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June 18, 2018 12:00 AM, EDT

Guest Editorial: A Clear Message on Hours-of-Service Reform

There’s a growing chorus to address federal hours-of-service rules, and American Trucking Associations is actively shaping the debate.

One wouldn’t know it when reading what can only be described as a hit piece from a trucking publication that chose to editorialize comments I made at a legal seminar the week of June 4 and attack me personally.

Had this outlet — which has done this kind of thing before — actually attended, they’d know I spoke plainly about the need for reforming hours-of-service rules.

Chris Spear

Spear

I also cited why extreme positions are unrealistic, such as the Senate bill backed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association that would allow livestock haulers to run more than 24 hours without any breaks or restrictions. Such proposals cross the line on safety, putting the motoring public at risk.

Our members and the trucking industry depend on ATA getting things done, and we are. That’s our mandate, and when the forces of our industry join together, we do amazing things. Five years ago, ATA led a 135-member coalition that included OOIDA, carriers and shippers — united in opposition to two newly minted hours-of-service requirements, namely the 1-5 a.m. and 168-hour rules. Our efforts resulted in a permanent legislative fix in 2016, forcing President Obama to repeal his own administration’s rules. This was a measurable win for trucking and a leading example of what’s possible when our industry comes together.

ATA continues to call out the need for flexibility in the federal hours-of-service rules. Right now, we are actively pursuing additional legislative and regulatory changes to these rules, including narrow, safe and reasonable changes that harmonize short haul exemption rules to 14 hours from 12, and a 150-air mile exemption from 100-mile radius. We believe drivers and carriers hauling certain agricultural loads need special accommodations, and we support national harmonization of harvest season designation and narrow exemptions for livestock and insect haulers around the definition of “source” of commodities.

More broadly, ATA has long supported a data-driven adjustment to split sleeper berth. We believe these changes are both reasonable and possible, even in D.C.’s toxic environment. More importantly, they could happen more quickly if our industry were to build on the 2016 win.

That’s why I traveled to Missouri during my fourth week on the job as head of ATA. I wanted to meet with the late Jim Johnston and the OOIDA leadership team and discuss how we could work together. The discussion was nothing shy of productive and had it not been, I’m sure Jim and team would have said so two years ago. The fact is, on the vast majority of issues we discussed, from infrastructure to so-called driverless trucks, we were aligned.

But in recent months, OOIDA has chosen to oppose ATA on nearly every issue ATA supports, and that’s a shame. These issues even include the elimination of California’s duplicative meal–and-rest break rule and allowing trained 18-to-21-year-olds to drive across state lines. OOIDA even signed a letter alongside anti-truck “safety” groups Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers stating its full opposition. Apparently, it’s snowing in hell.

ATA’s focus is on winning issues, including changes to federal hours-of-service rules. Our agenda isn’t about me, my staff or even certain members of Congress. It’s about what’s good for our members and the industry.

My mother taught me that what you think, say and do all have to be the same. Good advice growing up in a small farm town in Nebraska.

Farmers and truckers are among my closest friends, and I listen to them every day. I don’t hear one of them asking for legislation that values cattle more than human life. And as my best farming friend loves to say, “I learned long ago not to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”