Special Coverage of the National Truck Driving Championships
August 16, 2018 2:30 PM, EDT

Catching Up With FMCSA’s Ray Martinez at NTDC

FMCSA Administrator Ray MartinezThe FMCSA chief speaks during the Breakfast of Champions. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Ray Martinez paid his first visit as the agency’s chief to the National Truck Driving Championships, rallying a crowd that included 424 truck drivers, 52 commercial vehicle inspectors, family members and volunteers.

Martinez, who is six months into his tenure as FMCSA administrator, lauded the competitors' focus on safety.

Speaking exclusively with Transport Topics after his Aug. 16 address at the event’s Breakfast of Champions, Martinez said he was impressed with the enthusiasm participants bring to the competition.

NTDC 2018 logo

The 2018 National Truck Driving Championships

Qualifiers | Map | Photos | Video

Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level have advanced to the national competition, where a grand champion will be crowned

What: Contestants are judged on a written examination and their driving skills

When: Aug. 15-18

Where: Columbus, Ohio

“The [breakfast] event we attended this morning really brings a lot of energy to the job. This is one of the more exciting events I’ve been to in the last six months,” Martinez said. “It’s really great to see such a high level of professionalism. I’m excited to see some of the competition.”

Other speakers at the event included American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear and last year’s NTDC Grand Champion, Roland Bolduc.

The crowd roared when Martinez lauded the industry’s commitment to excellence and stressed safe drivers’ importance to every member of the traveling public and pointed to some specifics that he believes make a difference.

Truck parking is one of them. The shortage of available truck parking ranked No. 4 on the American Transportation Research Institute’s list of most pressing concerns, which was released Oct. 23, and presents a problem for drivers who need to find safe parking before exceeding their HOS limits.

“The people who know this best are the drivers themselves. This industry does monitor itself pretty well. There’s a lot of eyes and ears out there,” Martinez said. “Safe rest areas benefit everybody, even people not in the industry, because we want well-rested drivers.”

Another chief concern among certain drivers, primarily women and minority drivers, is safety. FMCSA plans to assemble a research team to collect data on the prevalence of crimes involving threats and assaults against minority and female truckers. Martinez said the availability of clean, well-lit truck parking spaces is linked to the overall safety of drivers.

Law enforcement is another key theme of the week in Columbus, as the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s North American Inspectors Championship runs in tandem with NTDC. This competition involves law enforcement officials, representing the United States, Canada and Mexico, who will complete a written test and various vehicle inspections.

One important matter for law enforcement and drivers alike is the ongoing transition to electronic logging devices. At the tail end of last year, FMCSA adopted a law under which ELDs would replace paper logbooks to record a trucker’s driving time to collect accurate HOS data.

Martinez said that, on the whole, industrywide ELD compliance is going well. He said compliance rates are up and that noncompliance rates are under 1% in terms of violations. He said the next year will serve as a transitional period for truckers and law enforcement, both of whom are still getting used to the new technology. He said law enforcement’s challenges mirror those that drivers face.

“You’re getting used to a new technology, making sure that you actually understand how it’s supposed to work and whether its working or not,” Martinez said. “Drivers, by and large, are all concerned about the same thing. They all want to go home at night. They want the roads to be safer.”

While Martinez recognizes that not every audience will be as welcoming as the NTDC crowd, he cited his experience as motor vehicle commissioner in both New Jersey and New York as time when he learned the value of listening, and said he wants to hear what truckers have to say. He said his goal is to get to the “nut” of people’s frustrations and work on addressing those issues.

“It comes with some experience. I was motor vehicle commissioner in two states. I’m not always perhaps the most popular person in the room,” Martinez said. “It did get me used to understanding one thing: listen. I believe there’s always a middle ground where we can find commonality. We can address that and move the ball forward.”