TCA Leaders Plan Active Role In Shaping Industry Policies

LAS VEGAS — Leaders of the Truckload Carriers Association said they will take a more active role in shaping trucking’s policy in the coming year and emphasize the need to provide drivers a safer work environment and wage stability.

“TCA is once again becoming more active in the policy arena,” the organization’s president, Chris Burruss, said in an interview March 13 during its annual convention here. At the meeting, TCA said its board endorsed American Trucking Associations’ policy on entry-level driver training.

In 2005, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulation spelling out minimum training re-quirements for new drivers was overturned because it didn’t include enough on-the-road training. At its winter meeting in February, ATA said it supported a training rule with performance-based standards, rather than a minimum number of hours, and a regimen that included actual on-the-road training.

Burruss said this not only was a key to improving highway safety but also would test FMCSA’s ability to issue rules that could withstand court challenges. He also said that if the rule was vacated again, Congress might codify the standards, which could “bring about a damaging result for our industry.”

Jim O’Neal, who was elevated to TCA chairman during the meeting, told Transport Topics he had asked each TCA committee chairman to review all policy positions and determine if additional policy on emerging issues needed to be developed. He said members “want the committee structure engaged in creating policy and advocating that policy through ATA, or other means if necessary.”

O’Neal is president of O&S Trucking. He replaced Barry Pottle, chief executive officer of Pottle’s Transportation, as TCA chairman. TCA leaders said the organization shares views similar to those of ATA and other trucking groups in opposing the privatization of toll roads and the need for flexibility in the sleeper-berth provision of the hours-of-service rule. Looking ahead to the 2009 highway reauthorization, Burruss said TCA was “committed to discussing realistic and justified highway funding methods” that would benefit trucking.

O’Neal said there is a “real funding problem” and that trucking had an obligation to come up with a proposal. “We’re willing to take this type of cost on, if the money will go to fix the highways — 100% needs to go to the highways, not 60%,” he said. TCA said it continues to support current truck size-and-weight limits, another issue that could be debated as part of the reauthorization. ATA supports increasing federal weight limits for certain types of truck-trailer combinations and the harmonization of state size limits as a means of increasing productivity in the industry. Besides reviewing policy, O’Neal said that as chairman, he would focus on safety and improving how the public views drivers, not just the industry. “Safety is to me the driving issue in our business; nothing else really matters,” he said.

TCA said it had already taken several steps to help achieve O’Neal’s goals. The association’s truck-parking task force met with NATSO Inc. — formerly the National Association of Truck Stop Operators — on March 12 to discuss what Burruss called “a truck-parking crisis.” O’Neal said the groups discussed how many trucks stops can be built in the years ahead, how many additional parking spaces will be provided and the need for better services, amenities and healthier food options.

Pottle said he would consider paying for reserved spaces in areas where his drivers travel most often because a majority of accidents take place in and around crowded truck stops. O’Neal also said TCA formed a task force to study the reasons why there is fear — or a “flinch factor” — among passenger vehicles when trucks and cars pass each other. “When you look at the innovations of technology and productivity that we’ve made, and how safe our industry operates, people shouldn’t be afraid when they pass a truck or vice versa. They should believe that is the safest driver on the highway,”

O’Neal said. He pointed to the way NASCAR has successfully improved its image and grown its fan base in recent years by turning the public’s attention to the drivers, rather than the vehicles. “There is a new reality in trucking, but we’ve got an old perception,” he said. To increase both driver safety and retention, Pottle and O’Neal said carriers should guarantee their drivers a minimum amount of daily pay.

Pottle said his company three years ago began guaranteeing drivers $150 per 24-hour period to alleviate pay concerns due to mechanical problems, long waits caused by shippers or other factors out of a driver’s control.

Although his company paid out an additional $72,000 in wages last year, Pottle said seeing his turnover rate decline to 26% in 2006 from 42% the year before made the program worthwhile. O’Neal said he had instituted a similar policy after discussions with Pottle and has seen his turnover rate dip below 50%. “A driver deserves to have a consistent dependable wage every week,” O’Neal said.

Pottle’s fleet consists of about 180 trucks, and O&S runs about 350. Besides lowering turnover, the executives said the pay plan reduces accidents. They said studies have shown a driver is more likely to have an accident in the first six months with a new employer than any other time, regardless of age or experience level.


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