May 2019

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Black Smoke Matters: Drivers push for better wages and working conditions post ELD

Truckers are not too happy lately and in the wake of ELD mandates. Many are now organizing politically in order to express their displeasure. Recently a driver’s Facebook group named Black Smoke Matters (BSM) attempted to stage an industry-wide protest April 12, agitating for a shutdown and a call to action for drivers’ to demonstrate what their absence would mean to the country.

Not necessarily a national movement … yet

According FreightWaves.com the Facebook group has more than 26,000 members, but only about 60 participated in slow-roll convoys in Chicago, Springfield, Missouri, and a Manhattan borough of New York City.

Intending to protest working conditions and federal regulations affecting the trucking industry, BMS released its list of demands for the April Shutdown last January. Calling for a massive overhaul of government regulations, the group seeking remedies and action on hours of service (HoS) reform, training, safety standards for all drivers and the need for available parking.

This revolution barely televised

Chicago’s local CBS TV reported that Friday April 12, about 30 to 40 truck drivers gathered at a truck stop in south suburban Monee, Illinois before beginning a slow roll north on Interstate I-57 North also known locally as the Dan Ryan expressway.

The TV station noted that by the time the line of about 25 trucks made it to Chicago they were blocked from their goal of exiting to Chicago’s Loop and driving past Trump Tower. Because police blocked exit ramps to downtown, the convoy headed north on I-94 West, the Kennedy Expressway, then looping back on the Tri-State (I-294) back to I-57, and stopped at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in Matteson.

Here’s the beefs

FreightWaves and CBS report drivers were generally focused on two major issues, a lack of training for new drivers and insufficient flexibility in HoS regulations. The protesting truckers say they want drivers involved in training new recruits to have at least five-year’s experience and a good driving record. These professionals say this will do more to help prevent accidents on the roadways than over-regulating working hours.

Drivers say more flexibility in their hours of service is needed—they explain that this will help prevent drivers from making bad decisions; like driving home in a snow storm, or driving when too tired only because they’re on the clock.

Measuring the consequences of ELDs – intended and otherwise

Editors of Material Handling & Logistics studied the numbers and their results reflect the commentary coming from BSM and other groups. They claim their results show the ELD mandate clearly achieved its first goal: “HOS compliance improved considerably, with the frequency of the most egregious violations dropping by roughly 36% shortly after the mandate and by more than 50% when the FMCSA strictly enforced the mandate.” Compliance rates of small carriers and independent owner-operators, the study authors say, improved the most, with large asset-based carriers practically unaffected because they already used ELDs (and had very few HOS violations).

“Surprisingly, the number of accidents for the most-affected carriers did not decrease, and our research indicates, may have increased relative to large asset-based carriers,” say Material Handling & Logistics editors. They concluded the number of unsafe driving violations for these same carriers increased considerably, and may explain why accident counts did not decrease. “This suggests that small carriers and independent owner-operators made up for productivity losses due to stricter HOS compliance by working more rapidly.”

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Protests! What are they good for?

Although it is true trucker’s beefs with working conditions and safety concerns are well-founded, it’s not clear their protest was effective. FreightWaves reported that one BSM administrator described participation in the slow rolls “somewhat disappointing.”

The participating driver’s say their protest is about public safety, but Illinois State Police told reporters they were worried it could have actually make conditions more dangerous for other drivers, impeding traffic and causing crashes because of reckless drivers trying to get around slow-moving trucks.

While the effectiveness of their methods may debatable, there message has merit. Black Smoke Matters is also asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to include drivers more in the regulatory process, and please do something to address costly delays at shippers and receivers that eat into their 11-hours of valuable earning time each day.

Another group goes political and chimes in

Meanwhile, members of the the United States Transportation Alliance (USTA) went to Congress instead of participating in the April 12 protest. Instead they were in the “Halls” urging lawmakers to support two bills introduced by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota). The first, H.R.1697, which exempts small carriers with 10 or fewer trucks from using ELDs and allows their drivers to revert back to paper logs.

The groups said it also supports H.R. 1698, introduced by Peterson and co-sponsor Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), exempting truckers hauling agricultural commodities as well.

Get into the Chao lane

It appears the US Department of Transportation (DOT) is listening to drivers’ concerns about addressing flexibility to its HOS rule. Speaking at the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS), U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced that the DOT sent an HoS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the White House Office of Management and Budget for approval last month.

At her keynote address, Madam Secretary Chao said she was pleased to announce the Department was indeed moving forward with a follow on to the fed’s year-long effort to reform the new law. The next step? A Notice of Proposed Rule Making regarding Hours-of-Service rules, an NPRM covering Hours-of-Service which she said to attendees in March “Was just sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review.

Park it here for now

Secretary Chao addressed a few elephants in the room including parking; the lack thereof many feel is due to the institutionalizing of ELDs and HoS rules. Chao first mentioned the National Coalition on Truck Parking which has been working to identify best practices and solutions based on input drivers, truck stop owners, law enforcement and state DOTs. “These solutions,” said Chao, “identify funding for additional parking spaces, and the application of real-time technology.” The Coalition, she said, will continue to host truck parking workshops across the country to address this important safety issue.

Like the spring sun in the Midwest lately, BMS’s effort isn’t raising temperatures very fast, but like the summer sun gaining ground as it climbs back up to our hemisphere, temperatures will rise. How high? There no sure way of telling at this point, but you know things might get pretty hot out there come summer.

Bob Tales