A.C. Daniel, an independent owner-operator who has been hauling freight for 45 years, had his best year ever last year – he logged 92,000 miles and grossed $217,000.
However, “this year, rates were cut in half,” Daniel told FreightWaves. Among the reasons for the falloff, at least as Daniel saw it, was more freight capacity driving down rates. Daniel saw it from agriculture haulers (who normally would be tending to farms, but a wetter-than-usual crop season in the Midwest pushed them into trucking) as well as container haulers affected by the Chinese tariffs, who then switched to hauling trailers.
But as Daniel talked about trucking while sitting under a tent on the National Mall on a sunny October 4 in Washington, D.C., it wasn’t freight economics that most concerned the 64-year-old from southern Virginia. It’s a handful of proposed federal regulations that, if passed, will drive him and other independent truckers out of business, he asserted.
Daniel was part of a convoy of 40 to 50 other small owner-operators that parked along the Mall for “10-4 DC,” a rally to inform the public of what they consider to be small-business killing regulations.
“We’re not here to have a battle with anybody, we’re here for awareness and to let people know the things that we have to deal with,” said Doug Hasner, Director of Human Resources at the United States Transportation Alliance, one of the event’s organizers.
A proposed increase in liability insurance is at the top of the list. Legislation was introduced in Congress this summer that would raise the minimum amount of liability insurance required for trucks from $750,000 to $4.9 million. Backers of the legislation say the bill is aimed at improving medical care compensation for families affected by truck crashes.
Hasner maintains, however, that while large national carriers are able to self-insure their fleets with a $25 million bond, the hike in insurance would cause an independent hauler’s premium to double or triple, thereby making them unable to compete with company drivers.
“Right now I pay $12,610 a year [for insurance], and this would raise it three times that,” Daniel said. “The independent trucker can’t take that kind of a hit. In my opinion they’re trying to force us to pull for the mega-carriers. But I’ll never do it.”
Other pieces of legislation introduced in the current Congress that the group is fighting against includes the Stop Underrides Act, which would require installing front, side and rear underride guards on all trailers over a certain weight; the Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act of 2019, which would mandate speed limiters set to 65 mph; and the Safe Roads Act, which would require automatic braking systems for new trucks.
Members of the group that spoke with FreightWaves were skeptical about the flexibility that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has included in the proposed changes to the hours of service regulations.
Rose LeFavi, whose said her truck was stolen and has yet to be recovered, said that the agency rarely has listened to the concerns of independent truckers in the past, which get drowned out by the messages of large carriers with well-paid lobbyists.
“They haven’t taken us into account yet; it’s all been lip service,” LeFavi said. “The proof is in the pudding. They haven’t shown me anything to make life any easier for any of these truckers so far.”
LeFavi, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also believes the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate is another unnecessary expense. “You may have had a handful of wrongdoers, just like in any industry, who are fudging the logbooks. But why make everyone pay for it? The agenda is to collect information – these ELDs are tracking us everywhere we go.”