Throughout the one-of-a-kind year that 2020 turned out to be, truckers received much more attention and praise than ever before thanks to their efforts throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“American truckers are the foot soldiers who are really carrying us to victory,” said Donald Trump at a White House ceremony early on the pandemic. “They’ve done an incredible job.”
Truck drivers played a key role in ensuring individuals, hospitals, and supermarkets received all of the vital items they needed during the country’s shelter-in-place mandates, and American citizens often made sure to thank drivers for their boosted efforts in whatever way they could.
“We obviously have an industry filled with some of the hardest-working, patriotic people in the U.S.,” said Chris Spear, American Trucking Associations president, during the ceremony at the White House. “Those drivers are moms, dads; they’re husbands, wives. They’re involved in their communities. They’re very charitable. They are the essence of the American spirit and to see it recognized like this in a time of crisis–I have to say–I think that is really an extraordinarily important thing for the leader of our country to do.”
Within the nation’s government, officials worked to help the COVID-19 response. Regulators and legislators moved to pass emergency aid bills and regulatory relief packages in order to help the transportation industry’s efforts be as impactful and efficient as possible.
In fact, a huge multi-trillion dollar aid measure was passed in Congress after policymakers had already approved multi-billion dollar packages; the $2 trillion bill was approved in the spring and included $4 billion for cargo airlines and $25 billion for passenger airlines. Congress was later pressured for further transportation industry emergency aid, especially by Amtrak, port officials, state highway agencies, and transit operators who requested the approval billions of dollars for relief programs within new legislation.
Following these efforts, ATA urged congressional leaders to safeguard motor carriers from particular liability risks affiliated with the COVID-19 virus.
“The trucking industry is proud to play an outsized role in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, and we ask that you consider the essential nature of the trucking industry as you consider the inclusion of reasonable liability protections in any future legislation,” said ATA’s Spear while Congress worked on new relief packages in December.
Now, President Biden’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure proposal aims to improve commercial corridor access–a topic Trump also showed passion towards. Now, Biden enters office while infrastructure funding policy is discussed within the congressional and executive branches and while America’s highway law reauthorization efforts continue to be negotiated. The majority of those within the transportation industry have pushed policymakers to create further investments throughout mobility grids, and these discussions are continuing into the new year.
During 2020, new exemptions, regulation changes, and waivers came to the forefront of transportation industry discussion as industry regulators made many changes in response to the pandemic.
The most controversial, perhaps, is the update on hours-of-service regulation, which were announced by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration acting administrator Jim Mullen in May.
This final rule decision came after more than a year of agency debate and public comment, and was based on a proposed rulemaking announcement that was made public in August of 2019.
This updated regulation brings much more flexibility to truckers, especially in regards to 30-minute rest break rules, sleeper berth time requirements, and extended on-duty driving time limits. Many safety advocates have proceeded with legal action and continue to object to the increased flexibility, claiming that truckers will be expected to work for longer hours with less rest, making roads much more dangerous.
Also in August, FMCSA released an announcement stating that Mullen would be leaving his post as acting administrator, and that Wiley Deck, former DOT Office of the Secretary senior policy adviser, would take over as deputy administrator for the agency. The following month, TuSimple, an automated technology developer, announced Mullen would be working as the company’s chief legal and risk officer.
Additionally, it was announced that crashes involving not-at-fault drivers could be permitted from FMCSA’s safety profile through its crash preventability program. FMCSA also launched its Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database with more than 46,000 drug violations logged within the base’s first year of operation. Additionally, the agency started its military pilot program focusing on younger drivers. Finally, FMCSA officials also announced their intention to begin a Large Truck Crash Causal Factors Study, which would be the first update regarding this kind of data in 17 years.