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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The acting head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said her agency and trucking are in alignment on top issues confronting the industry, and pledged to work collaboratively with fleets to address them.
“There is so much we are working on together,” Robin Hutcheson said during an address to the more than 500 attendees at American Trucking Associations’ annual Mid-Year Management Session. In particular, she talked about the need for more truck parking, as well as steps the White House is taking to ease the industry’s shortage of drivers.
Hutcheson has been the acting administrator of FMCSA since Jan. 19 after serving as a deputy assistant secretary for safety policy at the Department of Transportation. She was formally selected to lead FMCSA on April 6 and her nomination is now before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Hutcheson heard sustained applause when she said truck parking remains a top FMCSA issue, and one that concerns Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“We know there is a need for more truck parking,” she asserted. “We are working with our partners. This is another instance where it is not solvable by one entity alone — we are working with our partners at the Federal Highway Administration right now to identify every available funding opportunity that might be put toward truck parking at the state level.”
Hutcheson noted several states, including Indiana and Kentucky, are using technology funded by FMCSA grants that alerts drivers in real time about available parking spots.
“This is a huge safety issue,” Hutcheson said. “A driver who is tired is not the safest driver on the road. We are very interested in helping to solve some of the problems with truck parking.”
She also stressed how the pandemic elevated for Americans the importance of trucking to the nation, and heightened the need to address these issues.
“During the pandemic, a lot of people had the choice to Zoom their way through,” she said, referencing the online meeting platform that rose in popularity during the lockdowns. “Truckers and the trucking industry did not have that option — they had to go into work.”
Boosting recruitment to help fill driving jobs is also a priority, Hutcheson said. She noted that more than 100 companies responded to the Biden administration’s 90-day challenge to offer fully paid training for candidates to obtain a commercial driver license.
“There is more work than there are drivers,” she said. “I think it has been difficult to attract drivers into this profession, and it takes some strategic effort.”
Less-than-truckload carrier Yellow is participating in the program. In March, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visited a training facility the carrier opened in Carlisle, Pa. During the visit, Walsh met with drivers, toured the depot and held a panel discussion with company officials.
Hutcheson also credited ATA for its efforts to boost recruitment. “ATA has led the way on the apprenticeship programs,” she said. “Your work over the last six months has been tremendous, and it has paved the way for safe, on-the-job training.”
She also focused on safety.
“Crashes on our roadways are going in the wrong direction and have been for some time,” she said. “Zero is the right number of fatalities we should accept on our roadways.”
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Hutcheson noted that the $1 trillion infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed last year will significantly upgrade the nation’s highways, ultimately making them safer for trucks and passenger vehicles.
FMCSA also recently announced a proceeding to consider electronic speed-limiting devices of new Classes 7-8 commercial trucks with a gross vehicle weight of more than 26,000 pounds. The speed at which the vehicles would be regulated has not been determined. The comment period began May 4 and will run until June 3.
“Today, I have focused on this convergence of safety, economy and equity, but I know there is so much more work we are going to do together,” Hutcheson said. “We need to do this together.”