Driver shortage, safety, drug testing among topics addressed
By HireMaster staff
Witnesses for the nation’s trucking industry were on Capitol Hill Wednesday testifying before the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit on several issues that impact an industry “Under Pressure” – the title of the hearing.
One of the more interesting dynamics of the testimony was the continued conflicting sides of the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association on the veracity of a driver’s shortage within the industry.
Chris Spear, president and CEO of the ATA, cited the Teamsters and Federal Reserve Board saying the industry was in a “severe labor shortage” that threatens the cost of moving freight as well as supply chain efficiency.
He cited figures that showed the industry was short 50,000 drivers in 2017, and if the trend holds the shortage could grow to more than 174,000 by 2026. All that, despite seeing private fleet driver pay rise 18 percent from 2014-17.
He advocated, among other things, reforms in occupational licensing that include lowering the age of qualified interstate truck drivers, eliminating barriers for out-of-state driver candidates, eliminating delays in testing and supporting efforts to recruit, train and hire from non-traditional communities.
“Trucking is the fulcrum point in the United States’ supply chain,” Spear said in his 22-page statement. “Without trucks, our cities, towns and communities would lack key necessities … Trucks are central to our nation’s economy and our way of life and every time the government makes a decision that effects the trucking industry those impacts are also felt by individuals and by the millions of businesses that could not exist without trucks.
“The hearing’s title rightly recognizes the state of the trucking industry, and that is “under pressure.’ Indeed the trucking industry is in many ways at an operational crossroads.”
Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the 160,000-member OOIDA, called the notion of a driver shortage a “myth,” propagated by large carriers to increase their supply of cheap labor to stem the tide of their increasing turnover rates.
High driver turnover, he acknowledged, is a “serious” problem in the industry, but emphasized “there is no driver shortage.” He noted 400,000 new CDL licenses are granted each year, but cited most of the new drivers won’t last more than a few months because of circumstances they face in the industry. He defined the current condition of the American trucking industry as “broken,” taking aim at an “outrageously extensive” list of government regulations and citing particularly the ELD mandate.
“If Congress is serious about improving the state of trucking in America – and I believe you are – you must start by helping to make careers in trucking more viable,” Spencer told lawmakers. “To do so, you must work to create a regulatory environment featuring rules that are proven to enhance safety … limit the implementation of one-size-fits-all requirements that fail to reflect the diversity of trucking … (and take steps to) improve working conditions and ensure drivers are fairly compensated.”
In an alarming piece of testimony, The Trucking Alliance submitted a statement for the record that included data “showing compelling evidence that thousands of habitual drug users are manipulating federal drug test protocols” while landing jobs as commercial truck drivers.
Lane Kidd, the managing director of the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, reported in comments he submitted on behalf of the group that nearly 95 percent of more than 150,000 driver applicants in its survey tested drug-free in both urinalysis and hair analysis testing. But he noted thousands failed either or both tests.
He said urinalysis, the only method recognized by USDOT and relied on “by almost all” trucking employers, missed nine out of 10 illicit drug users in the survey. Correlating the sample size through the 3.5 million commercial truck drivers on the road translates to more than 300,000 drivers failing or refusing the hair test.
“The survey results are compelling evidence that thousands of habitual drug users are skirting a system designed to prohibit drug use in transportation,” the submitted comments said. “Thousands of drug abusers are obtaining jobs as truck drivers, despite their drug use … Drug use in the trucking industry is a public safety crisis … These illicit drug users must be identified and taken out of commercial trucks and off the nation’s highways. The trucking industry has no greater safety issue, than to aggressively address illegal drug use among commercial truck drivers.”
The group also advocated no industry segment should be exempt from installing ELDs, drivers should be 21 or older to operate in interstate commerce, large trucks should be held to a maximum speed of 65 mph, and collision mitigation systems should be required in all new commercial trucks.
Lawmakers also heard testimony from Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; LaMont Byrd, health and safety director of the Teamsters; Jason Craig, director of government affairs for C.H. Robinson; Rodney Noble, PepsiCo.’s senior director for Transportation Global Procurement; Deputy Chief Mark Savage of the Colorado Highway Patrol (on behalf of the Commerical Vehicle Safety Alliance); and truck safety advocate Andy Young.
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