The biggest regulatory target in the country

Illustration by David Q. WatsonIllustration 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.

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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.