Maverick Transportation CEO Steve Williams Criticizes New Driving Rules

Really, the name says it all.

Calling your company “Maverick” is a pretty good signal to the rest of the world how you feel about rules and perceived limitations. Steve Williams, Maverick Transportation founder, chairman and CEO, admitted as much during recent testimony before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s panel on highways and transit.

“Maverick kind of implies I don’t really like to be hemmed in too much,” Williams told the committee. Williams did, however, quickly add, “But the fact is there are constraints that must be placed on us for us to have a positive outcome.”

Williams, who co-founded the North Little Rock company in 1980, wanted to make sure the committee knew that he isn’t against all government regulation. He’s very supportive of it in the right circumstances.

Maverick Transportation has a history to support Williams’ contention.

As you’ll find in this week's cover story, the privately held firm is in its first year of using hair follicle analysis in pre-employment drug screenings. Maverick does the tests despite the added costs and the fact that it can’t share its data with others in the industry. It’s completely voluntary.

Maverick, through the Trucking Alliance (which also includes J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell), has also been involved in a push for a recently approved bill that will require all trucks to be equipped with devices that electronically monitor hours of service. The hope is that the electronic on-board recorders, or EOBRs, will provide a more accurate measure of miles and hours logged while improving driver safety.

So Williams truly does get the need for regulation, especially regulation that improves safety.

What Williams is opposed to — where the “maverick” in him comes out — is when he sees something he perceives as an unneeded rule. That’s what led him to that June 18 testimony as the committee considered a pending Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulation pertaining to hours of service. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is reviewing the rule. If approved by the court, it will go into effect July 1.

The FMCSA is mandating that drivers limit their workweeks to 70 hours (14 hours a day) and stop driving after eight hours on the road and take a 30-minute break. Stops for the restroom, unloading or eating that occur during the first eight hours on the road don’t count and there’s no credit for accumulated time off the road.

For example, a bathroom break that takes 15 minutes and then a stop that lasts 15 minutes don’t equal a 30-minute break.

Being off the road to unload cargo for any time during the first eight hours only counts in certain cases, according to the way the rule is currently written. And drivers who during those first eight hours turn off a vehicle for an hour and spend time reading, sleeping, chatting, sitting or any other activity not related to driving wouldn’t get credit for the mandatory 30-minute break. (It should probably come as no surprise that the government made sure to write an exemption for oil field truck operators.)

Williams, whose firm employs about 1,450 drivers, has concerns about the new regulation. He said that the current regulations regarding hours of service are sufficient, citing as evidence a 31 percent industrywide decrease in preventable collisions between 2004 and 2009.

Anne Ferro, who leads the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said she believes the new regulations could help continue to reduce the number of accidents. Williams’ assertion that accidents are decreasing is true, but Ferro countered that more can be done.

“He’s correct. That’s very positive news,” Ferro said. “It doesn’t stop us from wanting to get us to zero.”

Where Williams, the American Trucking Associations and others take exception to the rules drafted by Ferro and the FMCSA is an hours of service study section titled “The Purpose & Need for Regulatory Action.” It includes zero research or data supporting the need for the upcoming regulations.

“That speaks volumes,” Williams told the panel.

Williams estimated that the rule would have a significant impact on the industry. Firms will lose “operating flexibility and productivity,” he said. The rule will decrease productivity as much as 4 percent at a cost of between $500 million and $1.4 billion, he said.