Washington Insider
'Use it or lose it'

Laura O'Neill-Kaumo, Director of government affairs/counsel

Despite popularly held misconceptions, truckers do not make decisions in a vacuum. Decisions as to when to load, unload and rest are just a few examples that may be influenced by a variety of parties in the supply chain.

Often, the driver has very little say about the decision he makes but is generally the one left holding the bag when it comes to the penalty if he is found to be noncompliant with the law. The good news is that excessive influence (like threats or harassment causing you to break the law) now has a name, and FMCSA is beginning to do something about it.

When the previous highway bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21 for short, was passed into law a few years ago, the bill sat on my desk in a steaming pile.

I knew what it contained - a mandate for electronic on-board recorders, or electronic logging devices, or ELDs as they are now called.

Although we continue to fight the fight on ELDs, it was tough to witness the legislative action from Congress.

However, within MAP-21, there was a shining nugget of language that actually recognized that drivers are often "coerced" to drive noncompliant. ELDs are a common tool of harassment and a way, among many, to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of the driver. And sometimes it causes the driver to break the law.

Drivers know, all too well, they are often not in a position to say no. Well, Congress recognized that the decisions drivers make are often a result of being coerced and empowered FMCSA to promulgate a rule, which went into effect the first part of this year.

One complaint I have already heard is that the process relies heavily on the driver. Within the contents of this edition you will find an article on page 26 explaining the process and, yes, at this point it relies heavily on the drivers stepping up to lodge the complaint.

FMCSA then makes a determination as to whether the complaint is valid and whether to follow up, but without the driver taking the first step there is no process.

This is an area of law that is in its beginning for the trucking industry, and we must do all we can to protect it. We know the reality of the situation is that drivers are often powerless and fear the ramifications.

Here is your opportunity to speak up. FMCSA suspects what we know: Coercion is a problem. We need to support this newfound realization of what drivers experience every day and prove to FMCSA that the investigation arm is a necessary tool that Congress should make additional investment toward.

Let's grow and nurture this opportunity so that it truly becomes an invaluable tool for a driver's rights and a first step toward reversing a trend in industry action that seeks to keep driving a truck from being a profession.

Quite frankly, this is a "use it or lose it" time for this language. If we don't speak up, this provision will go away and we likely won't ever see anything resembling it again.

Certain special interests are already gunning for it, fearing what will happen when drivers begin to use their voice against the built-in inefficiencies in the supply chain and against the pressure placed upon drivers to run noncompliant.

The opportunity for meaningful change within the industry is here, and it begins with you. Will you use it so the industry doesn't lose it? LL