Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chicago has some explaining to do

An army of red-light cameras has apparently launched a robot takeover of Chicago. How else would one account for a series of unexplained surges in $100 tickets handed down from the city’s automated enforcement system?

In an expose, the Chicago Tribune says it has “clear evidence” to suggest there’s plenty of blame to go around, going so far as to say that some of the 380 cameras may have been altered or tampered with.

In a 10-month investigation, the Tribune found 13,000 “questionable” tickets and patterns at 12 intersections, and almost no accountability or follow-up from officials.

The tickets were questionable, according to the news organization, because some intersections that had been capturing one or two “rolling right turns” per day suddenly and without warning began capturing up to 56 violations per day.

Some ticket surges sometimes lasted weeks, the Tribune found. In its investigation, the news organization analyzed some 4 million tickets issued since 2007.

A company called Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., operates Chicago’s camera system.

Transportation officials have not yet offered an acceptable explanation for the surges or the lack of accountability, but the critics are all over it. Some have suggested that ticketing procedures were quietly altered behind the scenes to snare more violations and generate more money, or that somehow the cameras were malfunctioning.

One analyst quoted suggested that something “diabolical or mechanical or electronic and accidental” was afoot.

A small fraction of those who got dinged with $100 fines during the ticket surges have beaten their raps in court. Chicago law only allows a three-week window for someone to appeal a red-light camera ticket.

Chicago makes its photos and videos of red-light violations available online to vehicle owners. Officials say very few people appeal their red-light tickets once they see themselves on video or in a photograph violating a traffic law.

Those who win their appeals usually argue that the cameras don’t supply enough proof that they violated the law.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Maxim makes good

Last week, we heard on the Dave Nemo show on Sirius XM that the new Maxim was out and featured the make-good ad. You’ll likely recall the fracas Maxim found itself in last month after the entire trucking industry protested an ad that ran in its June issue. The image of a Kenworth, glaring out of the darkness, with the headline hanging over it proclaiming it as a “serial killer” really knocked you back on your heels.

The full-page ad touted the legal talents of a San Antonio-based personal injury law firm. If you did not see it, suffice it to say it wouldn’t have been a good idea for truckers to take a DOT physical after flipping open a Maxim in the doctor’s office and seeing that ad.

And while the killer ad had trucking in an uproar, the blatantly offensive nature of it united the trucking community in an extraordinary way. Truckers, motor carriers, truck stop chains, professional organizations all shared the job of putting pressure on the law firm for their ad and on Maxim for publishing it. Truckers personally went to truck stop managers and requested the magazines be tossed in the trash. Truck stops and big chains quickly lined up to rid the racks of the issue with the insulting message.

To its credit, Maxim acted quickly to remove the ad from their digital edition and went to work pulling print copies from store shelves. The publishers of Maxim went to Trucking Moves America Forward – the industry’s positive image initiative – and offered a free, full-page ad in the July/August issue. In the publishing business, we call that a “make-good.”

We here at Land Line joked about it a bit. Managing Editor Jami Jones was hoping for a trucker wearing a superhero cape. I sent Staff Writer Greg Grisolano out to fetch us a couple of the magazines.

Well, the ad isn’t quite that epic, but makes the point that a lot of the things we take for granted come by truck. Items you wouldn’t even think about.

The full-page color ad is a shot from the stands at a ballpark. The message is a checklist: “Nachos, Hot Dogs, Peanuts, Baseball – delivered to you by professional truck drivers.” It’s followed by a Web address for Trucking Moves America Forward, and the organization’s logo. (By the way, OOIDA is a member of this group.)

OK, no caped driver, but it makes the point that even a baseball game wouldn’t be complete if those things weren’t hauled in by 18-wheelers.  

Maybe what we really wanted was an on-their-knees apology from the law firm that placed the killer ad, but the “make-good” ad from Maxim?

We’ll take it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Safe truck parking: What’s it going to take?

In the wake of another senseless murder of a professional truck driver, one critical question remains: What’s it going to take to make safe truck parking a top priority in the supply chain?

Over the years, I have interviewed grieving families who have lost loved ones simply because they arrived too early at their delivery sites and were turned away, only to be robbed and murdered because there were no safe parking spots available.

Many of the facilities, whose financial success depends on the freight the truck drivers are hauling, have systems in place that seem to penalize drivers for being dependable and arriving early. While these facilities have well-lit, gated lots, often truck drivers are not allowed to park inside these safe havens and must arrive one hour before their appointment times. Forced to seek parking elsewhere, they pay with their lives.

It took nearly two weeks, including calls and emails, for a Detroit steel plant to disclose its truck parking policy. A truck driver was murdered and his rig set on fire after he parked in a desolate parking lot 200 feet from its gated facility. Detroit firefighters found the body of Michael Boeglin, 30, of Ferdinand, Ind., dead in his truck around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 26, outside the ThyssenKrupp Steel Plant where he was scheduled to deliver that morning.

The company’s security policy for deliveries to the facility is “Monday through Friday, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., by appointment, to be sure adequate staff and security personnel are available to ensure shipments arrive and depart safely.”

The steel plant states that it supplies its carriers with a website for alternative suggestions for fueling and parking, but the list is incomplete. Only seven fueling stations are listed in the Detroit area, including two mini-marts with no truck parking. The other five places have a total of 123 truck parking spaces.

As some states desperately seek ways to balance their budgets, valuable truck parking spots at rest areas have been closed or are on the chopping block as a way to save on maintenance expenses. The drivers then find themselves random targets of violent crimes after they seek parking in unsafe places.

Until Jason’s Law was passed, some of the state’s transportation department officials questioned why it is was their “responsibility” to provide safe and secure parking options for truckers and why shippers and receivers aren’t also held accountable for providing truck parking.

I first spoke with Hope Rivenburg in 2009 not long after her husband, Jason, was murdered while parked in an abandoned gas station in South Carolina. He arrived too early with his load of milk and was turned away. He was killed for $7.

Since that time, Hope has made sure Jason’s legacy has not been forgotten. Jason’s Law was included in the current highway law known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century – or MAP-21. The provision directs the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a study to evaluate the capability of states to provide adequate parking, assess commercial vehicle traffic and to develop a system to measure the adequacy of parking. That survey is currently underway, but the process isn’t swift enough for the families of slain truck drivers.

The mother of a truck driver who was murdered more than three years ago is still waiting for answers after her son, Truman Lee Smith, 40, of Irondale, Mo., was fatally shot during an apparent robbery while waiting to unload at a food warehouse in East St. Louis, Ill. A mere 21 cents was found in his pockets. His murder remains unsolved.

How many more hard-working truck drivers have to die before efforts are increased to change truck parking policies or build additional truck parking places to keep them safe?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

When regulators get it wrong

It seemed like a good idea. Talented technology developers convinced safety advocates that their product in trucks would reduce accidents. Both groups helped convince regulators to make the devices mandatory. But the result was not the great boon to safety that regulators expected.

Sounds like ELDs, doesn’t it? Actually it was more than 40 years ago, and the devices were anti-lock brakes. The aerospace companies that created and manufactured them for multi-million-dollar aircraft were certain that anti-lock brakes on big trucks would save lives – and make them a lot of money.

In 1975, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation went into effect and the ABS trucks hit the road in numbers. It was clear to many drivers that ABS wasn’t quite ready for the highways. Sometimes trucks pulled to one side, then suddenly veered to the other, even changing lanes. Some drivers reported the wheel being wrenched from their grasp altogether. Ingenious technology that was supposed to enhance safety was, at least in some cases, actually hazardous.

Of course, ABS is a great technology. But all at once in 1975, it was too much too soon. A sophisticated aerospace product wasn’t ready for U.S. highways and maintenance shops, and the rule was eventually upended by a federal court. So it turned out those well-intentioned engineers, safety advocates, and regulators had actually pushed a promising technology straight off a cliff. Most trucks would be without ABS for another 20 years.

Is there a lesson here where ELDs are concerned? How about the ill-conceived restart provision of the latest HOS?

In both cases, regulators – this time the FMCSA – have overreached. To enforce elegantly crafted, arithmetically gratifying solutions, they have seriously circumscribed a driver’s real-world options. There is no elegance in the cockeyed realities drivers deal with hour-by-hour, day-by-day. And flesh-and-blood bodies simply do not conform to anything so orderly as a statistical norm.

Will regulators eventually relent? Will an appeals court somewhere come to the rescue? We can only hope.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ferro: Breakdown in the ‘Fast Lane’

DOT features its own blog called Fast Lane. Former Secretary of the DOT Ray LaHood used to post regularly, and current chief Anthony Foxx has posted too. Every once in a while FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro posts a message to the public and to all interested readers on what the department is doing to improve safety, etc.

This week’s “Fast Lane” by Administrator Ferro demonstrated a frantic attempt to undermine an amendment that was to be introduced in Congress that would dump the current hours-of-service rules 34-hour restart.

When the DOT blog was published earlier this week, (, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was primed to propose an amendment would suspend two of the changes to the HOS rules until their impact is comprehensively studied. The two provisions are limiting the use of the 34-hour restart to once a week; and requiring the 34-hour restart to include at least two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. The Collins amendment has the support of the entire trucking industry.

Ferro’s blog is titled “Congress Shouldn’t Roll Back Safety; the Steps We’ve Taken to Keep Tired Truckers off the Road.” She touts the “common sense” and “data-driven” changes FMCSA has implemented to reduce trucker fatigue. She tells readers that “you might be surprised that there’s an effort underway in Congress to suspend these important life-saving changes.”

The blog then spirals into a mish-mash of sensational death numbers, photos of devastated families (the first one from Maine, Susan Collins’ home state) and horrible stories of their losses – including one that first responders called “the worst crash they had ever seen.” My heart breaks for those families, but it really makes me angry that their sorrow is being used politically.

And it makes me ask, why aren’t we hearing and seeing photos of the other victims – hard-working truckers who have died in crashes through no fault of their own. No stories about them. NOT ONE SINGLE ONE. And it’s a fact that most car/truck fatalities are not the fault of the truck. And there’s no doubt that they have grieving families, too.

The reason we don’t hear about them is that their stories do not fit the political agenda of the agency, which is of course to point to fatigued truckers and the FMCSA’s success in taking these drivers off the road with their new HOS rules.

This week’s DOT blog is proof that convince ’em with facts has totally caved to baffle ’em with blood.

It is clearly a desperate attempt to influence pending legislation with a message to the public to not let Congress address problems with the 34-hour restart. It’s completely over the top.

It’s pretty clear from the email, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter comments from truckers that the trucking industry agrees. Because everyone knows there are big problems with the HOS. Survey results from OOIDA members reveal that about 46 percent reported feeling more fatigued since the changes in hours of service, and 65 percent said they receive less income. The report also says that the one 34-hour restart per week provision has caused 56 percent of the respondents to lose mileage and loads hauled per week.

The Senate Appropriations Committee met today. Despite the protest from Administrator Ferro via the DOT blog, the Collins amendment passed this morning on a vote of 21-9.

Breakdown in the Fast Lane indeed.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dear rubberneckers, wake up and smell the math

One would be hard-pressed to find an agency that can out-crunch the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They have an insatiable appetite for crash data (except for actual determination of fault, but that’s a story for another day).
In a report released this month, NHTSA dedicates 300 pages to the economic and societal impacts of motor vehicle crashes. “The Economic and Societal Impact Of Motor Vehicle Crashes” is actually a fascinating read, not just for the stats, but for the topics that make up the ingredients.

Did you know they have formulas to calculate the effects of “rubbernecking” on congestion and crashes? They do, and the formulas are complex. The numbers shift depending on the type of roadway, direction of traffic, speed, number of vehicles, etc.

There’s a good chance that you’ve seen someone crash – or nearly crash – as traffic slams on the brakes to get a look at another crash scene.

It’s human nature to gawk, and the scientists are compelled to analyze the gawking. And now, we’re rubbernecking their report.

Below are some highlights of the report, which focuses on the year 2010, and does not separate cars and trucks.

  • 33,000 fatalities and 3.9 million injuries
  • 4,288 fatalities on interstates (13 percent of total)
  • Economic impact of each fatality: $1.4 million
  • 24 million vehicles damaged
  • $277 billion in economic costs (vehicle damage, lost productivity, medical bills)
  • $871 billion in societal harm (described as quality of life)
  • Effects of congestion: $28 billion
  • Average liability claim for insured’s vehicles: $3,122
  • Average liability claim for other vehicles: $2,547
The crash figures and number crunching in the report are quite thorough, at least in the areas the scientists find important.

I don’t have the heart to tell them they misspelled “Interstate” on Page 227.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Run For The Wall turning heads on way to Vietnam memorial

The first sign that they were coming was the sound. It was thunderous. On the western horizon, a commanding and majestic display of red and blue flashing strobes became visible on the highway. The escort convoy approached with hundreds of motorcycles trailing behind in dual formation.

Run For The Wall was in town.

It was almost like the president of the United States was en route to meet with other world leaders. A full police escort – complete with motorcycles, SUVs and patrol cars – lead the way for the Run For The Wall bikers as they rolled down I-70 in front of the OOIDA headquarters in Grain Valley, Mo. You could virtually see the pride radiating from Missouri’s finest. Along the side of the highway, employees cheered while waving American flags.

“If you don’t get goose bumps when you come up on all that, you’re just not an American. That’s all there is to it. Every time, you get a lump in your throat,” Run For The Wall participant Dewayne Howard of Springfield, Mo., said about the supporters on the route during a “Land Line Now” interview with Reed Black.

Earlier this week, approximately 900 bikers split into three groups, took off from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and headed toward the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., for the 26th annual Run For The Wall ride.

This weekend, the three groups will convene in Washington, D.C., and participate in the Rolling Thunder parade, along with a candlelight vigil.

The ride honors the Americans who were killed or missing in all wars, as well as our troops currently serving in the military.

Leslie Forgie of Wichita, Kan., has been riding in Run For The Wall since 2007. For her, the 2,200-mile journey is more than just some quick getaway.

“It was probably one of the biggest, life-changing experiences I’ve ever had,” Forgie told “Land Line Now” of her first ride. “I’ve always been taught to respect people in the military and respect veterans, as both my mother and father were Desert Storm veterans.”

Air Force veteran and OOIDA Member David Talley of Wausau, Wis., will be making his ninth run this year. Talley is one of several bikers who will be monitoring channel 19 on the CB to communicate with truckers on the route. The bikes will be moving five miles below the posted speed limit.

“It’s not a fun ride, it’s not a party, it’s not a rally. It’s a mission. We ride for those that can’t,” Talley said.

For more information on Run For The Wall, click here.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Stuck in Internet traffic on a toll road

I’ve been hearing about “Net neutrality” for about seven years now, and I’ve seen about a dozen petitions to preserve “it” – and even signed a few. This whole kerfuffle over the Internet is an extremely complicated, controversial subject.

But that’s techy stuff, and I’m a copy editor by nature and trade. Let me just stream some TV programs on Netflix, check my friend’s blog, buy stuff online from my local hardware store, and read emails from my family members in rural areas.

Uh-oh. As a copy editor, I also do a lot of research, and it seems all those activities could be made more onerous and time-consuming in the near future.

The New York Times ran a story titled “Awaiting the FCC’s Road Map to Net Neutrality,” this morning, Thursday, May 15. The story uses an analogy to describe the “Open Internet” proposal of the Federal Communications Commission.

The newspaper’s analogy may sound very familiar to Land Line readers: “Offering an established, deep-pocketed company with an unimpeded route to customers is like building an E-ZPass lane on a toll road.”

Whew. Good thing we have time to research this and read about it. But hold on! The Times story has been updated already, and the headline now reads “FCC Votes to Move Ahead on Net Neutrality Plan.”

But what is Net neutrality anyway? Business Insider in its article “Net Neutrality For Dummies, How It Affects You, And Why It Might Cost You More” defines it thus: “Net neutrality prevents Internet providers like Verizon and Comcast from dictating the kinds of content you’re able to access online. Instead, Internet providers have to treat all traffic sources equally.”

So why should we care if the definition or reality of Net neutrality changes? Well, smaller companies and startups that can’t afford to pay for faster delivery of their content on the Internet would likely face additional obstacles against bigger rivals. That might sound like a familiar scenario to many small-business trucking readers.

The next phase of this proposal will be four months of public comments. Then FCC commissioners will vote again on redrafted rules that will “take into account” public opinion. Gee, a federal agency “listening” to individuals and small businesses before redrafting rules. Seems I’ve heard this before.

So what’s wrong with what is being called a “tiered Internet”? Well, consumers could be hit in the wallet and also could be stymied by the “gatekeeper” model of this “Open Internet.”

Tim Wu, who is on the faculty of the Columbia Law School, calls it “the Tony Soprano business model.” The content provider can pay a fee, the network “owners” make a profit, and you (the consumer) pay more.

OR the content provider can refuse to pay the fee, and the end user (you) is left with slow-loading, possibly/probably degraded content. So much for hearing what Aunt Sue in her rural farm town has to say in her email to you. Her news about Cousin Bill is still poking along on a gravel road out there somewhere.

You may be thinking that Silicon Valley, including Google and Facebook, must be behind this proposal for a tiered Internet. Not true. Most of Silicon Valley, some 150 tech companies, has protested the FCC’s Net neutrality plan that would allow Internet providers to charge for faster, better access to consumers. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft all called the prospect of paid fast lanes a grave threat to the Internet. You can read their May 7 letter outlining their support for a free and open Internet here.

As The New York Times article puts it, “Upstart companies might not be able to afford such a direct connection, and their content might face delays as it travels to consumers. Picture a burgeoning online video game company that is trying to provide real-time gaming but finds itself stuck in traffic, like an out-of-towner on the New Jersey Turnpike who does not have E-ZPass.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

Trucker has Hitchcock-style encounter with flock of angry birds

Professional trucker Bennie Hines had a real-life encounter with some angry birds recently. Just how angry were the birds with Hines, a 67-year-old owner-operator and OOIDA life member from Houston? Well, they were mad enough to not only chase him around the parking lot, but one audacious fowl even launched a kamikaze-style assault on poor Bennie’s head, knocking him to the ground and busting a tooth loose.

“I was at the Chrome Shop in Houston getting some stuff done to my truck,” Hines said in a phone interview with Land Line on Monday. “When I got back out to my truck on the driver’s side, on the steps there were a whole lot of birds there, like they were waiting on me. They wouldn’t let me back in my truck.”

What happened next sounds like a scene out of a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie: Hines said the birds attacked him, and chased him around the parking lot, as he sprinted back for the safety of the Chrome Shop.

“I was swarmed with birds,” he said. “I was running back to the building, and this one bird, he just took a dive and hit me in the back of the head and knocked me down. It felt like somebody hit me in the back of the head with a fist.”

The force of the blow leveled Hines, who said he lost a tooth and had to get stitches for a cut on his face.

The video footage of the May 1 incident surfaced recently on a Houston TV station, after – get this – ANOTHER truck driver was attacked by a lone bird at the same location.

Hines said he remains mystified as to what provoked the birds into such an aggressive display.

“I’ve been coming here for years and never had any problem with them,” Hines said, adding that he was back at the Chrome Shop today. “They’re out there this morning standing around like nothing happened. I’m not bothering them and they’re not bothering me. We’re staying away from each other.”

Hines said he wasn’t sure what type of birds they were, but said they appeared to be more like starlings rather than traditional birds of prey. He said after the attack, he was able to get back on the road and deliver his load to Oklahoma. He said he appreciates the well-wishes and calls he’s received from friends to make sure he’s OK.

“It’s all funny now and we’re laughing about it,” he said. It was just weird when it happened. I started laughing then because it was just the weirdest thing that ever happened in my life.”

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

DOT agency named ‘Most Innovative’ agency

Let’s play a word association game. What comes to mind when you hear the words “innovative agency?”

If you didn’t think of the Surface Transportation Board right away, you are not alone. In fact, I forgot that they were an actual thing. Not only are they still around, but they have also been rated as the most innovative government agency.

A group called Partnership for Public Service, part of Deloitte and Hay Group, conducts a survey every year for their data on Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. Federal employees were surveyed and the results are in for 2013. Agencies were split into three categories: large, medium and small. One question asked of employees was how innovative is the agency where you work?

Not surprisingly, NASA scored the highest (76.0) among the large agencies. I mean, it’s NASA. Who’s arguing that? Within the mid-size agencies, the Federal Trade Commission scored a high 69.8. Anyone who follows Tesla Motors and their being blacklisted from selling their vehicles in several states and cities may disagree with that. We’ll see how innovative the FTC is if or when the Comcast/Time Warner merger happens.

Then there’s the small agency category. Surface Transportation Board takes the lead at 83.9. Look above. That’s a higher score than NASA. It’s higher than everybody, making STB the most innovative government agency. Let me repeat that in case you thought you read that wrong: STB is more innovative than NASA.  

Also, in a category dubbed “Agency Subcomponent” consisting of 300 subagencies, the Federal Highway Administration ranked 13th. I suppose we can wait and see what happens with the truck parking issue before criticizing their ranking.

For those of us familiar with the DOT and its agencies, these rankings don’t exactly compute. Let’s have a palate cleanser with some rankings that actually make sense to us:

·         Department of Transportation ranked third to last in the large agency category, only ahead of Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security.
·         National Transportation Safety Board ranked 13th out of 28 in the small agency category.
·         FMCSA ranked 109 of 300 in Subcomponent category. Also within that category is National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 151 of 300.

And clocking in at dead last among all agencies is the Transportation Security Administration with a score of 47.5. Although many people may not find this to be surprising (re: airports), let’s not forget how much they have done with less than 2 percent of their budget for surface transportation security. Remember when OOIDA partnered with TSA’s highway safety program – First Observer? First Observer trained truck drivers on how to spot and report suspicious activity on the nation’s roadways. Considering that truck drivers know the roadways and the behavior of travelers on the road better than anyone else, the TSA recognized that they were the perfect candidates to protect this country from a domestic attack. Now that’s innovation.