Looking Back at a Bad Couple of Weeks…and the lessons learned

By Sandy Long (written in 2010)

The last couple of weeks have been strange to say the least…too much stuff going on…this happens with truckers though; bad things happen at home and we are hundreds of miles away scrambling trying to take care of whatever it is on the phone.

When you end up with several bad things going on at the same time or within the same couple of weeks; you end up feeling like you are juggling swords while doing that Russian dance….something ends up giving and you can become distracted; then all the swords fall and you end up on your arse.

I am going to share with you what has been going on this summer in my life…not for sympathy, but to show you newbees and wannabees the really hard part of trucking…juggling home and the road, and how a trucker can end up messin’ up.

I am single and live in a small truck friendly town.  My house that I am buying has another little house on the property…sounds fancy, it is not.  My 87 year old mom lives in the little house and I assist her when she needs it.  She is still fairly active and can take care of most of her business, but is starting to get a little fuzzy in her thoughts…not remembering everything precisely.

Last year, I bought the adjoining lot next to mine.  There is an old house on it and a garage.  This spring, my mom started yelling at kids cutting the corner across that property.  In April or May someone started stealing little stuff from my place; a wind chime, a milk crate, a rose trellis and other little stuff.  About 6 weeks ago, someone vandalized the garage…broke in and spray painted everything in it.  This week, someone took off the top to the old oil tank fill pipe on my house…tank is empty in basement, but still.  I am scared for my house now while I am on the road.

Some of you might know that mom was in a wreck and her car was totaled…not her fault, woman ran a stop sign and hit her.  So I have been dealing with insurance agents and adjustors.

Now add in that my car broke down, my computer died, we are running hard right now…3000-3500 miles in 5 days, my dog has been sick, and I have workmen in tearing down the old house on the property I bought…along with the normal things that we all deal with and to say that I am a little distracted is an understatement.  It is starting to show too, my head is not in the game of trucking right now.

Last week, I overslept and missed a pick up appointment by 30 minutes…it was ok, I still got loaded, but being late for a pick up or delivery unless for weather or break down is such a bad thing in my mind and such a rare occurrence for me, that I am still beating myself up for it…my boss wasn’t even mad, but surprised that it happened, it just isn’t like me to do that.

Sunday, I got talking on the phone to my brother’s widow who started talking a lot about him…got me distracted as I was leaving the truck stop after making a quick pit stop and I went west instead of east on the interstate…been in that truck stop a million times too.

Monday, I got lost twice by missing highways I wanted to turn on…now this happens to everyone, but usually not twice in the same day.

The last two weeks, I have been preplanning my trips badly making some bad fueling, for logbook purposes, decisions and stopping too soon to break out making me have to run to make a delivery instead of being there waiting…this causes log book problems as it eats up hours for the day.

This all culminated Thursday night when I was fueling while a relay driver waited on me to change out loads.  I was tired, rushed and stressed from trying to explain all the information from the insurance people to mom all day and from having to speak to the local police here at home about what has been going on here.  The nozzle on the driver side clicked off.  I went to the passenger side and lifted the nozzle a little bit to see if it was stopped yet…sometimes the lift thingy doesn’t click down when the fuel hits the nozzle in the tank.

The nozzle somehow twisted under the strap that I have there to hold it in the tank securely and I got hit in the face with a huge blast of diesel fuel.  Luckily, I wear glasses so it missed my eyes, but the rest of my face and hair got it.

Of course, the first thing I did was to look around to see if anyone had seen what had happened, you don’t want anyone to notice when you do dumb crap ya know.  Wiped off my face best I could and finished fueling, got my receipt and tried with baby wipes to clean myself off; changed trailers with the other driver then got a shower.

I took 10 minutes and looked at why this stupid thing had happened…it was because I was distracted by other things than normal; I had too many swords in the air and they were coming tumbling down causing me to not pay enough attention to any one thing, especially my job….I was distracted.

The little talk I had with myself resulted in yesterday calling some friends to ask for ideas on how to deal with the messing with my house problem…one of them came up with the perfect solution and I will be implementing that in the next couple of weeks.  Mom got her money from the insurance company yesterday for her car and now only has to deal with that woman’s insurance company for doctor’s check ups…so that is pretty much taken care of.  I also called my younger brothers and asked them to step in to help me work with mom, they do not live here, but they can help by talking to her on the phone.

I do not have much planned for today and will take a nap later on…I went to bed early last night for me at least and didn’t set the alarm…got a full 8 hours in my own bed.  Of course, only being home today and tonight, I have the usual stuff to do when home, but am not going to do a lot else…it is time to rest.

Someone, someplace else, asked me why I thought trucking was a lifestyle and not just a job…the above is one reason.  Truckers have to learn to deal with life in unique ways because we are not home to take care of things.  We have to spread ourselves thinly at times and find creative ways to attend to problems both on the road and at home…especially when we are not married/partnered up or have family who lives near to assist us.

Cars don’t break down for us when we have time to deal with it. People vandalize our home because of some BS reason when we are gone, because we are gone and they can without being caught. Parents get elderly and need our help when we don’t have the time or energy to do so; but we still have to help; and sometimes life at home and on the road combine to make us drop the swords we juggle while dancing that Russian dance and we fall on our arses making stupid mistakes. Sometimes it takes a face full of diesel fuel to make us wake up to see we are overwhelmed and distracted.  It is all part of being a truck driver.

 

Advertisements

Fatigue

by Sandy Long

We are hearing more and more about driver fatigue as being epidemic in the trucking industry.  Sleep apnea is the disease de jour that is being blamed for our so-called fatigue and there is a current push to make more regulations addressing our health due to fatigue beyond the HOS.  This even though fatigue is not listed as causing accidents except in very rare cases.  Fatigue has many causes.

MedlinePlus Medical Dictionary defines fatigue as; “Fatigue is different from drowsiness. In general, drowsiness is feeling the need to sleep, while fatigue is a lack of energy and motivation. Drowsiness and apathy (a feeling of indifference or not caring about what happens) can be symptoms of fatigue.  Fatigue can be a normal and important response to physical exertion, emotional stress, boredom, or lack of sleep. However, it can also be a nonspecific sign of a more serious psychological or physical disorder.”

“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.” Dale Carnegie (1888-1955).

Truck drivers are faced with great worry due to the dangerousness of our jobs, stress added from family, shippers, receivers, and traffic.  We are commonly frustrated by traffic jams, road construction, and unreasonable appointment times and hold ups due to weather.  We often resent not only all of the above fatigue causers, but also dispatchers and brokers, waiting unpaid at docks or for loads and because we are not home when we want to be.  Is it any wonder we are fatigued?

“Men weary as much of not doing the things they want to do as of doing the things they do not want to do.”  Eric Hoffer (1902-1983).

We might get fatigued from doing things we enjoy.  We all know the feeling of fatigue that we feel after a long day enjoying our favorite hobbies, sports or exercise.   We might be fatigued after these things, but it is a happy, contented fatigue.  On the other hand, we all also know the fatigue that we feel in doing our job.  Having to sit and wait for a call on the cb radio for a door assignment for hours and not being able to take a nap or leave the truck even to use the facilities if they are even provided where we are can lead to major fatigue.  Then the fatigue leaves a bad taste and we exhibit irritability or a ‘don’t give a dern’ attitude.

People in any job or situation can experience fatigue, not only truckers.  How often have you taken a trip with your family where the kids are cranky, the spouse/partner left something at the house and the traffic is heavy.  When you arrive where you are going, you are no longer fatigued if everyone calms down.  Those of you who are not drivers most likely experience fatigue after a long day at the office only to find renewed energy when you walk out the door. It is the same with truckers, after we get away from that slow shipper or out of rush hour traffic, we find our second wind and energy….usually.

Some diseases can cause fatigue.  Medline Medical Dictionary cites the following as causing fatigue:  There are many possible physical and psychological causes of fatigue. Some of the more common are:

An allergy that leads to hay fever or asthma

Anemia (including iron deficiency anemia)

Depression or grief

Persistent pain

Sleep disorders such as ongoing insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, or narcolepsy

Underactive thyroid or overactive thyroid

Use of alcohol or illegal drugs like cocaine, especially with regular use

Fatigue can also accompany the following illnesses:

Addison’s disease

Anorexia or other eating disorders

Arthritis, including juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

Autoimmune diseases such as lupus

Cancer

Chronic liver or kidney disease

Congestive heart failure

Diabetes

Infection, especially one that takes a long time to recover from or treat such as

bacterial endocarditis (infection of the heart muscle or valves), parasitic infections, AIDS, tuberculosis, and mononucleosis

Malnutrition

Certain medications may also cause drowsiness or fatigue, including antihistamines for allergies, blood pressure medicines, sleeping pills, steroids, and diuretics.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition that starts with flu-like symptoms and lasts for 6 months or more. All other possible causes of fatigue are eliminated before this diagnosis is made. Little relieves CFS, including rest.

If you are experiencing fatigue without knowing why, check with your doctor and get it checked out.  It may just be dealing with our day-to-day work situations, or it may be something that can be corrected.  Either way, fatigue is a big issue now in trucking.

Ya’ll be safe!

 

 

 

Driver Retention, EOBRs and Freedom to be a Truck Driver

By Sandy Long

It has long been my contention that all of the micromanagement tools currently under consideration by the FMCSA and supported by the ATA are not about safety, but about driver retention and lack of training.  EOBRs lead that list, but the list also includes anti-rollover devices, directed at driver video cams, proximity detectors and electronic logs.

Turnover rates at the mega training companies run 200% for drivers; new drivers become fed up with the micromanagement techniques of those types of companies and have historically left after getting a year or two of experience.  The rookie driver then looks for companies where the trucks can run the speed limit; they receive more personal, respectful treatment and where they do not have to be told what to do every minute of their day.

In 2008, I wrote an article called ‘Freedom of the Road’ that was published by Layover.com initially and since then in the seven international trucking websites I write for.  Recently, I republished the article on my blog and on my facebook page.  Freedom of the Road talks about just that, the differing concepts of freedom that has long been associated with being  a truck driver and how it has changed over the years.  Perhaps though, after reading the responses on Facebook, I was wrong in my thoughts that the concept had changed so much over the years.  Follows is just one of those responses.

“I started driving in 2003 with a big company and a qualcomm that did everything except tell me when, where and how to use the toilet.  After about 2 years of that, and a year or so running local, I ended up with a small company that gave its drivers the freedom you’re talking about…”here’s when/where you pick, here’s when/where you drop, now figure out the rest and do your job” and I LOVED IT.  It was like I finally got to use my brain for something other than a space filler, and from that point on nothing could have gotten me back to a big company. I quit OTR about 3 yrs ago but Hubby still drives and he was lucky enough to find another company where we currently live, that more or less does the same thing.  He has the same idea of what freedom of the road means.”

From what this lady driver said, “It was like I finally got to use my brain for something other than a space filler, and from that point on nothing could have gotten me back to a big companymy contention that EOBRs and the other micromanagement tools are about driver retention is supported.  Why go back to a company where you are treated like a brain dead, meat in the seat driver when you can drive with some freedom to glory in being a respected truck driver.

If a company wants to retain drivers, they need to talk to those drivers who leave and find out exactly why they left.  Most assuredly would state that it was about being micromanaged and not being treated with the respect a truck driver is due.  None of the technology in the world can provide respect or freedom or pride in doing a job well and those concepts are what keep truckers trucking; that can only come from the head of the company down.

The final paragraph in Freedom of the Road says it all, “Guard your concept of freedom of the road; revel in it, enjoy it, love it, never let it go.  It is who you are and what you do.  It is the foundation of your career as a driver and a person; it is why you drive truck.”  That is why a driver leaves a company, to find their concept of freedom of the road and technology will not retain them.

Freedom of the Road

For over 30 years, I have heard drivers speak of the freedom of the road and drivers likened to the old time cowboy.  Asking one of those drivers to tell me what he/she was talking about, I would hear, “it is about working in the wide open spaces” or “I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder.”  I didn’t think too much about it, but never fully understood what they meant.

In 2008, while working out my two-week notice, I got talking to a driver for a company I was interested in.  When he asked me why I was leaving the company I was with, I told him I didn’t like being micromanaged.  I was an experienced driver and didn’t need dispatch holding my hand, and I just wanted to be told where to pick up the load, where and when to deliver it, and then be left alone to do my job.  He got a phone call and I had an epiphany, I finally understood.  The concept of freedom of the road means different things to different people depending on when they started trucking.

“Liberty is not merely a privilege to be conferred; it is a habit to be acquired.”
– David Lloyd George

To a driver who started in the industry in the last 15 years or so, freedom of the road means living with satellite communications, no daily phone call to dispatch and even on board computers that tell the driver when he/she needs to stop for the day.  The computer monitors their speed, their location, gives them their dispatch, routes them and tells them where to fuel and how many gallons to put on.  To these drivers, freedom of the road is freedom from having to really think about the run or do much more than get the load picked up and delivered safely and on time.

Old hand drivers have a very different concept of freedom of the road, and yes, some like me don’t really understand that freedom until we lose it.   Our freedom of the road consisted of being told where to pick up a load, where to take it and what time to be there, and then left alone other than a daily check call to dispatch and perhaps the broker.  We were treated like professionals who knew how to route ourselves, figure out for ourselves where to stop to fuel within the company policies, when we needed to stop to take a nap, and we got the job done without being constantly monitored.

Understanding the differences between the different concepts of freedom of the road helped me to understand why old time truckers have been likened to the old time cowboy.  The old time cowboy was told by his boss to go check fence or round up cattle, and then he went out and did it without being checked on to see if he actually did the job.  The cowboy’s boss just knew he would do the job and do it well; it was a point of cowboy honor.  They didn’t have to be monitored constantly just like truckers didn’t used to be monitored; it was a point of trucker‘s honor.

Is there one freedom of the road concept better than the other concept?  Perhaps not, but it depends on your perspective.  To me, with my more liberal concept of freedom of the road, trying to adapt into a company who monitors their drivers constantly makes me feel smothered and off balance, while to a newer driver they would feel protected and free.

“When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw a breath of self-respect.” –

Adlai Stevenson

Freedom of the road is how one perceives one’s self and how one looks at life.  To me, freedom of the road is how I do my job to the best of my ability without total supervision, and in that lays my self-respect and my downfall.  With the epiphany came the realization that I do not fit easily into the new concept of freedom of the road the newer drivers have and the companies now define.  In trying to do so, I lost my inner light where freedom lives, my self-respect and my joy in trucking became dim.

Guard your concept of freedom of the road; revel in it, enjoy it, love it, never let it go.  It is who you are and what you do.  It is the foundation of your career as a driver and a person; it is why you drive truck.

“Free people, remember this maxim: We may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.”
– Jean Jacques Rousseau

Ya’ll be safe out there!

FMCSA Goobledygook

By Sandy Long

The definition of Gobbledegook is: Gobbledygook or gobbledegook (sometimes gobbledegoo) is any text containing jargon or especially convoluted English that results in it being excessively hard to understand or even incomprehensible. “Bureaucratese” is one form of gobbledygook.”  In doing some research at the FMCSA website, I found a good example of ‘goobledygook’ in the postponed proposed rule making for mandatory EOBRS.  https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/02/01/2011-2093/electronic-on-board-recorders-and-hours-of-service-supporting-documents#p-212

“The agency recognizes that using share of crashes that are fatigue-coded could have two possible problems: Accident inspectors may be more likely to code crashes as fatigue-related if the driver has been on the road longer.”

Well then, if a driver has been driving nine hours and is involved in a wreck, he/she may be cited as being fatigued whether they are or are not actually fatigued.  Theoretically, if a driver has only been driving one hour, they cannot be fatigued?  Maybe that is why there are so many ‘fatigued’ related crashes then, because we drive for over an hour.

“ Also, the share of crashes that are coded as fatigue-related may conceivably increase simply because the share of crashes caused by other factors goes down. There could be no increase in the risk of a fatigue-related crash (the central question), but an increase in the share of fatigue-related crashes.”

The statistics may, because of using the time of driving criteria and a lessening of other causes of crashes, falsely report the incidence of fatigue related crashes thereby showing an increase of fatigue related crashes.   So we are in a no win situation then as far as more and more regulations about fatigue coming along?  Talk about making one’s job a necessity as more people are put on at the FMCSA et al and researchers hired to find out what else can be done to stop fatigued drivers, it is self perpetuating!

“The Agency has little evidence that either of these factors is a significant problem. Nonetheless, while the data are not as complete as FMCSA would like them to be, the Agency aimed to limit, to the extent possible, the likelihood that drivers will be fatigued, either when they come on duty or during or at the end of a working period. Safety benefits are based on this reduction in fatigue and an associated reduction in fatigue-coded crashes.”

The FMCSA has little basis in fact for many of the regulations it proposes and puts into effect, this is another one.  There is no way to determine what a driver’s metabolism is and how that it may affect his/her fatigue levels even after a full night’s sleep.  There are also too many causes of fatigue in humans to be able to even “…limit, to the extent possible…” the likelihood of any driver, whether of car or truck, being fatigued no matter how long they have been driving.  Stress, how heavy of a meal was recently eaten; length of time sitting at a dock, family issues, depression, or even a dark and dreary day can all lead to fatigue, not to mention the hypnotic effect of white lines and windshield wipers.

EOBRs are not going to eliminate in any way, shape, or form, driver fatigue if that in itself is a real issue in crashes or just a perception by FMCSA or special interest groups from a few select accidents where a driver fell asleep.  You cannot regulate the human body outside of a hospital with any sort of machine or electronic device.  That is what we are talking about when we talk about fatigue, how each individual’s body reacts to certain conditions beyond lack of sleep.  It is all just more goobledygook to further agendas hidden behind the fatigue issue.

 

Throwing Parts at It

By Sandy Long

Every truck driver and car owner understands the term “throwing parts” at a problem; when a mechanic cannot figure out what is wrong with a vehicle large or small, they just say, “might be this, I will replace it.”  Nevertheless, it does not fix the problem, only the mechanic or shop benefits.  We are seeing that attitude in trucking.

By now, the whole world knows of the efforts of the FMCSA and special interest groups to bring down the accident rates involving trucks to a zero level; this effort is featured in national news reports.  Because of the political power of groups such as Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) FMCSA has focused on fatigue as being the major cause of accidents though statistics do not support this factor.  To fight this so-called fatigue factor, supposedly found in all truckers, FMCSA is literally throwing parts at driver’s fatigue without addressing the real issues behind most accidents.  Technological developers and device manufacturers who stand to make a financial killing off the ‘fatigue’ regulations are supplying the parts.

The technological parts are widespread.  Recently, in a discussion with a customer service engineer of a major truck manufacturer, he was touting the benefits of a device that will slow or stop a truck if it got to close to another vehicle ahead of it in case the driver falls asleep.  When I showed little appreciation for the device, he was surprised that I was not gung ho on it.  “But,” he said, “I thought you were all about safety.”  This is a common response of people due to propaganda from the special interest groups when someone does not jump on their bandwagon.

Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs) are being pushed to remove the ‘human’ factor from the hours of service equation along with being able to show what a truck driver was doing at the exact point of an accident ie, hard braking, speed, etc.  The plain EOBR system, without electronic logs, are already available thru the truck’s engine computer system in a slightly less sophisticated manner with hard braking incidents being recorded and can be set up to record speed.  The e-logs were not in place in the industry a month before both drivers and dispatchers figured out ways to get around them.  That old ‘human’ factor thing again as dispatchers can adjust a driver’s hours from the terminal if they want to and drivers can go off duty and keep driving though they take a chance in being caught.

The latest type of technological device touted is the anti roll-over system to alert the driver if the trailer is about to tip over.  This system is attached to the back of the truck and records deviation of the trailer from level.  If the trailer deviates past a certain point, an alarm goes off, supposedly to ‘wake’ up the driver to the problem.

Health enters in with sleep apnea at the forefront.  The dollar signs are in everyone’s eyes as even carriers jump on the bandwagon and open sleep clinics in their terminals and offer ‘lease purchase’ of cpap machines to drivers.  If a driver is overweight, Katey bar the door, because he/she is going to be sleep tested without recourse if they want to continue to drive.  The poor overweight driver is out several thousand dollars when it is over and the medical device manufacturers and the sleep study clinics keep the weight off running to the bank.

As far as the real causes of fatigue in truck drivers, no one wants to find the real problems involved.  Long delays at shippers and receivers, inadequate parking, anti-idling laws, being pushed beyond one’s limits by dispatchers and brokers who cannot/will not reschedule appointments to fit the driver’s schedule, maximize your hours attitudes by companies, lack of adequate hometime and a hundred other factors actually affect whether a driver gets fatigued or not.  Both and the government companies can easily solve most of these issues yet the issues are ignored or downplayed.

The real causes of most accidents are simple, going too fast for conditions and lack of good training for the entry-level drivers; the first could be solved by the last.  Is the FMCSA really looking at training regulations being strengthened?  No, they are not, citing that there is no data showing that entry-level drivers are less safe than experienced ones.

Wait though, could it be that there is not enough money to be made by making trucking schools and/or carriers properly train their newest drivers?  No benefit to manufacturers and inventors, just more time from the carrier to ensure that their drivers can do the job properly and safely is the obvious reason, costing them a little more money on the training end.

So, OK, let’s just throw some more parts at the problem, it won’t fix the problem at all, but it sure looks good on the bottom line.