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FMCSA Administrator sees the road from the driver's cab in two-day truck ride-along

FMCSA Administrator sees the road from the driver's cab in two-day truck ride-along

Just a few days ago, I finished a ride-along with Leo Wilkins, an owner operator I met at the OOIDA Safety Awards presentation in Kansas City. Leo has logged 21 years of accident-free driving, and from Sunday morning until Monday afternoon, I rode with him from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, to St. Louis--with stops along the way in Harrisburg, Indianapolis, and Riverton, Illinois.

My goal was to experience what drivers experience when they are on the road and see how the programs we put in place at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration really mean to an owner operator.

Photo of Anne Ferro with truck driver Leo Wilkins

FMCSA Administrator (right) joined Leo Wilkins in his 2012 Peterbilt 379 from Marlboro, MD, to St. Louis. Photo courtesy OOIDA.

I saw first-hand the challenges drivers face and that the shipper and receiver play a large part in those challenges. I saw how traffic, weather, and the stop at the weigh station can make trip planning so difficult for our nation's commercial drivers. I also saw how safety rules like the 14-hour driving window--while necessary to prevent fatigue--factor into the driver's job.

For most of us, when we plan a road trip, it happens on time and without delay, and it doesn't affect our livelihood. For many commercial truck drivers, however, trip management is at the mercy of the shipper, and the shipper’s demands are always changing to fulfill the receiver’s needs.

Drivers are often kept waiting at the dock for their load; then they must secure the load. All of this counts as part of their 14-hour driving window, but they aren't paid for the time spent waiting and securing the load. Imagine your own frustration if you had a limited window for earning revenue, but control of that window was in someone else's hands.

What you don't see when you pass a tractor-trailer on the highway is that truck driving is hard work. More than once, I watched as Leo navigated us through unsafe conditions created by passenger vehicles driving aggressively and unpredictably near his rig. Thanks to Leo's skill and patience, other drivers never even seemed aware of the potential danger they had instigated.

I want to thank Leo Wilkins for this eye-opening opportunity. These two days gave me a first-hand look at how we need to continue our commitment to building safety into the entire trip, from shipper to receiver and everywhere in between.

Anne Ferro is Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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Marlboro, MD to Saint Louis is a little over 1700 miles. How did you log that from Sunday morning till Monday afternoon? 36 hours? Must have been late Monday afternoon.

You doubled your miles. It is 835 miles one way. At 45mph average driving, that is 18.5 hours Two days would allow for up to 22 hours driving.

I want to thank Anne Ferro for her effort to see how the Regulations and Mandates her department puts into the trucking industry affects not only the industry but also how they affect the daily lives of the men and women drivers who have to abide by them. Also to see the rigors and the lifestyle of being confined to the cab and sleeper berth of a truck for their livelyhood. Too many bereaucrats sit behind a desk and never take the time to see how the rules they put into place affect the very people that are regulated by them. The commerical drivers of the United States need more appointed and elected officals who do field research on laws and mandiates they put into place which never affect their income and personal life. If Mrs. Ferro is willing to partake in any further field research I would like her to consider doing so inside another truck that is hauling chemicals inside a tank trailer so she can see first hand the hazards and lifestyle of this very important portion of the transportation industry.

Thank you for your comments now lets see if anything is done!

Thank you for taking the time to see the world from the side of the truckers. For so long now the "suits" in Washington have been assuming they know what is going on out here on the road. There has to be a way to fix the HOS mess as it seems to be today. Thank you for the help

Its nice to see that you took the time to do this Anne. However, what interests me is what you are going to do with this information that you've gathered. And I challenge you and more of your colleagues to spend more time in the cab. Two days gave you just a small taste of what our drivers go through. Your rules are great in the board room but you need to see them in the field. Some changes are good but not all. Again, what are you going to do with this new knowledge?

I have been driving a truck or 24 years also accident free really a challenge now with everybody texting on their phone all the time. they should make all people ride with trucker for a day to see what we go thru before they issue them their drive license.

I'm glad Anne took the time to go with Leo, but I see that Leo is a flat bed operator. As challenging as flatbedding is and can be, it isn't the dry van and reefer side of it, which sometimes can mean 8 or more hours at the customer, loading or unloading, with the attitude from the customer being 'we'll get to you when we get to you'. Any driver can tell you the worst thing you can do to a driver to cause fatigue is to make them sit for long periods, the whole time on edge wanting to get back on the road where 'making money' starts. And, once again, it's going against our 14 hr clock. Do we have frustration issues? You betcha!

So glad to see someone from the "other side" ride a mile in our shoes. Hopefully this can be done by others so they can also become aware. Might I suggest that the next ride along be with a produce hauler and see the abuse drivers take. Also you'll notice just how much vision is restricted not being able to see around and over the back of a flatbed. Once again. Well Done.

All of your other administrators need to do the same as u just did...two days is a start,but there are soooo many factors that go into getting home safe & with a decent paycheck,that only two days is too short of a time to see it

Thanks for taking the time to take this little trip, Ms. Ferro. I'm glad you saw the impact of the 14-hour rule and how the shippers/receivers can totally screw a driver's day and his/her earning potential. I wonder if you had a chance to see the new 8-hour, 30-minute break rule affect a load? Just yesterday I delivered a load late because of it. My 8-hours came up when I was only 20 minutes from delivery, (where I was going to get at least 2 hours of off-duty time). Now does that make any sense at all? While I understand the need for rules, what we drivers really need is more flexible rules. The 14 and the 8 are both the exact opposite of flexible. Most of all, I'm glad you got to spend 2 days with a seasoned driver. I'm trusting that Leo told you like it is and what the main problems are. It's about time someone in the FMCSA get some actual experience with what we drivers deal with. Too bad you couldn't experience the joys of 30 degree weather in a no-idling state…and no APU. Brrrr!

Administrator Ferro, Thank you for sharing this experience. I look forward to working with you and other stakeholders to resolve the issue of sleep apnea in the commercial driver population in a sensible manner; appreciating the challenges the drivers face on the road. Edward Grandi Executive Director American Sleep Apnea Association Washington, DC

This is what has needed to be done along time ago however, only 2 days in a truck does not give you the full overview. Regulations need to be made on the shipper and receiver for our safety factor of doing our jobs. We supply America, we move America. Focus on where the real problem is and stop harnessing the trucking industry with the HOS regulations that are difficult to manage with all wait times and schedules. Regulate the shippers and receivers.

Now try going for more than 2 days and really get a taste of this job..Why are you in a position to help pass such crazy rules upon us? When you have no experience at all in this industry, it is imperative that you see it all not just from one trucker's truck but from dozens..Stop and really pay attention to the dumb craziness of these rules..nothing here about safety, all about revenue..how bout u just becoming one of us unskilled laborers!! Trade your wage for ours..I have no sympathy for you what-so-ever.

I am glad to hear you spent two days in a truck. I would really like to hear about you spending a full week or two in the truck. Safety is vital but some of the rules are causing a dangerous course to be forged. The 168hr rule is one of the worst ever implemented.

Thanks Anne for taking the time to see it from our side.

We truckers got a wish to come true. Some one to ride along with a trucker from the powers to be that make the rules. His comments are a bit too pat but still he did go along and did see how things really are . Now if he would try to get legislation to control time/ revenues at the dock on both ends. Maybe with a little urging from us we could get him to go for a week.Or another administrator Then the real world would hit them between the eyes.

Now that you've seen what our life is and how it is controlled by so many others, what are you (FMCSA) going to do to help?

The split sleep rule has to go away. Teams being forced to drive 10 hr. splits. The fact that if a solo driver needs to lay down and take a 2-3 nap so he can continue safely, he can't, the 14 hr. rule come into effect. So, he drives on tired or breaks the law. Now, I ask you. How is that helping the safety of our roads? I've driven accident free since 1973, I truck until I'm tired, and sleep until I'm awake. That may be 1, 2, 3, 10 hrs. of driving. The law, and law makers can't tell me when or how long I will be behind the wheel before I get tired.

Anne I would first like to commend you on actually stepping up and seeing what it is like to drive first hand. I am not yet an operator of a commercial truck but I soon will be. I do think that many of the rules that have been put in place are sound. Yet there are things that can be done to make it better for a driver to make a living. One thing I noticed while reading your post was that you stated "All of this counts as part of their 14-hour driving window, but they aren't paid for the time spent waiting and securing the load" however drivers are not allowed to drive 14 hours and while they can work for 14 hours they can only drive for 11 of those hours. So it is really a 14 hour working window not driving window. I have to say that a simple fix to all of this would be to allow the drivers to split their drive times so that if a driver is tired he can stop rest and then continue to drive. With the elogs that are becoming common place this would be easy to track and would make the roads a much safer place. Again thanks for stepping up I hope to see some good come from this experience.

Alot of us in the commercial driving world have thought this ride along would be a good idea for a long time. I am glad to see someone has done it.

I'm glad to see you took a few baby steps to see what life is like for those who you write these regulations for. But there is another side to the prism of drivers that you should explore. The company day-cab drivers face all the challenges of the over-the-road driver, plus the challenge of getting back "home" every day. The clock ticks in a slightly different way for them.

Yet you still hold on to your HOS rules. GO AFTER THE BROKERS! Make them PROVE to us what the REAL rate is for the load being moved. Kill their revenue stream like you are killed mine and you will see a much safer environment. Force the shippers and receivers to pay us a detention fee of $150/hour for every single hour we sit after the 2nd hour. If you start fixing what's wrong with this business and quit putting 100% of the blame on the driver(s) you'll turn this around, but that'll force you to admit you are wrong...will that happen???

I invite you to come out west(Calif, Oregon & Washington) to where we have to deal with split speed limits and four wheelers. I'm happy you took that ride and hope that it might lead to some revisions on current HOS rules.

And understand that Leo, like most drivers, is safe in spite of FMCSA interference, not because of it. Trucking is not a 9 to 5 job that can be pigeonholed into one. Leo was easy, to REALLY see what truckers go through, ride with a reefer driver. Then you'll see the true extent to which drivers are abused by shippers, receivers, and especially the law.

Thank you Ms. Ferro for investigating the day to day operations of a trucker from the driver's point of view!

Anne, I am not an OTR driver, but spend plenty of time traveling for my job. I want to say Thanks for taking the time out to spend a day or two is the shoes of those on the road. To see what really goes on from the point of view of the driver is great. I wish more people in Washington would do that, maybe then they would have a better understanding of what goes on. I see plenty of aggressive drivers causing unsafe conditions on the road. Glad to know you did too.

I commend you in the initiative that you have taken in going on this ride. There so many other trials though that you need to experience. The 34-hour reset as it now is. The lack of parking or adequate rest facilities for truckers. Rest areas that are in critical locations that are now barricaded and closed on us. As an independent Owner operator with my own authority, every day is a challenge. Fuel quality has a major impact. Biodiesel being mandated that we use to subsidize the agriculture industry. While it's great that there is a reduced price for fuel with 20% biodiesel, that reduced price costs us greatly. I just was able to determine that this costs me about 0.2-0.3 mpg in fuel economy. That means I could by straight diesel or even the current MANDATED 5% B5 biodiesel at a cost of 13 or 14 cents MORE per gallon and still break even. In the end, that B5 fuel uses LESS fuel because it's more efficient in my engine. That B20 fuel is costing me $5500 annually. A full months worth of fixed operating costs that I would not have had to earn. Across 150,000 trucks, that's an impact of $818,000,000 annually. And if it's hitting 350,000 owner operators, over $1.9 BILLION dollars annually. All that on the back of truckers. We still haven't talked about the impact that detention time costs us. The half hour mandated break, the 34-hour reset or the cost of EOBR's.

Next time you want to test drivers call me!

That was a great move, for someone to finally get out there in one of our trucks for a real life experience. I must say though, that 2-day trip was not enough. Let's do that again, shall we? Say.... For a week, at least. With that, then you can truly get a better taste of a professional truck driver's life on the road. That was merely the tip of the iceberg. Just saying.

If you break down time vs money you'll see drivers aren't even making minimum wage, do all us drivers a favor an lighten up on us an make a federal rate hike to help everyone out an that would cut down delays at shippers, an mandate a receiver to unload in a timely matter or they have to pay an hourly wage of state speed limit. As a flatbed o/o we sit at ports for 1-20 hrs at a time....

So look forward to more regulations??? Cuz the ones that love this occupation are ready to leave it. More turn over than McDonald's.

And what was your insire into our world mean. ?

Thank you for this! I'm about to go with my husband for a week on the road! He has been driving for 25+ years and we became O/O a few years ago. I have a comfy office job but he wants me to experience life on the road. This shall prove interesting!

Before all these hos changes I could make up to 70,000 a yr. And each time you change the hrs of service I lose 10,000 a yr and my home time.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! My fiance is an OTR driver and has had the same complaints for years about "4 wheelers" as he calls them. PLEASE insist that when the local law enforcement does their "Cops on Trains" that they also do a "Cops on Trucks" at a later time. They always report that they ticketed (so many) with the "Cops on Trains" campaign. BUT I can assure you that they will ticket about 4 times as many if they would ride with a trucker, even if it is with Yellow/YRC or FedEx Ground. Please also expand the "No Zone" campaign to include the school districts which still offer Driver's Ed. EVERY truck has a no zone and ALL drivers but especially young drivers need to learn where this spot is.

2 Days isn't enough time to know what we go thru try 4-6 weeks out! Come home then go out again 4-6 weeks again!

I've been riding with my husband for the past 5 years and get a first-hand look at what he has put up with for the past 32 years (27 of those years, I spent at home with our son with only occasional "road trips"). Thank you, Ms. Ferro, for taking the opportunity to "see first hand."

Now will you put the hos back to the way it was before 7/1/13 or better yet go back before 2000.

This is a great start but you can't fully see what obstacles drivers face in two short days. Pack a bag and go for two weeks, see how the new hours of service rules really affect us.

Give it at least 2 weeks..2 Days, can't see what it really is all about in 2 days.

Hope the cpl days you spent were enough to see how silly some of the regulations are. And maybe better changes can be initiated. Not just a dog and pony show

Thank you for taking the time to go with Mr. Wilkins and especially for sharing your thoughts here online.
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