Drivers can make an impact on the industry
By Timothy D. Brady
Joe Rajkovacz spent 29 years as a driver and has been advocating for truckers for 35 years. He worked with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), California Air Resources Board (CARB), U.S. EPA, and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). Road King talked with him about how drivers can make their voices heard on trucking issues.
Q Can a driver connect with a lawmaker to talk about issues?
A It can be very difficult to get one-on-one face time, especially with federal legislators. State legislators are definitely more approachable. In either case, getting to know the lawmaker’s lead staffer on transportation issues can be the best avenue to getting your point-of-view heard.
Q What’s the best way to contact someone in government?
A Email is best. It will be read and has a good chance of getting a response. There are security issues associated with sending a letter via U.S. mail. An unsolicited phone call will likely be answered by a staffer who will take brief notes that might get passed along.
Q How does someone get noticed by an agency like the FMCSA?
A Have a poor safety record! Actually, it’s almost impossible to build personal relationships with people in an agency without belonging to a major association or participating in organizations such as CVSA.
When agencies have a rule-making open for public comment, if you feel strongly about a particular issue — file comments. However, don’t incessantly comment on every single subject. It’ll diminish your standing. Cite statistics and/or studies that support your position.
If your comments are filled with purposely misleading or hateful statements (e.g. “This rule-making is nothing more than communism.”), you’re wasting your time. While agencies must accept your comments, they aren’t obligated to respond nor consider them relevant.
Q What will make a representative or official stop listening?
A“ I don’t vote” or “This is nothing more than socialism.” Clearly, elected officials won’t take you seriously if you aren’t a registered voter who votes! If you don’t bother to minimally participate in our democracy, why should they care about your point of view?
Don’t underestimate the person you’re talking with. Many people in agencies such as FMCSA have real world knowledge of the trucking industry. Some actually have driven for a living and they don’t appreciate being “talked down” to.
Q What can a driver do to be heard on trucking issues?
A To stand out, attend town hall meetings and develop those one-on-one relationships. Remember, lead staff is usually in attendance too and this is a great way to nurture a relationship.
Every politician keeps a list of who has contacted his or her office and what topics were discussed. First and foremost, be knowledgeable and sincere about the issue of importance to you.
Then check what issues interest your politician. For instance, he or she may sit on a transportation committee which will make discussing trucking issues much easier. If the politician isn’t involved in transportation issues, try to impress him enough to champion your issue with colleagues involved with those issues.
Q What is the worst mistake someone can make when contacting an official concerning an issue?
A Only having your opinion on an issue. Opinions aren’t substitutes for facts. If you’re going to be critical, offer up alternative ideas or solutions.
Q How do elected officials react to online petitions or form letters?
A They don’t react and federal agencies aren’t required to consider form letter submittals as part of their deliberative process. It’s a complete waste of your time to participate in form letter submittals.
The first question from any politician when these types of tactics are used is: “How many members do they have in my district?” Next is, “How many of my constituents will this affect?”
Q Is there any other way that an ordinary driver can have an impact on regulations in the industry ?
A If you’re passionate enough on issues to contact your politicians and write emails, consider joining and actively participating in a state or national trucking association. Multiple voices will always be louder than a single voice on most issues.
Know your subject thoroughly, have your stats at hand, meet your reps, and go for it.