Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Read this before heading out into the holiday fray

For many consumers, the Friday after Thanksgiving is the day to start shopping for the loved ones on their Christmas lists. And, of course, just about everyone has to make a trip or two down the toy aisle.

Toys are big selling items in truck stops. For truckers far from home, who can resist buying a toy while you are waiting to pay for fuel?

However, you might want to do some research to make sure the toys on your list haven’t been involved in a product recall.

It might surprise you to know that some of the names you love and trust, including Fisher-Price, Mattel and Spin Master have been involved in some of the biggest toy recalls in recent history. In all, more than 20 million toys have been recalled so far in 2007 – 10 million toys have been recalled because of lead paint contamination from toys manufactured in China.

This past week, I spoke to Don Mays of Consumer Reports Magazine and he provided me with some helpful, yet scary, information I wasn’t aware of before our conversation.

Even though a product has been voluntarily recalled because of a safety issue– that doesn’t mean retailers have to stop selling the product or that it has to be removed from store shelves.

While many retailers choose to remove products voluntarily recalled products, which they no longer sell in the U.S., May said that many times those same products will be shipped off and sold overseas to countries with less stringent or no safety standards.

Recently, 4.2 million Aqua Dots bead craft kits, manufactured in China, were voluntarily recalled because the coating on the beads contained the toxic “date rape” drug GHB, or gamma-hydroxy butyrate. This problem was found after children ingested the beads and ended up hospitalized because of their reactions linked back to the beads after testing was done on them.

While most retailers have pulled Aqua Dots from their store shelves, the scary part is that since this was a voluntary recall this product could still wind up on store shelves for parents to unknowingly buy for their children in other countries.

So, before you head out to do your holiday shopping, you might want to click here to find out which products are on the “naughty” list in 2007.

Hot fuel report right on the money

This is a tip of the hat to television reporter Bob Segall and WTHR-TV Channel 13 in Indianapolis.

Segall recently presented a report on how the temperature of fuel affects the amount of fuel consumers receive at the pump. If you’ve been playing along at home, you know the issue as “hot fuel” and that consumer groups have filed lawsuits against oil companies and retailers to get it corrected.

Hot fuel is what consumers receive when the fuel temperature is above 60 degrees. That’s a century-old standard used by oil refiners and retailers when they trade fuel above the rack. At the consumer pumps, there is no such standard, so whether it’s on purpose or not, retailers are charging for fuel that consumers never see when it’s above 60 degrees.

Segall showed the state weights and measure director doing something that the reporter said the official has never done before: measuring the temperature of fuel being dispensed. Segall got readings from 66 degrees up to 71 degrees, even though the ambient air temperature was 52 degrees.

We tip the hat to Segall because he took the time to talk to truckers who routinely spend $600 or more to fill up their tanks.

Segall presented a fair piece, interviewing people from the oil industry to tell their side – that installing temperature compensation equipment on all fuel pumps is cost-prohibitive.

Segall interviewed motorists who had no idea that fuel temperature affected their purchase. They were surprised when the reporter informed them that hot fuel costs consumers about $1 per fill-up on a passenger vehicle.

“It seems like a scam,” one motorist said.

The story is easy to follow, filled with good camera shots and interviews, and is overall one of the best we’ve found to date on this important consumer issue. Click here to view it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Don’t tase me bro

Most everyone’s seen the video of a University of Florida student being tasered during an address by John Kerry. It’s synonymous with the phrase, “don’t tase me bro,” which Andrew Meyer yelled before screaming in agony as electric current flowed through his body.

One clip of the scene is available on YouTube.

Tasers, stun-guns and the like have attracted much media attention in recent years. According to Wikipedia, Amnesty International has attributed 245 deaths to persons shot by tasers.

We’ve been following the story of driver Larry Works here at Land Line. Larry and his wife Chris are team drivers from Tennessee who regularly stop at the Petro truck stop on I-44 in Joplin, MO.

In July 2006, Larry and Chris were told by an off-duty Newton County, MO, sheriff’s deputy to move their truck, and then were told to get out of the truck. The Newton County Sheriff later told me the deputy was part of a hired security detail working for a motor carrier at the truck stop.

Later, Larry was shot seven times by deputies with Taser guns, enough to require him to be hospitalized, in a scene that was probably much less comical than the one involving Mr. Meyer.

We’ve got a story on Larry’s plight on the Land Line Magazine Web site.

But the story brings up some important questions: who hires security guards at truck stops, are off-duty police or for-hire security guards armed? What are they authorized to do?

When a police officer is working for a private company, but wearing their sworn officer clothing and armed with a gun or stun-gun, what authority do they have to tell a driver not to park in a particular space?

If they’re hired by the truck stop it’s one issue, but do larger companies specifically compete with other companies or independent drivers at truck stop spaces as well?

If you’re a trucker or used to drive truck, have you ever encountered off-duty police or security guards giving a driver a hard time at a truck stop?

Please e-mail me at charlie_morasch@landlinemag.com, I want to hear your stories.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gauged your molecules today?

I’ve been reading a fascinating book called “The World Without Us,” in which author Alan Weisman addresses the question: What would happen to the world if all us humans suddenly vanished?

Answering that question requires considerable examination of what the world is like today. In a chapter that makes truck emissions seems like baby’s breath, Weisman explores the changes that about 50 years of widespread, massive and growing production of plastics have made. You can read it online here, click on Chapter 9: Polymers Are Forever. Chapter 10 continues the exploration, in even more depressing detail.

One detail, however, caught my attention: A brief overview of how Charles Goodyear accidentally discovered how to vulcanize rubber. Weisman makes the startling declaration that a rubber tire, essentially, acts like one giant molecule.

Even if, like me, you spent most of chemistry class dreaming about fishing, you probably recall that molecules are supposed to be really tiny things. Not rubber he says. When all the ingredients are mixed together into – let’s call it tire dough – and the dough is poured into the form and heated, all those atoms link up and form one big long chain: one molecule.

Yeah, right. I think the man is stretching the definition of molecule here to cover an entire truck rim. From reading other descriptions of what happens in vulcanization, it sounds like a lot of molecules all lined up in long chains, kinda like the world’s largest conga line.

Whatever. There aren’t any little bacteria that eat rubber, so, no matter how tiny it shreds, it doesn’t biodegrade. In landfills, Weisman say, tires do what we bought them for: they trap air and, over time, tend to float to the surface. So, if we’re all Raptured or virused away, old tires will be rising to the top of landfills for centuries to come, where they will perform their secondary function of providing habitat for breeding mosquitoes.

All of which is a really long way of getting to a point that relates to trucking. To keep your “molecules” from giving out too soon, check their pressure with a gauge, not a bat. And when asked, “Paper or plastic,” go the paper route.