ATA President Calls Out Lawmakers… “Dumbest Policy I’ve Ever Seen!”
Washington D.C. – In a U.S. Senate hearing this week, American Trucking Associations (ATA) president, Chris Spear, called out lawmakers over what he says is the “dumbest policy” he’s ever seen.
At a Senate Transportation and Safety Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Spear exuberantly expressed his support for the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE Safe) Act, and in so doing, took particular exception with lawmakers’ justification for not yet passing it.
The legislation would allow drivers as young as 18 years of age to operate a big rig in interstate commerce.
Since it was re-introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in February 2019, the bill has been, and continues to be, hotly debated within the trucking community.
As part of the DRIVE Safe Act, a qualified driver must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver/trainer in the cab.
Additionally, all trucks used for training in the program must be equipped with NTSB-endorsed safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video event capture and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour.
Stuck in Neutral
Shortly following its reintroduction, Senate sponsors including Sens. Todd Young (R-IN) and Jon Tester (D-MT) expressed “hopeful” optimism the bill would pass “fairly soon.”
However, despite considerable efforts, the DRIVE Safe Act appears to have not yet made it out of the driveway.
As evidence to this, during a Senate hearing last June, Sen. Tester urged the then-Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Ray Martinez, to take the unprecedented step of endorsing the bill.
“You guys try to come forth with an idea on whether you are going to support that [DRIVE-Safe Act] or not because, I will tell ya, if the Department doesn’t support it, we are not going to get it passed, in my opinion, because everybody is concerned about safety,” Tester stated.
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Martinez explained the agency does not take positions on specific legislation because that is not its role in government.
However, he did not resist offering his personal opinion.
“The rule has been in place since the 1930s. It deserves a good hard look now because things have changed. We have new technologies that may be able to monitor and tell us not all drivers under the age of 21 are the same,” he said. “It makes you scratch your head.”
“That’s Got To Be The Dumbest Policy I’ve Ever Seen!”
Supporters like Spear are doing more than simply scratching their heads.
They are going on the offensive.
While he devoted a significant portion of his prepared remarks to the topic during Tuesday’s hearing, it was his unscripted response to a question from Sen. Young that revealed the depth of his consternation as to why the bill remains in legislative peril.
“Forty-nine states allow you to drive a Class 8 at 18-years-old. You just can’t cross state lines.
What I want to know is where is everybody that’s opposing this bill? Where were they on the 49 states that allow you to drive 850 miles in California, but you can’t go 10 miles from Providence, Rhode Island into Rehoboth, Massachusetts?
That’s got to be the dumbest policy I’ve ever seen.”
Spear wasn’t even close to being finished.
“It’s really not about age. It’s about training.
Your [Sen. Young] bill has 400 hours of apprenticeship-based training of which 240 hours you have to have an experienced driver in the cab. You’ve got technology, speed governors, you’ve got cameras, you’ve got anti-mitigation collision controls on that truck.
This bill is responsible. It’s safety-minded. It’s the right thing to do.”
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Supporters like ATA, and the more than 50 industry trade groups backing the bill, argue a “shortage” of more than 60,000 drivers requires legislative action, such as the DRIVE Safe Act, to help alleviate the problem.
“We need access to the next generation of drivers,” Spear stated.
OOIDA’s Pugh Pushes Back
Sitting directly to Spear’s left was Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association’s (OOIDA) executive vice president, Lewie Pugh.
He’s a 20-year trucking veteran with “roughly 2.5 million miles of safe driving.”
Pugh confidently pushed back against Spear’s assertion that a driver shortage is justified predication for approving the DRIVE Safe Act.
“The notion of a driver shortage isn’t supported by facts or data or reputable research. In other words, it’s a myth.
We oppose this bill because it’s a solution in search of a problem and we urge Congress to reject it.”
Pugh pleaded with lawmakers to head the advice of the men and women behind-the-wheel every day.
“Washington has allowed truck policy to be overly influenced by executives looking to maximize profits, activists who would like to regulate truckers into oblivion, state and local governments who view truckers as rolling piggy banks, and self-proclaimed experts who don’t even know what the inside of a cab looks like. This has to change!
Truckers aren’t the problem. They are the solution and Congress should treat them accordingly.”
It’s unclear if either man was able to change any minds on this issue; or frankly, any other of the dozens that were discussed.
However, during the more than 75-minute hearing, the trucking community was once again treated to a stark reminder that this battle is far from over.