Friday, January 20, 2017

‘Death by a thousand cuts?’

Countless words have been written or spoken about the electronic logging device mandate and if this tracking technology – due to be in effect in December – should have been a choice. This jack-booted rule has been grabbing headlines, driving industry talk and aggravating drivers for several years. And it’s one that’s been in the legal cross-hairs of OOIDA for as long.

OOIDA won a round in court to stop it, but in a second battle, a federal court in Chicago decided it didn’t see the wrong in allowing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to force it on everyone. OOIDA requested for a rehearing but was denied. It seems to me it was just easier for the court to defer to the government agency rather listen to the needs and rights of the people.

It just doesn’t make sense that a federal court would agree that electronic logging devices be forced on all trucks. A simple solution to the controversy is that ELDs need to be voluntary, not a fist-smashing, no-exception decree. But that wasn’t considered here.

OOIDA is now planning to take the ELD case further – which is, of course, to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider hearing it. Because buried in the thousands of words is one simple one that makes the Association go on. That word is mandate. Nothing here justified a mandate. The minute ELDs become a rigid way of life for three million commercial truckers, the industry is headed down an irreversible and completely unbending path that runs afoul of the Constitution.

This suddenly becomes so much more than ELDs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

(VIDEO) Trucknado

I started my career analyzing and reporting on natural disasters several years ago. When I arrived at Land Line, I was excited to explore opportunities to use that knowledge in relation to the trucking industry. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.

In last year’s August/September issue of Land Line Magazine, I wrote a story about truckers driving through the hellish scenes of a wildfire. On the other end of the spectrum, I pay attention to winter storms and the chain laws associated with them.

Last June, Associate Editor Greg Grisolano and I wrote a cover story exploring the options (or lack thereof) truckers have when coming face-to-face with a tornado. Some officials actually told me it was very unlikely to happen. Well, tell that to this guy:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Identifying Canada’s worst bottlenecks

Canadian motorists and professional truckers spend a collective 11.5 million hours per year stuck in the country’s 20 worst bottlenecks and burn up nearly 6 million gallons of fuel, according to a new study by the Canadian Automobile Association, their version of AAA.

The study analyzed speed and volume data on urban highways and roads to identify the worst bottlenecks, which CAA claims are “the single biggest delay for motorists, outpacing traffic crashes, bad weather and construction delays.” The study’s authors hope it will be used by lawmakers at the federal, provincial and municipal level to target areas for infrastructure investment and environmental policy.

The study defines a bottleneck as a stretch of highway that is “routinely and consistently congested throughout the course of a weekday” as opposed to stretches that are congested only at limited times of the day or the week. The study compared actual average hourly speeds to a baseline speed on each segment for each hour of the day.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Watch CHP escort a jackknifed FedEx tractor down a snowy hill

It’s a nightmare scenario for a truck driver – jackknifing at the top of the grade on a snow-covered mountain road.

This played out for one unfortunate FedEx driver at 8:30 a.m. yesterday on Interstate 80, just above Floriston, Calif. Faced with an extended shutdown of the interstate to wait for a tow truck, the California Highway Patrol instead made the bold decision to escort the tractor down the slope, and into a turnout near Floriston.

The CHP office in Truckee has a video of the truck, which still had engine power. Watching it wind its way down the hillside is the sort of thing that will make even a seasoned driver’s blood run cold. The good news is the maneuver was successful and the highway reopened to traffic within an hour, according to the CHP office’s Facebook post.



In the words of one CHP officer at the end of the video: “I cannot believe that worked.”

Tell us what you think, drivers. Any critiques on this technique? Ever have anything similar happen? What did you do?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New gadgets move us closer to a world of ‘RoboTruckers’

Gadgets and other technological devices can be fun, useful and make our lives easier.

Having access to GPS can save time and reduce stress when driving for the first time in an unfamiliar area. Other smartphone applications can allow truck drivers to stay better connected to family and friends during another lonely night parked at a truck stop.

But where do you draw the line to decide whether or not a gadget is helpful or a hindrance? When do we reach the point that there are too many contraptions in the truck, and when do those gadgets begin to deter a responsible and experienced truck driver from doing his or her job in a safe manner?

It seems to me that we may very well have reached that point.

Mercedes recently announced it’s working on a vest for professional drivers that would monitor their heart rate and other vital signs. The idea is that the vest would know if the driver was on the brink of a heart attack and would stop the truck automatically.

Obviously, there are a ton of questions here. Do we really trust the vest to be that accurate? What if a driver has an irregular heart beat but isn’t in immediate danger? What if the truck is in the middle of a steep climb in the mountains? What if the truck is going through a busy intersection?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I didn’t get health insurance in 2016. Will I have to pay a penalty?

Pending any potential repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, the law at this time still requires most Americans to have some form of qualified health care coverage. Absent such coverage, the law levies tax penalties against those who do not have employer-provided health insurance and who elect not to enroll in a plan offered through a state, federal or private insurance exchange.

But there are several key exemptions people may be eligible for that will allow you to waive the penalties come tax time. The website HealthCare.gov has a handy primer on what those exemptions are, how to apply and what happens after. Those exemptions are based on a number of circumstances, including certain hardships, some life events, financial status, and even membership in certain groups. Click here for various exemption forms from HealthCare.gov.

If you were homeless, if you faced eviction or foreclosure, filed for bankruptcy, or even had medical expenses you couldn’t pay, you may be eligible for a hardship exemption under the law. Other hardship exemption categories include the following: if you experienced domestic violence; if you were the victim of a flood, fire or other natural or human-caused disaster that substantially damaged your property; or if you experienced the death of a close family member. You may even be able to claim an exemption if you had an unexpected increase in expenses due to caring for an ill, disabled or aging family member.

The HealthCare.Gov website lists a number of exemptions as well as the forms needed for you to apply for one.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sharing the road could get dicey

Things could get dicey when human drivers start mixing with self-driving vehicles, at least according to a report from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

“During the transition period when conventional and self-driving vehicles would share the road,” the report says, “safety might actually worsen, at least for the conventional vehicles.”

That’s not what I expected to read.

Written by researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, the report is dated January 2015. I found it on a Research Institute web site under the heading “Recent Publications.”  

2015? Recent?

I called the university for clarification. Turns out the website isn’t updated as often as it should be.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

OOIDA by the numbers

Like anyone else, truckers have their own, individual opinions and can certainly speak up for themselves. But when it comes to getting significant changes made that affect their rights, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has ensured a strident, unified and collective voice since 1973.
 
Having grown from just a handful of truckers 44 years ago, the Association steadily sustains a robust membership. In 2017, we begin with 158,712 active members. As far as membership, Texas is number one with 17,313, followed by Florida with 9,927 and Georgia with 8,736.

On Capitol Hill and at statehouses all over the nation, the Association continues to represent members in a number of ways on critical trucking issues. OOIDA’s national headquarters in Grain Valley, Mo., has 333 employees. The Association also maintains a fully staffed permanent office in Washington, D.C., for our government affairs people and for our director of security operations.

In 2016, OOIDA filed 29 official comments on rulemakings and info requests in the works at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and an alphabet soup of other agencies like AASHTO, NHTSA, NIOSH, EPA and FHWA. That’s one fully researched statement of position every other week.

And I think it’s safe to say we had an active year of members filing comments, especially on speed limiters and sleep apnea. We also had a Call to Action for Canadian members on electronic logging devices and got a great response.