Recently, having found myself in a place at work where I could spend some time educating myself about what’s happening in the industry, I watched video provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of the Hours of Service listening session at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., in March.
Technology is a great thing. Listening and watching right here at my desk isn’t too bad of a beat when the temperature outside, even early in the morning, is registered as miserable. It’s Arkansas, where we have heat AND humidity.
While watching I was impressed by the way Anne Ferro, FMCSA administrator, treated driver after driver who got up to speak, whine, and even get quite livid about HOS. She was engaged, yet didn’t appear to treat the men and women who walked up to the mic any differently than she would her boss, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
After one driver spoke she called him up to the stage where she and others sat, so that she could shake his hand and congratulate him for having driven 5 million safe miles.
I wondered if this was all an act or if perhaps FMCSA was in the hands of a caring soul (and don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against the past administrators, in fact, John Hill still helps out when The Trucker asks for information). So I reached out through her communications director to ask Ms. Ferro some questions, and then to Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman at FMCSA, for some clarity on what I was thinking. I wanted to ensure that before I wrote all these good things about her that she truly was there for the truckers, that it wasn’t show and that whatever she heard and observed in these sessions will really be used for the HOS rule that’s due to be published later this year.
DuBruyne said that Ferro directed the staff to put together listening sessions that were open to the public and accessible to truck drivers since the listening sessions held in Arlington,Va., Dallas, and Los Angeles — while open to any member of the public — lacked parking for 18-wheelers.
“The Davenport session was expressly intended at making it possible for working truck drivers to have an opportunity to stop by and, in person, contribute their thoughts, views and ideas,” DeBruyne said, “same for Louisville, Ky., during MATS.”
And, DeBruyne added, “She’s sensitive to truckers’ issues.”
And while she clearly paid attention and was kind to those who spoke at the listening session, I wonder just how much of what was said by truckers will actually be considered at the time the rule is written.
I queried her communications director, Candice Tolliver, and following are the questions and answers:
Question 1: What were some of the specific things [Ms. Ferro] took away from the listening sessions?
“The public comments, information, ideas and relevant research received during the listening sessions will be part of the official HOS rulemaking docket. Therefore, I cannot comment on what the agency ‘took away’ from the sessions.”
Question 2: Does what the truckers said there really have an impact on what will be done with the rule when it’s rewritten?
Answer: “FMCSA is committed to considering all public comments, information, ideas and relevant research from stakeholders (including truckers) as the agency develops a new proposed rule on HOS requirements.”
Question 3: Will Ms. Ferro have listening sessions like these for any other rules such as EOBRs, cell phones, etc.?
Answer: “FMCSA is committed to an open and transparent rulemaking process. Public listening sessions for future rulemakings have not been determined at this time.”
It was my hope after having been so impressed with Ms. Ferro during the listening sessions that when I asked those questions I would have received answers that were not generic. They are non answers to simple questions.
I wish I could tell you that you were heard on what one driver said was “the ‘f’ word — flexibility,” a subject that came up time after time in the comments.
Driver after driver came to the mic and asked that the 10 hours allotted for off duty and sleeper-berth time be made more flexible so that if they get tired they can stop and take a nap and not have it count against their 14-hours.
Two specifically mentioned times they’d like to stop and nap: after lunch and going through traffic congestion.
One driver spoke about “how times have changed” and that truckers just don’t get as tired as they once did. He said that trucks have smoother rides, air conditioning and that they don’t have to drive 55.
Ferro replied once, asking how drivers thought FMCSA would be able to allow flexibility and enforce the law. And another time she said they don’t know how to get flexibility and structure.
I’m not sure how you do that, but it doesn’t seem much more difficult to enforce letting someone break a sleeper-berth into five and five than it is to break it into eight and two.
I wish I had something enlightening to share with you all. Some words from Ms. Ferro that what you said will really make a difference, but I just can’t because the response was too generic.
Only time will tell when we see the new rule, but please continue to voice your needs as truckers regarding rules and regulations. I know it seems as if you are often talking to a wall, but the more that is said the better chance you have of getting what you need.
And please don’t forget if FMCSA does something you like, let them know that too.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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