Friday, April 24, 2015

‘Mis-steak’: Trooper’s email prompts probe into incentivized enforcement

“Inspect the most commercial trucks. Win a steak dinner.”

That sums up a recent report in The Southern Illinoisan, a newspaper based in Carbondale, Ill., about an Illinois State Patrol officer’s scheme to help encourage his patrol division to perform commercial motor vehicle inspections.

The paper was alerted to the contest when an Illinois state trooper accidently distributed the email announcing the winners to a list of media contacts. The trooper, Officer Greg Miller, sent out a second email shortly thereafter asking media to “disregard” the email (which for journalists is akin to waving a hunk of, well, steak in front of the nose of a hungry bear).

Reporter Molly Parker was gracious enough to share with us the emails The Southern Illinoisan received on April 16 from Miller. Here’s the initial email:

“March MCS total per squad

Squad A 65 (winner)

Squad B 42

Squad C 54

Squad D 40

I know this contest was a little painful for some of you to participate in since not everyone likes doing trucks. I want to thank everyone who put forth an effort to participate and help with your squad totals. Congratulations to Squad A for winning the steak dinner. There will be more contests throughout the year covering different activity categories.”

Three minutes later, according to the time stamps on the emails, Miller sent out a one-sentence plea asking media to “disregard” the previous email.

Those of you who regularly read or get updates from Land Line already know we’ve been covering bills in several statehouses that would explicitly prohibit law enforcement from instituting so-called “quotas” on enforcement activity.

As it turns out, Illinois already has such legislation on the books, according to State Police Sgt. Mike Link, which prohibits the police force from requiring “a specific number of citations within a designated period of time.”

“This was not a ‘contest’ offered by a patrol division,” Link said in an email response to Land Line. “The Trooper in this instance, who does not hold a supervisory position, was simply attempting to motivate his peers to perform safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles (CMV). We are not aware of any similar challenges. ... The Illinois State Police does not promote the use of rewards to encourage enforcement activity.”

Link said that the state police have launched an investigation to determine whether the steak dinner might have violated policy, and that Trooper Miller is not on any sort of administrative leave pending the inquiry.

“The ISP does not support any type of enforcement-related quota system nor do we encourage any enforcement action which targets a specific demographic,” Link wrote. “Our goal is to provide safe highways for all of the motoring public by reducing injuries and fatalities.”

Link also stated that squads are made up of anywhere from five to 12 troopers, which would be a pretty hefty bill at even a low-end steakhouse. (Link told The Southern Illinoisan that the ISP believes the steak dinners would have been a personal purchase and “no state resources would have been utilized” so hopefully those guys at District 22 have a “Swear Jar” or some other kind of fund where they’ve been saving loose change to pay for a dozen Porterhouses.)

He also stated that the troopers in Miller’s district conducted a total of 224 commercial vehicle inspections during March. Of those, 243 written warnings and 39 citations were issued, including 15 out-of-service violations (four for both truck and driver; six driver-only and five truck-only), or roughly 6.7 percent of all the trucks and drivers that were stopped.

While it may not be a “quota” system in the classic sense, the idea of incentivizing cops to perform enforcement operations stinks like a slaughterhouse (The Illinoisan editorial board concurs, filing a scathing editorial on Tuesday that says such a policy is “past its expiration date.”)

Motorists in general, and truckers in particular, should not be seen as a cash cow for supplementing state revenues.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Are Swift driver cams a game changer?

The decision by Swift Transportation to install driver-facing cameras raises both short-term questions and long-term concerns.

The company recently announced the deployment in a video broadcast to drivers. The DriveCam system, as it’s called, includes both forward-looking and driver-oriented cameras. According to the company, the forward-looking camera will help determine fault in an accident. The inward-facing camera will detect and help correct poor driving habits. Few drivers have a problem with forward-looking cameras. Cameras aimed at them are another matter altogether.

So the immediate question arises: Will those driver-recording devices have an impact on Swift's efforts to recruit and retain drivers?

The dearth of willing drivers, a major concern for more than a decade, has taken on near hysterical status in recent months with logistics experts predicting serious bottlenecks at least and at worst something like chaos in North American supply chains.

Virtually every carrier regards driver recruitment as its top priority. At Swift, for example, if you dial the company’s main number in Phoenix, a recording advises drivers to press one and customers to press two – a small but telling indicator of priorities.

Of course, Swift, with the largest truckload fleet on the highways, needs to recruit more drivers than its competitors. Will those competitors and their recruiters use Swift’s driver cam deployment against the big carrier? Will the cameras prove to be a deal breaker for would-be Swift drivers?

On the other hand, Swift’s competitors might see this deployment as a precedent to follow. Major carriers did not follow the lead of truckload giant Werner Enterprises when that company deployed automated log technology in 1998. Anticipated driver reaction was likely a factor then. But in 2015 when cameras seem to be everywhere, driver cams could be a different story.

Swift’s move raises other concerns for drivers across the board. It’s hard to argue against the often stated safety justifications for driver cams. Driver cam providers claim they help fleets remediate poor driving habits and offer glowing statistics in support. But we’re used to seeing sparkling stats for new technology products – fuel cost routing comes to mind – that turn out to be far less effective than originally claimed.

More to the point, the driver cam systems as they currently exist represent an opening wedge. They do not at present send live video over Omnitracs, PeopleNet, or any other popular mobilecom system. But that will very likely change over time, and not very much time at that.

And there’s a more immediate worry. Swift claims its DriveCam system saves and sends only video when triggered by hard braking, swerving or other incidents detected by sensors. They cannot trigger a save-and-send remotely, they say. But there is no technological reason a remote trigger can’t be made part of the system right now.

Such a remote trigger would enable management to request a 20-second video of the driver at virtually any time. It’s not a live view, but it’s pretty damn close.

There can be no doubt that at least for company drivers, the days of unobserved independent driving are winding down.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FMCSA says to take a selfie

If you’re shaking your head wondering what in the heck I could possibly be talking about after reading the headline, you’ll really be shaking it after you know.

This past week the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance held its spring meeting. The organization is composed of local, state, provincial, territorial and federal motor carrier safety officials and industry representatives from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The group attempts to provide uniformity in enforcement across North America. For example, this group sets the out-of-service criteria for roadside enforcement.

Anyone who isn't sure how to take a selfie could learn a thing
or two from Jami Jones' eldest son, Kade. Here he demonstrates
the power selfie. (Photo by Kade Jones, himselfie)
Currently, with recent changes to the medical certification requirements on truck drivers, there has been some confusion.

In December 2008, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a final rule that requires drivers to present proof of medical certification to their state driver’s licensing agency each time they get their medical card renewed. The states are required to enter the certification into the Commercial Drivers License Information System – dubbed CDLIS – for law enforcement to access on the roadside.

That reg was supposed to go into effect in 2011. But there were states that weren’t ready to enter the certification information into CDLIS. So FMCSA delayed the requirement that states enter the information until Jan. 30, 2015, even though truckers still had to present their cards to the DMV.

Now that the state reporting requirement has kicked in, truckers are required to retain their medical card for only 15 days to give the states time to enter the certification into the mega database. But, given the patchwork of ways states handle accepting certification and what proof they provide, OOIDA recommends hanging onto the medical card anyway.

At the CVSA meeting, OOIDA representatives in attendance said problems with some states either not providing receipts or not entering the medical certification information into the database were brought up. It’s leaving drivers on the roadside unable to prove compliance with the regulation.

Seeking some sort of guidance or clarification from the FMCSA, the question was asked of FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement and Program Delivery Bill Quade: What should drivers do to prove they went to the DMV and provided a copy of the medical certificate.

His response?

“Take a selfie,” he said, OOIDA reps report.

A selfie? Really?

What if, heaven forbid, you’re not a teenager who takes hundreds of selfies on a regular basis? What do you do then? Drag your kid along for help? Ask the clerk at the DMV to snap one of you under the sign holding your card?

Say you get this purported photographic evidence. Then what? Post it to Facebook and Tumblr. Maybe Tweet it out to @CVSA while you’re at it?

I know I’m stepping out on very novel and very thin commonsense ice here, but excuse me, FMCSA, why don’t you just work with the states to fix the problem?

A selfie.

To borrow another phone-era phenomenon, texting slang, I’m just going to leave this at SMH.*

*For those who don’t know, SMH means Shaking My Head.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Trucker and family pay in-person visit to thank firefighters who saved his life

Sometimes in life, you have to go the extra mile. Or in the case of trucker Norman “Cuz” Towell, an extra 550 or so miles.

Towell, 58, of Salisbury, N.C., made the trek from his home to Indianapolis with his wife and granddaughter on Saturday, April 11, to say thanks in person to a group of firefighters and first-responders who saved his life more than a year ago.

“I wanted to come here and say ‘I love you guys because you took time to try to help me,’” Towell told WTHR Channel 13 News in Indianapolis. “They could have took another job, another profession. But they chose to be firefighters. And they did a good job. They weren’t giving up till they got me out of that truck.”

The crash occurred on Oct. 13, 2013, when Towell was traveling eastbound on Interstate 74, near I-465. Another vehicle cut him off, forcing him to slam on his brakes in an attempt to avoid the traffic ahead of him. The braking caused his truck to roll over onto its side, leaving him pinned in the cab. It would take rescue workers approximately 90 minutes to free him from the wreckage.

Those first-responders told The Indianapolis Star that at the time, they weren’t sure Towell would survive the crash. He spent 16 days at a local hospital before being transferred back to a hospital in Charlotte, where he underwent 30 surgeries and the partial amputation of his left leg.

A father to seven children and grandpa to 12, Towell’s been in the trucking industry for 26 years. Despite losing his leg, he hopes to someday drive again.

The gesture of making an in-person thanks is an uncommon one, according to some of the firefighters who were interviewed.

“Every now and then you’ll get people bringing us cookies and trying to fatten us up,” said first-responder James Hutcheson. “But very seldom do we have someone walk in and say ‘Thank you for what you did.’”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

404 Error: Common sense not found


That’s the last phone number I have memorized. It also happens to be my home phone number … when I was a child.

Cellphones, tablets, laptops, GPS and other forms of technology have opened up storage space within our brains by making it unnecessary to memorize information. Life is easier, but what happens when technology malfunctions or goes away completely?

Recently in Green Valley, W.Va., a flatbed truck hauling lumber overturned on an embankment. According to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, the driver went up a narrow roadway that he could not maneuver through. In an attempt to back up, the trailer flipped over an embankment.

Why did the driver take that route? His GPS told him to.

Modern technology frees our mind of basic decision-making skills, but at the cost of disabling us from making those decisions when we need to. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a wonderful, digital age we live in, but we need to supplement gadgets with good ol’ “analog” methods.

Most truckers have lived most of their lives without the kind of smart technology we have today. I was born in 1983. I didn’t have the Internet until my senior year in high school, and I didn’t replace my pager with a cellphone until I was 18. A smartphone with GPS capabilities? Not until I was in my mid-20s. I am young enough to be tech savvy, but just barely old enough to know a world without such conveniences.

Children born in the early ’80s will be the last generation to know the need to memorize data and read a map. As the Millennials get older and become the next generation of drivers, they may be entirely dependent on technology. Forbes has predicted that driverless cars will take over by 2040. It’s one thing to draw a blank when trying to call someone when your cellphone is dead. It’s quite another, and more serious, predicament when you need to override the automation system of a metal machine that weighs several tons and is hurtling down the roads at 65 mph.

Sometimes new technology doesn’t always mean better technology. Mp3 players are quick, easy and allow us to store thousands of songs on a tiny device. However, the sound of a 33 record through a tube amp is far superior to any digital download, CD or cassette tape. In much the same way, electronic logging devices may be easier, but they can never accurately reflect real-life data on the road.

Necessity is the mother of invention. So is convenience in 2015. Let’s all make sure we can function in the absence of convenient technology and not completely replace “the original” with lesser, newer (albeit more convenient) technology.

Convenience is dangerous when abused and taken for granted.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

FMCSA reacts to the 34-hour restart suspension

How does the FMCSA really feel about the 34-hour restart suspension? Perhaps there’s a clue to the agency’s attitude in this apocryphal Federal Register entry. Or maybe not.

AGENCY: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
RULE: Hours of Service for Drivers
ACTION: Update
SUMMARY: Congress in an insouciant snit has ordered FMCSA to lift the hours of service (HOS) regulation that limits the use of the 34-hour restart provision to once every 168 hours (which we believe sounds more regulatory than “week” or “seven days”). We’re cool with that, because it’s temporary – just until a study shows how wrong they are.

All we need is one participating driver in the control group to, for example, take down a bridge. He will obviously have done so because he failed to include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. in a restart. Congress will clearly see its duty: Suspend the suspension or kiss America’s bridges goodbye. The original restart rule will return.

Indeed, the rule was correct when we promulgated it in 2011. It was becoming increasingly clear then that we could not have drivers randomly sleep when they think they’re sleepy rather than when they should be sleepy, nor could we tolerate drivers restarting willy-nilly. After all, it has been shown that such disciplinary pandemonium is inimical to social order, never mind truck stop decorum.

So we required that any 34- hour restart include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Statistics plainly show truckers shouldn’t drive between 1 and 5 when they have nobody to bump into but each other. Better they should hit the road at dawn and mix it up with school buses. Keeps everybody on their toes.

Moreover, it was never the intention of this agency to circumscribe the operational discretion of drivers, merely to encourage them in the most genial way possible to do things our way. Our goal is fatigue management, and we can’t manage fatigue unless drivers are sleepy when they’re supposed to be sleepy, not any time they like. The restart rule nudges truckers intelligently toward that goal, like horses toward the paddock.

By the way, expect a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to mandate Sleep Number mattresses, summer eiderdown comforters, and St. Genève eiderdown pillows for every sleeper berth – though we will allow drivers a choice between silk and cotton.

We do try to be reasonable.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Brother, can you spare a half-million bucks for Bandit’s Trans Am?

If you missed out on a chance last December to purchase Burt Reynold’s 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, better known as “the Bandit car” from his iconic “Smokey and the Bandit” films, you may have a chance to get another one later this month. Provided you’ve got close to a half-million dollars lying around, that is.

This time around, Reynolds is auctioning off a “fully-restored” version of the iconic Trans Am, complete with a few extra flourishes, including the actor’s autograph on both the hood and the dashboard. The winner bidder will also get to take home an autographed hat and jacket, worn by Reynolds during the promotional photo shoot for auction.

The vehicle is one of approximately 350 vehicles that will be part of the Spring Carlisle Auction, which is taking place April 23-24 at the Carlisle Expo Center in Carlisle, Pa.

According to Michael Garland, a spokesman for Carlisle Auctions, which is hosting the bidding, bids can be placed in one of two ways: either by phone, or in-person at the auction. Bidders must be pre-registered. More information about that process is available on the company’s website.

The car is being offered with a reserve, meaning it has to fetch a minimum price at auction or else it won’t be sold. Garland said the reserve amount is confidential between the auction house and Reynolds. But a sale-price of $500,000 isn’t a stretch, considering another “Bandit” car owned by Reynolds sold for $450,000 at a Las Vegas auction in December 2014. That car, which was actually used in the original film, was one of more than 600 pieces of memorabilia the actor auctioned off to help him overcome financial difficulties.

While it doesn’t have a connection to the “Bandit” film franchise beyond its owner, the car itself has been fully restored to be an exact match of the one driven by Reynolds in the film. It is a black-on-black Special Edition Y82 model with T-tops, black interior and a 6.6 liter engine. The restoration work was handled by Murphy Auto Body and Restoration of West Palm Beach, Fla.

Hopefully whoever ends up buying it will hammer down at least once on the way out of the parking lot.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Read the whole story, people!

Since news broke of a fatal wrong-way crash involving some off-duty New Jersey police officers who hit a tractor-trailer head-on, thousands have turned to social media to weigh in on the tragic wreck that killed two people and injured three others.

It’s unbelievable what you can find in the comments that jump to the conclusion that the trucker was at fault. Yes, some actually thought the trucker going the right way was at fault.

Investigators are still trying to piece together why a Linden, N.J., police officer, Pedro Abad, 27, steered his Honda Civic the wrong way onto the West Shore Expressway in Staten Island, N.Y., on his way home from a gentleman’s club in the early hours of Friday, March 20.

While the mainstream press has written extensively about the four people who were in the car, there has been little mention of the truck driver, who was also injured in the crash. Some news reports didn’t even count the trucker as one of the injuries.

All that is known so far about the truck driver is that the driver is 33 years old and drives for Pennsylvania-based Snavely’s Mill Inc. While investigators are not releasing the truck driver’s name at this time, they say the driver sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to an area hospital and later released.

Tragically killed in the crash included one Linden police officer, as well as, a civilian passenger in the car. Two police officers, including the driver of the Honda, were critically injured in the wreck.

Some social media commenters have been inexplicably quick to blame the truck driver, who happened to be going the right direction on the expressway. One comment (now deleted) said the driver should go to jail once released from the hospital. WHAT?

I want to believe one commenter on a news story didn’t read the whole article before posting a comment, alleging the truck driver was to blame for the crash. The comment read, “Why the heck would there be an article about the truck driver? These brave heroic selfless officers, though no fault of their own, are in the hospital. That should be the focal point.”

Several hours prior to the crash, Abad had posted a photo on his Instagram page of three shot glasses filled with “Jack Daniels Fire on the house.” While blood samples from the off-duty police officer have been sent to the lab, his blood alcohol results are not back.

Another commenter on a news story about the fatal crash made reference to the fact that the guys in the Honda Civic are lucky that they “hit a large truck that could withstand a hit and the driver of the truck driver wasn’t injured or killed.”

The trucker in this crash was not at fault, but a fatality crash linked to the Pre-Employment Screening Program report, or PSP, and the psychological damage may haunt this driver forever. Our prayers go out to the driver and hope he/she is not reading the news or insensitive and inaccurate social commentary.

Friday, March 20, 2015


I just got this great news in a memo from OOIDA’s Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek.

We previously reported on a law that was enacted in Kentucky in 2013 that would require all motor carriers in the state to complete an annual educational training course before renewing their plates under the International Registration Plan (IRP).

Today, Mike says OOIDA sent letters to all Kentucky members announcing that this law has been repealed in its entirety, which means there is no longer an educational requirement tied to IRP.  

It was scheduled to take effect in 2016. The collective annual cost to OOIDA members was expected to exceed $100,000 while providing no benefit to owner-operators or public safety.   

In addition to the savings for OOIDA members – and all motor carriers in Kentucky – Mike says OOIDA saved a significant amount of money from the likely lawsuit that would have been filed against the State of Kentucky had the law not been repealed.    

We would like to thank OOIDA Members Gil and Mary Barany from Kentucky and OOIDA's General Vice President Woody Chambers of Eddyville, Ky., for their relentless work educating lawmakers about this issue. We would also like to thank Kentucky State Sen. David Givens and Kentucky State Rep. Richard Heath for their leadership in repealing this law.

But most of all, we would like to thank each of you who took the time to contact your state legislators in support of our effort.  Without you, the outcome might have been much different.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I Eye the iWatch

Never mind a little drum roll, imagine the sound of trumpets. Hell, throw in trombones and the whole brass section. Imagine a regal fanfare that builds in anticipatory crescendo to a climactic, straining chord. Then silence. The curtains part, a white-hot spotlight pierces the darkness, and there on a plinth for the world to behold ...

A watch.

Not just any watch, but a battery-powered watch so special it can’t run an entire 24 hours without a recharge.

Of course, it's the Apple iWatch that officially debuted on Monday in a typically Apple-sauced  event. This was going to be big, and in its own way it was. The media made as much of it as they could. It was a coveted reporter's assignment after all. Nobody really wanted to call it a waste of time, so very few did.

OK, maybe it wasn't a complete waste of time. The iWatch is a nifty gadget. Just about anything you can do with your iPhone you can do with the iWatch. You can email, you can text, you can watch streaming TV, you can even find out the time. Trouble is, you can't do most of those things without having an iPhone nearby, like in your pocket. The iWatch talks to your phone wirelessly, and your iPhone does the heavy lifting computing-wise.

Yes, there are things you can only do with an iWatch, like send a lover or cardiac specialist your actual heartbeat. Like other smart watches, the iWatch can monitor vital signs and help track your health. At the big event, Steve Job's successor Tim Cook promised lots of nifty apps to come. Even so, for the most part the iWatch is an advanced combat unit of the iPhone. It can lay down small arms fire, but the mothership has the artillery.  

The question is, if you already have an iPhone, do you really need an iPhone extension on your wrist? Is it that much trouble to pull the phone out of your pocket? If you have an iPhone mount on your dash for navigation, what's the point?

In fairness, the letdown of the iWatch debut was only in comparison to the level of genius Apple has shown in the past -- marketing products like the iPod, iTunes, iPad, and the most disruptive product of this new century, the iPhone.

The iWatch is not in the same league as those products that made Apple one of the richest, most successful companies on the planet – not even close. But Apple products often have an edge over competitors. They’re beautifully designed, more intuitive to use, and more expensive -- status symbols to be sure. You can impress your pals at the Iron Skillet by talking to Siri on your wrist.

Beyond technology, the iWatch is jewelry, and as you might expect it can be expensive. A top-of-the-line model will set you back anywhere from $10,000 to $17,000. The cheapest model (which does all the same things, by the way), on the other hand, goes for $350. That’s pretty much in line with competing smart watches.

But the truth is a real smart watch has yet to arrive. That would be one with all the functionality of a smartphone – but without the smartphone. So you might just want to hold out. Even then, do you really want to watch Monday Night Football on a watch?

Stay tuned for the smart pinky ring.