Watch Now

Tennessee lawmaker to pursue vaccines at truck stops

Tim Burchett agrees during hearing to meet with Pilot to help get drivers immunized

Burchett planned to confer with Pilot Co. Chairman Jimmy Haslam on vaccines. (Photo: Jim Alan/FreightWaves)

A Tennessee lawmaker said he would look into the potential for making vaccines available at a major truck stop operator after hearing about concerns faced by small-business truckers.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett made the offer on Thursday in response to testimony from Lewie Pugh, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), who explained the difficulties drivers will be facing particularly with vaccines that require a follow-up second shot.

“One thing Congress needs to do, in working with FMCSA [Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] and FEMA, we need to come up with a good way for truckers to get vaccinated,” Pugh said during the hearing on protecting transportation workers and passengers from COVID-19, before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

“Truckers leave home and don’t know when they’ll be back, so it makes it tough for them to get that second vaccine. We urge Congress to work to get places set up at rest areas or truck stops where drivers can stop and get these vaccinations that they need to be safe.”

Burchett pointed out that Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of trucking travel centers in the country, is headquartered in his district in Knoxville. Pilot Co. Chairman Jimmy Haslam “is a great citizen of our community,” Burchett said, “and I’ll bring that up with him about the vaccinations. I spoke with him earlier today, I’ll speak with him later today, and will bring that up as a suggestion.”

A spokesperson for Pilot Flying J could not immediately confirm whether the company was considering the proposal.

Concern over vaccine availability was one of several issues raised by Pugh on behalf of drivers during the 3.5-hour hearing. The lack of available parking, calls by some in Congress to raise truck insurance coverage and the difficulty small owner-operators have in securing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans was also discussed.

Hours-of-service regulations and electronic logging devices are exacerbating the truck parking problem, asserted Rep. Mike Bost, R-Illinois.

“Our committee needs to know and understand, especially those that have never been in the trucking business, and that is, it is the hours of service and it is the electronic logging devices that are putting us in situations” where truckers run out of driving time while trying to find a place to park, Bost said.

“And then you have a local community police officer that doesn’t understand that you have to shut your truck down according to federal law. Local laws say you’re violating the law by parking here, but you don’t have enough hours left to go anywhere else.”

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, challenged Pugh on his criticism of efforts last year in Congress to raise minimum trucking liability insurance from the current $750,000 to $2 million. “You must admit that there’s been an increase in trucking wrecks and injuries and deaths caused by them, and that the $750,000 base level has not been raised in decades,” Johnson said.

Pugh responded that many drivers are insured for up to $1 million or more, and that current limits cover 99% of all truck accidents. “Raising the minimums is completely driven by trial attorneys,” he said.

Pugh also testified that raising the insurance cap to $2 million would potentially double the annual premiums paid by drivers to $10,000-$15,000 per year. “But there’s no solid way to know, because we’re sure that there will be insurance carriers that drop out of this market. Commercial truck liability has been losing money for 10 years.”

Regarding PPP loans, Pugh said in his written testimony that many of OOIDA’s members could not qualify for a loan because of the way the program was structured. “In short, this program doesn’t work well for independent contractors that make significant investments in equipment and take multiple deductions when filing taxes.”

Related stories:

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.