Truckers under Siege II

by Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven
Following up on the government’s war on long-haul truckers

It happens sometimes. You write something about public policy that hits home. That’s what happened when Betsy Morris of the Wall Street Journal told the story of Manuel Hernandez, a 50-year-old long-haul trucker whose living and way of life are under assault by bureaucrats working at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FMCSA had made changes in the rules for how long drivers can go without resting, and even what hours their breaks between workweeks must include.

There is only one problem. The rules aren’t working. “Sometimes, when you are not tired, you have to sleep, and when you’re tired, you have to drive,” Hernandez told Ms. Morris.

In addition, more and more drivers are being forced to drive at hours when there is more traffic, slowing them down and increasing the chances of accidents. Worse yet, many experienced drivers are thinking of quitting the business because their average wage has plummeted, largely because of the aggregate impact of all the new rules piled up on top of all the old ones governing their lives and their rigs.

It was a heck of a story about how bureaucracies in Washington, D.C., wage war against our own citizens, and last week we wrote about this war on long-haul truckers. And my oh my, did we hear back from truckers! Some of the comments are so good, they deserve columns of their own. Here is one by someone who signs himself “Tankpuller.”

I drove big trucks for 32 years. It was a fun job when I started out driving. Each year more regulations and less freedom for me to decide when I was ready to sleep or eat. I retired this year before the government “safety regulations” could get me killed. I loved driving but I don’t miss the government intrusions in my life.

Here is another, by someone called KRELL51:

Anyone who has driven much at night knows you don’t eat and stay awake, and sitting for 45 min for no particular reason just makes you tireder than you already were. No person should be allowed to write regulations for a job that they aren’t qualified to do.

This is a comment by Jason, which echoes KRELL51’s:

The problem isn’t “tired truckers,” it’s big shots in Washington that have never been in a truck making rules with no facts to support their findings. I know how many hours I can drive before I need sleep, I know how many hours of sleep I need before I can drive again and function safely. Quit making rules that take me out of that zone, and let me drive the truck. I don’t tell them how to do their job — let me do mine.

And then there is this testimony from someone who calls himself YeOldeDave:

I’m like the cat they wrote this article about, 43 years & haven’t run over a soul & I’m the kinda folks that you should wanna retain in this biz. I woulda driven til they had to pry my fingers off the wheel but….. No more, I’ve had it. Sorry, ya had yer chance, I’m gone in a while………… It’s no fun anymore, in fact it’s become a God-forsaken chore to drive a truck. Enjoy dodging the 2 week wonders that’ll replace me and thousands of other good, experienced but fed-up drivers.

Hopefully, when YeOldeDave quits driving, he’ll take up hosting a national radio show.

But it isn’t just anecdotal reporting from truckers that is in abundance. There is research, too, from the American Transportation Research Institute. It surveyed more than 2,300 professional truck drivers this fall about the impact of the new rules and released a comprehensive report of its findings. Here are a few:

• A total of 67.4 percent of the survey respondents reported experiencing a decrease in their income.

• Pay reduction from the new rules was estimated at between $1.6 billion and $3.9 billion annually for 1.6 million long-haul truckers.

• Nearly half of the drivers indicated that the rule changes had a “very negative” impact, and a combined 82.5 percent indicated a “somewhat negative” or “very negative” impact.

And then there was this data point, the most alarming of them all: Though the new rules were designed to lessen driver fatigue, drivers overwhelmingly reported that the rule changes actually increased fatigue levels; 66 percent thought the new rules made them more tired, not less.

It wasn’t just truckers who chimed in. The American Trucking Associations (ATA), the trucking industry’s largest trade group, with over 30,000 members, surveyed over 400 businesses and found that the rules are hurting them too, particularly small trucking companies.

Here are some of the findings:

• Less productive trucking operations and lower company revenue, mainly as a result of longer off-duty periods for drivers and fewer weekly miles by many drivers.

• Higher levels of driver stress and frustration, and greater job dissatisfaction, from unnecessary restrictions on their workday and workweek.

Perhaps the most important data point was this: Not a single driver or fleet manager has communicated to the ATA a belief that these rules will improve the safety or the health of drivers. Not one.

Duane Long, who owns a trucking and logistics company based in Raleigh, N.C., testified recently before Congress about the impact the new rules are having on the business he and his wife started back in 1994. They operate an average of 45 trucks, and this is how he described the 105 drivers his family business regularly employs:

They know how to manage their routines to accomplish the workload and get needed rest, in addition to allowing time off for meals, fuel, and the like. They are efficient; one sleeps while the other drives. In short, they resent the intrusion of the government on their daily work routine; they resent the new restart restrictions and the effect they are having on their ability to make a living.

There is some hope on the horizon for the truckers and businesses harmed by these senseless new rules: HR-3413, aptly named the True Safety Act. It would stay the new rules until the Government Accountability Office can conduct an independent and thorough review.

Let’s hope Congress heeds the words of Duane Long, and Manuel Hernandez, and Tankpuller, KRELL51, and YeOldeDave.

And these words from someone who identified himself as Samuel Colt, commenting last week on our original story:

I’m in this industry. It’s getting harder and harder to hire drivers because the job is difficult, you’re away from home, and if the wages drop any more you can make 2/3s as much sitting at home on welfare.

— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network and a senior adviser to AmericaStrong. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan. . . . Mike Leven is the president and COO of the Las Vegas Sands and a member of the Job Creators Alliance.

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