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I’ve had some secondhand second thoughts about those 18-year-old drivers

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In my last column, I mentioned something about looking at online reader comments, and how truckers tend to do a better job of staying on topic and making actual contributions to whatever the story is about compared to what you find on the internet in general.

I also said something about regularly checking our reader comments to see what drivers have to say about whichever topic is taking its turn as one of the “hot” ones of the moment.

These days, the question of whether 18-year-olds should be allowed to drive commercial vehicles interstate has been getting a lot of attention, in part because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced it is seeking comments about a proposed pilot program that would qualify 18- to 20-year-olds to drive interstate.

By the way, if it seems the FMCSA has been doing a lot of this “public comment” stuff lately, they have. And reading between the lines of what the people at FMCSA have been saying, it’s clear they are paying attention to the feedback they’re getting on this and other topics. But this time I am disappointed by the method by which they’re taking comments. It’s the kind of governmental, designed-by-a-bureaucrat, user-unfriendly online method that practically guarantees a low response and almost makes you wonder if that’s on purpose.

I don’t have room to even try to explain the process, which is why you won’t find an explanation in any of the articles about how they want your comments.

That’s too bad, because if the feedback to the story we ran on the pilot program is any indication, there are a lot of strong opinions out there waiting to be shared.

In the past, I’ve written in favor of letting younger drivers drive interstate, or at least for it to be an option. But having read some of the comments on our site, I’m going to attempt to do something here that’s so rare in today’s media, heck, in our entire society, some might consider it un-American — with a few prompts by the audience, I’m going to make a case for the other side.

If our small sampling is any indication, people who are already OTR drivers aren’t too keen on lowering the age of eligibility. In fact, a few suggested it should be raised. We know that’s not going to happen, just like we know the big motivation behind the push for younger drivers is to ease the driver shortage in the OTR truckload sector. Aside from the immediate potential relief, the argument has been made that this will allow young people into trucking before they are lost to other professions.

“You realize 18- to 20-year-olds already can drive intrastate?” reader Nathaniel McComb wrote.

I’m not sure whether Nathaniel was pointing out that that the profession is already open to 18-year-olds if they are interested, or the fact that our highways aren’t strewn with the carnage left in the wake of the young intrastate drivers who are already out there. Or maybe both.

In any case, there’s a good point to be found there. And it’s a point that reader Rachel Booth expanded on:

“I think intrastate driving from 18 to 20 is a good idea,” she wrote. “It gives them experience and more of an idea of what the job involves physically. Interstate driving should remain at 21. Leave it alone.”

Now, that’s reasonable thinking, Rachel. OTR driving is some of the most demanding, not to mention highest-paying, driving there is. What profession starts kids at the most demanding, highest paying level?

What’s wrong with letting them earn their chops for a few years? At that age, even when they make big life decisions, most of those decisions don’t stick. Nothing does. The ages of 18 to 25 is “grownup orientation” for most people. Most of them struggle with the concept of having to work, period, especially at a job that’s, like, hard.

“Would the 18- to 20-year-old people even be interested in being drivers?” reader Andy Schmitz asks. “Our government loves spending money on research & polling — have they actually visited high school seniors or anyone 18-20 to ask if they would be interested in a job that would put them on the road 300 days a year?”

Those pushing for opening up interstate driving to younger drivers claim that the industry loses too many young people to other professions because they make them wait until they are 21. Really? Are high school seniors looking out the window, noses pressed up against the glass, staring at big rigs as they go by and whispering to themselves, “If only …”?

No, they aren’t. In fact, nobody is. That’s the problem. The long-haul truckload trucking segment has long had a problem attracting new talent. And now, just as the demand is greatest, the industry finds itself competing to draw from the tightest labor pool in 50 years.

Trucking knows it’s the ugly duckling in that competition. They’ve been making efforts to gussy up its image. They’ve even raised mileage rates. But money isn’t everything. And they’ve tried to let women and other minorities know the door of opportunity is open to them.

Now they are trying to create a new door, not because it’s the right thing to do, but out a growing sense of desperation.

The benefits would be minimal, and it hardly seems worth the risk. Veteran drivers bristle at the idea, and who would know better?

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The Nation

Can you say oversized load!

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That is big!

 

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The Nation

Diesel prices all but stagnant nationwide, less than 2-cent shift anywhere

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 0.7 cents for the week ending July 22, to currently stand at $3.044 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The lack of movement in diesel prices continues a pattern that has been going on for the past month. On June 24, diesel was at 3.042, with changes of less than 1.5 cents every week in between.

Though tiny, the movement in diesel prices was nearly unanimous this past week, down in all but one region of the country.  That one exception was the Rocky Mountain region, where diesel rose 0.3 cents, to $2.978. Year-to-date, diesel prices are lower in every region, with the Rocky Mountain region again being the standout, having the greatest difference, 39.1 cents from this time last year.

California made it a clean sweep for lower diesel prices year-to-date with a drop of 1.3 cents this past week, to $3.939, still by far the highest in the country, but 0.4 cents below this time last year.

Along the rest of the West Coast, diesel dropped 1.1 cents to $3.198, bringing the overall West Coast average to $3.611 per gallon.

The average along the East Coast is currently $3.072, with prices highest in the Central Atlantic, where diesel is going for $3.259 after a 1.3-cent drop. Diesel is $3.122 in New England following a decrease of 0.9 cents over the past week, while in the Lower Atlantic region diesel slipped by 0.4 cents to stand at $2.937 per gallon.

That’s still slightly better than the Midwest, where diesel is going for $2.948 per gallon after a drop of 0.8 cents. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast, the low-price leader in diesel, fell by the same 0.1 cent it gained the week before to stand at $2.804.

On Monday, increasing tensions between Iran and Western countries failed to produce a sharp reaction in the crude oil markets. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 98 cents, or 1.57%, to settle at $63.45 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 59 cents, or 1.06%, to settle at $56.22 a barrel.

Click here for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

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DOL opinion letter: Time in sleeper berth does not count as compensable time

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The Department of Labor says the time a truck driver spends in the sleeper berth is not compensable time. Pictured in the Peterbilt 579 UltraLoft sleeper berth. (Courtesy: PETERBILT MOTORS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor said Monday said it had determined that time spent in the sleeper berth by professional truck drivers while otherwise relieved from duty does not count as compensable time.

The DOL issued the determination in a written opinion letter by the department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by the individual person or entity that requested the letter.

The American Trucking Associations lauded the opinion.

“ATA welcomes Monday’s opinion letter from DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton that concluded time spent by a commercial driver in the sleeper berth does not count as compensable hours under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, unless the driver is actually performing work or on call,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “This opinion, which is consistent with decades-old DOL regulations, the weight of judicial authority, and the long understanding of the trucking industry, clears up confusion created by two recent court decisions that called the compensability of sleeper berth time into question.

Significantly, this opinion letter provides new guidance, the DOL said.

Under prior guidance, the DOL said WHD interpreted the relevant regulations to mean that while sleeping time may be excluded from hours worked where “adequate facilities” were furnished, only up to eight hours of sleeping time may be excluded in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time may be excluded for trips under 24 hours.

“WHD has now concluded that this interpretation is unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of the applicable regulation, under which the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively non-working time that is not compensable,” the opinion letter said. “There may be circumstances, however, where a driver who retires to a sleeping berth is unable to use the time effectively for his or her own purposes. For example, a driver who is required to remain on call or do paperwork in the sleeping berth may be unable to effectively sleep or engage in personal activities; in such cases, the time is compensable hours worked.”

The ATA commended Acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella and Stanton for adopting a straightforward, plain-language reading of the law, rather than the burdensome alternative interpretation embraced by those outlier decisions.

“ATA also commends the department for making guidance like this available through opinion letters, which provide an opportunity for stakeholders to better understand their compliance obligations prospectively, rather than settling such matters only after the fact, through costly and wasteful litigation,” Spear said.

 

 

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