ATA chair discusses today’s trucking challenges

Dan England, chairman of C.R. England and chairman of the American Trucking Associations, addressed the audience at the third annual Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference in Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 22, on issues facing the trucking industry and updated attendees on what ATA is doing to combat those issues, including changes to Compliance Safety Accountability’s Safety Measurement System and hours-of-service rules, driver misclassification and highway funding.

“The reason why the issues are so important to us so continually and with steadfastness is because they impact the cost of what we do and the services we provide,” said England. “The regulators imposing burdens on the industry don’t understand the impact on their costs to the industry.”

On the subject of HOS, England said the new final rule has significant impacts on how many hours drivers can operate and changes the restart. ATA recently sued the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration over the changes, questioning the reasoning behind them and bringing to light some of the rule’s flaws.

“Since 2003 when current rules were put into place, the number of truck-related fatalities have dropped by 29 percent, and the percentage improvement of nonfatal crashes is even greater,” said England. “All the while, accident rate is better than passenger car motorists. With this type of performance, why is government changing HOS? It defies reason, and it’s all about politics. The current administration is beholden to certain interest groups – labor being one of them.”

England said ATA continues to be supportive of CSA’s initial concept, but when FMCSA didn’t put out refined BASICs, shippers and insurance companies that now have visibility to whether a carrier is over a BASIC come to their own safety conclusions even if that BASIC alert doesn’t have anything to do with safety.

“In the area of Driver Fitness, even the agency admits there is no correlation in being on alert in that BASIC and actual crash risk,” said England. “If a carrier is on alert, a customer or insurance company could think the carrier is unsafe.”

On the creation of a new Hazmat BASIC, England said carriers that don’t haul hazardous materials on a regular basis could show poorly in this BASIC. “That BASIC basically measures how well you put your placards on the trailer,” said England. “What does that have to do with safety and crash risk? Nothing. It seems that CSA is wandering away from its initial charter of improving safety and toward compliance.”

On the topic of misclassification, England said that independent contractors represent a significant percent of freight moved, and there are forces that want to recategorize ICs and employees, including state governments looking for additional means to refill their coffers by reclassifying ICs to generate more employment taxes; labor unions that want them reclassified so they can organize them; and trial lawyers who want to file class-action lawsuits against carriers.

“The fundamental principles this country was built on of entrepreneurs becoming independent – this flies in the face of that concept,” said England. “We at ATA are working hard on a state-by-state basis to fight this issue.”

With the new highway funding legislation passed, England noted the government still hasn’t dealt with the huge hurdle of how highway construction and repair will be funded.

“We favor increasing fuel taxes,” said England. “We believe in indexing those taxes so going forward there is a means for paying for these highways. Most politicians, if they advocate for a tax increase, they may not be in office very long. They want to build highways, but they advocate for tolls. We’re seeing a great groundswell of state governments advocating for tolls.”