Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Truckmageddon is near!

In describing the recent blizzard in DC as “Snowmageddon,” President Obama unwittingly unleashed a new buzzword that could come to rival the “----gate” from the Watergate era. We will soon be hearing “(Blank)-mageddon” to describe anything that seems to overwhelm or threaten to overwhelm the normal order. I can see this happening in trucking, so here are some of tomorrow’s Land Line headlines today:

Idlemageddon: The growing trend toward anti-idling laws will pick up speed, with every town, city, county and state creating their own rules – and of course, exemptions and exceptions for local cronies. Net result will be emptier trucker pockets, as well as horror stories of drivers felled by heat stroke or hypothermia.

EOBRmageddon: One of the most unpopular ideas of the 1990s will likely steamroller opposition this decade, as fleets and governments push for ever-greater quantities of data on drivers and truck operation, both to improve the bottom line and also to demonstrate, or enforce compliance. In my opinion, the push is aided by generational and demographic shifts, as younger drivers with fewer ties to trucking traditions slide behind the wheel.

Hoursmageddon: Has there ever been a time when hours of service WEREN’T being debated? Despite listening sessions and public comment periods and so on, have we ever felt that anyone – from FMCSA down to ATA – has actually listened to real drivers’ descriptions of real-world conditions? The feds already unleashed one Hoursmageddon that brought us to the current situation. We should probably expect “Apocalypse Next” from the latest round.

Rookiemageddon: Safety groups and veteran truckers all agree that poorly trained newbies make for a clear and present danger on the roads. Note that I am not knocking rookies in general, just those who’ve been run through classes and some local OTR training and been anointed “professionals.” As veteran truckers retire or just leave their rigs back by the fence, the number of novices will continue to climb, adding to our tribulations.

Huh?mageddon: Blithely ignoring the soaring numbers of accidents and deaths related to distracted driving, carmakers seem determined to enable drivers to interact with everything BUT the road around them. Some studies show that mandating hands-free phones doesn’t substantially reduce accidents. It’s the mind focused on the phone (or makeup, or food or radio or seat cover) that wanders from the road; the hands just follow along.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Click here to hurt your career

An acquaintance showed me a survey he said was designed to help truck drivers.

Following the link, I found a Web site that offered a quick quiz to see whether I was at risk of having obstructive sleep apnea – a condition that temporarily obstructs breathing during sleep. Apnea is more common in people who are obese, and it’s diagnosed after the patient is observed sleeping, usually at a sleep lab facility that can measure sleep patterns and breathing.

This particular site and quiz were developed by a former member of FMCSA’s Medical Review Board – an advisory board that has garnered de facto power merely by its suggestions that many new medical restrictions be placed on drivers.

I won’t link to the quiz here because I think it’s fundamentally dishonest. A couple of CDL-holders here at OOIDA’s offices couldn’t get their survey data submitted after the quiz revealed they weren’t at risk for having sleep apnea.

Also, I believe this survey will be used against drivers.

Just as quizzes on social networking Web sites promise to offer your real age by calculating age, lifestyle and family health, I believe this survey will be used as a justification for another suggested medical rule from the FMCSA’s medical review board.

Previously the Medical Review Board has staked some very flimsy claims regarding driver health and public safety on studies from obscure universities about driving populations in small European and Middle Eastern countries.

What’s worse, many of these studies haven’t focused on commercial drivers, but instead are based on the general motoring public.

This former board member was employed by and has had direct ties to the National Sleep Foundation and others who would profit if millions of CDL holders were to be required to be tested and/or treated for apnea.

One idea the Medical Review Board had was to mandate expensive overnight sleep exams for all drivers who have a body mass index of 30 or greater. A 5-foot, 9-inch male weighing 205 pounds would have a BMI of 30.3, which would be obese.

Tom Weakley, director of operations for the OOIDA Foundation, outlined the national push for weight loss backed by major corporations at OOIDA’s Web site last year. Tom’s blog entry on the subject is available here.

Tom, who has attended multiple conferences hosted by medical doctors and medical equipment manufacturers, makes the point that the increasing physical size of Americans has been met and possibly eclipsed by a national push for weight loss drugs and exercise equipment.

From Tom’s blog:

In 1998, thirty-five million Americans went to sleep at a government-approved weight and woke up “overweight” due to a change in the government’s definition of “overweight.”

Previously, the term overweight included those with a BMI of 27.8 for men and 27.3 for women, but was lowered to 25 for both genders in 1998. How is that, you ask? Because the National Institutes of Health panel determined this as truth. The panel was chaired by Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, an influential obesity researcher.

Now the kicker: Dr. Pi-Sunyer has accepted support from virtually every leading weight-loss company, and once headed up the Weight Watchers Foundation. Can anyone say “bias?”

Because of this bias, and the growing attention that apnea has gained from large motor carriers in particular, I’m going to suggest drivers do a self-exam if they think they may have sleep apnea.

Dr. John McElligott recommends a machine that can be rented or purchased and even used as a CPAP. And a different manufacturer even markets a disposable “SleepStrip” apnea screener for $60.

But I wouldn’t submit data to a third party regarding your personal health, even if such a survey promises to harvest only impersonal data.

In the information age, even seemingly innocent questions may be used against you.