I just can’t believe that 10-4 Magazine is twenty years old – and, it’s almost been twenty years since I started writing for the magazine. My hat is off to the 10-4 crew for keeping this magazine going during these tough economic times. Building it from a small California magazine into one of the West’s premier trucking magazines, 10-4 has become well-known throughout the world of trucking. My first article ran in the June 1994 edition. At that time, I was the Safety Director at the California Cartage Co. in Long Beach, CA. Since then, I have written hundreds of articles for the magazine and went on to start NTA – a nationwide trucking consortium.
When I drove for Pacific Intermountain Express back in the 60’s, I was a union driver. I was the 141st driver on the list. Back then, most outfits were union. I made a whopping $3.25/hour – that was big money those days. Overtime paid time-and-half, and there was plenty of it. My old boss once told me it was cheaper to pay the overtime than to hire a new driver. Ah, those were the days!
Back in the 60’s and 70’s truck drivers were the “Knights of the Road” because we always stopped to help people who were broken down on the highway. In those days, each company had a special Million Mile club for drivers who drove a million miles without an accident. There was no drug testing, no BIT program, and if you ever saw an owner operator out on the road, that was a day to remember – it was like seeing “BJ and the Bear” – they were almost like celebrities. The only time a carrier was ever visited by the DOT was when they had an accident that made the headlines. Not so, today!
Since the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, the federal government had regulated various transportation modes, including the railroad, trucking and airline industries. But, as the public became more interested in deregulation, a series of federal laws eventually deregulated the trucking industry. When President Carter signed the Motor Carrier Act in 1980, it was supposed to remove 45 years of excessive and inflationary government restrictions and red tape. They said that consumers would benefit, because almost every product the public purchased was shipped by truck, and the outmoded regulations had inflated the price of everything (LOL). They went on to say that the shippers would benefit as new services and prices appeared (LOL); labor would benefit with increased job opportunities (LOL); and trucking itself would benefit from greater flexibility and increased opportunities for innovation (LOL).
The Motor Carrier Act prohibited rate bureaus from interfering with any carrier’s rights to publish their own rates, eliminated most restrictions on commodities that could be carried, and deregulated the routes that motor carriers could serve. As a result of this law, new firms increased dramatically, especially low-cost, non-union carriers, and cut-throat pricing was everywhere. By 1990, the number of licensed carriers exceeded forty thousand, more than double the number in 1980. Intermodal freight surged up 70% between 1981 and 1986. Today, there are about 750,000 carriers.
Deregulation completely changed the trucking industry. Union carriers could not compete with non-union carriers, and they began to drop like flies. Then came the advent of the owner operator, where “benefits” and safety were often considered to be overhead expenses. In business, to make money, you cut your overhead to make a profit. Needless to say, I believe that the government really made a mess of things by deregulating the trucking industry. Before deregulation, most companies used employee drivers. Since it took about ten years to earn a Million Mile Belt Buckle, we all drove safely – we wanted one of those buckles! Now, getting paid by the load, it all became about speed and pushing the envelope to make any money.
In 1988, the California legislature, in an effort to have more control over the trucks in the state, enacted a law that created the Biennial Inspection of Terminals (known as the infamous BIT program). The California Trucking Association was able to get rid of the Public Utilities Commission and their hold on trucking and turn that responsibility over to the California Highway Patrol, which only made sense, but after eliminating that one government agency to increase efficiency, we (our government) have done a complete turnaround in the last twenty years.
Virtually every federal agency, it seems, has their hands in trucking these days. At the federal level, in addition to the Department of Transportation (DOT), the following agencies all have their hands in trucking: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF); the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS); the Department of Agriculture (DOA); U.S. Customs (ICE); the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the Federal Communication Commission (FCC); the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC); the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); the Department of Defense (DOD); and the Surface Transportation Board (STB), just to name a few! That is scary!!
At the state level, California has the most regulations that have nothing to do with safety on our highways. By far, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is the worst. Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone wants clean air, but why is California the only state that is enforcing this? I would seriously like to know just how they are going to KEEP this clean air over our heads in California when the jet stream, at least the last time I watched the weather channel, pushes the air from the west coast to the east coast, and the dirty air from China, where they still burn coal, is pushed towards California. It just doesn’t make any sense, and it is seriously hurting the trucking industry in California.
What’s in store for trucking over the next 20 years? That remains to be seen. With oppressive restrictions and regulations taking much of the fun (and profit) out of trucking, that is where 10-4 comes in. Their mission is, and always has been, to prove that trucks and trucking CAN be fun. So keep picking up and reading the magazine, and we will keep doing our best to keep it fun, while also keeping you informed. Like I have said for many years, “Drive Safe – Drive Smart!”