Monday, April 14, 2014

Flashers unite – ‘First Amendment’ defense leads to legal victories in Missouri, Oregon

I’ll cop to being a flasher. Not the trench-coat-and-a-smile kind, but rather the kind who will “flash” my headlights to alert my fellow motorists to the presence of nearby “bears.”

While I happen to think of it as common courtesy, the law has different and wildly varying opinions from state to state or town to town. But a couple of recent court cases could be paving the way for such actions to have some of the highest protection afforded under law: First Amendment protection.

The most recent involves trucker Christopher Hill, of Klamath Falls, Ore., who fought and won a case in which he was ticketed by the Jackson County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Department for unlawfully using his headlights to alert another trucker that Smokey was on the prowl.

Oregon law prohibits using high beams or flashing lights in a manner that creates traffic hazards or blinds other drivers, but Hill argued in court that his right to free expression was infringed upon and that police were retaliating against him by citing him.

The judge in his case agreed with Hill’s assessment and threw out the ticket in an April 9 ruling in Jackson County Court.

“The government certainly can, and should, enforce the traffic laws for the safety of all drivers on the road,” Judge Joseph Charter wrote in his ruling. “However, the government cannot enforce the traffic laws, or any other laws, to punish drivers for their expressive conduct.”

A week earlier, a federal judge in my state of Missouri also ruled in favor of a four-wheel driver who was ticketed for flashing motorists to alert them to a speed trap in the town of Ellisville. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of the driver, Michael Elli, on the grounds that the citation impinged upon the driver’s right to free expression. The city entered into a permanent injunction against the practice on April 2.

“Expressive conduct is protected whenever a particular message is present and the likelihood is great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it," Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a press release on the Missouri ACLU’s website. “Even new drivers understand that an oncoming car with flashing headlights means they should either slow down, turn on their headlights, or otherwise use caution.”  

While these two cases are clearly wins for the drivers and the motoring public in their respective jurisdictions, they don’t spell the end of such punitive practices by law enforcement elsewhere. What they do provide, however, is the legal argument to provide others with a path to victory in future legal challenges.

Here’s hoping state and local lawmakers take notice, and amend their laws to prevent infringing on free expression.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Common sense, real math needed to retool medical registry estimates

There’s a final rule headed toward the trucking industry where the agency ignored some pretty simple math and the obvious reality it points to in justifying the upcoming deadline.

Starting May 21 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will require truckers needing medical certification or renewal of their certification to use a “certified” medical examiner. Truckers won’t be able to use just any qualified medical professional to get their DOT physical. They will have to use someone who paid and took a test to be on this special list that goes into effect in May.

That’s not so bad on the surface. But, as with anything, scratch the surface and things aren’t so simple anymore.

FMCSA estimated that by the time the reg goes in it will have 20,000 examiners registered and able to give DOT physicals. The agency goes on to estimate that over the course of the next two years – yes, two years – 20,000 more will be added to the list.

That just tells us medical professionals aren’t flocking to be a part of the registry and FMCSA knows it.

The problem is that there are an estimated 4.6 million medical certificates issued each year according to FMCSA. That’s the regular two-year certifications along with all of the certifications issued for shorter periods of time, in addition to a variety of non-truckers who will fall subject to this rule, like school bus and motor coach drivers.

Let that number sink in – 4.6 million. That’s a lot by any standards.

FMCSA is really naïve in trying to sell the 20,000 estimated medical examiners being registered initially and even remotely being able to handle that sort of demand for upwards of a year or more. Heck, it’s pretty suspicious to think that 40,000 will be able to handle 4.6 million exams.

I mean, seriously. Truckers face lines at the docks, at the truck stops for fuel and parking, at the DMV to get licensed and prove they’re medically certified. This registry is looking more and more like one long line truckers are going to have to wait in just so they can get back to work.

OOIDA has petitioned the agency to extend the May 21 deadline. Maybe if the agency grants that petition, they’ll take the additional time to let some reality and common sense soak in and realize that they’re going to need more participation in the registry to ever see this sucker take flight.

Friday, April 4, 2014

‘Size Matters 2’ answers the question you’ve always wanted to know: What’s it like to turn a semi into a drift racer?

Drift racing and semi-trucks seem like they should go together about as well as ice cream and onions, right?

Not in Mike Ryan’s world.

Ryan, an OOIDA member from Santa Clarita, Calif., is a renowned stunt driver and champion truck racer. He discovered the combination a few years ago while competing in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, a 12.42-mile race that takes drivers up nearly 5,000 feet to the summit of the mountain.

“I make my living as a stunt driver, and I’ve worked on ‘Fast and Furious 5’ and 6. I’m currently working on Fast 7, as well as ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier.’ That’s what I do,” he said in a phone interview with Land Line. “It took me a while to build up the courage to try it in the truck and then it occurred to me that all the years Pike’s Peak was dirt that I raced up there, I was sliding sideways in the dirt. So it just took a little bit of practice to figure out how to do it on the pavement.”

The experience prompted Ryan to make a drifting video in 2011 of his souped-up Freightliner Cascadia rig on a stunt course at an abandoned Marine barracks in El Toro, Calif. The video of that run, “Size Matters,” became a YouTube sensation, and has garnered over 1.8 million views.

“I thought I’d flip it; I thought I’d tear it up and wreck it, but fortunately I haven’t hurt it too much,” he said. “My stomach was definitely in my throat the first few times (attempting to drift). Just getting a feel of what it would do, and what it wanted to do, and what it wanted from me to be able to drift it.”

Now, Ryan and his crew are at it again, having released the follow-up video, “Size Matters 2.” Shot during a single day at the Matson terminal at the Port of Long Beach, the video features Ryan’s rig competing in a “gymkhana” style race against a rally car driver. Gymkhana races are typically speed or time trial events around an obstacle course.

The course at the Matson terminal is no joke – featuring shipping containers, port authority police, fork-lifts and a jump obstacle.

“With a truck, my title of ‘Size Matters’ is essentially that,” he said. “Lots of people might be able to do (the stunts) in a rally car. Try it in a 10,000-pound truck. So ‘Size Matters 2’ needed to be in a world where only trucks live. Not really a car world.”

Ryan said the biggest problem was having only one day to shoot.

“The location fee, and the permit fee, and the insurance fee was over half of our budget,” he said. “We didn’t have any ‘Take-Twos.’ We didn’t have time for any.”

As of Friday morning, “Size Matters 2” already has over 702,000 views on YouTube.

The truck itself is something of a marvel of modern engineering. Like most racing vehicles, it features a large spoiler on the back to help with stability. The truck also features custom suspension and electronics. Under the hood is a 2,400 HP Detroit Diesel Series 60 race spec engine, with a super-turbo charge air system built by Gale Banks. 

“They really paid attention to giving us more bottom end and more drivable power,” he said. “You can have all the horsepower in the world, but if you can’t put it to the ground and manage it, then it’s not very useful.”

Ryan said he hopes the video will help gain support and interest for ChampTruck World Series, a road racing series he and his partners are planning to bring to North America, which will feature Class 8 tractors with commercially available diesel engines.

“We had our first ChampTruck at Mid-America (Trucking Show),” he said. “We’re hoping to have a dozen trucks ready to compete within the next six months. We want to start building some teams and use them as pace cars and other media vehicles.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Truck driver sued for just sitting there

ATTENTION: if you’re driving through Albuquerque, be on high alert. Otherwise, you can be sued … for getting hit by someone who apparently has no regard at all for the law.

Reported by KRQE-TV Channel 13, Angelique Pena-Chavez is suing a truck driver for parking his broken-down semi partially in the roadway, causing her to crash her car into it. Another car then slammed into Pena-Chavez’s car, sending her and her 10-year-old daughter to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

But there’s more.

While in surgery, doctors found a large amount of crack cocaine in Pena-Chavez’s body cavity. This was not her first drug offense. However, one cannot shift the blame onto Pena-Chavez just because drugs were found.

Wait. There’s more.

Pena-Chavez’s driving record is less than perfect. In fact, it’s downright awful. She has been fined for just about everything you can imagine, including a DWI, running red lights, and 14 speeding tickets. Yes, fourteen!

Oh yes, there’s even more.

Ms. Pena-Chavez had 151 bench warrants for not showing up to court. That is not a typo. One hundred and fifty one bench warrants. The judge during the court hearing acknowledged that he has never seen so many bench warrants for one person.

The best part is the fact that Pena-Chavez has filed a lawsuit against the truck driver for four counts of negligence. She is claiming that the driver “created an extreme hazard.” She is seeking an undetermined amount for injury, property damage, and “mental and physical anguish.” I wonder if the truck driver can countersue for mental anguish.


For original story, click here

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Safety first unless there’s a load; then a cup of coffee and some fresh air ‘should’ suffice

The video below has been making the viral rounds in the trucking community for a couple of weeks now. It’s almost impossible to watch it and not get fired up over the way the driver is treated.

It left people wanting to know more about the situation and even stirred up some debate. Wendy Parker, wife of OOIDA Member George Parker, waded into the thick of it and went straight to the source – Abe Aattallah. She highlights the overarching message that everyone should be grabbing onto. With apologies to the late Paul Harvey, here is Wendy’s telling of the rest of the story and some pointed words for those who want to detract from the bigger point. 

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Abe Aattallah got his CDL in May of 2010 and went to work for Werner, where he became an owner-operator. Mechanical problems with a new truck forced him out of the owner-operator business, and he went to work for K&B Transport out of South Sioux City, Neb., in May 2013 as a company driver.

There was an appeal to going from a mega-carrier like Werner to a smaller company like K&B. He had hoped there would be a more personal relationship with the company, since they had a comparatively small fleet of trucks on the road.

He describes his experience for the past 10 months as “forced dispatch, being unable to decline a load without threats of losing my job.” He states he repeatedly told dispatch he had a difficult time transitioning when his 10-hour breaks were stacked, and he was ignored.

A lot of people are going to focus on what should have been done to avoid the situation and miss the most important thing here. It doesn’t matter if he should have declined the load, or whatever anyone else reading the article would have done. None of those things matter because they didn’t happen.

What did happen is a driver called in to dispatch and told them that he was unsafe to drive, that he was falling asleep at the wheel and needed to rest. In turn he was threatened and belittled by someone who gets to go home to sleep in his own bed every night.

Would they have acted different had he been vomiting uncontrollably?

He had the foresight to record the conversation with dispatch. Abe says he immediately forwarded the video to his safety department, namely Tyler Woods, before he ever made the video public. He was told the situation would be “dealt with,” but when he called dispatch the next night about a trailer tire, the original dispatcher he spoke with the night before answered and called him “Mr. Sleepy.” It was then he decided to make the video public.

In the interest of fairness, I spoke with Mr. Woods before writing this piece. He was extremely polite and told me K&B Transportation had no comment at this time. I did not pursue trying to speak with the dispatcher who referred to Abe as “Mr. Sleepy,” as I assumed he would fall under the same “no comment” as Mr. Woods did.

After the load was removed and Abe was “allowed” his two-hour nap, it bears noting that someone from K&B had the Gary, Ind., police department go out to wake Abe up for a “wellness check.” According to Abe, the officer who beat on the door stated his company had been trying to get in touch with him for hours and were concerned. It had been 45 minutes since he had last spoken to dispatch.

I spoke with the Gary PD information officer, who was unable to confirm if the actual words “trying to get in touch with him for hours” were used, but a Freedom of Information Act request has been filed for a copy of the original report.

Just because the Qualcomm says the driver has hours available doesn’t mean he or she is safe to drive. Once again we go back to allowing a professional to make a choice, based on their experience and knowledge, as opposed to an all-encompassing hours rule. These are human beings, with varied and distinct sleep patterns, who can’t be grouped as a collective when it comes to rest.

Editor’s note: Wendy Parker rides shotgun with her husband, George, who is an owner-operator hauling for Landstar. As a non-driver, her observations of the trucking industry range from hilarious to shocking and can be found on their blog, The George and Wendy Show, three times a week. http://thegeorgeandwendyshow.weebly.com/blog---notes-on-trucking.html

Friday, March 7, 2014

‘Semi terrified’? How about ‘Hell on Four Wheels’ instead …

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

’Twas a dark and stormy night, and an unsuspecting motorist is menaced by an “antisocial bully driving an 18-wheel death wagon.”

Sounds a lot like the plot for “Duel” Steven Spielberg’s 1971 film in which Dennis Weaver is stalked by a mysterious trucker. While originally a made-for-TV feature, the film’s success prompted a theatrical release. The plot devices were so effective, Spielberg would go on to crib them for his landmark blockbuster “Jaws” in 1975.

While “Duel” went on to become a commercial success and launch the career of one of Hollywood’s most famous directors, it also did for the public perception of truck drivers what “Jaws” did for Great White sharks – turned them into objects of fear and derision.

However, the scenario I’ve laid out isn’t expressly from “Duel,” but rather comes to us from a recent column in The Ashville Citizen-Times, under the byline of columnist/aspiring novelist Ted Alexander.

Alexander recounts a recent encounter he had on an icy stretch of (presumably) North Carolina highway, with what he describes as “an outlaw who balanced his life on the edge of a razor.”

Although he doesn’t specify a date or location of the incident, Alexander says he was attempting to pass other vehicles in freezing rain conditions late one night, when “a rapidly approaching 18-wheeler” appeared in his rear view mirror. Despite gunning his engine up to speeds of 75 mph on those icy roads, Alexander said he was unable to make his way back into the right lane for some time, drawing the ire of the trucker, who, according to Alexander, executes the “Duel” sequence of speeding around his vehicle and then slowing down almost to a crawl, before refusing to allow him to pass.

Alexander said he eventually pulled over to the shoulder and tried to call 911, but couldn’t get a connection. Then things start to get really weird.

About a half-hour after the initial encounter, Alexander’s back to driving down the road, when he sees the same trucker exiting to a nearby truck stop. He decides to follow the guy into the parking lot “to get close enough to see what the driver looked like and write down his plate number.”

His description of the driver – “a rotund little man – an attack muffin; the Wizard of Oz in a baseball cap, quilted vest and plaid shirt” – reads like something straight out of central casting for the part of “Truck Driver.” (Also, if you know what the phrase “attack muffin” means, please email me – Urban Dictionary doesn’t even have a definition …)

Alexander then breathlessly recounts how this “attack muffin” starts savagely kicking the tires of his own trailer, before he looks up and makes eye-contact with the author. After the driver bellows and starts walking toward him with a wrench, Alexander makes tracks. He then concludes his tale with a warning that this blood-lusting trucker is still out on the prowl.

When I first read it, I had more than a few questions, so I reached out to Alexander at the email address provided with his article. I wanted to ask him about the encounter (Where, exactly, were you? When, exactly, did it happen? Has anything like this ever happened to you before?) I also wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I was taught early on that you ought to make every effort to ensure the other side has a chance to have their say in print. He’s yet to respond to my request.

There are bad actors and bad drivers out there, in both 18-wheel and four-wheel vehicles. But in that spirit of giving the other side a chance to be heard, I present to you a little “creative non-fiction” of my own – Mr. Alexander’s encounter with the menacing trucker, told from the truck driver’s perspective.

“It was 10 o’clock at night. The temperature was holding steady at the freeze line, and the rain was turning to sleet. I was making my way through the Blue Ridge in North Carolina, trying to find a place to park before I hit my 11 hours for the day.

Luckily, I know there’s a little truck stop not more than an hour up this state road, and with the weather turning bad, it’s liable to be pretty crowded on a night like tonight. Knew I had to find a (relatively) safe place to get to, and soon. Since I don’t have an APU, I can only idle for five minutes every hour to keep my sleeper warm. Gonna be a cold night when I finally get to stop.

Fortunately, the roads haven’t gotten bad yet and I’m able to drive the speed limit. But I guess the mere mention of looming weather conditions has a lot of folks out here driving scared. Lots of slow traffic making driving tricky. I’m trying to pass a few slow-moving four-wheelers, when one of them suddenly cut right in front of me in the left-hand lane.

I flashed my high beams to let him know I was coming up behind him, because it seemed obvious to me he didn’t look too close before changing lanes. So here we are, in less than ideal driving conditions, with a gaggle of slow-moving geese hemming me in on the right, and a wannabe Dale Jr. directly ahead of me.

So this four-wheeler pulls into the passing lane, and now he won’t get back over. He’s just sitting in the left lane slowing me and everyone behind me down. We’re barely matching pace with the cars in the right-hand lane. Now I’m stuck playing the world’s worst game of Follow-The-Leader. First he’s slowing down, now he’s speeding up. Still doesn’t get over.

After a few miles of this chicken dance, I drop back behind him, flash my lights and hit the air horn, hoping he’ll pick up the pace and break us free from this bottleneck. Finally, the driver makes a move to the right lane. I’m able to build up enough steam to pass him, but almost immediately have to slow down because the road conditions are worsening. The speedometer drops to 50, then 40, then 30. I glanced in my mirrors and saw Hot Wheels pull over to the side of the road. Conditions must have been too much for him.

About a half hour later, I’ve finally made my exit. I saw the white lights of the truck stop and pulled into the fuel island. I get out to do a walk-around and check my truck and trailer. The snow and ice is caked in the wheel wells and hanging from my trailer. It didn’t look like the truck stop had any parking spaces left, and I was right up against my hours, so I started venting, kicking the hell out of my tires.

Here’s where things got kind of creepy. We’ve all had that feeling of being watched, and as I was messing with the tire, I was overcome by a sense of foreboding. The hairs on the back of my neck started standing up, and it wasn’t from the cold. You spend enough time on the road, and you’ll develop a sense of when danger is near. I’ve had too many buddies and fellow truckers get accosted at truck stops and restaurants not to be at least a little cautious about some situations, particularly after dark on a night like that.

I looked over my shoulder and I saw that same four-wheeler, ol’ Dale Jr., from earlier. He was just sitting behind the wheel, staring at me. It got my dander up. Especially when he knew I’d spotted him and recognized him.

I didn’t know what this guy wanted, but it was obvious to me that this jack-wagon wasn’t there for fuel or coffee, so I hollered at him, and made for my cab. I keep a wrench there, mostly for repairs. But I’ve had to grab it a time or two in the past to make some rowdy punk think twice about trying to roll me for my wallet. I started toward the the car, because I wanted to get close enough to see if I could a plate number off this guy, just in case he decided to go psycho.

When he saw me coming closer, he hit the gas and tore out of there. The dirt and salt was covering his plate so I couldn’t get a read on it. It shook me up pretty bad. I probably should have called the cops and told them there’s a maniac out there, driving crazy and stalking people coming off the highways.

I went inside and let the manager of the truck stop know about it at least. Told them to keep an eye out for that guy and his vehicle. After hearing about my day, the manager ended up letting me park in an area that’s normally off-limits. I climbed in my sleeper and prayed he wouldn’t come back and mess with me or my rig. Thankfully, he didn’t come back, and I count myself lucky I haven’t come across him since.

Ask any driver and they’ll tell you one of the worst parts of the job is dealing with four-wheelers who don’t know how to drive, who change lanes at the drop of a hat, or drive too fast or too slow for conditions. But it’s even worse when you’re menaced by some yahoo who follows you for 30 miles when all you’re looking for is a safe port in the storm.”


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Don’t let them get their way

If the pro-toll lobbyists are successful, we should probably just fire up the handbasket.

If they get their way, mobility as we know it will never be the same.

Toll agencies, think tanks and technology vendors are among those converging in D.C. for a big conference on Monday and Tuesday, and they have an agenda. They have plans to toll America.

“We’ve always had toll roads, so what’s a few more?” some might ask.

This is not about a few more toll roads, and these are not small-time people.

You will likely come across the name IBTTA – the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. They’re the owners, operators and toll vendors who are making the big push for Congress to lift restrictions on tolling. They want the go-ahead to slap tolls on as many roads as they can, even interstate highways.

And Congress is particularly vulnerable right now. Many key lawmakers are simply not interested in raising fuel taxes – the tried-and-true method of paying for highways and bridges since Eisenhower.

Had fuel-tax rates actually kept up with inflation since they were last increased in 1993, the National Highway System would be in tremendous shape. In fact, the highway fund would probably have a healthy surplus the way it did back then.

If fuel taxes are indeed off the table in the next highway bill, lawmakers will continue to look for alternatives.

The toll road lobby is swooping in to grease some palms and sell the idea of toll roads.

Simply put, tolls are taxes on mobility. This is especially true for truckers who pay considerable amounts to use the roadway system. The average motorist currently pays about $95 a year in fuel taxes to use the nation’s roads and bridges, whereas it wouldn’t be a stretch for truckers to pay $4,000 to $6,000 just in fuel taxes. That number would be much higher for those buying new equipment and paying the 12 percent excise tax.

When considering tolls as a tax on mobility, we rarely hear anyone talk about reducing or waiving the fuel tax for the miles truckers and motorists travel on toll roads. Why not? This should definitely be part of the conversation.

“But tolls are not taxes, they’re user fees,” you say? Perhaps that’s true by court definition, but a toll still comes directly out of the user’s pocket.

Another problem with toll roads is the separation between the government and the authorized toll agency that can pretty much hold a ceremonial public meeting and increase tolls whenever they want. I’m generalizing here, as some states have laws that require legislative action on toll increases.

But many times, the taxpayer is left with no choice but to pay the toll. They can’t vote out a toll agency or its leadership because those are not elected positions.

What can we do to counteract the toll road lobbyists?

We start by establishing relationships and educating elected officials at the local, state and federal level. That way, when we call them and urge them to vote a certain way, they know who they are talking to.

There are lawmakers willing to go to the mat to preserve toll-free, taxpayer-funded roads and fight back against the toll lobby and the big money behind it.


Find out who they are and keep them on speed dial.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The key to avoiding crashes? It’s lost in Big Data

Editor’s note:  OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer was a guest on the Dave Nemo Show on Sirius XM Road Dog Channel on Friday, Feb. 7. Here are some of Todd’s comments.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer
Big data … this term is now being used as if this is the wave of the future. Everyone is gathering it and everyone is analyzing it and everyone is making claims for the usefulness of it and the benefits of it. I think this is probably an example of where you torture numbers long enough they’ll confess to anything, but at the end of the day, does any of it mean much at all?

Truck fatalities and accidents were going down considerably, and now that Compliance, Safety, Accountability program and new hour of service are in effect, they are going up.

The bottom line is – maybe Big Data is looking at the wrong stuff. Maybe we should take a slightly different approach to addressing the issue. If all of these enforcement programs are about safety, well then, make the correlation between the regulations and the safety payback. Realistically that’s virtually never been done. In the few instances where they’ve tried to assess the cost benefit, you sift through what they’ve put together, but a lot of it looks sort of like b.s.

That’s kind of got us to where we are today. The regulatory machine basically is a machine. The enforcement community is a business … a big business. There are hundreds of millions of dollars at the federal level that are dedicated to nothing but policing trucks and truck drivers and more at the state level. The number of those regulations shows no sign of getting smaller.

What we see more and more today are economic interests. They have their own agenda and it’s economics as opposed to safety. Safety stuff is basically just marketing, and it gets us right back to the benefits of Big Data. Everybody’s gathering it. Everybody’s offering it. Everybody’s selling it, but is it really making any difference? 

Realistically, we think the recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that takes issue with CSA is pretty clear evidence that we need to take a breath and start looking closer at what we’re doing to find out if any of this stuff really is relative.

The first thing they did was look at the Big Data to make the correlations and the frequencies of the crashes out of the 750-800 things that regulations of drivers are written up for. One of the first things they did was determine that while these things are written, the frequency at which they are written is so low that you couldn’t possibly conclude that this was any kind of a factor in crashes. So they threw out all but 40 or 41 and started drilling down on those.

In the end, the two biggest items they found with the most frequency were: one, speeding and, two, a driver not wearing a seat belt. To me, that’s a head scratcher. There’s no scenario in the world where I can picture that not wearing a seat belt is going to make you more likely to be involved in a crash. It’s a factor after you crash but not before.

To be clear, there really isn’t much correlation between the regulations being enforced, most of the tickets and write-ups that drivers are getting, and the likelihood of a crash.

Every lawmaker’s office has received phone calls about CSA and it is volume of calls that basically registers with lawmakers’ offices as something they need to look into. Certainly the GAO review was based on complaints to members of Congress about the CSA program. Congress directed the GAO to look at this program and do this assessment – and that was simply because drivers were calling and complaining.

And those complaint calls should continue, because they do have an effect. You can bet FMCSA is doing everything they can to justify what they’ve been doing. You need to keep in mind that most of what FMCSA does is what Congress tells them to do. They don’t have a choice about it. This is a program that grew out of what they called the Safety Management System and it predated it. It was supposed to identify those carriers that were so unsafe that they shouldn’t be in business. Well, they’ve never been able to identify those carriers that meet those criteria on any kind of reliable basis. CSA is an extension of that program, only it’s kind of an extension on steroids.

When you cut down through what it does – the GAO pointed this out and OOIDA has for a long time – it can’t accurately make a safety adequacy decision for small carriers simply because there are so few inspections, and violations tend to be regional and in some areas states write different things.

Frequency of inspection, for example. That is totally up to states and really the feds don’t have any control over it. They hope the states will do what they want them to do. States tend to do what they want to do. They pick their own priorities and that’s just kind of how it is. The data is never going to be very good, but one of things we are optimistic that will come out of this is that they will rethink the broader issue.

One of the things we mentioned over and over is why don’t you look at carriers that don’t crash and compare what they do with those carriers that do crash. Think about it differently. Rather than simply enforcing the same thing that we’ve enforced for years and years, that may or may not have ever had anything to do with safety or crashes, take a fresh approach.

As far as the frustration with CSA on Capitol Hill, the heat’s been turned up pretty well and realistically I think it’s going to get turned up even more. Not only was the GAO doing a review, but the DOT Inspector General’s office was, too. That was also directed by Congress.

We’re pretty confident the IG’s report is about two weeks from being released. I suspect it’s going to find many of the same criticisms of CSA as the GAO did. Hopefully we can get to the point of looking at these more closely and find out if they relate to safety and other real issues.

In looking through the GAO’s criticisms of the CSA program, one of the things that they point out is there has been a tremendous focus by this agency and others on the driver fitness BASIC. Companies that have higher scores, meaning worse scores, on the driver fitness stuff, actually crash less. I would think at some point, you would have to think “why?”

The why sort of seems like a no-brainer, if you are familiar with the industry. Those drivers that would draw more focus in the category of driver fitness are going to generally be those that are a little more seasoned, those that have been out there awhile, those that know what they are doing – and knowing what you’re doing is the key to avoiding crashes.  

What gets lost in all of this Big Data and dissecting the numbers and enforcement of regulations is – how many crashes every day are avoided by good drivers that know what they’re doing, that have the ability to basically assess a situation in front of them and make the right response to be nowhere close to the crash.

That’s the key to improving safety.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The quick and dirty on the Jan. 30 medical certification deadline


Time is just about gone for drivers to get a handle on the medical certification requirements they face.

So, here is the short version on everything you need to know about the medical certification requirements: 
  1. All CDL holders must provide proof of medical certification to their home state driver licensing agency by Jan. 30.
  2. All CDL holders must continue to carry proof of medical certification with them on the road.

 That’s it. There was no delay in the deadline to provide proof to your home state.

Unfortunately, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration didn’t do itself a lot of favors when it got everyone all stoked over the latest year-long extension on part of the requirements – and didn’t explain very well what wasn’t being extended.

The extension is just on the requirement to carry your medical card with you on the road. The reason that was extended is so the states that weren’t able to enter the proof of certification into the mega database of CDL holders and tie your medical certification to your CDL would have more time.

And, this is the way life will be from now on. Every time you renew your medical certification you must provide proof to the state. So if you get only six-month certifications, you will be going through this once every six months. It’s the regulatory equivalent of lather-rinse-repeat.

If you don’t provide proof your home state can downgrade your CDL until you provide proof of certification. You may not even know you are downgraded until you’re pulled in for an inspection. That would be a mess, to say the least.

Eventually, you will no longer be required to carry your medical card with you on the road. The new deadline for eliminating that requirement will be Jan. 30, 2015.

But, a word to the wise: Carrying that card isn’t exactly a hardship. And trusting that all the computer records are up-to-date is being awfully trusting. Hanging on to those cards even when it’s not required sure doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

Friday, January 10, 2014

SLUGBUG!

Writers and editors like me tend to get hung up on certain phrases. We glom on to them and it’s tough to purge them from your writing and everyday speech.

Last year, I blogged about how hard we try to constantly reinvent our language, always searching to replace the stale tired words we use. And that’s not just journalists. That’s everyone.

I guess those “Words That Need to Be Banned” lists that show up everywhere around the turn of the calendar have me thinking about it again – because certain clichéd words and annoying expressions have been bugging me to death.

Remember when you were a kid and yelled SLUGBUG every time you saw a Volkswagen. That’s a bit how we are around here – except we yell CLICHÉ, and instead of punching a buddy in the arm we target trite copy with red pens.

Sometimes a good phrase gets incredibly overused. For example, one of last year’s words was fiscal cliff. I think 2014 may already have one – polar vortex.

Maybe I’m picky, but I feel bad actors is a phrase that’s been overused in the trucking community and will likely be around for a while. You hear it when FMCSA is talking about people in the trucking business who need to be booted out of the industry. And kick the can is another phrase that is really tired, but still gets used when we are writing about FMCSA and issues like entry-level driver training.

I’m glad we finally stopped saying someone got thrown under the bus. And it’s been a while since I heard anybody go deep in the weeds. Finally, the epic fail is fading from our professional vocabularies, as is the aha moment.

Sometimes, words that land on my banned list are not new at all, but are so annoying they earn a slot. Why do we have to keep using bastard words like ginormous and, the one I hate most of all, humongous?

I admit it goes beyond the craft of writing.

It matters not if you are writing because it’s your job or you are just conversing because you have a voice. It’s so easy to pick up on certain words or be a copycat when you hear one that’s trendy. You know how everyone starts yawning when one person is doing it? (Why is that anyway?) Some expressions just get stuck in your vocabulary.

Last year, I vowed to stamp out saying we have to put our big girl panties on when it’s time to take on a challenging or unpleasant task. Unfortunately, it’s still around and I seem to hear it even more. I cringe as I even write the phrase.

Even though I have huge disdain for the big girl panties – let me make this perfectly clear. My bad tops my 2014 list of banned words and expressions. What could be the reason we all started saying my bad! That phrase makes me want to knock the user’s head off.

And do we have to speak in Cheezburgerese? Amazeballs must go away forever, along with cray cray. What has happened to our command of language? Is our species devolving?

And while we are at it, can we drop that smug little jes’ sayin’ at the end of every statement? Why do we feel compelled to add that?

I think texting and Facebooking, tweeting, etc. have ruined our communication skills.

Like LOL? For the past couple of years, every text, every message seems to end with LOL.

“Still waiting to get unloaded, LOL!”

Or the classic:

“I’m going into surgery for triple bypass – wish me luck! LOL.”

I use the LOL myself. However – and be my witness – I am vowing to stop. (Why does this sentence somehow tempt me to add an LOL at the end?)