Trucking urges Congress to pass DRIVE-Safe Act

As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, trucking leaders are continuing to advocate for the most important issues impacting the industry. On April 14, 117 organizations, representing the agriculture, manufacturing, retail, food service and trucking sectors of the U.S. supply chain, sent a letter to transportation leaders in Congress urging passage of the DRIVE-Safe Act, legislation that can help remedy the growing driver shortage. Currently, 49 states and Washington D.C. allow individuals under the age of 21 to obtain a commercial driver’s license (must be 21 in New York) and operate commercial vehicles in intrastate commerce.

However, these same individuals are prohibited by federal law from driving a truck across state lines until they turn 21.  The DRIVE-Safe Act would launch a two-step apprenticeship program to allow drivers to participate in interstate commerce. In order to qualify, candidates must complete at least 400 hours of additional training–far beyond what is required of any other CDL holder in the nation.

Secondly, all qualified drivers participating in the apprenticeship program would be accompanied by an experienced driver in the cab and would only be allowed to drive trucks outfitted with the latest safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing dash cams, speed limiters set at 65 mph or lower, and automatic or automatic-manual transmissions.  In the letter, supply chain leaders cite the impact that the driver shortage is having on their operations, the transportation of goods as well as consumer prices:

As 70% of the nation’s freight is carried by commercial trucks, the threat posed by the driver shortage stands to disrupt the continuity of the supply chain while demand is projected to increase over the next decade. According to a recent estimate, the trucking industry needs an additional 60,800 truck drivers immediately–a deficit that is expected to grow to more than 160,000 by 2028.

In fact, when anticipated driver retirement numbers are combined with the expected growth in capacity, the trucking industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade, or an average of nearly 110,000 per year. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the truck driver shortage, and the temporary closures of state DMV’s and truck driver training schools dried up the already fragile pipeline of new drivers entering the trucking industry. And as a result of the already crippling driver shortage, companies in supply chains across the economy are facing higher transportation costs, leading to increased prices for consumers on everything from electronics to food.

The DRIVE Safe Act was originally introduced on March 20 by House Reps.

Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) to not only address the driver shortage but also promote enhanced safety training for emerging members of the trucking workforce. “This is a common-sense proposal that will open enormous opportunities for the 18-21 year-old population, giving them access to a high-paying profession free of the debt burden that comes with a four-year degree,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). “Moreover, this bill would strengthen training programs beyond current requirements to ensure safety and that drivers are best prepared.” The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) voiced its concerns regarding this legislation on Nov.

9, 2020 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in its submitted comments on the then-pilot program for under-21 drivers. “When it comes to highway safety, the data is clear – younger drivers and inexperienced drivers crash more,” said Todd Spencer, president and CEO of OOIDA. “Research has shown that most drivers under the age of 21…lack the general maturity, skill and judgment that is necessary in handling commercial motor vehicles. “Other studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex, which is the portion of the brain responsible for complex cognitive behavior and decision making, does not fully develop until the mid-20s and that adults are better equipped to recognize errors in decision making,” Spencer explained. “Given this existing data, we firmly believe that licensing under-21 drivers for interstate commerce will result in more crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks.”

The letter, however, reiterated that “as the name implies, the legislation’s first priority is safety.”  Recently, trucking companies have been implementing safety training and driver incentive recruiting strategies to draw interested parties to the commercial vehicle driving profession. In February, Yellow Corporation revealed that it will be filling 1,500 commercial driver positions to its roster while reminding those of the 12 Yellow Driving Academies that are available across the U.S. for those who want to obtain their commercial driver’s license (CDL).

According to Yellow, classroom instruction combined with in-cab skills training is provided by Yellow’s longest serving, most experienced driving professionals.  “At a time when many Americans are looking to start a new career, Yellow is in hire mode,” said Darren Hawkins, Yellow CEO. “Our men and women are heroes. At the beginning of the pandemic as well as today, they’re getting American families and businesses the goods they need.

Our freight professionals serve as the economic lifeline to nearly every community in America. These are good jobs with competitive benefits in a community near you.” On April 7, Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings announced a number of changes in its operations, including a number of pay increases for drivers and independent contractors.

“In addition to multiple pay increases and incentives over the last six months, effective the first week of April, over-the-road company drivers at Knight and Swift received another 2 cent per mile pay increase,” the company said. “Depending on individual experience level, experienced drivers can now start above £.50 per mile, and in some regions of the country, certain jobs can start above £.60 per mile. Knight-Swift also increased contract rates for over-the-road independent contractors by £.03-£.05 per mile, depending on their line of business. To make their pay increases more enticing to new drivers, the company revealed that individuals who join Knight-Swift through their training programs will have their paychecks increased by 40% or more.

“Over their first year after training to become a professional driver, individuals can choose from multiple paths to earn in excess of £60,000 per year,” Knight-Swift said. “Depending on experience and the frequency of training, drivers who train others to become professional drivers at Knight-Swift can make over £100,000 per year.” Knight-Swift has also centered its focus on driver incentives by investing over £250 million in facility improvements, such as the comfort and accessibility of lounges and driver amenities. Company driver pay increases and Independent Contractor contract rate increases, along with enhancements to bonuses and incentives, have literally put tens of millions more well-deserved dollars into the hard-earned paychecks of our drivers and into the businesses of our Independent Contractor partners,” said David Jackson, CEO of Knight-Swift. “Additionally, we continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year refreshing and advancing our top-of-the-line fleet and in facility enhancements that make our driving jobs safer and more comfortable.

These are just a few of the ways we show our appreciation and respect for our professional drivers, and we are far from being done.” Corporations and industry leaders that signed the letter to Congress include FedEx, Walmart, Nestle, UPS, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Truckload Carriers Association, and more. 

During the early days of COVID, the Kenan Advantage Group (KAG) struggled with the best protocol for cleaning the truck’s cab used by a driver who came down with COVID-19 symptoms. The largest bulk liquid hauler in North America, KAG has 7,000 drivers and just as many trucks in its fleet, which operates throughout the U.S, Canada and Mexico. Kirk Altrichter, KAG’s executive vice president of fleet services, said that his fleet, like others in the early days of the pandemic, needed to develop a plan for equipment that could be contaminated with COVID. 

“Hiring somebody to come in and clean the truck was very expensive,” he said during an educational session at the American Trucking Associations’ 2021 TMC Spring Virtual Meeting hosted by TMC’s Cab & Controls Study Group. “None of our technicians, none of our personnel wanted to get into the cabs to clean them. We later decided to just quarantine the truck for three to five days. We started with five days and then quickly moved to three days.”

After a three-day truck quarantine, the staff then went into the cab, wiped down all the surfaces, and did a thorough cleaning.  For years, trucking companies have been looking for the best ways to clean cabs. But in 2020, the main reason for finding the best way to clean a driver’s workspace changed. 

“Why is there a need for in-cab cleaning and deodorizing?” Altrichter asked during the April 20 session. “For many years, we’ve been doing this as trucking companies for slip-seated trucks and drivers.” Session moderator John Adami, principal at NW Heavy Duty, noted: “I don’t think anybody would disagree that truck cabs and sleepers haven’t always been the most hygienic or healthy working environments. It’s incumbent upon us to address the bigger picture of cleanliness and health — not just the current pandemic — when it comes to cleaning.”

Until the COVID-19 pandemic made people think differently about sterilizing workspaces, truck companies were focused on fighting the residue and odor left by cigarette smoke and other dirt and grime that builds up inside the cab. This was done to make the truck ready for the next driver for fleets that share trucks or to fight potential bug infestations. Fleets also would focus on cab cleaning in advance of selling trucks, Altrichter noted.

And while fleets are still concentrated on clean cabs for resale and other reasons, things changed in 2020. “Most recently, I think, it’s more about bacteria and viruses,” Altrichter said. And when it comes to fighting bacteria and viruses, there are good products for inside the cab, as well as cleaning products that fleets should avoid because they could damage the equipment.

Adami noted there are two approaches to cleaning inside cabs: chemicals and devices. “When it comes to cleaning, there’s no one product, there’s no one solution,” he said. “It’s a layered process.”

List N products

Scott Harris, president of Environmental Quality Management, suggested that fleets rely on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list of disinfectants that fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.  The EPA expects all products on its List N to kill the coronavirus when used according to the product’s label instructions.

These products can come as sprays, wipes, concentrates or fogs, for example. Harris said it’s important to note the “contact time” for each product. Contact time is the amount of time the surface should be treated for.

The surface should be visibly wet for the duration of the contact time, which varies by product.  Contact times to kill COVID-causing germs can vary from 15 seconds to 10 minutes, in which the product must remain wet on a surface to do its job.  Harris said that if a product says it “kills 99.9% of germs — or something between 99% and 99.99%, it’s not going to be true for the human coronavirus… that’s really intended for a very small list — like salmonella or E. coli or something like that — in laboratory conditions.”

He also said to be wary of any product that claims it “kills on contact,” noting that it would take at least 15 seconds of wetness to kill SARS-CoV-2 and it could take up to 10 minutes for some products, according to the EPA’s List N.  For example, ethanol wipes need five minutes on a surface before killing most germs. Lysol disinfecting spray and wipes need 10 minutes to do the job. 

While bleach can be one of the best things to clean and kill germs on surfaces — and is readily available — most OEMs recommend against cleaning inside cabs with bleach because the fumes could damage circuit boards and other electronics in the trucks, Altrichter said. Straight bleach can also damage or discolor cab surfaces. But TMC’s Cab & Controls Study Group, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and OEMs, found that 1/3 cup of bleach diluted with a gallon of water can effectively disinfect surfaces. (The ratio, Altrichter noted, should not exceed 1/2 cup of bleach per gallon of water.)

How to clean each part of the cab

“After using diluted bleach, the cab surfaces should be wiped down again with mild soap and water to remove any bleach residue,” Altrichter noted, as he walked educational session attendees through each part of the cab.

Switches and controls: Use mild soap and water or diluted bleach. Do not use ammonia. “The recommendation for the purposes of COVID-19 is to start with diluted bleach and then wipe them down with soap and water to remove the bleach residue.” Seat belts/vehicle restraint system: Use mild soap and water.

Diluted bleach is acceptable for metal and plastic buckle pieces but should not be used on webbing, stitching or strapping as it can discolor them. Do not use ammonia. Steering wheel: For leather steering wheels, wipe (do not soak) with mild soap and water, followed by a leather conditioner.

Diluted bleach or 70% isopropyl alcohol may be used but will likely dry out the leather and affect its appearance. Do not use ammonia. For non-leather steering wheels, mild soap and water or diluted bleach can be used. Do not use alcohol or ammonia. 

Seat adjustment controls: For metal or plastic seat controls, use mild soap and water or diluted bleach. Do not use ammonia.  Door handles and grab bars: Mild soap and water, diluted bleach or 70% isopropyl alcohol works.

Do not use ammonia.  Seat cushion cleaning: Use only fabric cleaners or steam clean can seats. It is OK to use 70% isopropyl alcohol for surface wiping only.

Do not use any bleach (diluted or otherwise). Do not use ammonia.  Information touch screens: Screens with touch film and anti-glare surface treatments are sensitive to chemicals, Altrichter noted.

He said it’s best to clean them with mild soap and water or use an LCD cleaner that does not contain alcohol or ammonia. Do not clean displays with any bleach. Do not use alcohol.

Do not use ammonia. Interior trim pieces: Use mild soap and water or diluted bleach to clean interior trim. Do not use ammonia. 

Air purifying the cab

Air purification has found some success during the pandemic with needlepoint bi-polar ionization (NPBI), a technology that releases ions into airstreams through an HVAC system in a building or environmental control systems within a vehicle. 

Charlie Waddell, founder and CTO of Global Plasma Solutions, which offers NPBI technology, said there are a lot of products that have come to market lately claiming to be able to clean the air of particulates.  “This type of technology can be effective at reducing particulate in the space and also helping to reduce virus particles that are out there in the air as well,” Waddell said. “These ions that are generated from what we call needlepoint bi-polar ionization are already naturally occurring. If you have an air ion counter and you go out to waterfalls or if you go to the ocean, you can actually see very high levels of ions in these locations.

So what you’re trying to do with this type of technology is recreate those good environments — but do it in a safe manner without producing ozone as a byproduct.” The CDC has recently noted that bi-polar ionization technology has matured, and earlier safety concerns about it have been resolved. The CDC suggests that those considering an ionization product to be sure the equipment meets UL 2998 standard certification, which is intended to validate that no harmful ozone levels are produced. 

“Using this technology in your trucks or your buildings can reduce your particulate, which is going to help with the transmission highway of the pathogen itself,” Harris said. “It’s also good for mold, bacteria, viruses — not just a COVID-19 strategy. It’s effective against many different types of bacteria and viruses. I want to point out it’s not the silver bullet, but it is a great layer in this fight against pathogens.”

As Adami noted earlier, when it comes to properly and thoroughly cleaning truck cabs, it truly is a layered process.