SAN DIEGO — At the American Trucking Associations’ 86th annual Management Conference and Exhibition early last month, industry leaders contemplated how federal regulation and international trade policy changes will affect truck drivers, carriers and manufacturers.
The most prevalent issue discussed at the event–which ended up brining 2,764 attendees to the San Diego Convention Center–appeared to be the changes coming to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours-of-service rules.
These new regulations would bring increased flexibility to the previously mandatory 30-minute rest breaks and time splits between off-duty and on-duty hours for truck drivers. It would also allow for extended duty time during inclement weather by two hours and would lengthen the maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours.
The ATA strongly supports these regulations.
“What we submit will be laced with a lot of justification, as we always do,” said ATA President Chris Spear during the event’s closing press conference.
The proposal for these regulation changes sparked from the Trump Administration and trucking lobbyists’ beliefs regarding rules becoming excessively strict around truck drivers working in heavy traffic and poor weather, as well as concerns for drivers’ abilities to complete deliveries on time.
Once these rules do soften, truckers will have to stay on the road for hours longer, and proper safety measures will fall onto drivers’ shoulders to self-regulate.
Without a way to make sure truck drivers will get the necessary amount of rest to drive alertly, lenient regulation doesn’t make much sense–especially after a July PBS report which found that 60 truckers involved in fatal crashes back in 2017 were asleep at the wheel or extremely fatigued.
At the closing press conference, both Spear and ATA’s chairman, Randy Guillot, explained the association’s intent to mark tort reform as a major industry priority.
“I’m excited that we’ve moved tort reform up to the highest level of priorities here at ATA,” said Guillot, who is also the president of Triple G Express Inc. “I think we’ll see a lot of activity with that topic this year.”
In Spear’s October 7th keynote address, he explained his plan to fight against trial lawyers who target trucking companies and often secure large jury awards. Spear believes most of these cases are not settled fairly, and claims the ATA always quickly compensates those involved in cases in which the association is at fault.
However, Spear and the ATA have been known to handpick specific cases in order to spotlight situations that they hope will bring public attention and pushback against lawsuits opposing the trucking industry.
For reference, in a recent Transport Topics interview, Spear referenced a case from 2014 that involved a pickup truck and a tractor-trailer. The pickup crossed a median on a Texas interstate and collided with the trailer. One passenger of the pickup was killed in the crash and another was left paralyzed. Their family argued in court that the trucker was driving recklessly in inclement weather and should have pulled over. The jury awarded the family nearly $90 million.
Although Spear believes the truck driver was not at fault (even though court documents from the case show Werner Enterprises, the trucking company, staying quiet about its blatant disregard for safety policies), it clearly makes little sense to relax regulations regarding truck drivers working in dangerous weather, like the driver in this case, or to allow for drivers to potentially work while even more fatigued than they already are.
If safety regulations call for even less rigidity around truckers driving in storms or under the influence of extreme exhaustion, wouldn’t the number of nuclear verdicts against truck drivers increase? Isn’t that in direct contradiction of what Spear and the ATA want?
Additionally, placing tort reform as a high-priority issue would mean recoveries awarded to those harmed by lack of trucking industry safety would potentially decrease even further. Of course, the American Trucking Associations wants to spend as little in payouts as possible, but why is profit a bigger priority than the safety of everyone on the road? Decreasing truck driver safety with hours-of-service regulation flexibility will clearly make for many more cases against the industry, which is obviously counter-productive for the ATA.
It appears the ATA needs to spend much less time fighting for regulations that work against itself.