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 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.

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.

The Truth about Insurance Minimum Increases

One of the most overlooked issues by the public in freight transportation today is the minimum liability insurance requirements for trucks. The public is either unaware or misled about the ramifications of the current push to raise the minimum liability insurance requirements for trucks that purchase insurance. Roughly half of the trucks on the road today do not purchase insurance. These trucks are owned by large companies that are self insured. Please refer back to my recent post (click here) regarding the repeal of the self insurance provision. With this in mind, I plan to expose the intention and result of higher insurance minimums.

Congress member, Rep. Cartwright of Pennsylvania, whose family operates a law firm that has made its fortune by prosecuting trucking companies involved in accidents, introduced a bill to increase the minimum liability insurance requirements for trucking companies. That bill would increase the minimum liability amount required from $750,000 to upward of $4.4 million per truck. Why a congressman with so much to gain from a ruling like this is even able to introduce such a bill is beyond my belief! Law firms regularly receive amounts in excess of 30% to settle a case against a trucking company. You do the math on what that means to law firms. As if we were not litigious enough already.

The interesting part of this equation is that less than 1% of all accident cases against trucks currently exceed settlement for an amount greater than the minimum required amount of $750,000. Of the cases that exceed that amount, less than 1/10th of those cases would be covered by the higher limits of $4.4 million. You are talking about legislation that would benefit 1/10th of 1% (1 per thousand) of all accidents involving trucks. The lawyers, on the other hand, would reap windfall profits in settlements that would leave the victims as pawns of a scheme to exploit their misfortune for the gains of law firms.

Now that I have these numbers swirling around in your head, let me introduce you to more numbers! Most of the independent trucking companies today already carry $1 million in liability coverage. That means that most of the accidents that happen today are covered by insurance levels that are already pretty much the industry standard. The connection or dilemma that the public seems not to understand is that half of the trucks on the road will not be affected by this rule! They are self insured! This means that if you are the victim of an accident involving one of these carriers (who have the least experienced drivers), you have to negotiate with the offending party to get a settlement anyway! You will have to hire a lawyer to settle the case that has nothing to do with insurance minimums in the first place. An example of this is the much publicized Tracy Morgan accident. Wal Mart is self insured. Likewise, so is Fed Ex. Every major accident in the national news this year has been from a self insured company.

The ramifications of raising the standard minimum on the rest of the industry would be devastating. The average insurance premium today is $6-8,000 per year per truck. With the new limits, the premium amounts would surge to an estimated $20,000 per year per truck! That is an extra thousand dollars per month per truck that would have to be passed on to consumers. That would be enough to drive many of our nations safest drivers out of business. Small business truckers would have the choice of going out of business or going to work for large, self insured companies. That is the reason for the support of this increase by the self insured companies in the industry. It’s not about safety or your just reward! To learn more about this subject, click here for OOIDA’s website. You can also contact your representatives with just a few clicks from that site.

Ultimately, this measure would make the public less safe and force yet higher prices on you in the marketplace and put many small business truckers out of business all for the benefit of a few law firms that chase trucks like ambulances. The safest drivers on the road would be under even more pressure to go out of business. The measure is simply designed to extract greater profits for a few individuals and corporations by playing on the fears and ignorance of the public. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the hyperbole of the need for this increase. It will only cost you, the public, with no real benefit to your safety. It will only benefit the lawyers and the most unsafe carriers on the road. Help spread the word to all your voting friends and neighbors. Let’s stop this wreck before it happens! Contact your representatives regularly and take control of our special interest driven government! We have the power and must act before it is too late.

Truth about ELDs

The issue I want to address this week is the issue of EOBRs (Electronic On-Board Recorders) also known as ELDs (Electronic Logging Devices). There are a lot of differing opinions within the trucking industry about the ability of these units to improve safety. I will share with you my opinion and the reasons that I think the public should really care about this issue.

On the surface, you might say, “How could it be a bad thing to have a driver’s duty status automatically recorded?” The answer to this question is where you will find the devil in the details.

I provided a statement to the FMCSA during an open comment period on the subject. Click here to see that statement. Contained in that statement is real life examples of how automatic recorders falsify the true duty status of drivers. The real thing to remember regarding duty status is that the only thing an ELD can record accurately is where a truck is located at any specific time. Even that capability has been known to be incorrect in some circumstances. Every other duty status requires a driver’s input and can be manipulated depending on the operator’s use of the device.

First, let’s address the advocates’ argument. They say that the ELD insures absolute compliance and removes cheating. Safety is said to be improved through this compliance. A byproduct of this compliance is a level playing field for all players and removes profiteering from cheating and running illegal. That is a very compelling argument…… If it were true.

The truth is that both the ELD and paper logs depend on driver input to record “On Duty”, “Off Duty”, and “Sleeper Berth”. Neither is more accurate than the other. On duty time can be recorded as off duty in the same manner on both. One main thing that is different is that with paper logs, the driver fills out the duty status and signs it. No one else can change it. With ELDs, the logs can be altered or “corrected” by an employee of the trucking company. This log is certified by the driver and yet the duty status can be altered without the drivers knowledge. This ability to alter the logs at the company level could also be used to coerce a driver to confirm changes or face the misfortune of loss of revenue as retribution.

Next, they are touted as improving safety. This is accomplished by strict adherence to the Hours of Service (HOS) rules. Experienced drivers have repeatedly requested flexibility to be able to operate their trucks at the safest time rather than being forced to operate by a one size fits all approach. Because of the diversity of freight hauling, each type of operation requires some sort of special consideration. Already, FMCSA has given exceptions to the HOS for some operations such as livestock haulers. Another request is pending for household movers because of the problems that strict compliance causes. You can click here to see my statements to a house subcommittee in DC on the problems created by the latest HOS rules. Due to strict compliance, drivers are forced to drive longer without breaks to preserve on duty time. They are forced onto the roads during peak driving hours because of an unstoppable 14 hour on duty clock. The forced use of ELDs removes ALL flexibility from a driver’s control. If you get stuck in traffic you could record a violation that is totally beyond anyone’s control.

On another note, companies and some drivers like ELDs because they create a violation free record. A driver doesn’t have to learn how to record a proper log and monitor all the math in calculating a compliant log. This reduces driver training and driver responsibility for log book violations. Log book violations are one of the most frequent violations received by drivers. In a company filled with low skill level drivers, the ELD hides the lack of training thereby artificially enhancing a carriers’ safety rating. In addition, when the ELD fails, a paper log is required as a backup. In roadside inspections, a weigh master can also require a paper printout for inspection.

Lastly, with the paper log, you are required to present your record of duty status for inspection at any time to proper law enforcement. There is no requirement to leave a copy of your logs there. With the ELD, when files are electronically transferred, a copy of your information is retained by law enforcement. You lose control of that information. It can be used in any manner by any government official that has access to the information without court order but simply by asking for it.

ELDs also cause a loss of production or efficiency thereby causing the price of moving freight to increase. Some would argue that it increases efficiency but I ask you, do you think the lack of flexibility increases or decreases efficiency? Another piece of technology is not what makes us safer. Properly trained and experienced drivers with the flexibility to decide what is safe within a set of guidelines is what makes us safer. ELDs don’t stop violations, they standardize them and make us all less safe in the process. I hope that you will share this information with everyone to stop runaway government before it is too late.

Why the Public Should Care More About Trucking

As truckers, we often times feel isolated from the rest of the world and yet we are what makes it possible for the rest of the world to function. Because of this detachment, the general public only learns about what we really do from the “trucker friendly” media. That is the reason we need to have a greater influence to spread the truth to as many people as we can. In short, Why the Public Should Care More About Trucking.

I plan to start a short series on these issues. I plan to explain why the public should care. These issues may become talking points that you can use to inform your representatives or your neighbors and friends. My selection of the subjects are not based on importance; simply what strikes me as important this week. That said, each of these issues need to be brought to a greater awareness to the public and our representatives. Let our voices be heard!

The first issue that I think needs a huge spotlight is the issue of self insurance. First, here is why truckers should care. Self insurance allows the large (mega) companies to employ the lowest experience drivers and NOT pay any more than is absolutely necessary to get these drivers in the seat. Because they cost relatively nothing extra to insure (because the companies are self insured) and can be hired cheap, you as experienced drivers are only worth what you can be replaced for. If they had to insure these drivers based on the risk exposure, you (the experienced driver) would be worth far more because you could be insured much more easily and less expensively. Driver pay and driver turnover would be FAR less of a problem if we had a system that valued a driver based on his record and experience. Companies would want to hold onto their more experienced drivers to enhance their overall experience statistics to get lower rates. Insurance companies would evaluate each driver based on their risk exposure.

Large companies say they want to level the playing field. This is double speak. Meaning, they (self insured companies) want to twist another regulation in favor of the company and against a driver that may be trying to operate a competitive business and survive without the abuse of the large companies. They don’t want to compete in a fair market. They want to play in a market that is slanted in their favor. They would like nothing more than to have experienced drivers fail at their own business so those drivers would have to come to work for the company to survive. How many times have you heard, “I had my own authority once but couldn’t make it.”?

There is a myth I’ve heard many times promoted by these companies that says that independents are undercutting the rates and making it harder. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Independents only make up about 10% of the trucks on the road but about half of the operating authorities issued. We are forced to compete with companies that have drastically lower insurance, equipment and driver cost. Really,… Who do you think can run cheaper? We run safer and more efficiently. They run less expensively.

I’ve written a position paper on the subject that you can find here under My Pages. It is a much more complete argument on the subject of repeal of the self insurance provision.

In short, the self insurance provision:

  • Makes our public less safe
  • Devalues experience
  • Artificially lowers freight rates through the exploitation of cheap labor
  • Increases driver turnover
  • Holds no minimum training standards
  • Delays settlements in most cases
  • Forces a victim to negotiate directly with the offending party for settlement
  • Reduced settlement offers
  • Allows for the arrogant stand of the self insured to simply say “sue me” to get settlement

I currently have a claim with a well known company from Montana that occurred on February 28, 2014 that is as of today (September 10, 2014) yet unsettled. They backed into my truck while I was in the sleeper. How hard is it to determine responsibility? I am learning from others that my experiences are not unusual.

I hope many of you will join me in educating the public and fellow drivers alike in this gross overreach of privilege and reduction of safety. Also, please join me in contacting your representatives to repeal the self insurance privilege in the upcoming transportation bill. You can call the Whitehouse Switchboard at (202)-224-3121 or contact all three at the same time by going to . We have a voice. We must use it where it counts!

Coping with E.D.D. & T.D.S.

Today I would like to focus on our dependence on electronic innovation and gadgets in our society. Throughout the history of our great country we’ve developed a fascination with electricity and electronics. This fascination goes back to Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison in terms of its use in the United States. Since the development of the light bulb we have pursued bigger and better uses of electricity. Through the efforts of people like Nikola Tesla and Marconi, these changes have infiltrated our lives and changed our standards of living. Even a small spark had the power to move our society from steam power to internal combustion power. Our government got involved with the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the R.E.A. They are responsible for electrifying much of America. The U.S. also pursued monumental projects with the development of hydroelectric power. Later in 1946 the first computer developed was named “ENIAC” which is an acronym for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer. The pursuit of technology was drastically accelerated in the sixties with the challenge of going to the moon. The U.S. had officially entered the space race. The interest in the development of technology hit an all time high.

Today we enjoy our smart phones, GPS, cars that park themselves, remote controls for almost everything and let’s not forget the internet! We have become addicted to social media, portable connectivity and computing. Technology that is intended to make our lives easier and safer. That brings me to the true subject, E.D.D. ( Electronic Dependence Disorder ) and T.D.S. ( Technology Dependency Syndrome ). These are disabilities that have yet to be discovered or acknowledged. It is important to recognize that when something is gained, something likewise is also lost. In years past the things lost were freely exchanged for the things gained. The slide rule was replaced by the calculator. Use of the calculator, in turn, has caused many of the formulas of an equation to become insignificant. Email has replaced what we now call “snail mail”. We now have smart thermostats to control heating and cooling more efficiently. Some of these devices can even be controlled remotely from a smart phone. We (the public) are eager to consume all the latest and greatest advancements that we can afford.

Some technology has been beneficial overall with little effect of what has been lost. An example of this is self adjusting slack adjusters. Today’s drivers know little about adjusting breaks and the repercussions of badly adjusted brakes. Air conditioning in automobiles was a very welcome advancement. A.B.S. was a great invention. I remember, before advanced technology, when you hit the breaks, you would check the mirrors to see which side the trailer was going to slide toward. However, with self adjusting slacks and A.B.S., the need to understand what causes a trailer to swing sideways in hard breaking was lost.

E.D.D. and T.D.S.( remember: Electronic Dependence Disorder and Technology Dependency Syndrome ) has infiltrated the trucking industry. Some advancements have been welcomed and some, not so much. Today we see a very aggressive push toward technology to balance the lack of education and experience as a trade off for proper training and higher profits. Dependency on electronics was credited as the cause of an airplane crash in San Francisco last year. Laws have been passed about the use of cell phones and texting while driving because of the threat to safety.

While society has reached a point that we may be willing to give up some of our privacy or control for convenience, not everyone is on board with every new innovation that comes out. The technology used in the ELDs today is preferred by some drivers because they don’t have to learn how to record a log properly or struggle with the math involved in the complex HOS rules. Other drivers reject this technology proclaiming it reduces flexibility and forces many drivers to operate in higher risk periods of the day. It has not been shown to reliably increase safety at all, however there are many arguments made to that point. As matter of fact, experienced drivers have protested that the lack of flexibility has reduced safety and increased fatigue. The same can be said about crash mitigation technology. In most cases, it helps the undertrained driver avoid a crash. It removes control of the vehicle from the driver and follows a preset program designed by people who may have never seen the inside of a truck cab.

A properly trained driver would avoid risky situations and negate the effectiveness of, or need for, technology that compensates for a lack of skill. More and more control is being removed from the drivers and being replaced by technology. We seem to be allowing technology to replace proper training. Proof of this can be found with a congressional mandate that is over twenty years old calling for driver training standards that have to this day not been established. During that same time, many electronic advancements have been mandated to reduce the input needed from a driver. What happens when you are on an icy road and the computer applies the breaks? Legends have been made about the drivers that have chosen the lesser of two evils and put themselves in harms way to avoid injury to others. Does technology have the ability to allow that? In the not so distant future, a driver will only be needed as a systems manager for a truck.

Another unanswered question is, what happens when you lose the dependability of technology? Computers depend on sensors to monitor conditions and make adjustments. Sensors will only last so long. What will a truck do if it gets the wrong signal from its sensors? If the computer gets a glitch, can the driver of tomorrow take over safely without compromising public safety? Will a truck driver be able to handle the equipment with proficiency or simply guide the truck to the nearest shoulder until a trained professional arrives to fix the problem? Or maybe we will have a default program to deal with that as well….

I’ve heard the buggy whip argument and how we must adapt. I do believe this is true. I also believe that we must acknowledge what is being lost while we promote what is supposedly being gained. I really believe that we must build from solid foundations of education to truly create a better tomorrow. I support technology that gives a driver more control, not less control. When our dependence on technology supersedes our skills, how much better off are we? Shouldn’t we invest in knowledge and training? Without GPS, how many drivers could find their way? Without an ELD, how many could keep a legal paper log? Without ABS, how many drivers would stay in their own lane? Do we really need to invest in more technology and less training or teach the fundamentals and embrace safety in the absence of technology? This condition we are experiencing of dependency on technology and allowing it to replace real learned or developed skill is littered with pitfalls. We must not allow our drivers to be dumbed down by those who want to sell their latest gadgets and promote them as being safer for the public. Education and experience should be our first line obligation to the industry and the public. We need driver training standards and driver trainer standards. We need to educate our public how to drive better and safer. It is time for all professional drivers to step up and direct the future of our industry.

HOS ( Hours of Service ) 101

As truckers we deal with the HOS (Hours of Service) rules every day. In fact, we live our lives by the dictates of these rules. The decisions of when we stop and start, rest or run, take a break, even what is considered a break are all aspects of these rules. Most of the (truck) drivers on the road try very hard to comply with these rules and operate their trucks in the safest manner they can within the constraints of these rules. Herein lies the problem. Almost all of these rules were made without a full understanding of the circumstances the average driver faces from day to day. My goal here is not to explain the rules, but to shed some light on these rules so “Non” truck drivers have a better understanding of the challenges these rules pose and why safety is sometimes compromised due to a lack of flexibility in these rules.

I think first of all you need to understand that every truck driving job is NOT the same. Some of the big box carriers are on contracts that allow for a structured schedule. These seem to be the style of operation that the rules are most suited to. Unfortunately, they make up a very small sector of the industry. Each type of transportation needs has its own special requirements. Outside the trucking world, most of you would recognize what most of us do as “split shift” work. We work when we are needed and then we wait until we are needed again.

Imagine if you were a store manager. You had to go in at 7 am to open the store. That’s all you were needed for. Your regular shift might be from 3 pm to 11 pm. If you were a truck driver, you would be restricted to only working until 9 pm because of a rule that limits you to a 14 hour window that you can work. You might have even gone back home and slept another 4 hours in that off time. At 9 pm, you have exhausted your 14 hour on duty clock. You would only have 6 hours of time to earn your pay. In that time, you could work it straight through and not lose any of that time. But, if you took a 1/2 hour break, you would only get 5 1/2 hour of pay that day and you would be forced to not drive anywhere when your shift was over.

Imagine if we applied this standard to some other occupations. First in mind is Doctors. Very much a profession depending on safety and sound judgement. Part way through an operation he may have to take a 30 minute break or be fined by the government and his score as a doctor is lowered on a website for all the public to see. What about firefighters? An early morning fire but they can not start work for another 2 hours. Police; you have a break in but they only have 3 hours left on their 70 hour clock. There are other occupations like pilots, boat captains, train engineers, construction workers, even lawyers, accountants, factory workers, food service workers, child care workers,…. The list goes on. Each of these occupations depend on safety and accountability. The difference is that everyone of these professions get paid based on time, knowledge, and/or skill. A truck driver (generally) is only paid based on miles ran.

You are starting to see the problem, but there is more. Because of the limited time you can work, you have to hire more people to do the same amount of work. These people you hire are likely to be less experienced and get paid less. Because they get paid less, they are in higher demand and the experienced people become worth only what they can be replaced for. Now your most experienced people become more complacent and start to look for better employment opportunities in another field. The overall quality has been lowered. Now you’re hoping the person giving you anesthesia don’t mess up!

As the public calls for more regulations to increase safety, the reality is that safety has been lowered overall and this occupation is less attractive as a lifetime means of support. It is important to understand the need and meaning of the word “flexibility” for well trained truck drivers to operate their trucks most efficiently and safely.

I want to leave you with some links to check out for a better understanding of these rules. I urge all to learn more about the real problems in the trucking business. There are many opinions of what should be done but these are from the representation of the safest drivers on our roads today. Thank you.

My testimony before a congressional subcommittee on HOS.

What Should the FMCSA Do? – Part 2

In this part, I would like to start by addressing driver pay and detention time. When this system of pay per mile was originally set up, it allowed for detention time to be included as part of the rate quote without being broken out as a separate charge. There was adequate profit in the rate to allow for “normal” loading and unloading times. Since deregulation, competition has caused many services to be broken out of the rate to make a more competitive rate on the haul. Detention is one of those services, yet trucking companies and brokers have been reluctant to ask for that adjustment to a rate for fear of loosing an account. Ultimately, this expense has been ignored to be more competitive in the market, but the driver is the one that has lost the most in this transaction. Driver pay has not risen significantly since the early 1980s. We are working today for 30-year-old wages!

Next we move to the effects of the regulations that have been put in force in the last five or so years. This industry runs on flexibility due to the needs of the customers. There simply cannot be a “one size fits all” approach. When the rules changed from 10 hours on duty/8 off duty to the 14-11-10 regulation. Drivers lost the flexibility of working when they needed to work and resting when they needed rest. Their day was limited to 14 hours from the very first moment of on duty time regardless of how much of that time was spent taking a nap somewhere. This forced a tired driver to keep going to maximize the allowed time. The last set of HOS adjustments really reduced flexibility! 34 hours off duty no longer meant that you got to refresh your 70 hour clock. You must elapse 168 hours from the start of the last restart. That time period also must include two periods from 1 am to 5 am to qualify. This reduced flexibility. Regulations such as the 30 minute break cost drivers valuable time in a schedule. Instead of having 14 usable hours, you now have 13 1/2. All these regulations reduce flexibility and force trucks onto the road at the worst times of day causing greater gridlock and risk of crash.

What is the cause of crashes? I would argue that it is the loss of flexibility and improperly trained and underpaid drivers. However, FMCSA and other advocates and lobbyist in the business think otherwise. Even though there has been a congressional mandate for over 20 years to establish minimum driver training standards, FMCSA has looked toward more restrictive regulations and technology to compensate for the lack of well-trained drivers. Anything to allow the large companies to reduce driver cost and reap greater profits. Most of this process has caused a greater danger to the public. The accident rates have started to climb since these measures have been put into place. As this greater danger starts to become more obvious, the ambulance chasers became truck chasers. Lawyers realized that commercial trucks were an easy target. Lawyers and media have changed truckers from being the guardians of the highway to “killers on the road” as a recent law firm ad suggested. They even have a congressman pitching their interest. Rep. Matt Cartwright of the 17th district of Pennsylvania. His family owns a law firm that specializes in commercial truck accident claims. It’s no surprise that he introduced a bill to increase minimum insurance liability from $750,000 to upward of $4.4 million per truck.

This leads to my next point. Increased liability does NOTHING to make the roads safer. No driver ever sets out and says, “I think I’ll go out and have a wreck today”. Furthermore, the statistics on accident costs do not support any reason to increase the current minimum. There is less than 1% of commercial accidents that exceed the minimum requirements now. For those catastrophic accidents that do occur, there is no evidence that $4.4 mil. would cover even the smallest percentile of those. The only reasonable conclusion to this suggestion of higher insurance minimums is to allow law firms to reap super settlements for its lawyers. The real irony to this is that the large carriers would not have to bear any additional expenses for this mandate. They are self insured! Their costs would hardly change. In fact most of these companies support the increase because it would force many seasoned Independent Operators and leased Owner/Operators out of business. They would be forced to drive for the large companies that helped to put them out of business or simply leave the industry all together. FMCSA has publicly stated that there is no significant benefits to safety with the self insured provision. In fact, my position is that it makes us all less safe because a large percentage of drivers working for self insured companies are the least experienced drivers on the road. That is why I am calling for the repeal of the self insurance provision for motor carriers in the competitive market. This provision can be repealed in the next highway bill if we demand it to be. Every motor carrier should purchase insurance on their drivers based on a risk assessment made by an outside party (insurance company).

In conclusion, the burning question that needs to be answered is, “Who is making the rules”? Depending on who you ask, you will get a wide variety of answers. The will and welfare of the public seems to be falling prey to special interest and any technology group or lobbying group with the promise of large financial gains. The short answer to the original question of “what should FMCSA do?” is really not that hard. Put politics aside and use advice from the safest drivers on the road to protect the public and preserve the integrity of our industry.

What Should FMCSA Do? – Part 1

The other day I saw a post from LandLine Magazine on Facebook. It asked the question, “What should the top priority be for the next administrator of FMCSA?” I thought and pondered for awhile then decided that the answer was not that simple. Of course there were many suggestions in the comment section. Most of which had some credibility to them in one capacity or another. I decided to tackle that question in a forum that allowed a little more elaboration on the subject. Considering that I try to keep these posts to a reasonable length, I will address the issues in 2 parts. I have no intention of ranking them based on importance because of the diversity of the industry. Each of us have problems unique to our own businesses.

An article released by Land Line Magazine Senior Editor David Tanner addressed many of the issues we will face in the future from pressures applied to the FMCSA by many special interest groups. None, except OOIDA, actually represent the driver or the small business trucker. It’s easy to say that the next administrator will have his/her hands full. Many of us would pretty much like to suspend almost all of the regulations put in place under this administrator until they could be independently reviewed and validated. This is not a personal attack on Anne Ferro. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the HOS hearing in DC in Nov. 2013. She is a very nice lady and easy to talk to. That said, her reign over the FMCSA has been a failure on many levels. That is what I intend to address in the next two parts of this blog post.

Let’s start with the HOS (hours of service) regulations adapted as of July 2013. Summarized, we have the 30 minute break and the 34 hour restart provisions. I won’t define those here because most of you that read this already know what they are. What I will say is that different aspects of this rule have been shown by different sectors of the industry to Decrease safety rather than Increase safety. Much of the data used in designing these rules was skewed to reinforce the direction FMCSA wanted to go. Other data was simply ignored. All of the research behind these changes need to be reviewed and all research considered.

The next issue is the listening sessions. Much of the information gathered at the listening sessions turned out to be an exercise in tolerating the working class while bureaucracy went on its merry way. In these listening sessions, if you were from one of the larger lobbying organizations, you were adorned with much thanks for your input. If you were a working class stiff like me, you were tolerated until your 5 minutes were up. The highest quality information coming from drivers with millions of miles of safe driving and decades of experience was pretty much ignored because it didn’t fit the agenda. The next administrator should go back and watch the listening sessions and embrace the valuable information produced by the safest drivers in the industry. We know how to do our job safely.

The next issue is technology. ELDs, Speed limiters, collision avoidance systems, in cab video. This list seems to keep growing as the next company producing these gadgets stands to make a buck. I support any company’s right to use these devices if they choose. That said, imposing a mandate to use these devices on all trucks does not fit the business model of about half of the trucks on the road that are made up of single truck or few truck operations. The cost is prohibitive and hasn’t been shown to increase safety of this group of drivers which is also the safest drivers on the road. Technology is no substitute for training and experience.

Driver training and driver trainer qualifications is the next big issue. How would the public feel if they realized that there are no real driver training standards? Better yet, no driver trainer standards! Many trainers start training with less than one year of experience. They haven’t even driven in all the conditions a normal year has! This has been a mandate set by congress that has been ignored for over 20 years! Safety been the focus of OOIDA for many years, going back to the early years of the association. The effort has been revived again as a public statement of OOIDA’s commitment to safety. In the last year they created the website . There you will find the associations recommendations on how to improve safety on our roadways.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 of “What Should FMCSA Do?” It should be out by the end of the week. Thanks for following.


OOIDA: Safety Should Involve Training New Truckers, reforming FMCSA

Reefer Madness

This subject came to me last week as I ended my day and parked for the night. I had my curtains up and was busy with my end of day routine. Now, to set the scene, this is a square shaped lot that will park about 75 trucks. The lot was only about 1/3 full when I got there. I went to the back row where there were other flat beds and a couple dry vans. The reefers had parked further to the front. I was satisfied that this should be a peaceful undisturbed night of sleep. That’s when it happened. This truck driver with a reefer (unit) decides that his ideal spot was right beside me! That’s when I flew into “Reefer Madness”. Now I know that I learned in a different time but…. When I started, you would see flats, steps and, RGNs in one area. The reefer units parked on the other side and dry vans usually were in the middle. This arrangement seemed to be the standard for most places although there were some exceptions. I had to ponder what has changed? I came to the conclusion that the short answer was, a lot.

Respect was one of the first answers that came to mind. There used to be respect for your fellow drivers. Even though the older drivers would give you a piece of their minds rather quickly, they were the standard bearers for that time. Those same people would also jump through hoops to help a fellow driver. Drivers in that time also would sometimes pull different trailers depending what was in demand at the time. They understood what the other drivers had to deal with and would help a newer driver (like myself at the time) understand and become better at my job if I was willing to listen. I learned respect for and from these drivers that had much more knowledge and experience. I miss that.

Many of the people that came into trucking had some sort of background that made trucking a good fit for them. It could be a background in farming, military, warehousing, even mechanics. Of course there were some that just grew up wanting to see the country and experience the freedom. All of these have something in common. It is a profession of choice or one that they could easily adapt to. In my case, I grew up on the farm then went to the oilfield for almost 15 years. That made the transition into trucking relatively easy. Today, many people are going into trucking because it is an option for employment. Not necessarily the job they want to do but a job that will get them through until something better comes along. Many older people are starting a career in driving today to supplement their retirement or to carry them to retirement. How many times have you heard someone say, “I can always drive truck.”?

Training also quickly came to mind. When I started, only a few had officially been trained by a school. Most of the training programs were offered by a Voc-Tech school with high standards. The majority of drivers worked up through the industry until they had achieved the skill and trust of a superior. In the case of farmers, most kids started driving in the fields to help out then, after they got their license(or sometimes before), they would take the grain trucks to the elevator. After harvest, many of these young drivers started going out on runs and became OTR drivers to make more money in the off season. Most of these new drivers had 5-10 years experience before they went over the road. The military was another great source of drivers. Many soldiers returning home had gained some experience in service and found that driving truck made a good fit for them. Others took positions in a warehouse and eventually started moving trailers around as their introduction to driving. Regardless of how you got to the drivers seat, you listened and learned from the old timers. One of the things that seems to have gone by the wayside are the days when drivers used to stop for meals and sit at the counter or big tables and tell the stories of their time. You could learn a lot by simply listening to those stories.

The combination of all these things that have changed is what I determined that brought on my “Reefer Madness”. A lack of respect. A lack of training. A lack of understanding. A lack of standards and frankly a lack of caring period. I don’t know that there will ever be a cure for reefer madness but what I can say is that we could all do a little more to help the industry regain some respect.