In the sweep of trucking-related trade groups, there is really nothing quite like The Trucking Alliance.
It started with nine members more than 10 years ago; it has the same nine members and isn’t taking applications for new ones. (However, it will be losing one, U.S. Xpress, when it is acquired by Knight-Swift. But Knight-Swift is a member too, so it could be argued the organization isn’t shrinking.)
Whereas most trade groups actively seek to bring in new members, the Alliance does no such thing.
The nine Alliance members are Maverick; Knight-Swift (NYSE: KNX); U.S. Xpress (NYSE: USX); May Trucking; KLLM Transport Services; Schneider National (NASDAQ: SNDR); J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT); Cargo Transporters; and Dupre Logistics. The membership has never varied since day one in 2011.
And in a clear demonstration of how it is different, last week the group joined in with other associations that might be viewed as anti-truck and came out in opposition to a law that would bar speed limiters on trucks, the DRIVE Act.
Steve Williams, the president of the Alliance and the founder and CEO of Arkansas-based Maverick Transportation, said in an interview with FreightWaves — the first he has given in many years — that it is likely that about 98% of the trucks operating at Alliance companies already have speed limiters. He said the Alliance’s decision to back current efforts to impose speed limiters was “unanimous.”
What brought the Alliance’s pro-speed limiter position into recent public view was a letter it signed along with several safety groups that would normally be seen as “anti-truck,” though such a description can often be simplistic.
But the seven other signatories to the letter sent May 11 to the chair and ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure included groups such as the Institute for Safer Trucking and the Parents Against Tired Truckers.
That the vote within the Alliance on the issue was 100% was not surprising to Williams. “We always try to have unanimity in our group,” he said.
With the Alliance finding allies with groups seen as hostile to trucking is sort of the point, Williams said. “I think the key thing that the Alliance has been able to do has been the ability for us to bridge some of the historical obstacles with safety groups who felt that the industry maybe had not always been completely forthcoming or perhaps had a different agenda, or perhaps had a different strategy on how to get to the end goal.”
That “historical friction,” Williams said, means that “no progress was being made on really important issues.”
The American Trucking Associations did not sign the letter — it isn’t clear whether it was ever asked — but its view on the issue is not that much different from the Trucking Alliance.
In a prepared statement, Bill Sullivan, ATA executive vice president of advocacy, said of the DRIVE Act: “These efforts to prohibit the development of safety policies are misguided, they will lead to more serious crashes, and this bill will never become law, even if it passes the House.”
The ATA’s view, expressed on its website, is that it has “consistently opposed efforts by anti-truck groups to pursue a speed limiter rule setting speeds in the low 60s.” Instead, the ATA said it supports a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour in trucks equipped with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise controls. If a truck doesn’t have those capabilities, the ATA says it favors a maximum set speed of 65 mph.
The Trucking Alliance does not try to weigh in on every government action that may impact trucking. It has kept its focus primarily on those issues that it sees as being key to safety, which Williams brings up repeatedly.
“I want every good technology that we can have to make our drivers a better and safer driver for his benefit and for those that he’s trucking around,” Williams said.
And that’s visible in the issues where the Alliance has been most vocal. While the group was deeply involved in the move to ELD mandates, its most recent focus for several years has been pushing for mandatory hair testing of drivers, expanding the current use of urine testing.
While there has been advancement on the testing front — oral fluid testing will now be acceptable though laboratory capacity may limit its adoption — hair testing still remains an elusive goal for the Alliance and other backers.
A recent revised rule on hair testing has been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review. But the road to a final rule promulgated by FMCSA after a standard is adopted by DOT still remains a long one.
Williams cited the results of a recent study conducted by the University of Central Arkansas that have not yet been released publicly that the Alliance believes lays out a strong case for hair testing.
Those results, conducted solely on drivers or applicants to the members of the Alliance, turned up 25 times more opioid users, 23 times more cocaine users and 13 times more amphetamine users than urine testing only. (Doug Voss, a professor of logistics and supply chain management at the University of Central Arkansas, said the study will be released within the next few months.)
“I’m not saying that 3 million truck drivers are not good people,” Williams said of the results. “I’m here to say we’re fighting for the safety of the ones that are not taking drugs and we want our drivers to be safe.”
The creation of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse was a key priority of the Alliance. But to make further gains, Williams said, “you have to have hair follicle testing.”
The Alliance had also been in the forefront of pushing for the ELD mandate. When asked if he believed the mandate had worked as intended, Williams responded with a roundabout answer that saw the ELD as a beginning, not an end.
To create a “healthy” supply chain, Williamssaid, the job of truck driver needs to be “sustainable.” “And that means there are some things that need to be fixed,” Williams said. “And the ELD mandate was the foundation of that.”
Williams said he would like to see a world in which drivers rack up fewer miles and get paid more. But if a driver is compliant with hours of service yet “not making the kind of miles or revenue that he feels he needs to have, he may drive faster to cover the same amount of revenue, the same amount of miles. So that’s at cross purposes with the intention of creating this safe environment.”
The cynical whispering about the Alliance is that its efforts are aimed primarily at tightening the amount of available capacity, boosting the financial fortunes of those who have that capacity…like the members of the group.
Williams answered that question with a reference to rates. The Alliance backs “whatever it costs to safely do the job,” he said. “We’re supposed to be serving our customers in a safe, fuel efficient manner.” Whatever the cost is to do that, “is the new rate,” he said.
Looking past the current plunge in rates, Williams said “rates have gone up over the last two or three years, dramatically and appropriately.” Putting that money to use, whether it’s targeted at the drivers’ jobs or investing in cleaner burning engines, “is incumbent on us,” he added.
“The price point that we’re at now is at a point where we and others can reinvest in doing all the things we need to do to meet the needs of those customers, and it can not be at the expense of safety.”
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