ATA chairman outline group’s legislative priorities for this year.
The trucking industry plans an end run of Congress to prevent states from enacting their own laws regarding drivers’ rest breaks, says the head of the industry’s main lobbying group.
The issue is coming to a head as the U.S. Senate decides on renewing the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA). The Senate version of the act does not include the Denham Amendment found in the version of the reauthorization bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year.
The amendment restricts a state’s ability to set its own rules on meal breaks and other shifts in hours of service. California has implemented its own rules on meal and rest breaks.
At a conference sponsored by the Port of New York and New Jersey, American Trucking Associations chairman Dave Manning says the preemption of state laws in the FAAAA ensured common operating procedures for interstate commerce.
The FAAAA “worked since 1993,” Manning said. That is, “until a couple of years ago when California determined that it didn’t apply to them for meal and rest breaks.” But the lack of the Denham amendment’s inclusion in the Senate bill means legislation on this issue “is not going to work.”
The ATA’s next move is going to be a direct appeal to the Department of Transportation, Manning says. The agency has within its purview the ability to invalidate any laws that impact public safety, he added. And the meal-and-rest-break issue amounts to one.
“We think this is a public safety issue because it’s documented that truck parking is very difficult to find,” Manning said. “In fact it’s very unsafe where trucks are required to park.”
The FAAAA reauthorization is one of several issues the ATA has identified this year as legislative priorities.
Manning says the ATA is looking to respond to the White House’s actions around trade, which culminated this week with the imposition of tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods coming into the U.S. from China.
“Trade and trucking are synonymous,” Manning said. “If you mess with trade, you mess with trucking.”
ATA is also looking at issues around autonomous driving and safety. He says the ATA is looking to make sure that autonomous trucking means “driver assisted and not driver less” due to the additional responsibilities for ensuring safety before trucks even hit the road.
He also took issue with proposals such as mandating underride guards on trucks, saying the additional $10 billion spent on underride guards could be put to other technology that would have more impact on safety.
“Underride guards might save 300 lives per year,” Manning said. “Not that every life isn’t important, but we think there is a better return on that investment.”
ATA also says it is also looking at state legislation to classify drivers as either employees or independent owner operators. He points to legislation in New Jersey that would require the Internal Revenue Service to certify a driver’s status as an independent owner-operator.
“In New Jersy, there’s an issue with how independent contractors are defied,” Manning said. “We have legislation that can more clearly identify that.”
Manning says his group is also supporting a move to fund the Highway Trust Fund, which faces a $20 billion shortfall. Manning says the fund could be made whole through a 20 cents per gallon fuel tax, phased in over four years and indexed to inflation and fuel economy standards.
“The Highway Trust Fund is going broke,” Manning said. “Our argument to conservatives that tend to be opposed to new taxes is that it’s not a conservative approach to transfer money from the general fund to the Highway Transport Fund.”
ATA is also looking at ways to reduce the driver shortage. Manning says 90,000 new drivers are needed per year to keep up with demand growth and driver attrition. He says the ATA supports moves to allow 18 year old to drive commercial motor vehicles interstate as most states allow that age group to drive within their state borders.
“Forty eight states allow 18 year olds to drive intrastate, but they can’t cross a state line,” Manning said.