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Lean, new Trucking Alliance hoping to influence Washington trucking safety initiatives

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
December 10, 2012

The newest truck safety group in Washington is formally called The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, but informally goes simply by “Trucking Alliance.” The reason for that is simple.
 
“That’s what we found people on Capitol Hill were calling us, the Trucking Alliance,” spokesman Bill Vickery says. “Instead of fighting it, we’re running with it.”
 
And running they are. The group is small—just eight members—but influential. It includes four of the top 10 largest truckload carriers—J.B. Hunt, Schneider National, U.S. Xpress and Knight Transportation—that are known for their innovative approaches to technology, safety and transportation.
 
It also includes Maverick Transportation headed by Steve Williams, a former chairman of the American Trucking Associations and one of the most progressive minds in trucking. The other members are Massachusetts-based Boyle Transportation, Louisiana-based Dupre’ Logistics, and Fikes Truck Line of Arkansas.
 
What these companies have in common is a progressive attitude toward safety. Its first success was getting Congress to include language requiring electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) in new trucks. That legislation calls for EOBRs to be installed on new trucks, probably beginning in the 2016 model year.
 
“It’s a very Spartan alliance and we designed it that way,” said Lane Kidd, one of the group’s senior advisors and president of the Arkansas Trucking Associations, one of the most influential state associations that make up the American Trucking Associations.
 
Vickery likened the group’s approach to a football team which has just five plays in its game plan—but executives them extremely well. “We’re so nimble we make decisions very quickly,” he said. “We build momentum quickly as we move the ball down the field.”
 
Other “plays” in the group’s game plan are requiring a drug and alcohol testing information clearing house so that potential employers can screen drivers relatively quickly and cheaply; ability to use hair and follicle testing as a substitute for urine tests that can be easily masked during drug tests; an increase in the minimum insurance required by a trucking company; finding alternative methods to determine a carrier’s safety fitness rating; and mandatory use of speed governors that would limit truck speeds to 68 mph or so.
 
Vickery said the group would use the same nimble, focused approach it used to get EOBRs mandated in trying to get Congress to pass reforms on these new issues.
 
“We took our members and used their political clout and got in the boat together,” he said. “Tactically as we’re moving forward, we’re constantly updating the board. We maximized every ounce of political capital we had in our jug to equal the clout of the other associations and big law firms that lobby Washington on a regular basis.”
 
Toward that end, the group recently named Washington veteran Callie Hoyt its manager of governmental affairs. Hoyt was previously safety and policy coordinator for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), where she was responsible for reviewing federal regulatory rulemakings and served as a liaison to the organization’s senior staff and policy committees. She also has served internships for Reps. John Mica, R-Fla., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

Kidd is quick to note that none of the Trucking Alliance’s trucking executives is a registered lobbyist. He added the group is not in competition with the 3,000-member ATA. Rather, he said, it is designed to be a nimble, quick-thinking, quick-acting, ad hoc group that can get things done much more quickly than the more cumbersome, venerable ATA.

“We’re all about trying to be effective for these trucking companies with a very specific trucking agenda,” Kidd said.
 
Kidd acknowledged the group was borne out of some frustration of trucking executives on the slow pace ATA was taking on the EOBR issue. Because of ATA’s complicated policy committee arrangement, it often takes years for the group to take a formal stand on certain issues.
 
EOBRs will replace the tedious and outdated method of tracking truck driver hours of service through paper log books. These are often derided by drivers, who call them “comic books” because they can be a joke. Drivers often keep two sets of books—one for regulators and other (real) one to record the actual number of hours driven so they can get paid.
 
EOBRs are widely in use in Europe and elsewhere. They are relatively cheap—around $400 for the cheapest models—and can easily eliminate cheating on HOS and cut down on fatigued driving, which the government says can be responsible for as many as one-third of the 4,200 or so annual deaths in truck-related accidents.
 
“Associations love to take an issue and churn it year after year,” Kidd explained. “Our executives really wanted to see that (EOBR) requirement. They knew it was time to leave antiquated paper log books created in the 1930s. Let’s make everybody comply with the law.”
 
With the Alliance’s help, Congress agreed. The Arkansas-based trucking executives turned to a natural home state ally, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, as its natural go-to senator. He needed a group of proponents to advocate for that legislation—and at the time there was none.
 
Pryor came through, and that was no accident. He sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee and all-important Appropriations Committee.
 
The Trucking Alliance worked the Republican side of the aisle as well. It specifically targeted Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., a conservative who helped spread the word on EOBRs’ benefits in the House.
 
“We’re not in opposition to American Trucking Associations,” Vickery said. “Our business model is all about leveraging their political footprints which are broad nationally to promote very narrow agenda of five things. We’re so nimble we make decisions very quickly.”
 
Kidd said the group is a coalition of companies in the purest sense. Members pay dues, but they are not based on the size of the company, as is ATA’s approach. Rather it is based on the Alliance’s business plan.
 
Vickery said the group takes no position on highway funding. Rather, he said, it plans to concentrate on what he called “second-page issues” regarding safety and internal trucking business affairs that “all have dramatic impact” on the industry.

About the Author

image
John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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