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Common Interests Bind Industry

By on January 1, 2018

A Q&A with the Head of the Ohio Trucking Association

Following the formal portion of the event at the Schroyer Truck Museum, RoadKing had the opportunity for a short interview with Thomas Balzer, President of the Ohio Trucking Association (OTA). Here are the highlights.

Q. How common are Political Action Committees (PAC) among state trucking associations?

Depending on a state’s laws, the ability to have a PAC and be active in fund raising, lobbying and making contributions to political candidates varies. Some states allow corporate giving; Ohio does not. We can only accept personal contributions. Our primary purpose is supporting those who support the industry. Our activities are meant to help people understand the trucking industry and our issues, and engage them in conversation on a range of topics.

Q. In what space do you operate?

The OTA TRUKPAC is a non-political entity. We have friends on both sides of the aisle. They’re the ones we support and engage to help craft legislation that makes sense for the industry. The educational aspects are very important, whether talking about the executive or legislative branch.

Q. What are some examples of your current initiatives?

We have four bills in various stages of consideration by the Ohio legislature. One involves the availability of student loans for tuition to truck driving schools. Tax credits for trucking company finishing schools is another. The third is looking at the challenges of finding affordable insurance rates for drivers under age 25. And lastly, the exemption of military veterans with two or more years of truck driving experience from on-the-road driving tests, keeping the written portion of the test in place to make sure they understand street laws.

Q. What do you see as barriers to attracting young talent to the truck driving profession?

Hiring qualified young adults between 18 and 21 who have completed driver training and secured a Class A CDL is always a challenge. With the OTR interstate options limited, opportunities are scarce, and there aren’t many candidates. The cost of insurance for those under 25 is also a problem that needs to be addressed. We lose too many candidates to other trades or career paths. Those who accept employment in low-skill, low-paying jobs don’t have the money or time to attend a driving school.

Society in general and even families have a way of looking at those who don’t attend college as failures. That’s wrong. Whether driving a truck, becoming a technician, learning one of the building trades, taking up welding or some other profession, young people are surrounded by opportunities to become very successful. We need to find out where each person’s skills and interests lie, and help them parlay that knowledge into successful career pursuits.

Q. Do you see any problems with drug and/or alcohol use?

For drivers established in the industry, the failure rate for drug and alcohol testing is less than one-half of 1%. That’s much less than the population at large. For young people seeking employment in the industry, the failure rate on pre-employment screening is more than 30%. Hair testing can detect problems as far back as 90 to 120 days. Of those who pass drug screening, many are not employable, because they don’t have the training and background to do the job. Carriers are reluctant to put marginal recruits into rigs costing $150,000 to $200,000, hauling cargo worth similar amounts.

Q. How important are drivers in your scope of responsibilities?

Owners need drivers. We need to build the image of the profession and help our members attract qualified drivers to grow the industry, while providing a family-supporting standard of living. By double, the most costly event in our annual programming is the Ohio Truck Driving Championships. Drivers improve their driving and pre-trip skills, as well as their knowledge of the industry.

Q. Lastly, what impact do you think autonomous trucks will have on the driving profession?

I’m all about the use of technology in our professional and personal lives. However, we should keep in mind that the forerunner to autopilot on planes was successfully demonstrated at the 1914 Paris Air Show, before becoming commercially available in 1939. Today, we still have a pilot and copilot aboard every flight. When the topic of autonomous vehicles, particularly trucks, is raised, we need to consider how much must be accomplished in terms of infrastructure investment, control technology, system security, phased introduction throughout the vehicle fleet, safety concerns and acceptance by our citizens. We could be 20, 30 or even 40 years away from a completely autonomous network, and even then, we’re still likely to need a professional driver onboard.

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