The trucking industry is facing numerous challenges that are jeopardizing the well-being of drivers that must be addressed to ensure highway safety is a top priority for the traveling public, a Teamster official said today.
Lamont Byrd, the Teamsters’ Director of Safety and Health, told members of a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee today that company pressure on drivers to be more productive, combined with the distressed state of infrastructure in this country and the effort of industry to lessen regulations could have a dire impact on all those on the nation’s roadways.
“These pressures come from many sources and some are related to policies that either don’t exist or haven’t kept pace with a changing transportation system,” Byrd said. “Specific policy issues related to infrastructure, driver compensation, hours of service, driver harassment, driver health, driving training and retention, automation and globalization all contribute to these pressures.”
Companies are expecting their drivers to be more productive, he said, even if that means violating safety rules on the books. In addition, trucking firms are pushing for watered down hours-of-service standards that would extend the work day, lowering the driving age for interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18, and increased automation even when safety is at risk.
Asked specifically about the lowering of the driving age for long-haul truckers, Byrd said the union has concerns. “We don’t support lowering the driving age in commercial trucking,” he said. “One of the approaches we use to attract young workers to the trucking industry is establishing an apprenticeship program. We recruit candidates who are 18, 19 years old and we teach them about the trucking and transportation industry, working on the dock, and working various aspects of the trucking industry.”
Lawmakers raised their own doubts about having teenagers driving trucks across the country. House Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said improving wages would likely be a better way to keep drivers than lowering the license age.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) agreed. “If you want to attract and retain high-quality drivers, you need policies and need to ensure trucking remains a good job with high-quality compensation,” he said.
Protecting drivers on the job is also a concern. That is why the Teamsters oppose the hours-of-service rules, Byrd said. “CDL-qualified drivers, they’re driving larger trucks, they are delivering more freight, they’re delivering heavier freight than short-haul truckers,” he said. “What that is going to result in is that these drivers will work more hours, deliver more freight and heavier freight, and it will put them at increased risk of delivering muscular-skeletal disorders.”