Safety, driver shortage top her list

Julie Anna Cirillo, acting administrator and safety director for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said she is concerned about the direction in which the U.S. trucking industry is heading.

"I am concerned about the marginal investment in safety many carriers are making in this industry for the purpose of investments in other operational areas," she said at a Transportation Table luncheon at the National Press Club last month.

"It is also significant that, in a booming economy, the industry is unable to encourage and entice people to become truck drivers," Cirillo added. Depending on whose numbers you look at, she said, the U.S. trucking industry is short about 40,000 to 80,000 drivers."That could be for a number of reasons: (a) They're not covered by many U.S. labor laws, and (b) truck drivers seem to work 50% longer than anyone else in America without overtime pay," Cirillo said. "These are significant issues that we, as an industry, ought to be thinking about."

The driver shortage is one area where Cirillo has seen "some pretty disturbing indicators" that the industry is not going in the right direction.

"We're seeing the selling of Commercial Driver's Licenses, not just in Illinois, but in other states," she said. "We're also seeing the recruitment of immigrants who are sold a CDL and put behind the wheel of a truck. I'm not saying that immigrants would not make fine truck drivers - it's the selling of CDLs to them and their lack of training that puts them and the public at risk. That's not the way to solve the driver shortage."

But Cirillo isn't sure how the driver shortage will be solved. "I don't really know what government's role is in all this," she said. "The marketplace usually takes care of such shortages - look at how the need for computer professionals has attracted more applicants. But that hasn't happened in trucking. More people are leaving than coming in."

Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater extended the comment period for the new hours-of-service proposal until Oct. 30. Comments can be filed electronically by filling out the form at http://dmses.dot.gov/submit/BlankDSS.asp. If you want to respond by mail, send your comments to: Docket Clerk, U.S. DOT Dockets, Rm. PL-401, 400 Seventh St. SW, Washington DC 205900-0001.(Be sure to write "Docket No. FMCSA-97-2350" at the top of your comments.)

On the legislative front, the Senate voted 99-to-0 to block any further DOT spending on revising its hours-of-service rules for truckers. At presstime, the proposal was headed for a joint House-Senate conference committee to iron out differences in the two budget bills, and the House had not yet voted on the matter. If the House also rejects the provision, DOT will not receive any money in its budget to work on its hours-of-service proposal.

The Institute for Truck Transportation Management is offering an updated home study program for fleet managers in conjunction with the Continuing Ed program at Penn State Capital College, Harrisburg, Pa. Courses cover finance, operations, productivity and compliance, and equipment utilization. For more info, contact Lisa Deyo, NPTC, at 703-683-1300; or deyo@nptc.org.

ATA's Executive Council voted that fleets do not have to join ATA to participate in TMC. Instead, ATA will add surcharges to the dues of TMC members whose fleets are not affiliated with ATA. A fleet's primary member will pay a surcharge of $50 in addition to the $285 TMC membership fee; other employees of the fleet will pay a $20 surcharge to their $75 membership.

Ehancedbenefits.com, a provider of discounted health and lifestyle benefits, enables fleet managers to offer drivers affordable access to Fortune 500-style benefits. Drivers can find providers in every state by calling 1-800-EHANCED. Program savings include discounts on prescriptions, glasses, contacts, doctor and dental visits, and even laser eye surgery. Fleet managers can offer the program as a company benefit or provide the information to their drivers to sign up individually.

The House of Representatives voted last month to deny OSHA funding for its new ergonomics proposal.