Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Five feet high and risin’ …

“How high’s the water, mama? Five feet high and risin’ ...”

Johnny Cash sang those words to illustrate how a family, his family, endured a flood while working the land in rural Arkansas. As the water level rises – two feet, then three, then four and eventually five – the family must decide whether to ride it out or get to higher ground.

Truckers are facing a similar dilemma these days. Many are already searching for higher ground as the floodwaters of regulatory actions and cost increases continue to rise around them. How high must the level get before interstate commerce stands at an impasse?

It doesn’t help that some agencies are intent on pouring more regulations, enforcement actions and costly rules into the transportation world. We see new initiatives all the time that inch up the level a little more.

Consider a recent video produced by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators using a grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Titled “18-Wheels & BUSted,” the video is being sent to local, county and state law enforcement agencies to instruct officers on stopping, approaching and citing commercial drivers.

This video goes well beyond coaching. In fact, it’s an all-out assault on truckers because of the parallels it draws and the scenarios it drums up.

After listeners are treated to photos and videos of crash scenes, we are told that traffic stops can save lives. Then it cuts to a retired Oklahoma trooper talking about how he was able to bring down Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh during a routine traffic stop.

Routine traffic stops save lives.

Wait, what? We just went from truck crashes to Tim McVeigh? What are the makers of this video insinuating? And what are officers supposed to take from this?

Another scene in the video depicts a “speeding” truck in a construction zone and an officer that decides not to pursue. But as the officer remarks on what a hassle it is to go after 18-wheelers, the truck in the frame is passed by a four-wheeler going even faster. To no one’s surprise, the officer did not even bat an eye at that.

Here’s another kicker. In one video segment, the narrator instructs law enforcement to always maintain a tactical advantage over drivers when issuing citations. It’s as if roadside stops have become military or self-defense exercises.

“If you allow the driver to exit (a vehicle), don’t allow the driver to stand on higher ground than you. Always keep your tactical advantage,” the narrator instructs.

How high’s the water, papa? Eighteen wheels and busted.

It’s unsettling to know that Highway Trust Fund dollars are being paid out to agencies to produce and facilitate “us versus them” enforcement tactics.

I’m not saying it should be Kumbaya out there, but the deck doesn’t need to be stacked any more than it already is. Someone is going to drown.

It is a fact that fatalities in crashes involving large trucks decreased 20 percent in a single year from 2008 to 2009. Those are the latest numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To say there’s no room for improvement would be a disservice, but there’s a lot more to the solutions than stepping up aggressive enforcement.

Yes, the recession had something to do with the 2009 crash numbers because there were fewer vehicles on the road. But to credit aggressive enforcement tactics without giving professional operators their due for keeping the numbers down is just as much of a disservice.

The “us versus them” campaigns need to cease. And hopefully it happens before all freight is moved by boat.

Here’s a link to the enforcement video. And if you need a break after that, may we suggest some Johnny Cash.