While the COVID-19 crisis has affected our country and our communities in deeply profound ways – ways we would have never anticipated just a few months ago – many important takeaways have been gleaned which can help our lawmakers not only prepare for a future pandemic, but also to potentially make long-lasting changes to federal trucking policy.
Across all industries and federal agencies, regulatory flexibility was granted throughout the pandemic from many statutes that could have prevented assistance to flow to American communities in need. On May 19, President Trump signed an Executive Order that directed agencies to consider additional deregulatory actions to revitalize the economy and get Americans back to work. The president has also directed agencies not to over-enforce when a business is working in good faith to follow the law.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have taken this directive seriously. The COVID-19 pandemic unveiled various trucking-related regulations that can be perceived as a hindrance on the efficient movement of freight and which also do not significantly improve safety. During the early stages of the crisis, FMCSA published an Emergency Declaration to provide hours-of-service flexibility to drivers hauling emergency goods. This declaration was expanded twice in subsequent weeks and the expiration date was recently extended.
While the declaration was a meaningful effort by the agency, TCA’s members have largely not needed to utilize the new flexibility thanks to the drastic reduction in commuter traffic which has allowed trucks to operate with higher efficiency, especially during traditional rush hours. This demonstrates the extreme impact of congestion on our industry’s ability to deliver freight in a timely manner. TCA urges Congress to advance significant infrastructure investment this year to eliminate congestion and bottlenecks, which will ensure efficient freight movement even after the crisis has ended.
Additionally, FMCSA has issued many waivers regarding commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and commercial learner’s permits (CLPs). While these waivers and extensions have been helpful, this crisis has highlighted many flaws with the current CDL system, including the patchwork of state regulations hampering the ability for the federal government to implement true flexibility on this issue. During a crisis, more federal oversight of the CDL process is needed.
Particularly problematic has been the inability for drivers to upgrade from a CLP to a CDL. Many TCA members have expressed concern that CLP holders who have passed all tests for their CDL and are otherwise considered a fully-capable driver simply cannot obtain the physical CDL copy because the state drivers licensing agencies are closed. Without the physical CDL, these CLP holders must continue driving with their trainer in a team environment, with two qualified drivers being forced to share one load. This crisis has exemplified a situation in which a single, nationwide digital CDL would be worthwhile, and we plan to continue researching the viability of this initiative.
As truckload carriers continue to support the U.S. through the commitment to deliver freight in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage our country’s leaders to think boldly about which regulatory obstacles can be permanently removed and what legislative action can be taken to ensure a speedy economic recovery. TCA’s members will continue serving the nation to the fullest, and we intend to play our part to keep America moving forward.