KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The recession may be waning and big D.C. legislation parked on ice, but the National Limousine Association still faces emerging distracted driving legislation that bans use of electronic devices behind the wheel.
It is one of the most consequential issues facing the chauffeured transportation industry today, since the freedoms of chauffeurs to communicate and travel efficiently are at stake. The key is to get regulating authorities to recognize the distinction between banning the use of manual (holding cell phones, texting) devices while driving for the purposes of safety, but preserving access to wireless devices (Bluetooth, voice-activated dispatch, etc.) that protect the ability of chauffeurs to properly do their jobs.
Louie Perry, a vice president at Cornerstone Government Affairs in Washington, D.C., a lobbying firm retained by the NLA, said this week that the NLA supports “a balance that protects operators and passengers, and can support a manual texting ban and a hand held cell phone ban. Beyond that the NLA will advocate to protect the other methods operators use to allow for efficient and safe communication with their drivers."
In her first official interview since the NLA board of directors elected her president on Jan. 24, Diane Forgy talks about the right balance for distracted driving legislation and several other issues on the NLA plate this year. Forgy owns and operates Overland Limousine of Kansas City, Mo., a family business that her parents started in 1979 and that she joined full-time in 1991.
Question: What position(s) should the NLA take on the growing wave of distracted driving legislation nationwide?
Answer: I think we have to be very proactive in our own internal training to make sure that our chauffeurs operate as safely as possible. However we must take a very active role in working with regulators to understand our industry, the safety initiatives we already have in place, the technology tools we use and how they help support safe driving habits. This way we can hopefully head off any extreme measures that may inhibit the way we do business.
Q: Coming out of the recession, what do you see as the key threats or challenges for the industry in 2010?
A: With all the negativity stemming from the corporate bailouts, we are still fighting a perception that our service is one of many unnecessary luxuries. Business travel spurs this economy and we help make that happen in a professional and efficient manner. As the economy slowly improves we need to promote the value in the service we provide corporate America. Without a doubt distracted driving regulation has become a major issue we will have to tackle very seriously. Although we still have a number of regulatory matters such as passing the RIDE Act, and dealing with overtime issues and union threats, we must get very involved with regulators on crafting the most workable distracted driving regulations for our industry.
Q: What’s next for the NLA in fighting the Avis WeDriveU business model?
A: It is key that local regulators in the markets where Avis WeDriveU are active not allow them or others to circumvent the laws and compete unfairly. Local associations play such an important part in this process. The NLA must keep all members aware of what is being done in various markets and support the efforts of local associations in every way possible.
Q: What reforms or changes you would like to initiate this year, either within the NLA and/or among its external priorities/activities?
A: Furthering our legislative agenda is key and given the changing political environment we are poised to make great progress. Increasing member involvement in our lobbying efforts would make such a difference. Politicians respond when they hear from their constituents. We can help educate our members on the issues and participating in the process. I also feel our members need to understand how important it is to be able to support our “heroes” in Washington D.C. through our NLA PAC Fund and other fundraising efforts. I would love to see more active participation from our members in building our PAC Fund and increasing our influence in the process. This is both an education and communication exercise for the NLA. Additionally, I feel the NLA needs to craft a very clear message on and identity of what our industry truly is… professional, qualified, safety minded providers of chauffeured ground transportation services. In addition, I think we have to continue to add more value to our membership with better benefit and discount programs. I think we will make strides in this area as the year progresses. As always I also want to see our educational seminars and speakers evolve and improve. These last few shows have been exceptional for educational value and I think we will improve on that even more. I hope to see the NLA invest more resources in the highest quality speakers and seminar programs.
Q: What are your plans to boost NLA voter participation from the 27% rate?
A: This is a disappointing number and hopefully it can be improved. As we engage our members through out the year we need to periodically remind them how important their vote is in shaping the direction of the NLA. They need to participate in the process and carefully consider who they are voting for; [it’s] not different from their local and our national elections. Communicating the right message that appeals to the majority of our members is the key, and to do it frequently.
Q: What are membership goals for 2010?
A: We added some new members at the ILCT Show which we always do and is so rewarding. Our main goal is definitely to maintain our current membership level of 2000+ and given the struggles our industry has faced, that would be quite an accomplishment. There is always room for growth and that will be a function of how well we get our message out and remind operators of the many benefits of belonging to and supporting the NLA. I think it is key that we reinforce and prove that operators large and small cannot afford NOT to belong to the NLA.
Q: In your own words, why should operators join the NLA?
A: I have always explained to operators first the incredible influence NLA membership has on their ability to get business from other NLA operators. The first place operators go to find a provider in another market is the NLA Directory. Networking opportunities abound but lack of NLA membership will cost most operators. In most cases, membership will pay for itself many times over on this benefit alone. Secondly operators should value and support our lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. and understand how hard we work every day to protect the interests of this industry. With more paid members and contributions to the NLA PAC Fund, we can make a huge difference in shaping the future of our industry. The NLA is a unified voice for the chauffeured transportation industry and is looking out for their members. Their membership and dollars also help support bringing quality benefit and discount programs that normally offset their membership costs. And more importantly allow us to bring the best possible educational and training programs to the NLA membership.
Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine