The great divide: Debate highlights fractured thinking between large, small carriers

1517785877434 Headshot
Updated Jan 7, 2016

There I stood, on stage in November at the 2015 CCJ Fall Symposium in Scottsdale, Ariz. To my right was David Owen, president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies. To my left was Lane Kidd, managing director for the Alliance for Drivers’ Safety and Security (aka the Trucking Alliance), an association of large carriers including Knight Transportation, J.B. Hunt, Dupre´ Logistics, Boyle Transportation and Maverick Transportation.

The idea behind the point-counterpoint session, loosely titled “Finding Common Ground,” was to discuss several industry issues affecting carriers large and small and see where commonalities stood between the two groups.

As a moderator, I know it’s best to get the dialogue started with something easy, so I lobbed up a softball: twin 33-foot trailers. (I should note that this is one of several issues in which the Trucking Alliance diverges from other large carrier associations such as the American Trucking Associations.) Both panelists agreed that Congress should not allow such an increase, but for different reasons. Kidd cited safety concerns for drivers having to break down and reassemble two trailers, while Owen argued twin 33s would put small fleets at a competitive disadvantage.

The conversation moved quickly to speed limiters, something the Trucking Alliance supports. Kidd said if the industry truly wants to promote safety, speed limiters are hard to argue against. Owen fired back that regulating every truck to max out at 65 or 68 mph would cause huge traffic problems and further erode the public’s image of trucking.

By the time we turned to minimum insurance requirements, the gloves came off (figuratively, that is). Owen berated Kidd for his assertion that the current $750,000 minimum liability coverage hasn’t changed since 1980 and that the amount is inadequate to cover medical costs to accident victims in today’s world. I quickly interjected and asked Kidd what should the minimum be, and he responded, “$3.5 million.”

Owen jumped back in quickly. “It’s the marketplace that should be the driver of correct levels of insurance, not some ambulance-chasing lawyers or robber baron large fleets that can self-insure and then want to levy those amounts on the small carriers that they’d like to snuff out and make them go away,” he said, pounding his fist on the podium like an evangelical preacher while drawing applause from attendees. “That’s why they’ve spent millions promoting this agenda,” pointing at Kidd.

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

As the blood rushed in my ears and I was trying to figure out a way to move off the subject, it dawned on me. To a large extent, both speakers were the perfect embodiment of their respective associations. Kidd was polished, poised and clearly comfortable with a position that involves lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.

Owen, the head of an association representing roughly 5,500 small carriers with a combined 80,000 power units and 85,000 units, was heartfelt, animated and mad as hell.

We continued the discussion with the topic of public visibility of Compliance Safety Accountability scores. Owen maintained that CSA BASIC scores should not be publicly available as long as a carrier was below the threshold. Kidd sharply rebutted (and on this I have to agree) that for those carriers that worked hard and invested so much in training and procedure improvements to improve their scores, how is it fair to them to remove those scores that provide a competitive advantage that they earned?

Despite not living up to the session title of finding common ground, the debate was hardly a flop. In fact, it was a huge success as it outlined the differences in opinions among large and small fleets, and it was refreshing to witness firsthand the passion that exists in our industry, no matter which side you fall on.