Dispatches from the Road: Western HiWays Story

Published: Sep 9, 2011

Western HiWays

Bakersfield, CA

Western HiWays trucking company headquarters sits among the oil derricks and citrus groves just off Highway 65 in Bakersfield, CA. Its 13 drivers haul everything from building materials to steel, giving life to the industry adage, “If you bought it, a truck brought it.” The health of American trucking, which itself supports about 7 million jobs, is closely tied to the health of our national economy. In fact, roughly 70 percent of all goods in the United States move by truck. As part of the initiative to expose the true scope and costs of federal regulations, we visited Western HiWays Safety & Human Resources Director Doug Grove and Operations Manager Kelly Grove.

The federal government regulates commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) to ensure the safety of both the truck driver and the general public sharing the road. Almost everything on or in a typical long-haul truck – which runs about $120,000 each – has a corresponding federal regulation administered by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, including special licensing, training, and equipping rules to account for the unique safety challenges of trucking.

“We can’t just jump out there and go with 80,000 pounds [in tow],” said Mr. Grove who drove for 28 years before becoming Western HiWays Safety Director. “You’re going to have tires blowing. You’re talking 120 degrees out in the desert. Heat wears on everything. Electrical, lights, the whole nine yards.”

The need for common-sense safety regulations is clear. State-to-state enforcement of federal rules is not, adding regulatory uncertainty and morepaperwork to the list of obstacles Western HiWays faces in the Obama Economy. On top of the thousands of pages of federal CMV regulations to stay on top of, Mr. Grove said he recently spent two weeks dealing with a paperwork discrepancy between regulatory agencies.

“This is where it’s really messed up because it had to go to Washington to get straightened out,” said Mr.Grove. “That was a hectic two weeks.”

Extra paperwork and the roughly $10,500-per-employee annual compliance cost the average US small business pays aren’t the only regulatory hurdles Western HiWays must overcome in order to compete. Well-intentioned Washington regulations often become, at best, impractical – at worst impossible to follow – when forced upon American job creators.

The Department of Transportation’s Hours of Service regulation, written to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue, is one example. The rule says CMV drivers may only work 14 hours a day – 11 actually driving – and the driver must keep a logbook of the total hours spent driving and resting. It sounds sensible, but the regulation doesn’t account for the reality of the road.

“You got drivers going into these places to load, and sat eight to ten hours. That’s on the clock,” said Mr. Grove. “If they sit there eight hours, they can only drive three hours. If we didn’t get our mileage in, it don’t matter. Once your 14 hours are up, it’s up.”

Where do CMV drivers rest in order to comply with the Hours of Service regulation?

“Biggest problem nationwide when these drivers go in, they can’t find a place,” said Mr. Grove. “Truck parking across the whole nation has been limited. We can’t park on the road. We can’t park on the ramps. You can’t go to a shop center. They’ll run you out. [No place to rest] is a big safety problem and a lot of people don’t realize it.”

An unintended consequence of the well-intentioned Hours of Service rule is that drivers actually may be more fatigued on the road during the day.

“And with the logging system, you can’t go in the afternoon and take a nap without it counting against your time,” he added. “Before they changed this, you could stop and break your hours up. You could take a nap.”

Part of the change comes from special interest lawsuits, not from listening to actual truck drivers. For example, as a result of a 2009 special interest sue-and-settle agreement, the Obama Department of Transportation may make the Hours of Service rule even less reality-based. Meanwhile, job creators like Western HiWays hang in the balance.

“Without the trucks running, America stops. And I think Washington D.C. needs to know that,” said Kelly Grove said. “They literally regulate these little mom and pop companies out of business. And how are they going to feel when they go to the grocery store and their shelves are empty? How are they going to feel when they want to build that big new mansion and they can’t get any bricks?”

The cost of one federal regulation israrely a deathblow. It’s the cumulative, ever-growing burden of Washington red tape that imperils job creators like Western HiWays.

“We employ twenty to twenty-five people,” said Mrs. Grove. “If we go out of business, that’s going to be 20-25 people in unemployment.”

Do the Groves feel the federal government takes Western HiWays into accountwhen writing and enforcing regulations?

“I think – and it’s not just in trucking, it’s in anything,” said Mr. Grove. “Anybody can read a book. You can go to college and still be an idiot…[Washington] needs to get out and, and get in the trucks and experience what actually all happens.”

“I don’t think they’ve taken the time to come out here and see what it’s really like,” he added, slowly shaking his head.

The Obama Administration has 4,257 new federal regulations in the pipeline, 219 of which carry an annual cost of $100 million or more. It will be hardworking job creators like Doug and Kelly Grove of Western HiWays forced to either pay up or shut down. Unless the Obama Administration listens and stops the regulatory onslaught, private-sector jobs – like long-haul truck rest areas – will be harder and harder to find across America.

-Team Oversight

Are you like Doug and Kelly Grove of Western HiWays, trying to create jobs but stuck paying the cost of absurd government regulations? Visit right now to speak out.

***Below are two stills for your use, courtesy of the “House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.”***