What is Christmas to You?
As I drove down the highway on my last trip before Christmas, I started to think about what all we would be doing during the holidays. As one thought ran into another, I started to think about how my Christmases have changed over the years. I started to wonder, “What does Christmas mean to you?” The traditional Christian reason for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. “The reason for the season” as some would say. Others would tell you it is more about the “spirit” of Christmas. Giving and goodwill and such. Yet others would say it is just a commercial holiday that is intended to create an emotional obligation to purchase things. My intention is not to debate these things but to recall how my Christmases have changed over the years and how each has given me another prospective. I hope by telling my story that it will awaken some of your fond memories that may not have come to light in awhile.
As a youngster, I remember laying in bed silently listening for Santa and his reindeer to hit the roof. This sort of quiet concentration seemed to always lead to a sound sleep in short order. The next thing I knew, it was time to jump out of bed and run into the living room to find the presents that Santa had left for me. With big eyes I would see presents that had not been there the night before. This was followed by a bee line to my parents room to see if they were awake yet. That few minutes between them waking up and getting to the living room was like an eternity. The rest of the day was spent playing with the new toys and admiring the gifts I had received. The house always seemed to be filled with smells of food cooking and the sound of children playing and having fun. All the mystery and wonder of that special time was my world for those short years. However, from one Christmas to the next seemed like ages. The days would drag by until finally the day would arrive. I just wanted it to hurry up and get here.
As I got a little older, someone introduced me to the philosophy that it was better to give than to receive. That was something my young mind had to ponder. I wasn’t sure that was really true. Along with that came the responsibility of deciding what was a good gift for others. Who I should give to and what expense I should try to manage was the question of the day. A task that is still difficult to this day. The relationship between spending and how much someone meant to me was a hard measure to balance. All this added confusion didn’t take away from the fact that Christmas was a special time of year. The good feelings of spreading joy and well wishes to everyone you met. Learning the Christmas songs and watching the traditional Christmas shows on television just seemed to make your heart a little fuller and somehow balanced the bad in the world.
Moving out into the world on my own and many miles from home, I started to search for the same feelings for Christmas that I felt when I was surrounded by friends and family. I found that was a little harder to replicate when you had no family and few friends. I really started to feel the meaning of loneliness. That is when I began to learn that the Christmas season was one of depression and rejection for a lot of people. I would buy myself some things that I had wanted throughout the year to try to ease the loneliness and regain the spirit of Christmas. This never really took the loneliness away. The only thing that made me feel better was being around people and being a part of something.
When I got married and started having children of my own, I began to feel the responsibility of making Christmas a special time for my own family. Most of the credit for that I have to give to my wife, Lesli. We began to recreate the magic of the season for our children. The family would go out and pick out the perfect tree and drag it home. This followed by boxes of decorations that adorned our perfect tree. Gifts started to appear slowly under the tree until Christmas morning arrived. On Christmas Eve night, we started the tradition of opening just one gift. After the kids went to bed we did the Santa thing as well as the empty milk glass, cookie crumbs and nibbled carrots for the reindeer too. The meaning of Christmas had changed for us. It wasn’t so much about what was under the tree for us but what was under the tree for our kids. The big eyes. The laughter and little squeals of joy they would get when they opened something special.
Christmas day had family gathering at our house after they had their own family gift openings at their own houses. Our house was filled with that laughter and smell of food cooking just like many years ago in my childhood. All our families gathered to exchanged gifts, hugs, smiles and well wishes for the future. Shared were the tales of the year.
Now as the calendar closes in on Christmas, we are looking forward to our children coming back to our home to share that special time of the year once again. There will be a gathering of close friends and family to share that special meaning of Christmas to each of us individually as well as collectively. We will all take away something a little different from the experience yet share in the same. My hope for you this year is that you fully experience the goodness of the season. Reconnect with some of your own special memories that maybe you can share with others. Take in every facet of these times because they will soon change. My wish is for you to experience health, happiness and love the rest of your days. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
After working hard and steady for several months, I couldn’t make my schedule work out to minimize my time off around Thanksgiving. So I decided to take the whole week off and pick up after the holiday. After all, it was a much needed respite. It was nice spending time with family and friends. During my holiday, I did a considerable amount of driving the four-wheeler. During that time, I made some observations that are the foundation of this post.
Being in the four-wheeler (car) with my family, and
having experience as a truck driver caused me to make some observations, “from the other side of the picture”. Many in our industry lament about how we should get more respect for what we do. I totally agree, BUT… That is where the story begins.
While driving in our car, I began being critical of those truck drivers that I shared the road with. I noticed that many didn’t use a signal to change lanes. They seemed to be quite aggressive with their speed and cut in front of the cars at times. Sometimes, even somewhat tailgating the cars they followed. Having the understanding of driving a big truck, I know why they did most of what they did. Yet, it was imprinted in my mind what the car driver’s experience of driving around a big truck was like. If I was a regular car driver, I could see why many people are not really fond of trucks.
After the holiday I had to go back to work. My critical observance of truck drivers continued. After being out of the truck for a week, I felt good about going back to work. As I left the house and started on the road for another week, my frustration with truck drivers continued. I started to notice things that caused me to ponder the whole respect and courtesy issue.
I think here is where I acknowledge that the actions of a few don’t define the lot. An example of this is where one bad cop doesn’t define all law enforcement. One lazy kid doesn’t define all youth. I have run into some real pricks that were cops but most are pretty reasonable. I’ve encountered some kids that have had it pretty easy and don’t seem to know the value of a dollar, but most kids really only want to know what is expected of them so they can meet the grade. Truck drivers aren’t really that different. Most of us are really safe and considerate. We are just trying to make a living for our families. The problem seems to start with what is expected.
Today, drivers are taught by schools and hired by self-insured carriers where they are taught only what that company wants them to know. Courtesy doesn’t seem to be one of those things. This lack of courtesy isn’t limited to the big company drivers. It seems to be fairly common across the board. The only common factor that I see is that most of these drivers are not self-employed. What that says, I’m not sure. I can speculate but that isn’t fair to those that I would be wrong about. What I can say is that we need to take a long hard look at ourselves before we start asking others to give us respect.
There are many things to point to that could be improved. One such thing is to briefly turn your lights off and back on, instead of flashing your bright lights, to signal the passing truck to pull back over. Another is when you catch up to another truck on cruise control, pull out to pass and they speed up. Yet another is the infamous “elephant races” that take place when under- powered trucks try to pull a hill and refuse to move over to clear one lane for passage. I can’t count the times that I have witnessed a truck pulling out in front of a car that causes the car to hit his breaks when a little patience by the truck driver would have allowed that car, or a few cars, to pass without really changing the truck driver’s driving time. Each of these moves causes an adverse opinion of the truck driver.
It matters not only how you present yourself on the road but also how you present yourself when you stop. I have experienced trucks parking in the fuel island with no regard for other drivers. I understand this when it is slow and there are plenty of open pumps. I don’t understand the blatant disregard for the needs of other drivers that you are familiar with. Drivers also do other disgusting things like leaving the bathroom without washing their hands. Having a conversation on the phone while using the stalls. Leaving trash and paper in the areas they use for someone else to clean up. Even wearing T-shirts that don’t cover their guts and presenting themselves as slobs.
The real topper to my week was watching a C R England (blue) truck pull up along the front of the parked trucks at the Loves truck stop in Lost Hills, CA. Right there, he jumped out with a screwdriver to steal a steer axle hub cap from a parked truck and put it on his own truck! When I asked the guy why he stole the cap he responded that he would never do that.
On my return trip home I pondered all that I had experienced and observed over the past week and pondered why these things had become so prevalent. What I came up with was as follows.
In the last 20 or so years, driver training has taken place in truck driving schools and at self-insured carriers. Seldom does an old seasoned driver ever train a new driver. Newbies are only taught what they need to know to operate the machine. They are not taught the knowledge of experienced drivers. They are not taught courtesy or respect. That seems to be an after thought.
Part of pointing out a problem is to offer a solution to said problem. My solution is to promote standardized minimum training requirements for new drivers. Take a look at TruckersForSafety.com. That is a site that has some real guidance for driver training. The second part of my solution is to repeal the self insurance provision for large carriers (Click here to learn more about self-insurance). That would require all drivers be insured equally. No longer would large companies simply look for a warm body to fill the seat. They would be looking for someone to stay around. Someone that is safe and well trained.
It is up to us. Before we can ask for respect from other people, we have to make sure we are worthy of that respect for ourselves. The challenges of our industry must not only be met, but led by our most experienced drivers. We all have a part in the future of trucking. Your question is what are you going to do?
Cost of Living
Today I have a topic that few others ever touch… “The cost of living.”
The topic is often painted with a broad brush. I would like for us, as an industry to open up this discussion now as we are in the midst of HOS changes, a growing economy, and continued rule making. Now is the time to set the stage for the industry future.
I think going forward from here requires us to define what is reasonable to expect for our labors. This is not about what the market willing to pay, but what it should pay. You’ve heard the old line that truckers can’t agree on anything.
Well I’ve made the argument many times that there are three things we all can agree on, #1; We need more pay, #2; We need full healthcare and, #3; We need a reasonable retirement.
To get to these things we need to decide what reasonable pay, health care, and retirement are. Then we as an industry need to demand these as a standard for our services.
As regulations change we need to demand reasonable compensation for the effects of the regulations. Cost-of-living is usually defined in dollars. Because cost vary from one part of the country to the next you have to think in terms of man-hours exchanged for goods and services. I.e. what will one hour of labor buy you? My father-in-law, in 1976, was a company driver that did OTR. In ’76, if you worked long haul, you were definitely middle-class. You were able to provide for your family very well.
My question today is, “what is reasonable to ask for as drivers?” How much does it cost, and how does that breakdown in cents per mile? (Use national averages. Based on 10,000 miles per month.)
Things to consider in your cost-of-living are; house payment, food, miscellaneous household expenses (such as clothes, utilities, etc.), transportation expenses (like car and insurance), health insurance, life, dental and optical insurance, and co-pays. Also, the amounts not covered by insurance. We should also include retirement, savings, and money for recreational events for the family.
Healthcare expenses and retirement are two of the most important factors in our business today. Healthcare cost varies greatly from having no insurance to full coverage. There are many policies and plans out with a variety of deductibles and coverages. Take time to find the one that is most suited to your budget and situation. For company drivers, you may have an option of purchasing your healthcare through your employer. If you can, often time that is the least expensive route to go, but not always. Just remember your total health care costs include not only the cost of your insurance but the cost that insurance doesn’t cover. Total health care cost can usually be estimated at around $1500 a month. Included in your healthcare costs should also be a good dental and optical plan. With the elevated cost of dentistry, many dentists are finding it hard to stay in business because it is a luxury fewer and fewer of us can afford.
Retirement is another major expense that very few of us drivers can afford without help. The amount of money in a personal retirement account that you need for your retirement is dependent upon your living situation. How much money you wind up with in your personal account depends on how aggressive you are at contributing to your retirement and how many years before you start your retirement. It is reasonable, with today’s dollars, to expect and need a retirement account worth a minimum of $500,000 at maturity. At a 5% interest rate this would bring you about $25,000 per year. Combine that with the Social Security and Medicare and possibly AARP benefits, you might have a reasonable standard of living in your retirement years. When calculating your need, allow for an average of 3% inflation per year. If you deposit $1000 per month in an IRA for 30 years that would give you $360,000 plus interest earned. For a driver running 10,000 miles per month that would come out to $.10 a mile for your retirement.
STATISTICS to consider:
- The median income in America is just under $50,000.
- Economics is determined by the exchange rate of man-hours to goods and services. Money is simply the medium used to make this exchange
- 60 to 65% of health care spending comes from programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tri-care, The Children’s Health Insurance program and, the Veterans health administration.
- US Census Bureau reported that a record 50.7 million residents (which includes 9.9 million noncitizens) or 16.7% of the population, were uninsured in 2009
- a 2000 study in five states found that medical debt contributed to 46.2% of all personal bankruptcies, and in 2007. 62.1% of all filers for bankruptcies claimed high medical expenses.
- The price of a home in 1963 was $18,000, 1980 was $64,600, 1990 was $122,900, 2000 was $169,000, and in 2010 it was $221,800. With a high of $247,900 in 2007.
- In February of 2000, I received a letter stating that fuel prices up to $1.199 no fuel surcharge. For every five cents of increase in fuel price after that there would be an additional 1% fuel surcharge.
As a rule of thumb, driver pay and fuel costs should be about the same. Not including insurance benefits.
Start by making a list of your entire home expenses, not only the ones you have, but the ones you should have. Then, take your average miles per month and divide the amount of your cost by the amount of your miles. This will give you a picture of how many cents per mile you need to make to pay your bills. Having that knowledge is the first step.
- Use that information when you seek employment or ask for a raise. If an employer says that it is too much money, then you show him your list and ask him what you don’t need. Making your employer aware of your needs may be the first step of getting closer to providing those needs.
- Promote the full disclosure of rates as they are paid from the shipper to the receiver. Use that information to show how much is being kept from you or at least what percentage of that you’re being paid..
- Use your CSA score to increase your pay. With the new regulations coming, your driver score is more important than ever. A good driver score will be worth a lot of money to a company. Use it to your advantage.
- Your personal hygiene is probably as large of a factor in your message being received well as the presentation of your need itself. There is no substitute for smelling clean and wearing clean clothes. After all you are presenting yourself as a professional.
- Education is the key to making good decisions. Always be aware of what your options are. This may be information about how much the competitors pay if you are a company driver or lease owner operator. It may mean keeping up with current events in the industry such as changing hours of service rules and other rules imposed by the FMCSA. Aside from road dog radio, there are many publications about the trucking industry to gather information from. One of the most dependable is the publication by OOIDA called Land Line. Another is a free publication called Overdrive Magazine. You can even receive the digital copy of each. Find a publication that can be sent to your home every month or viewed online to keep you abreast of changes you may not be aware of.
- I recommend that all drivers, including company drivers, join one of the several driver advocacy groups. My personal favorite is OOIDA. Then make your opinions heard by the leadership of these groups. They have the power to lobby as a group that you don’t have as an individual. If you support these organizations, consider contributing to their lobbying fund or PAC.
- I also recommend that you all, if you don’t already, call your federal and state senators and representatives often to express how you feel about issues. It’s not hard and you don’t have to be a really good public speaker. Just call the White House switchboard at 202 – 224 – 3121 and give them your zip code. They will then put you through to your representative or your senators. Leave a message with their aid and your opinion will be registered. Also, take a look at FightingForTruckers.com. Sometimes it seems like they never listen but your vote and combined voices are the only things more powerful than lobbyist money.
- Have conversations with your fellow drivers and point out how much more money we need than we are being paid. Not in a whining way, but in an educated way. Ask your fellow drivers to get involved to help make a difference. Remember, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”.
- Holding down Inflation in the United States can no longer ride on the backs of truck drivers. We are not responsible for inflation created in the market simply by trying to provide for our needs and our family’s needs. Controlling inflation is an argument that’s used by many to keep us poor so others can profit at our expense.
Arm yourselves with knowledge. Have conversations with other drivers, not to find your differences but to find the things you have in common. We have the opportunity to make our future better if we will step up and be heard. We can ill afford to let a few others speak for us without our input.
This week OOIDA Foundation released a rebuttal to the conclusions of FMCSA regarding a study they commissioned on harassment and ELD’s.
I have a recent post about the Truth About ELD’s that should shed some light on this subject as well. The fact is pretty clear that the FMCSA has been corrupted by its agenda. They [FMCSA] seem to want the information to say something different than what it really says. In the OOIDA article by Dave Tanner, he points out some interesting statistics. I took the liberty of picking some of those findings out to share with you.
The study was conducted by Maine Way Services of Fryeburg, Maine. They interviewed 628 professional truckers to gather their findings. According to the survey, 341 used ELDs. 287 used paper logs. The total number of drivers used in this survey represents .0002% of the estimated commercial drivers in America today.
About 70% of drivers surveyed were company drivers and 29% were owner/operators. Current ELD users are made up of 80% company drivers and 18% were owner/operators. 35% of drivers said that they believed ELDs would not make the road safer.
The study said 19% of drivers were asked by carriers to do things that were clearly illegal, such as falsify logs or duty status. It also revealed that 13% of office employees and managers would somewhat routinely ask drivers to operate illegally or to falsify logs. The study revealed that some drivers experienced threats of firing, and retribution for refusing loads that the driver felt unsafe or illegal to move. Drivers also reported threats (by management) to call officers for ignoring calls during off duty time.
With these things in mind, the FMCSA interpreted this information to say that ELDs did not contribute significantly to harassment. They plan to move forward with the ELD requirement. The way I read this information, it says that ELDs do nothing to reduce harassment. It is clear from the findings of the study that driver harassment is alive and well.
The problem I have with all of this is that it actually does nothing to improve safety or reduce harassment. It simply adds costs for the driver or small company that serves no purpose at all.
FMCSA holds listening sessions for input from the public. It seems that the information gathered at these sessions is recorded and subsequently disregarded. The opinions of the seasoned drivers seem to be discounted in favor of the more influential lobbyists.
It is imperative that we become proactive by contacting our representatives and go over the head of the out of control FMCSA. The easiest way to do this is through the Fighting for Truckers web site. You can find more information about Fixing FMCSA here. You can also find much more information there about improving safety and other concerns of the trucking industry.
This week has been a special week for me. I share my birthday with Veterans Day. This also was the week that OOIDA held the annual Truckers For Troops telethon. You might guess that veterans hold a special place in my heart and I think we should take better care of them. Our military people are taught the meaning of patriotism in a very physical I started asking myself what it means to serve our country. That is what I want to share with you.
I was fortunate enough to be too young to go to Vietnam before it ended. After that, America enjoyed a relatively peaceful time. There were conflicts that came along and I don’t ever want to minimize the service of anyone. At that time, my country didn’t need me. By the time Desert Storm came along, I was too old to go. The military was looking for a younger man.
This has left me in a real strange position. I love my country and would fight for it any day. Yet, I am not a veteran. I never will be. I will never be honored for my military service to our country. At the same time, 2 of my 3 best friends are Vietnam Vets. My oldest brother was a vet from the same war. A guy from my church got drafted and then returned with part of the muscle on his left arm blown off. I feel a deep appreciation for the fact that I didn’t have to go to war because of the sacrifices my friends made. I have a cousin that was a chopper pilot in Vietnam Nam. I remember when he came home after his tour showing me his helmet that he wore. It had a bullet hole through the top of it barely missing his head by a fraction of an inch. I feel somewhat guilty that I didn’t serve as they did. When I confronted my vet friends about this, they said that I shouldn’t feel guilty for anything. I should be happy that I didn’t have to go. They helped me to understand that fighting for our country meant more than dodging bullets and serving in the military.
That’s where this story really begins. I started to define the meaning of serving my country. My friends helped me by explaining that if I wasn’t here (paying taxes) doing what I do that they wouldn’t have been provided for there. However, my duties to country go much deeper than paying taxes. Serving our country as citizens also includes respect for authority, honor, duty, and country. We also have the responsibility to direct our government. We are a government that was conceived with the idea that we could be self governing and support the best interests of the citizens and country. That doesn’t mean that we have to choose a party and reject any idea from the other party. It means that we are supposed to sit down and discuss ideals with an open mind to be able to choose the best path for our country. These ideals are not limited to a national scope. They are intended to start at the local level and dictate the direction of the community which will be a voice in the next larger body of citizens and so on until the will of the people has filtered to the national level. It is our patriotic duty to participate in this process.
Supporting our troops is a popular emotion shared by many Americans. What this entails is much more than putting a sticker of a ribbon on our cars! It is our duty to country to never allow our troops to be sent into harms way for any purpose other than the protection of our country. Not pay back. Not profiteering. Not country building. Not the spread of western values. We are to lead by example to be the guiding light to the rest of the world. Entice others to embrace the values we hold dear based on their merits.
Our obligation is to establish the authority that we respect. Honor our creation by establishing standards that the rest of the world can look toward as a beacon of freedom. Answer the call of duty to our country notwithstanding membership in our military, but at all levels of civic duty. Of the most important duties we are charged with is duty to country. We must educate ourselves with an open mind to seek out the best options for our country. This is how we honor our military people. We must never allow any soldiers’ service to be in vain. That is the ultimate in disrespect.
As we get older and more mature, we are better able to provide a more diverse solution to our problems. This is based in the theory that we learn more as we get older. Not become set in our ways but grow as our knowledge increases. Much of our future can be sorted out by simply looking at the past. Most of the situations that we face today or at least something similar, our forefathers faced in the past. We must not forge ahead with the mindset that we are the first to face these challenges. We have a very good template established with well thought out guidelines. Take time to read the constitution. As you read, understand that serving our country started with a relatively small group of people that held dear the ideals that founded and have served our country well many years ago. The more you know of history the better you will be at directing the future. Don’t allow special interest to sway a decision that is not in the best interest of our country.
I find peace in the knowledge that I am fighting for our country right here on the home front. I embrace the same values that our soldiers fight for. That is for me to have the right to express my opinion. Remember, it is not “this” country, it is “our” country.
Safety……. Safety, Safety, Safety. That is the one theme that has been consistent throughout my working life. From growing up on a farm to working in the oil fields of Alaska and continuing on into my trucking career. There is no doubt that safety is important and one of the foremost concerns of labor and the government alike. Safety always seemed to be more about common sense and awareness then much anything else. That is, until I started to become involved in trucking advocacy.
There are many government agencies that are supposed to be about safety in the workplace. The ones that are the most prominent in the trucking world are DOT, FMCSA, FHWA and, NHTSA. There are also many private safety organizations and coalitions of trucking companies and trucking associations like Road Safe America, First Student, Inc., Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH),Truck Safety Coalition, Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.), Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), American Trucking Association (ATA) and, National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) just to name some of the more active players.
The problem I have is that issues of safety today no longer seem to be based in common sense. The idea of safety seems to be decided by economic or emotional influences in today’s world. When you look at who each of these very vocal groups are and what they represent, you start to see the problem. In almost every case, there is a special interest involved in each opinion that is being heard or voiced at the table of rule making today. Not that all of the positions are bad. It is simply important to understand the origin of their opinions.
Some of these entities have suffered loss of family members in truck involved crashes. Some are motivated by financial gains. Others are motivated to give the people they represent a greater advantage in the market place. There is only one association that represents the individual driver’s point of view on safety. That is OOIDA. Each of the others have agendas that are good for their group but not necessarily for safety in general.
I would like to touch on a few things that I think should be considered.
How about I start with one of the oldest mandates, Driver Training. There has been a congressional mandate for over 20 years to establish training standards but only in the last year has any real movement been made and that is, in large part, thanks to OOIDA’s constant call for responsible rules and the creation of TruckersForSafety.com. This to me is common sense.
HOS is a big one. Where do I start? The hours of service are a perfect example of what happens when emotion and the opportunity to make money collide. Any reasonable person would agree that we need rules to prevent exploitation of drivers by insensitive employers and to limit over zealous drivers. With that said, none of the rules put control of a schedule in the hands of properly trained and proven safe drivers. If you try to apply the same logic to your personal schedule it doesn’t really work so well. For example, the 14 hour on duty limit sounds reasonable for a truck driver but not with the different scenarios in your own life. Likewise, a trucker needs to be able to work when it is safest for all involved. Yet, in times of disaster the FMCSA will temporarily revoke the HOS rules to get people some much needed aid. There has been no public study to show ANY diminished safety to the public by allowing these drivers to operate on their own best judgment. Without going in depth about the HOS rules, that is the point! There have been no studies that show diminished safety when experienced truckers work on their own best judgments.
ELDs (electronic logging devices) are touted to be for safety. Please refer to my previous post to see the reality of ELDs. They can only record place and time somewhat accurately. All other duty statuses can be falsified. They also remove all flexibility from a driver sometimes causing them to be in violation while attempting to reach safe haven in situations that are beyond the drivers control.
Speed limiters have been proposed as a mandatory item on CMVs. Any evidence to show a safety benefit can just as easily be countered with evidence to the opposite. Yet the band plays on.
One of the latest scams on safety is the proposed increase of minimum liability being introduced into congress by Rep. Cartwright. His family made their fortune suing trucking companies. Conflict of interest? I guess not if you are a U.S. Representative. The current minimum liability limit for a trucking company is $750,000. Most companies carry $1 mil. in coverage. This representative wants to put minimums at $4.4 million! That would put many small business truckers out of business and force them to go to work for a company that is self insured just to stay in trucking. Many of our experienced drivers today are choosing to get off the road because of regulations like this. Those very experienced drivers are being replaced by entry level drivers that still have no driver training standards by the companies that don’t have to purchase insurance because of their influences in government rule making.
There is so much more to this subject that would turn this blog into a novel if I were to address all the characters and issues involved. My simple request is to research a little bit about the players involved in our so called safety programs and their recommendations. If its not really about bringing greater safety to the public at a reasonable cost, I ask you to get involved and let your voice be heard by your representatives.
A Trucker’s Family
As I was lamenting to my wife Lesli about what I should talk about this week, she commented (somewhat tongue in cheek), “How about all the holidays and family events that truckers miss?” At first, I laughed then I thought that maybe it is a subject that needs a little more light on it. As truckers, we focus on what our job is. We focus on our duties but often times we don’t give enough credit to the “support crews”. We all have different circumstances but what is overlooked is the price our loved ones pay for our choice of occupation.
This year alone, I have missed Valentines Day, My wife’s birthday, Memorial Day, both of my daughters birthdays, and our Anniversary! On the schedule I’m on now, I will also miss Halloween, my birthday, and Thanksgiving is up in the air. I did have the 4th of July at home.
I’ve talked about many of the issues that we face regarding new rules, lack of training standards, insurance minimums, self insurance, getting involved, lack of respect, and other things. The one thing that gets overlooked the most is the personal price paid by drivers and their families. No matter where you are in the economic scale, every one of us are here to improve the lives for ourselves and our families.
In return for my commitment to my chosen occupation I provide a decent lifestyle for my family. I can do this because I chose to educate myself on how to do this business. It’s not merely a job to me. I became an independent operator early on because once I saw how to provide better for my family, I couldn’t just keep on doing what I had been doing.
Of all the considerations that I made, the price my family would pay was one that I didn’t fairly assess. I didn’t give credit to the fact that my wife would have to basically raise our children by herself. Oh yes, I would check in for a couple days a week and expect to be treated like the king of my castle (mobile home at that time). I would, and still do, attend to a few things that need attention at home and try to work that in with my self proclaimed entitled relaxation.
Over the years, Lesli has assumed more and more responsibilities to allow me to do what I do. She does things like mow the lawn, schedule repairs on cars, schedule all the dentist, doctor, and optical appointments. She shows up at recitals and school functions in support of our kids and our nieces that she has cared for since their births. Lately, she has even learned how to caulk around windows and on siding to prepare for winter. Over the years, her responsibility list has kept on growing while mine has stayed the same.
As our business grew, she had to assume the duties of bookkeeper and learn how to manage our finances and record everything in bookkeeping programs, issue invoices and record payments and follow up on late payments and look for loads while I am driving. All of which she has become very accomplished at. Then when I would come home, she would answer all the financial questions I would have.
As for my kids, they grew up in an environment that was normal when I was gone. When I was home, things were different until I hit the road again. I missed many teacher conferences, track meets, ballet and piano recitals, and swim meets as well as other school functions. I wish I could have received pictures on my smart phone of the events that I wasn’t able to attend but they weren’t invented then.
There is a price that we all (drivers and families) pay to pursue this profession. For some, that price is higher than others. For me, missing each of these events left me feeling regret and yet a small bit of satisfaction remained knowing that I was doing the best that I could for my family. Ultimately, that is the balance that we all must strike to be a trucker. We sacrifice our family time to provide the best we can for our families. For my family, each of them dealt with my absences in different ways. I always felt like they were happy when I was able to attend their events but I knew my presence wasn’t required.
I have to say that the trucking occupation has given us a pretty good living; better than anything else that was available to me at the time. It’s not all bad but it has had its price from time to time. The focus of this piece however is to shine a small light on the life of a trucker’s family. If I could turn back time and make that choice again, knowing what I know now, I would still choose this occupation for the same reasons.
There is some 3-3.2 million drivers currently employed in the United States. There are at least a half dozen people closely associated with each of these drivers. So when you go shopping, remember that not only a trucker brought it but, a trucker’s family also paid a price for you to have the things you want. As you drive down the road and pass that truck, take a moment to realize that many people have paid a price for you to have the things you need for your family. Sometimes, a little wave or consideration on the road makes everyone feel a little bit better about what we do and what our families have given up to bring America’s goods to market. If you happen to run into a family member of a trucker, please express your appreciation for their sacrifices too. Thank you.
Who’s in That Truck?
As you go down the road today, you see a lot of big trucks. Lately there seems to be no shortage of news stories about those evil truckers. We are a dangerous, fatigued, run unsafe, filthy, fat, out of shape, littering bunch of rejects of society. We chase the dollar so hard that we put everyone else on the road in danger. At least that’s the image the media and safety advocacy groups seem to portray. What I would like to do is tell the story from a trucker’s point of view.
The trucking industry is indeed the place that every down on their luck person can go to find employment. It’s not a job for everyone but it is a job for anyone who is willing to work hard and learn and maybe sacrifice a little to have a future. When you look in that window of a truck as you go by, what is it you see? Do you see that person the media says is so out of control? Let me introduce you to the majority of who those people really are.
I am a member of an association called Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). We just finished the fall board meeting. In that room is a collection of drivers both current and retired. Almost all have at least 2 million miles accident free. Most of those drivers have even more experience. They are men and women from all over the United States and Canada. I had the opportunity to get to know a very special driver there that just retired. He had over 6 1/2 million accident free miles! He has been driving over 60 years. Hats off to you Mr. John Taylor! All around the table there is the best of the best.
With that said, you may think that doesn’t represent the truckers you see. So, who are they? They are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles and friends. They are people that have wanted to drive truck all their lives. They are people who never thought they would be driving trucks. They are people who have the same hopes and aspirations that you do. They want to provide for their families. They want to send their kids to college. They want reasonable healthcare. They want to retire some day. They would like to take a short vacation once in a while.
I’ve met people driving trucks that come from all nationalities and just about any occupation you can think of. The one that tops the list is probably former military people. The very ones that fought for our country. Also you will find some that come from professional careers like lawyers, accountants, and doctors and teachers that decided for some reason or another to change their profession. Some have PhDs. Some drivers are high school drop outs. Some completed high school and went to work. There really isn’t a typical truck driver.
There is one thing that every driver on the road has in common. No one wants to die and no one wants anyone else to get hurt. A far cry from the image painted of drivers today. In fact you might be surprised to know that many of those drivers have been honored by various groups for saving the lives of other motorists. They are the Highway Angels and Highway Heros. With that said, there are many more that carry out good deeds everyday that receive no recognition what so ever. They help others out of their own kindness. You will also find that truck drivers are some of the most charitable working people on earth. Truckers are involved in so many charities that I can’t even to begin to name them. Truckers are always ready to help those down on their luck. They are some of the first to organize to provide aid in the case of a natural disasters. The image emerging now should be somewhat different than where we started.
The average truck driver drives about as much in one year as the average car driver does in 10 years. The average driver at OOIDA has over 2 million miles. That’s 200 years of car driving. In the October 2014 edition of Land Line Magazine, Managing Editor Jami Jones has an op-ed piece titled Lauer. Lawyers. Lies. that lays out very clearly the true accident rates of cars and trucks. That piece points out that 75-80% of fatality accidents that involve trucks were not the fault of the trucker. In 2012, while there were 3,921 deaths in crashes involving large trucks, there were 29,156 people who died in crashes that did not involve large trucks. If cars drove the same miles that trucks do that would equate to approximately 291,560 deaths in cars versus 3,921in trucks.
Yes, the people in that truck may annoy you at times but above all, they are by far the safest drivers on the road and deserve the respect of the motoring public and the media. Now, please take another look in the window of that big truck.
I was recently reminded of how different the truck stops today are from the ones of yesteryear. Although I hardly feel qualified to make the comparisons, I am compelled to recall the differences I remember. To do this I have to go back to my childhood growing up in the small southern town of Bradford, Arkansas as the beginning of my story.
The earliest recollections I have of a truck stop would be in the early 60’s. The main road through the area was highway 67. At the time, it was the main road between Little Rock and St. Louis. On the north end of our little town, there was a restaurant that was known as “The Truck Stop”. I’m sure it had an official name but that tidbit is lost to history. As I recall, it had limited parking for trucks and some parking for a few cars.
The thing about truck stops of that era is that they were centered around the restaurant. Drivers would gather, eat and tell stories. There were few other services available at a truck stop of those times. Services were only found at the larger stops. In those days, a fuel stop and a truck stop were not necessarily the same thing. Our little truck stop was just a restaurant. It’s not really fair to say it was “just a truck stop”. Truck stops back then had the best food around. If you wanted to go out for a really good meal, you went to the truck stop. On a family trip, eat at a truck stop. That was before all the chain food establishments. A truck stop survived by being good and by word of mouth.
A fuel stop was quite different. In those days, a driver might try to fuel at places that gave out S&H Greenstamps or some other type of stamps. These stamps were the beginning of modern day bonus points. In those days you would save all your stamps and trade them for merchandise when you had enough. You would pick up a “gift book” to see what you could get with your stamps. These stamps were collected and put into small pamphlets that held a certain quantity of stamps commonly referred to as books. You would choose your item from the gift book and send in your books to purchase that item. On a side note, my sister saved up Top Value stamps from the grocery store to buy me my first aquarium.
At these truck stops, a driver might grab a good meal and catch a few hours of sleep and hit the road again. It seemed that there was always a rotating stock of trucks out front. Parking didn’t seem to be as much of a problem then.
In the 70’s, my father-in-law was a company driver. In his day, the stops were growing and starting to change. Every few days he would stop at a cheap motel and rent a room to get a shower but most other services were starting to become more common. In those days, it was nice to get a break from trying to sleep in an old cabover with no A/C. Relax for a night and hit it again.
Fast forward to the early 90’s when I started driving. There were quite a few more of the larger stops. They usually had fuel and a restaurant and some services such as showers, maybe a washer and dryer, and usually a TV room. Back then you made enough money to eat all your meals in a restaurant. There were no microwaves, inverters nor refrigerators for the most part. I had a plug in cooler that I used to keep a few sodas and maybe a sandwich in. I think that might have been the beginning of how we operate today.
In those times, you would go into the restaurants and usually find a “Professional Driver” section. It usually consisted of an area with a large table or several smaller tables. Many times there would be a bar style seating. Drivers would gather and talk about the experiences of the day or the past. As a young driver, I found these areas a place to learn from the older drivers. I had little to say to fit in with their conversations. It was a place that I could ask questions and gain from the wisdom of their experiences. Many of my early habits were formed by listening to these seasoned drivers. You would never go into a place like that and start running your mouth about what you could do without being able to back it up.
I also remember that there seemed to be a lot more respect for one another. If you needed help, someone was usually there to help you without asking. There was a greater sense of brotherhood. Truckers would even pull over on the side of the road to lend a hand if you broke down.
Today, we have “Travel Plazas”. Truckers no longer go inside and spend money to support an establishment. We buy fuel, park and eat in our trucks. Many have lost respect and throw their garbage and other things on the ground where they park and simply leave in the morning. We don’t go in and have those conversations that share so much information around the dinner tables anymore. The chain restaurants usually have booths that separate people rather than offering an environment to socialize. That is done in the TV room, if at all. Today, drivers simply don’t make enough money to be able to do those things and get ahead. As a result many truck stops have been forced to charge for parking.
I don’t want to suggest that we go back to the “good ol’ days” because driving truck in those days was considerably harder than it is today in many of respects. I’m just saying that as our industry has progressed, it has left some things behind that gave driving truck a much deeper meaning. I hope my recollections stir up many fond memories for you.
What’s The Problem?
If you go to a truck stop and interview multiple truck drivers and ask the question, “What do you think is the biggest problem in trucking today?” You are likely to get a pretty wide variety of answers. Answers like ELD’s, HOS, Pay, Home time, Lack of respect, Lack of freight, Over regulated, Driver training, No parking, Speed limiters, Electronic gadgets, CARB, Tolls, Taxes, Insurance, and the list goes on. All of these are definitely issues of concern. I believe there is one issue almost no one will say that is likely to be the biggest problem we have industry wide. That issue is The Lack of Self Governance.
To explain further what I mean by this, let me start by throwing out a few numbers. Although some of these numbers are speculative, the conclusion is the same. The population of the United States is about 319 million. About 137 million are registered voters. About 40-60% of those vote. That’s 55-82 million people. We currently have between 3-3.2 million drivers. Almost all of truck drivers are eligible to vote. That means that truck drivers make up 3.7-5.5% of all eligible voters.
With these numbers in mind, we have 435 representatives in congress and 100 senators. If you take an average, that would be 7,125 voters per congressman and 31,000 per senator. By now the picture should be getting clearer. These are numbers too large to be ignored! We have the power to set the language of the discussion if we will participate. This goes to the root of the topic. If you acknowledge these numbers as being possible, then look at how many are really engaged, you start to get to the real problem. I have no numbers to support how many drivers are proactive but if I had to guess, it would be less than 10% really ever engage their representatives.
Now, go back and add a second question to ask of drivers. “Have you contacted your representatives about this problem?” The overwhelming answer is NO. Our representatives are the only people that can cause real changes to happen. Without our voices, all they hear are the voices of the special interests that are very well funded and omnipresent. Right now, they are the people with our representatives ears. We can change that! The only thing more feared than a financial contributor is a negative popular opinion and a risk of loosing the next election.
That pretty much sums up the big picture of our situation. Now let’s look at the same issue (Lack of Self Governance) on a more personal level. We (drivers) have been told that “We are the captains of our ships.” The final decision is up or us. Every driver will reach a time when you have to decide between what you know is right or what you should do versus what someone else wants you to do. At that moment, that is where the reason of self governance should be applied. Safety should be the first priority of every driver on the road, not money nor favor.
There are countless pressures on us to bend the rules or push a little farther or run a little over weight and so on almost daily. Dispatchers may want you to drive longer than you have left on your day to make a delivery. This is where we fail to train drivers the importance of their decisions. Sometimes fear of retribution from the employer causes us to make the wrong choices. If you work for that kind of employer, you need to protect yourself by finding a different job as soon as possible. These types will not have your back in any type of challenge if it costs them at all.
Many of the rules we have today started out with the purpose of protecting the driver. Examples of this are HOS and log books and equipment inspections. If we, the driver, have enough courage to stand up and tell others what we will not do, the need for many regulations would never arise. Some drivers have been in the news lately that have refused to operate faulty equipment and lost their jobs. These drivers have been rewarded with settlements in law suits and the respect of drivers across the land. These are drivers that are self regulated. They are professionals. They will not do the wrong thing when it jeopardizes safety for them or the public.
Finally, in summation, it is up to us how we operate and what the face of our industry looks like. We can choose to paint that picture for ourselves or we can let others paint that picture for us. Either way, it will be painted. I urge every driver to step up their game a little bit everyday and be the examples to newer drivers. We can restore reason to our industry if we get involved by practicing self governance.