Thursday, July 31, 2014

Call it the celebrity effect

Mainstream media have clamped down on trucking in the wake of the wreck on the New Jersey Turnpike that involved a tractor-trailer and a limo van carrying celebrity comedian Tracy Morgan.

Our media counterparts out there in the “mainstream” are having a field day and those of us here at Land Line are simply ill. And you, our readers, have to feel sucker punched every time you open Facebook or click on a news website.

That alone is bad enough. It’s tragic in the minds of the reporters here at Land Line. We work hard to understand the facts, the actual statistics, the databases the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration uses … I could go on. But you get the picture. We like to have things, well, right.

Mainstream is now a pawn in a bigger battle being waged in Congress and by FMCSA.

The spin cycle on the D.C. Beltway is using the mainstream media’s current infatuation with “if it bleeds, it leads” truck wreck coverage.

Lawmakers and bureaucrats alike are using half-truths and half-baked statistics along with outright misrepresentation of facts to justify ever more and more regulations on trucking.

The swell of criticism of trucking cannot be quelled with one swing of the axe. Putting a stop to this is a lot like eating an elephant. The only way to do it is one bite at a time.

That means writing letters to the editor. Writing the networks – hint, hint, NBC, cough, cough. Pushing back every time you see another one of these so-called investigative reports that simply regurgitate whatever they are being fed by the agency and lawmakers and in press releases.

That communication has to come from everyone. Not just us.

So, to help you out, here are some dandy facts you can use to counter the crap “news” out there.

The most recent year of complete crash data released was 2011. Here are some key points:
  • There were 3,341 fatal crashes involving large trucks.
  • 3,757 people died crashes involving large trucks (not 10,000).
  • Research shows that of those 3,341 wrecks involving large trucks, 75 to 80 percent of those wrecks were not the fault of the trucker.
What the media should be focused on is how most people on the road are dying.
  • There were 25,697 fatal crashes that did not involve large trucks.
  • 28,165 people died in crashes that did not involve large trucks.
Every life is precious. That can never be forgotten. But there’s a bigger picture out there and this easy grab of vilifying large trucks is diverting the time and attention away from the bigger problem: personal vehicle drivers.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

OOIDA member’s dashcam video paints unflattering picture of Colorado repair shop

A funny thing happened to OOIDA Member Nick Richards the last time he took his truck to the shop, and not of the “funny ha-ha” variety.

Richards, a company driver for a small outfit in Montana, used his dashcam to record a bizarre scene in the repair shop of LKQ Western Truck Parts in suburban Denver earlier this month. Along with the dashcam footage, the video has footage Richards shot with his cellphone.

An OOIDA member from Livingston, Mont., Richards said he began having problems with the new transmission immediately after it was installed in his truck He said the temperature spiked all the way to 300 degrees. At that point, Richards brought the truck into the LKQ Western Parts shop.

“I had moved exactly four loads with the transmission,” he said. “We knew it was bad right away.”

Richards posted two versions of the video on YouTube, which have combined to receive over 1,000 hits in the past week. The dashcam video purportedly shows at least two members of the service department discussing using a screwdriver to poke a hole in the transmission cooler.

Richards and his boss, Jerry Peters of Jerry L. Peters Trucking in Conrad, Mont., said they believe the video shows the shop trying to come up with a reason to void the warranty on the transmission.

The video shows two men standing near the hood of Richards’ 1994 Kenworth W9, while a third man outside of the frame suggests hammering a screwdriver into the cooler. The shop also told Richards the reason his transmission was overheating and growling was because of a faulty carrier bearing.

“They told me the carrier bearing was bad, and that’s what’s causing the transmission to go bad,” he said. “They told me before we went any further we’d have to get that driveline replaced. It sounded really wrong to me, so just to make sure I was on point, I called both Kenworth in Spokane (Wash.) and Kenworth in Billings (Mont.) and talked to their transmission guys. And they both told me there’s no way in hell a transmission would run hot because of a bad carrier bearing.”

Richards said he refused to sign documents that would have voided the warranty on the transmission, and opted to leave the shop instead.

“What they told me is if they were going to give the truck back to me, I was going to have to sign a piece of paper voiding the warranty,” he said. “I refused to sign. I told them I was going to call my boss … I got in the truck and left.”

A spokesperson for LKQ said the company is reviewing “the context of this video and the customer service issue at hand.” A message left with the service department of the Denver shop was not returned.

Both Richards and his boss, Jerry Peters, said the transmission was sent to them by LKQ as a replacement for another faulty transmission Peters purchased from the company in April.

“At this point to be completely honest, I’m kind of done with them,” Peters said. “I don’t have time to sit around here and fart with transmissions. We’re almost at the end of July and I’m still screwing around with this.”

Peters estimated he had spent approximately $20,000 on the transmission snafu, and “I still don’t have one that works.”

Both men said they found the dashcam footage to be upsetting.

“I mean, when they were talking about punching a hole in the tranny cooler … or when they started on the carrier bearing … they’re looking for a back door way out,” Peters said.

Richards said the footage made him “angry as hell.”

“When you hand your truck over to someone, you’re handing your livelihood over to someone. You don’t do that to someone’s livelihood. This is how I take care of myself. This is how I pay my bills. … You’re cutting people’s throats doing things like that.”

There can be only one

What a week this is shaping up to be on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate had a choice to make – adopt a House-approved bill that would shore up the Highway Trust Fund through May 2015 or change things up and force another one of those all-too-familiar showdowns we’ve come to expect in Washington.

Long story short, the Senate made changes, opting to shorten the duration of the “patch” until December 2014.

In a day or so, we’ll have a better handle on which version of the patch will emerge and head for the president’s desk to be signed into law.

Senate transportation leaders say they prefer a shorter extension so that Congress can get back to doing what they should be doing for transportation – passing a four-, five- or six-year highway bill.

Forcing another vote on transportation before the end of the year could prove to be tough with this being a midterm election year.

The Senate action this week puts pressure on the House of Representatives right before both chambers are scheduled to break for a month-long recess at the close of the workday on Thursday.

House Speaker John Boehner has said his chamber will reject a portion of the Senate’s version that pays for the extension through pension tax reforms. That would shift responsibility back to the senate to vote on House changes with just hours to go before recess.

While we’re on the subject of timing, the U.S. Department of Transportation says it will begin limiting the money it pays out to states for infrastructure projects starting Friday, Aug. 1, due to shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund.

If the patch does not get full approval, states will still be able to operate their transportation departments, but not at 100 percent.

Eventually, the winner in this game of chicken will cross the road. Let’s hope it doesn’t fall into a deep pothole on the way across.

Friday, July 25, 2014

FTDMA debuts Super ELDS in NPRM

We now join a press conference already in progress. The executive director of the Federal Truck Driver Micromanagement Agency (FTDMA) is discussing a new Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), which includes its latest safety initiative, Super Electromagnetic Logging & Driver Superintendent (Super ELDS), a personal monitoring device to be worn by professional drivers at all times.

“... so the Super ELDS will resolve the duty status issue as well as how much sleep a driver has had. We’ll have no more fatigue-related crashes. Questions?”

“Ed with Semi-Smart Recruiter Magazine here. That’s pretty cool. Can you wear a hat over it?”

“You may have to cut a hole for the antenna, Ed, but sure.”

“How does it work?”

“The Super ELDS maintains a driver log. It links to the truck engine by Bluetooth and monitors the driver to determine, among other things, on- or off-duty status.”

“Wow. How does it do that?”

“Algorithms, Ed, algorithms. Next?”

“I’m Susan from Land Line Magazine. Will Super ELDS pass muster with the Supreme Court?”

“You would be referring to a previous FTDMA initiative, ILDS, the Intravenous Logging & Driver Superintendent. The new Super ELDS just measures brain waves and stuff. It doesn’t break a driver’s skin. We believe that’s what got the justices all riled up.”

“Yes, all nine of them.”

“Ahem. Next?”

“Gail with Trucking Tycoon Magazine here. How will Super ELDS benefit socially responsible, economically efficient, and environmentally conscious big fleets?”

“Good question, Gail. Super ELDS clearly establishes responsibility. So if there’s a breach of the rules, well, the state police will know who the breacher is.”

“No fleet breaches, of course.”

“That’s a pretty good bet, Gail, ha ha ha.”

“Will Super ELDS provide any other benefits for large efficient fleets with eloquent mission statements?”

“You need to ask the Super ELDS manufacturers, Gail. I believe one offers an anti-hanky-panky module for morally conscious carriers. Next?”

Land Line, again. In the Supreme Court decision on ILDS the justices used words like invasive, overreach and tyrannical. Wouldn’t these words also describe Super ELDS?"

“What’s the big deal? Super ELDS is like a helmet with suction cups ...”

“…and an antenna.”

“Yes, Susan, and an antenna. We promote safety whenever and wherever a driver is.”

“Even when he or she is off duty?”

“If a driver is not on duty, then he or she should be sleeping. We’re just making sure of that.”

“Then why did the FTDMA drop the Diazepam injection requirement for off-duty, not-sleeping drivers in NPRM?”

“Turns out it’s not practical to inject sleep aids through the skull, Susan. Besides, injections would break the skin, and we don’t want to provoke the Supremes, now do we?”

“... and what happened to the idea of remotely shutting the truck down when a driver runs out of hours?”

“Well, the Great Big Carriers Association pointed out that critical shipments might be delayed, the economy would grind to a halt, and ‘Dancing With The Stars’ would be canceled. So are you done with your silly questions Susan? Next?”   

“Ed with Semi-Smart again. Will the Super ELDS come in colors? Can recruiters tell prospective student drivers who don’t wear hats how cool they’ll look?”

“This agency does not regulate fashion, Ed, but by all means tell your readers they’ll look really cool in their Super ELDS.”

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, (dot.gov/blog/fastlane), 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.