Drivers Get Defensive

By Sandy Long

Recently the question was asked, “Why do drivers get so defensive?”  The thread where this was asked was about how some in social networking pages and forums get hot under the collar so quickly during discussions.  This question struck me as funny in a way because the asker should know the answer.  So, I decided to answer the question publically.

Truck drivers are most likely some of the most opinionated, strong willed people in the world.  We put our lives on the line daily by the minute and just in that, we cannot be anything other than strong both physically and mentally.  We are isolated in our jobs for the most part and many of us, over time, lose some of the social niceties required in polite society.

Our lifestyle and our financial living hang on the mood of the officer stopping us, the actions of those around us and our companies who are running scared in the increasing regulatory world of trucking.  Companies have not lost the idea that drivers are a dime a dozen while talking about driver retention and driver shortage yet not getting us home for regular hometime, setting up road blocks to our receiving fuel and safety bonuses and getting enough miles to survive.  On the other hand, companies expect for us to deliver just in time freight while under the microscope of e-logs or screaming about ‘running legal’ after sitting for 6 hours at a shippers pulling the rabbit out of the proverbial hat to make sure ‘contractual agreements’ are met.

Because of the lack of good training regulations, companies have jumped on the bandwagon of the training companies, read the mega companies, and taken everything down to the lowest common denominator no matter what the driver’s experience level is; they treat even safe, experienced drivers as if they are the newest student drivers who need to be micromanaged.  Satellite tracking, electronic logs, micromanagement of time and maximization of hours all combine to a driver having to account for every minute of their workday down to explaining why they stopped for four minutes to urinate.

Truck drivers have become so hated by the general public through sensationalistic reporting by the media and misstating of statistics by the government that the trucker while in a truck stop has to hear people saying things like a friend related.  She was in the restroom and heard a mother say to her child, “Now you make sure you don’t touch anything, those nasty truck drivers use this bathroom.”

I have been waiting in line at truck stops and hear non-trucking people complain about us truckers being there in the first place, at a Pilot a lady said, “I do not know why you allow those dangerous truckers in here!”  At a Flying J a man said, “I wish these ‘effin’ truckers would go someplace else!”  My favorite from a fuel desk manager at the J in Des Moines, “I would rather deal with 100 tour buses than you truckers any time, this is a travel plaza not a truck stop!”  Gives you a warm fuzzy feeling doesn’t it.

Even though we do a public service for our country by delivering goods needed by all, our own country is out to get us through overwhelming regulations even though statistics show that we are the safest drivers on the road.  Part of the reason for this is the impact of special interest groups who have the sympathetic stand of losing someone in an accident with a truck no matter who was at fault.  Part of the reason for this is the need for more money to flow into municipal, state and federal coffers and the rest is to improve big business’s bottom line.

Through increasing regulation, the government appears to expect us to be robots who do not need any contact with anyone while driving, do not need to eat or drink, use the bathroom, or do anything other than sit in the seat, look straight ahead yet have total control over the actions of every other vehicle around us.  God forbid someone else screws up and causes an accident anywhere in our vicinity, we will be blamed for it, chased down and ticketed, then sued by the people at fault who will win.  We are not humans any longer, but just meat in the seat.

Compare prices of food in a truck stop against food in other comparable restaurants.  Truck stops will charge more for a fast food burger than non-trucking stores.  You notice I do not use a different type of food, no, truck stop chains have figured out that they can make more money renting space than having restaurants themselves so we can get a sit down meal.  Yet we are blamed for being fat and lazy because we gain weight as truckers due to the prevalence of fast food and pre-packaged meals.  That brings up another factor…our health.

Trucking is hard on the body being the ninth most dangerous job in the country.  Occupational hazards include stress related issues such as heart problems, digestive problems, hypertension, diabetes and mental health issues.  Then there are the structural issues such as hearing and vision problems, bad backs, arthritis and limps caused by hours of using the same leg to push in the fuel pedal.  Let’s not forget those injuries received from falls, kidney problems and skin infections from both sun exposure and sitting on vinyl for too long.  All of these issues happen to truckers after awhile, now there are plans afoot to take away our livelihood if we have these types of issues.

So, why do truck drivers get defensive so easily?  It might be because we are under attack from all sides, by people with special agendas, even by our companies, which are only to our detriment.  It might be because we are totally off balance due to our jobs, the ways we are treated and the economy.  It might be because by the time we have time to get online to try to relax, we get fed up quickly with finding the same sort of attitudes against us even there, where we are in control and can express ourselves freely.  It is a safety valve of sorts in some ways and in other ways, the only way we can feel we can fight back.

Unintended Consequences

Usually, when anything changes supposedly for the better, there are unintended consequences that show up, often times unexpectedly.  For instance, the US allows people to immigrate here from all over both legally and illegally.  Everyone knew that this would affect jobs for Americans, nobody thought about the return of and increase in communicable diseases like polio, TB and small pox, unintended consequence.  At least hopefully, this was unintended to be sure.

Some truckers, companies and safety groups griped about the hours of service that had worked for decades.  Therefore, the FMCSA got in on it, and after much argument, came up with a new set in 2004.  While most of the dire predictions of the new hours of service regulations did not happen, one did that few talk about.  The 34-hour restart segment of the new regulation allowed companies to start monitoring the amount of hometime a driver took; many companies started only allowing the driver to be home for that 34-hour period, unintended consequence.

The other unintended consequence from the new hours of service was a lack of parking.  Prior to the new regulations, a driver could split up his break time thereby utilizing available parking in a better fashion.  Since trucker’s days usually start in the mornings when warehouses and businesses open, usually between 4-7 am, it put truckers into the truck stops between 6-9 pm, a 14-hour day demanded by the new regulations.  This intensified the lack of parking issue found especially near large cities and both coastal areas; unintended consequences again.

Once again, the trucking industry is on the threshold of new hours of service regulations.  While most of the changes are minimal, there are a couple that will have unintended consequences, or maybe not so unintended.  The first is the restart provision that is changing to include two 1 am to 5 am periods.  Many are talking about how this will put more traffic into early morning rush hours, and it will, no matter how much the FMCSA thinks it will not.  What few have noticed is that with the 14-hour clock starting at 5 am on Monday, and will continue for those restarting drivers for a few days, parking at 7 pm is going to be nonexistent, not just hard to find, but nonexistent.

Another factor in the new restart demands will be that truckers, instead of taking the 34-hour restart, will start working their available hours like in the old days.  This will not increase safety; it will make drivers more mentally, if not physically, fatigued.  Is this an unintended consequence, probably not unintended.  If drivers  become more fatigued, where accident rates go up, the FMCSA will have no recourse but to further regulate drivers which seems to be their sole purpose.

Second is the 30-minute break that will have to be taken in 8 hours or whatever it is.  This is in response to the many drivers who told the FMCSA that they needed some flexibility in the working day to have lunch, take a shower or a nap, or wait for rush hour to cease.  Either the FMCSA did not listen very well or none of those drivers explained themselves well enough.  The mandatory 8-hour break is for 30 minutes and does not stop the clock.  This effectively cuts a driver’s workday to 13 ½ hours a day.  Is this an unintended consequence, again, most likely not unintended.  The safety advocacy groups have been pushing for a shorter workday for truckers, with this it is the first step.

Training regulations are next up with the FMCSA having listening sessions and asking for comments.  While training regulations have long needed strengthened, the unintended consequences may end up being a multitude.  Without the FMCSA changing what the schools do and the companies do together at the same time, it is very possible that the companies will shorten training time if the schools lengthen theirs.  A balanced approach is needed addressing both schools and companies in their training policies.

Another perceived unintended consequence with training regulations may be a loss, if one can call it that, of training schools that run on a small shoestring.  Already, some trucking school associations are citing greater expense in becoming accredited and/or certified.  If there are greater costs involved, then the student will have to absorb it paying more for tuition.  This may cause the unintended consequence of fewer people being able to fund truck driver school.  With this causing fewer drivers to enter the industry, the so-called driver shortage may increase allowing more foreign workers brought in to fill the seats.

Driver retention is a huge issue in the trucking industry with driver turnover running around 100%.  If a person learns more about the industry during truck driving school, will they stay with a company that is not on the up and up, most likely not for long.  This unintended consequence is no secret and is one of the reasons so many trucking schools do not teach more than how to pass the CDL tests.  The companies do not want the students to know too much so they can be indoctrinated into the company line, so the companies direct or influence the schools into not going beyond the basics.  Unintended or not, this consequence needs to occur so that the companies start treating their drivers in a better, more humane manner.

Be careful what you ask for is talking about the unintended consequences involved in changes a person wishes or works for.  There are always ramifications for someone in anything, some good, some bad, especially with the FMCSA involved.

Shame on You Driver!

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Odessa MO truck parking area

99% of the time, I do not go along with all the finger pointing done towards truck drivers; not for most accidents, being fatigued from not sleeping, or most of anything else one can think of.  However, in one area, I lay the blame directly on truckers; that is for damaging and trashing where we park.  I am not talking about along the traveled part of the highways for the most part, but the truck stop parking lots, rest area truck parking areas, on ramps and other areas commonly used by truckers for parking.

Recently, Werner Robbins Georgia banned trucks from parking over two hours on city lots, truckers stood up in force and the mayor and city council rethought their initial decision and rescinded the ban.  However, when the story first broke about the ban, a city council member from Werner Robbins cited that trash left behind by truckers was one of the reasons for the ban.  I can believe that.

Brookfield Missouri’s Walmart allowed overnight parking for truckers for years.  This was a good thing because there are no major truck parking areas from Cameron to Hannibal Missouri along Hwy 36, a matter of roughly 150 miles.  The parking problem is so bad along this stretch that when on and off ramps were built at a couple of exits about midway along; they were built with shoulders wide enough for a semi to fit nicely to park.  Within the last 6 months or so, Brookfield’s Walmart has put up signs saying ‘no overnight truck parking’.  Why; because someone knocked down a light pole with their truck and then took off.

It does not stop there, towns and cities all over the country are putting truck bans in place, we see the stories time after time.  Can you blame them?  I have seen the residual left from trucks, both trash and damage done to asphalt and light poles.  The damage done is sheer inconsiderate behavior or stupidity, someone not knowing not to turn too sharp in warm weather that causes a plowing effect on the asphalt, or how to turn wide enough to get around a pole.  The trash is just shear laziness or not caring.

Truck Parking AreaMO I-35 SB

Truck Parking Area
MO I-35 SB

The trash problem is not limited to public places either; it has traveled to terminals and drop yards.  The company I work for has instituted a $100 fine for anyone seen throwing trash on the ground at either our office/car/bobtail parking lot or our drop yard.  Both places have dumpsters provided by the company yet, our office staff had to go out and pick up 12 pee bottles from one place in the office lot, it was obvious that it was one driver who left them there.  At our drop yard, the poo bags got so bad that the trailer mechanic was starting to get worried about getting under a trailer.  While there are no facilities at our drop yard, the Quik Trip with truck parking is ¼ mile from the lot and again, there is a dumpster at the lot itself.

Being a 40+-year trucker/traveler I understand very well that sometimes Mother Nature calls and there is no place to stop and go, or one does not have time to find someplace.  Anyone who has driven any time at all should know this too and figure out a way to take care of it in the truck when necessary.  They also should know how to deal with the bottles or bags too without throwing them out the window.  Triple bag the poo bags if you have to use that way, put a spritz of Lysol or window cleaner in it and tie each bag up tight, this will keep the smell down until one can find a trash dumpster.  Bottles should be thrown away in the dumpster or trash can too…yes, I can hear you now, both might be distasteful to do, but it is better to have these things contained in a trash reciprocal rather than laying in the ditch.

Trash is easily gotten rid of, every truck stop/fuel stop/rest area has trash cans somewhere close by if not actual dumpsters.  Trash includes sweeping your trailer out onto the ground or throwing blown tires or pallets in the ditch or back of the lot.  Recently, I got nails in two tires due to someone sweeping their trailer out onto the staging area at a warehouse.  While trash is easily gotten rid of, the blown tires cost money for the tire shop to take away, I understand that, yet, one can pile them neatly by a dumpster; same with pallets.  The other scrap, dust, nails and dirt from the trailer should be put into bags or a can then put in the dumpster or trash can.

Kingdom City MOPetro

Kingdom City MO
Petro

There is no call for the trashing of where we have to work and/or park.  Not only does it create issues with our being allowed to park, but it also hurts our image.  So what, you might ask, why should you worry about what John Q Public thinks of you?  Who do you think is pushing for stronger regulations against us?  Who do you think is pushing these truck parking bans?  Who do you think makes up those safety advocate groups?  John Q Public is who.  If you have not figured that out yet, then shame on you driver for not only throwing your trash out on the side of the road and in truck parking lots, but also not paying attention to the industry.  I for one am tired of looking at your trash, so is John Q Public.

Ta Ta Mr. LaHood

By Sandy Long

Ray LaHood, current Secretary of Transportation, has announced he will step down from his post after serving for the last four years.  Most truckers are not sorry to see him go.

Under LaHood’s administration, we have seen the Mexican Border opened though fought strongly against by both truckers and many congressional representatives.  We have seen trucker’s rights taken away to use cell phones, so far only without headsets, but the writing is on the wall that the use of cell phones will soon end completely; this even though a study done financed by the DOT/FMCSA found no increased risk in hands free cell phone use.  Further efforts of Mr. LaHood to end all forms of distracted driving includes stopping truckers from changing cds, eating snacks while driving, or taking a drink of water.

We have also seen total discrimination put forth in the name of safety in the issue of BMI and the loss of ADA rights to protest unfair hiring/firing/testing using the BMI of drivers.  “Safety trumps the ADA” has been heard; though there are no valid facts about fatter drivers being less safe than skinny ones.

The issue of driver fatigue too has taken away a driver’s rights.  Under LaHood, the FMCSA developed the CSA program and put all log book violations under the heading of ‘driver fatigue’ even if the violation was miscounting the hours, putting the wrong date on the log or forgetting to sign the log.  This made all drivers look like they were always driving fatigued…worked for the DOT and FMCSA’s agendas though.

Because of the slanted statistics done through studies funded by the DOT/FMCSA under LaHood, EOBRs have become a given at some point in the near future even though their value beyond a management tool remains unfounded.  The promotion of the ‘driver cam’ by the DOT/FMSCA under LaHood will surely come to pass if things remain the same with LaHood’s successor.

Mr. LaHood states no plans in place for his future.  It will be interesting to see whom he consults for though.  It could be the manufacturers of EOBRs, C-pap machines, sleep study clinics, driver-monitoring cams, anti rollover devices or any number of other so-called technology to make the highways safer supposedly that he has allowed to be promoted under his watch.

Good luck to you Mr. LaHood, wish I could say thanks for the memories and the effects of your reign.

 

 

What is Going On?

The killing of 27 people is the latest in a long list of atrocities that people are doing against others.  We are hearing that it is because of taking God out of public usage or that it that guns are readily available; but is that really the causes?  I do not think so; the problem goes deeper and is more complex.

Our society has gotten more violent over the last decades.  This shows not only in the movies and TV programs we see now to how our government resorts to violence to solve political disputes overseas.  When I was a kid, you did not see cartoons where people were killing people or hurting them, you saw animals doing it, ie: wiley coyote, mighty mouse, heckle and jeckle.  Yes, Batman and other super heroes were around, but their foes were clearly bad guys. Our heroes back then were the guys who wore white hats; Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and others.  Today, our heroes are drug taking, dog beating athletes or music recorders who promote violence, not to drink milk.

Gang activity was left to the mafia for the most part when I was young, though there were some ethnic gangs in the big cities.  You never heard of gangs in small towns like in today’s world.

Our government has gone from diplomacy to buying friends and sending in bombs if another country disagrees with us too strongly.  While we used to be known as a good country willing to help others, now we are the international bully.

Kids in my generation might have guns at home to hunt with and had imitation guns to play cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers.  We were taught not to point a real gun at anyone.  Nowdays, though those toys are still available, many parents do not want their kids to have them, so kids are not learning about gun safety at home.

Our society has become such that the nuclear family is no more for the most part.  Spouses are disposable and having kids has become a way to obtain unconditional love for our teenagers.  Single parents, stretched to breaking points due to the high cost of living, no longer have time to teach kids the basics of societal living.  Furthermore, our society has become so dangerous that kids are not allowed to play outside, who is there to monitor them, mom and dad are working to try to afford houses and cars that they really do not need or can pay for.

Civility has gone out the window in today’s society.  If you do not agree with someone, you are stupid, ignorant, a liberal, radical, or just a jerk.  Flaming abounds on social networking sites as does pornographic photos and sayings where women are disrespected openly.  Even our politicians are not to be looked up too with safety; they are having affairs, taking bribes or promoting violence as a way to solve problems.  Strangely, people have become depersonalized to other people; they are an avatar on a website or just a line of text.

People with mental illnesses are given silver bullet pills and sent on their way do to budget cuts for mental health care.  People are not held to any sort of responsibility for their actions; oh poor Johnny, he had ADD so cannot control himself, give him a pill not give him a swat and make him mind.  When Johnny grows up, he is an out of control adult with some real mental health issues; no one cares until he picks up a gun and kills people.

Is it because God is not in the public any more or less than before?  Where are the parents and preachers who should be teaching kids at home and church the lessons about societal living found in the Bible or other religious works.  Are the preachers teaching love thy neighbor or kill those who do not believe the way they do.  Are parents so busy keeping up with the latest trends in goods that they cannot teach their kids to behave without calling in The Nanny then televising it as a reality show?

Finally, guns do not kill people people kill people.  Remove guns and other ways will be found to do carnage unless the underlying problem is solved.  The same day as the shootings in CT, in China, someone took a knife and stabbed 22 kids and one adult, no one died.  Pundits covering the CT shooting used this as a good thing to happen, because a gun was not used so, according to them, no one died; they could have.  Mcvey took down the Murry building in Oklahoma with fertilizer and diesel fuel, the 9/11 terrorists used planes and box cutters, the fire in Bengazi was started with a molitov cocktail it is thought.

If people want to kill other people, they will find a way.  What we need to do is correct the underlying problems to stop this type of thing from happening.  We need to start taking responsibility for our own actions and teach the youngsters we come in contact with to do the same.  We need to look at our kids and our family and friends objectively and watch for signs of possibility to do violence then intervene.  Furthermore, we need to force our government to start using diplomacy instead of bombs to correct political issues saving the bombs only to protect our own borders.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost children to violence…and to those poor souls who are so tormented that they take those precious lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Balderdash?

By Sandy Long

Two years ago, Steven Burks, a former trucker now a behavior economist at the University of Minnesota, decided to do a study on obese truckers to see if there was a correlation between obesity and truck crashes.  Working with Schneider International, Burk chose 744 rookie drivers with two years or less experience to participate in the study.  Using BMI as a baseline, those with a BMI higher than 25 were considered overweight, while those with a BMI greater than 30 were considered obese.  Burk then checked crash statistics on this set of drivers.

From TruckingInfo.com. “During their first two years on the road, drivers with a BMI higher than 35 (“severely obese”) were 43% to 55% more likely to crash than were drivers with a normal BMI, the team reports in the November issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention.”

When I first glanced at this article, I immediately went up in arms due to the first paragraph.  “That there’s a direct connection between a truck driver’s crash risk and his or her body mass index.  Obese truckers, during their first two years on the road, are 43% to 55% more likely to be involved in a crash when compared against those truckers with a normal BMI.”  “Balderdash,” I thought.

After sleeping on it, and rereading the article, there might be just a glimmer of truth in this study, though I still think it is propaganda to further the agendas of both the FMCSA and the medical device manufacturers.  I have seen drivers so obese, that they cannot fit behind the wheel without tucking their bellies down below the steering wheel by hand and cannot turn the wheel easily.  Now these sizes of drivers might be unsafe, but other than that, no, I do not agree with the findings.

The study cites that “some ideas behind the increased risk may include sleep apnea, limited agility, or fatigue associated with obesity.”  Sleep apnea affects many non-obese people and there are no studies or facts at all that correlate sleep apnea with truck crashes, just suppositions.  It takes little agility to drive a truck down the road safely other than being able to get one’s feet to the pedals and use the steering wheel freely.  While it is true that some diseases associated with obesity such as diabetes or thyroid issues may cause fatigue in obese people, I know of no studies saying that obesity alone causes fatigue.

So what is the deal here?  While Schneider has one of the most comprehensive training programs in the industry, the drivers studied were still rookies with two years or less behind the wheel.  Though the FMCSA has blinders on in regards to the correlation between student or rookie drivers and crashes, we drivers can attest to the fact that these training companies are usually the ones in the ditch or in trouble somehow.

This makes me wonder, with the discrimination shown to obese people, if the severely obese students did not get the quality of training the other drivers did; I would hate to think so.  Trucking has always attracted people who did not fit into other professions, in the last decade or so, many obese people have entered the industry.  Some have been openly discriminated against to the point that they have filed suit against companies and won.  http://www.slaterross.com/McDuffy.htm

In my opinion, I think that the elephant in the room in this regard is not how big the elephant is, but in how well they were trained.  This study would have much more merit if experienced drivers, five years or more, had been studied instead of rookies.  That would have taken out the possibility of slanting the statistics to make the point in the agenda by using inexperienced drivers.  Since I have well over 4 million miles to my credit with no accidents, and have been obese to some extent or another for all of them, I think that this study for the most part is total balderdash; and I am sticking to that.

 

 

Training Standards

By Sandy Long

There are regulations coming down the pike to rectify driver error, EOBRs and anti-rollover devices.  These regulations will cost billions of dollars for the trucking industry along with the cost of the regulatory process the taxpayer will pay.  Will these devices do anything to improve safety, not really.  The problem is not lack of technology; it is lack of good solid training and poor company attitudes.

The training required for entry level drivers is minimal, 148 hours of behind the wheel.  This is what the FMCSA stated in their proposed rulemaking 12/2007.

“In 1986, the motor carrier, truck driver training school, and insurance industries created the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) to certify high-quality training programs offered by training institutions. The PTDI used the truck driver Model Curriculum as the basis for its certification criteria. On January 24, 1999, the PTDI approved revisions to the curriculum and published three separate standards:

“Skill Standards for Entry-Level Tractor-Trailer Drivers;”

“Curriculum Standard Guidelines for Entry-Level Tractor-Trailer Driver Courses”; and

“Certification Standards and Requirements for Entry-Level Tractor-Trailer Driver Courses.”

As of December 2006, PTDI-certified courses are offered at 61 schools in 28 States and Canada, according to PTDI’s Web site (http://www.ptdi.org ).  PTDI estimates that approximately 10,000 students graduate from its certified courses annually.”

“The CDL standards require tests for knowledge and skills, but neither the CMVSA nor the FMCSRs requires driver training.  The private sector, with guidance from FMCSA, has attempted to promote effective training.  Formal, supervised training is available from private truck driver training schools, public institutions, and in-house motor carrier programs.  Many drivers take some sort of private-sector training at their own expense.  These courses vary in quality. Some provide only enough training to pass the skills test. (italics mine)  Generally, however, with or without formal training, drivers individually prepare for the CDL test by studying such areas as vehicle inspection procedures, off-road vehicle maneuvers, and operating a CMV in traffic.”

This proposed rulemaking was dropped due to no return on investment decisions for the companies and the thought that it was unnecessary to strengthen training regulations, it is obvious to anyone who works with new and prospective drivers that the FMCSA was wrong in their thinking.

Recently, Anne Ferro, director of the FMCSA stated that there was no indication that training companies had any more accidents than non-training companies did.  I would like to invite Ms Ferro to come out and ride with me for a week to see just how wrong she is.

The incidents, accidents and just plain getting into trouble that a driver sees training company drivers involved in during a week is tremendous.  Add to that the trainers that are having students back into tight places while the trainer is 100 yards away talking on their cell phones or playing games.  Then there is the dangerous behavior exhibited by these same company’s drivers; speeding through construction zones, truck stops and warehouse parking lots.

There are no real training standards in my opinion nor are there training standards or requirements for a driver to become a trainer.  Some companies allow a driver to become a trainer right after they leave their own trainer, others will allow a driver to become a trainer after the driver gets as little as three months experience.  Newbees training newbees is not good for them or the public.

A real horror that is allowed under the current regulations is that of the 24 hour guaranteed Cdl school.  There is one close to where I live and I see them ‘teaching’ often.  They use a class 7 single axle tractor and a 20-foot flatbed for both instruction and testing at the testing facility down the road.  Sure enough, a cdl is obtained, but can you imagine the quality of the driver?

Instead of requiring companies to install technology to fill the training gap found in drivers, the FMCSA would be better off setting standards to properly train the new drivers coming into the industry.  This would not only be cheaper for all involved, but also improve safety to a great degree.