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.