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A much-needed pep talk

By Ryan S. Bowely, Director of Government Affairs

Before the start of the game, at halftime or during the last drive football movies almost always include a pep talk.

The pep talk inspires the team on the screen and the audience in the seats to get out of the huddle, overcome odds and competition, kick butt, and win.

I don’t need to tell you that this summer was a tough time to be involved with trucking.

News programs that were more fixated on selling sensationalism than focusing on facts had taken a small number of tragic accidents and attempted to paint a picture of truckers as 18 wheels of rolling danger.

Some politicians, with the help of self-purported “safety advocates,” were more than ready to send out press releases demanding more regulations.

These “safety advocates,” generally bankrolled by trial lawyers, auto insurance companies, and other groups that are no friends of truckers, fired the biggest salvos.

“Tired and dangerous truckers kill the equivalent of a plane crash every week” screamed some headlines, as these groups worked hand-in-hand with friends in the media. Again, facts were forced out of the way, the void filled by exaggeration.

A hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee became the focus point. It also, in retrospect, represented a turning point.

During the hearing, on a hot July day before Congress’ August recess, one of the longest-standing leaders of these advocacy groups stated that this hearing was the first time she had ever heard the trucking industry show concern for children.

A look on the faces of even those lawmakers supportive of her position showed that they could not believe she had actually made that statement. She had crossed the line.

Returning to our football game, the hearing was a successful goal-line stand for truckers. The witness’s overstatement was a risky pass instead of a safe off-tackle run.

That, combined with some great questions and statements by key senators on the committee who have taken the time to understand trucking and truckers, was when the tide began to turn. We had stopped them on four downs, and we had the ball back.

Next year, after the 2014 elections are over, is when truckers have a chance to go on offense. The highway bill – set to be written in the House and Senate – is our playing field.

The weeks and months after Labor Day have been that pep talk.

It is easy to recognize the pep talk in a football movie. Phrases like “life is just a game of inches … on this team, we fight for that inch,” or “in this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself,” are part of why movies like “Any Given Sunday” and “Rudy” stick with us.

This fall’s pep talk has been less obvious, but no less important.

It started with a few media stories, from hard-working reporters who spent time actually talking to truckers about their work and about safely operating on the highway. Stories about driver pay, detention at the dock and coercion from shippers and carriers have started to break through.

Lawmakers from both parties also took action. Legislation to force FMCSA to make changes to CSA has been introduced, and pressure is mounting for FMCSA to take action on costly and unnecessary sleep apnea exams. Allies on HOS reform are even more committed to sticking with truckers.

Today, truckers have taken back the momentum for reform and common sense. And we did it as a team.

I am proud to be part of this team. You should be proud to be part of this team, a team that is absolutely going to “fight for that inch.”

Politics, like football, is a game of inches, inches we gain working together. And just like in football, “when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the difference.”  LL