It was a banner year for truck drivers who saw employers heavily recruit qualified drivers to fill trucking jobs. The economy continued to be robust and the renegotiated NAFTA deal, now the USMCA, is under review in Congress. The USMCA reportedly delivers increased benefits for American truck drivers and some retailers with large fleets paid salaries of nearly $90,000.
The positive trends truckers enjoyed through 2019 give cause for cautious optimism. There were also some challenges in 2019, but the jobs outlook appears promising. These rank among the major trucking industry news items of 2019.
California Trucking Association Files Lawsuit to Protect Owner Operators
A new law targeting independent contractors has California freight operations on the brink of severing ties with Owner Operators.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation that reclassifies third-party contractors in a way that would curb full-time Lyft and Uber drivers, and California-based CDL holders are becoming collateral damage. Because self-employed truckers contract with freight companies at a specific pay schedule and run routes determined by the company, among other things, the new law makes them employees as of Jan. 1, 2020. Companies have already sent letters out to Owner Operators explaining they will no longer be able to use their services. Unless they relocate to another state and show proof of residence and a new CDL, they will be cut loose. The California Trucking Association (CTA) has intervened.
“Independent truckers are typically experienced drivers who have previously worked as employees and have, by choice, struck out on their own,” CTA CEO Shawn Yadon reportedly said. “We should not deprive them of that choice. We can protect workers from misclassification without infringing upon independent truckers’ right to make a living in California.”
According to Fortune, the new law reportedly threatens the livelihood of upwards of 70,000 California truckers. In conjunction with the CTA lawsuit, passenger driving organizations such as Lyft, Uber, and Door Dash are expected to invest $90 million to oppose the law on a 2020 ballot initiative. The new law reportedly threatens two-thirds of the state’s independent contractors.
ELD Mandate Goes Into Full Effect to Track New HOS in 2019
The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate came into being in December 2017, but as of Dec. 17, 2019, drivers are no longer able to use the Automatic On-Board Recording Devices that were previously grandfathered. The rule was flexed over two years to give Owner Operators and trucking companies time to invest in the new technology. The new ELDs aim at more accurate accounting of drivers' hours of service (HOS).
As of August 2019, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) made significant changes to the HOS rules. These include provisions that allow a clock pause of 14 hours, eliminates the half-hour break, and it calls for a three-hour rest break. Truckers without ELDs can anticipate extremely high fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
U.S. Department of Transportation Increased Fines
Using the theory that the DOT needed to increase fines in keeping with inflation, the federal agency ramped up penalties across the board by 1.02 percent in 2019. This is a shortlist of the maximum fines CDL holders should be aware of going forward.
- Failure to obey Subpoena: $10,663.
- Out-of-service order: $1,848.
- Recordkeeping (per day): $1,239.
- Recordkeeping (maximum total): $12,383.
- Non-recordkeeping violations: $3,760.
- Violation of alcohol prohibition (first conviction): $3,096
- Violation of alcohol prohibition (subsequent conviction): $6,192.
- Financial responsibility violations: $16,499
In all likelihood, the DOT will increase these fines again by the end of 2020.
FMCSA Opens Drug, Alcohol Clearinghouse
In 2019, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it plans to move forward releasing Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse information to an increasing number of agencies in an effort to enforce testing and regulatory compliance. As of January 2020, trucking companies are required to be in full compliance with sharing all drug and alcohol infractions. The campaign is designed to prevent at-risk individuals from operating a heavy commercial vehicle while impaired. The Clearinghouse rules require fleets to disclose violations and provide verification that a CDL holder has completed “return-to-duty” measures in accordance with DOT guidelines. Clearinghouse rules are expected to allow the following information sharing going forward.
- Allow agencies who partner with the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program to enjoy access to the database.
- State agencies can access the database to check on a driver’s qualifications to operate a commercial vehicle. This includes instances of driver’s license renewals, insurance, transfers, and other administrative actions.
- The National Transportation Safety Board will have access as an investigative tool when crashes occur.
These regulations go into full effect Jan. 6, 2020.
Truck Driver Shortage Provides Job Security
According to a report by the American Trucking Association (ATA), a persistent truck driver shortage continues, and trucking companies are aggressively recruiting qualified CDL holders. The ATA report indicates that a substantial driver shortage occurred in 2005 when a shortfall of approximately 20,000 was recorded. The crunch peaked in 2018, and a combination of factors reduced the gap only modestly in 2019. Improved retention may be a critical reason for the shortage falling under 60,000 in 2019, based on rising wages, improved benefits, and other perks fleet operations are offering.
“In 2018, the shortage of truck drivers was 60,800, which is a record high and up more than 10,000 from the prior year. In 2019, we expect the shortage to decrease to 59,500, slightly below its highest level in 2018,” the ATA report states. “The forecast for a decrease this year is due to a couple of reasons. First, the freight economy is slowing from the torrid 2018, with declines in freight in some sectors. Second, with so much emphasis put on the driver shortage by the news media last year, the driver pool increased. . . If nothing changes in the trend line by 2028, the shortage could reach 160,000. We are not saying that the shortage will reach that level; instead, this is more of a warning to the industry and the broader supply chain of what could happen if things don’t change.”
The ATA and other industry leaders have been pushing initiatives to attract more drivers. These include lowering the interstate CDL age from 21 to 18 years old, creating more programs to transition members of the military into the trucking industry, and reducing wait times. The worker shortage guarantees that qualified professional CDL drivers can secure a good-paying position for years to come.