Friday, January 27, 2012

Recommendation to MRB: use your heads

The Medical Review Board is a tricky group to follow.

The MRB, a panel of appointees that make medical recommendations to FMCSA, didn’t meet for most of 2010.

They followed that up, however, with serious action late last year, and look to make 2012 their most aggressive year yet.

Appointed by the U.S. Transportation Secretary, board members make sweeping announcements, yet they still can’t regulate or mandate anything. Their recommendations are forwarded to FMCSA, which may adopt, ignore or amend anything forwarded their way by the MRB.

As Land Line pointed out in December, the Medical Review Board’s members appear to be in a hurry to implement serious changes that unnecessarily affect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of experienced truckers.

Now the MRB wants FMCSA to crack the whip even harder on truckers.

The changes they’re poised to consider for formal adoption include automatically disqualifying drivers who a) report excessive sleepiness “during the major wake period while driving” OR; b) experience a crash associated with falling asleep, OR; c) experience a single-vehicle crash.

“With a single vehicle crash, there should be a presumption the driver experienced fatigue at the wheel,” notes from an MRB subcommittee meeting state.

That’s right – hit a deer, bump into that illegally parked truck or dumpster in the dark corner of a truck stop or shipping yard and the MRB wants you outta trucking. That’s how aggressive and out of line the MRB has become.

These recommendations will be examined in upcoming MRB meetings, maybe even as early as February.

At the MRB’s joint meeting with MCSAC in December, several doctors guffawed over the lack of sleep doctors often operate under. They may have laughed about the high number of hours they work at a time, and how much doctors rely on coffee – but this isn’t something to joke about.

As Land Line has pointed out, medical errors by physicians and hospitals kill a minimum of 40,000 Americans annually – eclipsing fatalities involving commercial trucks.

Yet these doctors – even ones who serve on the MRB – don’t log any sleep schedule, or turn over their work schedule to police officers.

Though the MRB’s sleep apnea recommendation to FMCSA is just that – a recommendation – let’s hope the board’s doctors use their heads when making suggestions about just who should or shouldn’t be behind the wheel of commercial vehicles.

Because, let’s face it: recommending FMCSA treat truckers as sleep deprived maniacs is starting to look pretty hypocritical for Medical Review Board members.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A chicken in every pot and a longer, heavier truck on every interstate?

When it comes to Big Trucking’s claim that trucks with more axles will be the future of trucking AND save the nation, it’s not hard to kick all the glittering claims to the curb and ask some stumping questions.

One consideration that is being overlooked but can’t be ignored in the debate is how your everyday motorist – your wife, your mom, your next door neighbor – are going to safely interact with longer combination vehicles on the highways we all share.

We have asked truckers if they think the average four-wheeler knows the difference between an 80,000-pound truck and a 100,000-pound truck. In one unscientific but revealing web poll we did, a overwhelming 98 percent said NO. Then we followed up with another poll that asked if truckers thought four-wheelers are savvy enough to drive differently round LCVs. It, too, was a resounding NO.

Now that all may seem to be a “duh” to the inth degree, but those responses say a lot. They say that truckers are convinced that we’ve got a long way to go before the “civilian traffic” can handle going up and down the road, side by side, with longer, heavier trucks.

Let’s face it. You pro drivers out there might be able to pilot twin 53-footers as slick as Cousin Carl Edwards handles the #99 car – but it’s still not likely that the people in four-wheelers will know how to safely share the road with you.

Now that’s scary.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The wordsmith’s lament

It’s funny how hard we try to constantly reinvent our language, always searching to replace the words we use. Some are totally serviceable words and we should keep them. Others make my head explode and should be on one of those “Words That Need to Be Banned” lists.

In covering the trucking industry, it’s easy to get sucked into using certain words. When so many topics stubbornly stick on trucking’s radar screen, but your job is to write fresh new copy everyday about it, you spend a lot of time with your fingers hovering over the keyboard, trying to avoid using worn-out phrases.

As we move into 2012, I hope somebody comes up with some new ones.

I am a wee bit tired of regulatory overload, race to the bottom and second-class citizens. And thrown under the bus – as in what the EPA is doing to trucking – can be retired, too. And when we are talking about the FMCSA website, we need a replacement term for having to drill down to a certain part? Or go deep in the weeds? That was kind of fresh last year but outlived its cuteness, sort of like carmaggedon.

Then there’s the corporate mumbo jumbo. When you hear what a major OEM or some major trucking company is going to accomplish in 2012, why is it always that they are well-positioned? The company is always – if nothing else –forward-thinking. These corporate PR people make themselves sick coming up with a word that does not reveal how precarious the company is in these tough times. They’ve told the trucking press that so many times when it was clear there was trouble, those words designed to be positive now make me suspicious.

And speaking of positive – let’s lay off positivity for a while. And I think we are getting close to exhausting our use of the aha moment, too.

In the past couple of years, if something went wrong in a real big way, it was an epic fail. This was OK for a while but let’s retire that one, too. And by the way, it’s OK to use big. Why why why do we have to keep looking for words like ginormous and humongous? Maybe a pet peeve, but I’m tired of those two words.

In describing some fabulous truck design or chrome and light show accessory, we need to implement restrictions on wow factor. Maybe Land Line only uses it once a year.

Guys, I am calling for a ban on tighty whities. You women who work in the trucking industry, I have one for us, too. Let’s vow to quit saying we have to put our big girl panties on when it’s time to take on a challenging or unpleasant task.

It’s not just trucking words. I have said “I’m jes’ sayin’” for the very last time.

I’m also swearing off three A words in 2012. Yep, I am done with absolutely, awesome and amazing.

I like Anderson Cooper, but he has said amazing enough times in 2011 for all of us.

Same with “bad actor.”  That term was clever at first, describing people in trucking that are a black mark on the industry. The feds really glommed on to that phrase. I think it put a label on people that the government did not know how to describe in a PC way.

DC fatigue was a clever way of describing how tired we are of Washington’s crap. But that’s so 30 seconds ago. Oops. Strike that last line; surely I can do better …