ENOUGH ALREADY

The June issue of Maxim magazine ran an ad placed by a San Antonio law firm which had a picture of the front of an over the road tractor with the tagline, “Serial Killer”. Below the photo the ad stated “3561 people died on America’s highways last year. Another 2.36 million were injured. You need a law firm you can trust……………..” Well, I hope they know more about the law than they do about advertising. The ad caused a firestorm. The ATA called it “absolutely appalling and outrageous”. Pilot Flying J pulled the magazine from its 680 truck stops, and the law firm had to shut down its Facebook page because of the avalanche of negative responses. Of course everyone has apologized, but the damage has been done.

Everyone in this industry knows there is a shortage of drivers that will only get worse as the economy improves. Salary is an issue of course, but the lack of interest in driving over the road is not all about money. It is about a lifestyle issue that will not be resolved by a few dollars per hour.  Long hours, long absences from home, marginal rest facilities, bad roads and bad food tend to push truck driving pretty far down the list of desirable occupations. It is good, honest work, but it can wreak havoc with personal and family responsibilities and activities. Drivers and their families have birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and hobbies just like the rest of us; but many, if not most of these occasions will be celebrated on the road.

Shippers and receivers in many cases have not made it any more comfortable. Delays in loading and unloading frequently disrupt drivers’ schedules. Facilities for drivers at many companies are sub-standard at best; and in some cases, facilities for women are non-existent.

Often when there is some sort of occupational unpleasantness, one can find the tentacles of the Federal government somewhere in the mix, and trucking is no exception. Drivers’ hours of service have been a source of controversy for years, with concerns about highway safety, productivity, and increased costs usually the basic areas of disagreement. Until this summer drivers operated under rules modified in 2004, but this year the number of hours a driver can work in a week has been reduced by 12, and required rest periods have been extended. The 34 hour restart rule has been particularly troublesome for drivers. With lost productivity estimated by the industry at anywhere from 2 to 10% as a result of these changes, experts predict that shippers can expect truck rates to increase from 4 to 10% over the next twelve months. This loss of capacity, coupled with already existing driver shortages can only hurt the carriers and ultimately, the consumer.

Another issue has been the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative (CSA 2010). This program was designed to identify drivers and carriers that pose safety problems and to take the necessary corrective steps. Drivers and carriers are now scored in seven basic categories – unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, use of controlled substances or alcohol, vehicle maintenance, improper loading or cargo securing, and

On the surface it is difficult to argue that this is a bad thing. Clear violations of these regulations should be punished, but there have been numerous instances of uneven or unclear enforcement. Right or wrong, CSA 2010 is taking drivers out of the system. Noel Perry; trucking economist at FTR Associates predicts that we will see a “regulatory-driven shortage of over 300,000 drivers” by 2016.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch