustration by David Q. Watson

Fleet executives, fleet managers and truck drivers – really almost anybody connected to the trucking industry – tend to be conservative in nature. So, naturally, an intense dislike of our current president and the Democratic Party are Standard Operating Procedure at any gathering of truckers these days.

There are many reasons for this polarization. But, when you boil things down to their very essence, the number one reason truckers dislike Democrats and the president seems to be one thing: regulations.

Now, there’s no denying that the Democratic Party is far more regulation-friendly than the Republicans are in most areas. We’re seeing multiple examples of this in our national discourse today in the debates over healthcare, the minimum wage, banking and financial oversight and fracking – just to name a few hot-button topics.

The essential argument goes something like this: Republicans oppose regulations because they place unnecessary burdens on businesses. And besides, capitalism and the invisible hand of the free market will force businesses to act in the best interests of its workers and the country at large. Therefore most regulations are simply not needed and counterproductive.

No, counter the Democrats. Businesses are all about making money and maximizing profits. To do that, businesses can’t be trusted to act in the public good; they’ll naturally take shortcuts in safety or the environment or screw their workers in order to bring as much money as possible down to the bottom line. So we need to put some rules in place and force them to act responsibly.

When you look at those two (very simplified) arguments, it’s easy to see why a majority of truckers are attracted to the Republican Party.

But here’s the thing: After objectively observing this industry for almost two decades now, I have concluded that it really doesn’t matter which party is in power. Trucking, as far as I can see, never, ever catches a break on the regulatory front.

Case in point: I remember back in 2000 after George W. Bush was elected president, several industry insiders told me how happy they were to hear this. Because, they assured me, there was no way this administration was going to enforce the dreaded and hated EPA emissions regulations cooked up during the Clinton administration. Those regulations (which seemed impossible to comply with at the time) would soon be dead and gone. Or, at the very least, severely curtailed to be much more friendly to fleets and the industry as a whole.

As we all know today, those prognosticators were sorely disappointed. The second Bush White House was one of the most business-friendly administrations in recent memory. But it did nothing to alleviate or moderate the looming EPA emissions regs.

As I noted in my CCJ blog and equipment column last month, the industry now is faced with a whole slew of regulations coming its way in the next year or so. And even though the Republicans currently hold the House of Representatives and could (in theory, anyway) propose legislation to alter or moderate these regulations ways beneficial to the industry, don’t hold your breath.

And I’ll tell you why: Because politicians of both parties understand one thing with unwavering clarity: Voters are afraid of trucks.

I hate to sound a discouraging note, but we all know this. It doesn’t matter how good a fleet maintenance program is, or how strong its safety record is, or how many millions of safe driving miles a driver has under their belt, when a voter in a mini-van merges onto a highway at 60 mph and finds a Class 8 tractor with a 53-foot trailer thundering alongside of them, it scares the hell of them. And unlike dealing with a chemical company or a Wall Street institution, this is an interaction and reaction that occurs among the driving public millions of times a day.

The bottom line? Trucking is an easy target – perhaps the easiest target in the country – for politicians to “protect the public” by throwing regulations at today.

So. I hope you vote. And I hope you vote your convictions in the midterm elections later this year. But if you’re in the trucking industry, don’t expect much regulatory relief — no matter which party wins.

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts is executive editor for CCJ and equipment editor for its sister magazine Overdrive. Roberts joined Randall-Reilly in 1995 as associate editor of Equipment World magazine and began covering both heavy-duty and light trucks in 1996. In 2006 he was the founding editor of Total Landscape Care before joining CCJ's staff in 2008.

6 comments
David McQueen
David McQueen

This issue is not new.  In the early 1900s, politicians were very aware that the regulatory powers of federal and state government were being used to garner favor among voters and campaign contributors.  By creating a villain and then promising to defeat said villain through regulatory process (not the messy and difficult legislative process), the voter would be convinced the pol was "on their side".  Also, a huge problem was the machine political bosses who used the regulatory system to stifle competition.  "Big Railroad" and "Big Steel" loved to see small companies roadblocked by the state and federal regulations.  Elimination of the competition then created the "trusts" that Teddy Roosevelt and Warren Harding were against (supposedly), although they were also aware of the danger of populist tyranny.  The search for utopian government continues and as Plato showed in "The Republic", it is impossible to devise (even theoretically) a "perfect" government without eliminating freedom. 

BILL DOLLOFF
BILL DOLLOFF

THE MOVEMENT TO THE NEW HOS HAS IN MY EYES PUT MORE DANGER ON THE HIGHWAYS. THE OLD

PRE JULY WOULD LET A DRIVER STOP AND NAP WHEN HE HAD A NEED. NOW WE HAVE DRIVERS DRIVING TIRED, DRINKING POWER AIDS TO FINISH THERE DRIVING TIME. GENTLEMEN, LETS GET SOME  COMMONSCENCE  BACK INTO OUR THINKING. GET OFF THE TRUCKERS BACK AND HELP THEM. NOT

FINE THEM FOR EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING THAT CAN BE THOUGHT OF.

Joyce Sauer Brenny
Joyce Sauer Brenny

And as the founder of "Trucking Families," I know this for a fact, truckers and their families are afraid of the motorists that drive around the trucks. They have killed, maimed and defamed many of my loved ones and friends. I for one will be bringing this message to the highest court in the land!

DCruse
DCruse

While it's true that we're in business to make a profit, trucking companies provide a valuable service to the country, and are unfairly vilified.  Being a business owner, it would hurt me personally as much as everyone else, but there are times when I would love to see every truck in the country flatly refuse to move an inch until CSA is thrown out the window, the HOS set to pre July 1st guidelines, and all drivers education classes include information about what not to do when driving around CMV's.  Share the road means that the drivers of cars have equal responsibility for safety.  It is completely unacceptable that over-zealous regulation is allowed just because other drivers are fearful.  If people had to do without the products that trucks deliver for a week, maybe attitudes would change.    

Doug Ross
Doug Ross

Right on Jack! Sad but true.

David McQueen
David McQueen

Good article, Jack.  The issue isn't a new one (during the so-called "Gilded Age" of the late 1800s, regulation was a hot button item, too).  The secret to regulating is common sense.  Most politicians demand regulation to satisfy constituents, not to address a legitimate safety issue.  In trucking, I'd suggest cutting the Gordian knot.  The regs have glaciated since the 1930s.  It's time the trucking regs were re-done to address issues of the 21st century and not just continue to add more pages to 49 CFR.

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