Friday, December 21, 2012

JIT – for Christmas

The Trucker Charity Christmas Group met via conference call Thursday night, after weeks of working out the details of the 2012 fundraising. More than $9,500 was distributed to 19 selected families just in time for Christmas.

The families were chosen from 36 applications for help. Each application was carefully vetted, whittling down the number to 19 families. Most of the families were phoned last night in a group call “from the North Pole.”

Each family was informed they had been given $500 in the way of a Comcheck.

One wife was standing in the middle of a gas station when the call came from the trucker group. Three inches of snow was on the way, and she ran out for a gallon of milk. Her trucker husband was off the road after surgery and now had failed his vision test. Christmas was looking bleak.

Another driver had been hurt unloading a truck, and his wife was diagnosed with throat cancer. One was going through divorce, looking for work, trying to scrape up enough money for presents for his sons.

Family after grateful family shared their dilemmas.

“Oh my God, you guys are so wonderful. … There was NOT going to be a Christmas until now.”

“I never had anyone give me anything. … I don’t know what to say …”

“I’m gonna buy my kids some new clothes.”

“Now we can keep the electricity on!”

One woman said her young son had been looking forward to Christmas so much, then overheard her and her trucker husband talking about the money situation. “The look on my son’s face just killed me,” she said. “Now I can buy presents. I don’t know what to say. God bless you!”

As the Christmas Group worked its way down the list of calls to make, not only were some of the beneficiaries on the road, several group members were truckin’ as well. So in between the joyful reactions of the families contacted, mutterings from drivers could be heard.

“I just hit 32 degrees in the pouring rain, wish me luck.”

And “wow, this is some killer wind!”

A driver in North Carolina said, “Not too bad here, guys.”

Another reported, “I am sitting still and the wind is rockin’ the truck pretty bad.”

And then of course, “OK guys, who is next? Who’s playing Santa on the next one?”

The group has been raising funds and “playing Santa” since 2008. Since the project began five years ago, the Christmas Group has raised $46,500 and helped 78 needy trucking families.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Truckers deserve recognition for outcomes in Ohio, New York

America’s trucking professionals do their share of good deeds, and many of those deeds involve causes greater than themselves. We can’t thank truckers enough for their big hearts and for standing up for what’s right.

Truckers scored two victories in the past week, and deserve credit for the role they played in making those victories happen.

In this case, we’re talking about infrastructure – the nation’s roadways, the lifeblood of the economy – specifically the Ohio Turnpike and New York State Thruway.

Proposals in both states had the potential to rock transportation as we know it, and not in a good way: Ohio with its possible lease of the turnpike to private investors and New York with its proposed 45 percent toll increase on trucks. To say both plans would have had negative consequences for trucking and the economy is an understatement.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and both proposals were scrapped in favor of alternatives involving bonds.

While the officials can take their share of credit for backing off and coming up with alternatives, it was the groundswell at the grassroots level that made the difference.

Truckers were on the front lines throughout, responding to calls to action, contacting their lawmakers and governors’ offices, attending meetings and filing comments. Truckers were not intimidated by the rhetoric or editorials that supported the proposals. In fact, those tend to make them work harder.

If you are among those who picked up a phone in the past few months in these two states, and you’ve spoken your mind about the value of infrastructure to the economy, and how toll hikes and oppressive proposals affect you and your ability to do business, you’re on our list of people to thank. You made the difference.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wreaths Across America: One of those ‘glad I did that’ experiences

Photo by Sandi Soendker
I got to the junction of Missouri State Highway 13 and I-70 early on Saturday. I spotted a few bikers right off, standing by their polished motorcycles in the Pilot parking lot. They were there to escort the wreaths. The group soon swelled to maybe 50 bikes from area motorcycle clubs. When they rolled off on to Highway 13 and headed north to the veterans cemetery, I was right behind.

Too bad I couldn’t shoot photos and drive at the same time because the day started off with a cold slate sky that made a somber setting for the double column of bikes ahead of me. As the riders went single file and swung into the big entrance of the veterans cemetery, acres of perfectly aligned headstones in the background, it was a freeze-frame moment.

We were there to lay Christmas wreaths. At exactly the same time – noon, Saturday, Dec. 15 – about 450,000 balsam wreaths were being dedicated in hundreds of locations across the nation, and more overseas. The wreaths honor U.S. military personnel who lost their lives in the service of our armed forces. Maybe they died a long time ago in Europe or Asia. Maybe last month in Afghanistan.

In the 21 years the Wreaths Across America program has been in existence, volunteers have placed more than a million live wreaths on the final resting places of U.S. troops. This year, more than 110,000 wreaths alone were laid on graves in Arlington National Cemetery near DC.

The WAA story is one we’ve covered for several years. We have a number of OOIDA members who drive the trucks that move all those wreaths and some who are members of the Patriot Guard Riders who escort the trucks. For them, like me, it was a poignant experience.

Each Christmas, OOIDA sponsors 10 wreaths. Last year, our Land Line Copy Editor Elizabeth Andersen went to Fort Leavenworth to be a part of the WAA program. This year, I participated by attending the ceremony planned for the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery, 55 acres located north of Higginsville, MO.

Photo by Sandi Soendker
The purpose of the ceremony in Higginsville was not to place wreaths on every one of those headstones, but to present wreaths to all as a symbol of the nation’s respect for those who sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom.

As this small ceremony was unfolding in Missouri, I was reminded that at the same time, others were participating in a wreath laying at President Kennedy’s grave followed by a ceremony that would take place at the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier).

I even thought about Normandy, where the remains of 9,387 American military heroes lie on 172 acres near Omaha Beach. As we bowed our heads in prayer in Higginsville, some clued-in Americans in Normandy were doing the same thing. Wreaths Across America also reaches France and other sacred pieces of foreign soil.

The box of greenery sent to this Higginsville location contained seven balsam wreaths with red ribbons, made by the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, ME. The ceremony was smartly conducted by the American Legion, with assistance of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. The seven wreaths were dedicated to the fallen members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marine Corps, Merchant Marines and to the more than 93,000 MIAs and POWs.

It wasn’t a long ceremony. Soon after, the bikers roared out, the crowd dispersed, the American Legion rolled up their flags, and the Gold Star families left.

The overwhelming stillness was much like I thought it would be in Arlington and more than 700 locations across the nation. Quiet and remarkably graceful, the way it might be in Normandy and Luxembourg and 22 other places around the world that participate in the wreath-laying.

The only sound was the Stars and Stripes whipping in the wind. I stayed for a bit, suspended in the sanctity of the place.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Garbage in, garbage out

I stood in the newsroom wrangling with our new-fangled copier today. It made me yearn for the Xerox copier of days gone by. Punch in how many copies you want. Hit start. It was pretty simple.

Now I have a piece of equipment that its sole purpose is to make copies asking me a series of three questions each time I want a copy. Scan? Size? Copy?

What was wrong with a key pad and a start button? I want two copies. I hit 2 and start.

But, alas, someone at the copy manufacturer was sitting around bored wondering what new bells and whistles they could add to the copier to make it more “useful.”

The answer: none.

Technology is really getting out of hand. The better example than me getting irked at a copier is photo enforcement. Ticket cameras. Red light cameras. Speed cameras. And now they have “following too close” radars that snap a photo.

As computers grew in popularity ages ago, there was a common phrase that everyone knew. “Garbage in. Garbage out.” It’s a simple concept, really. If you put garbage programming into a device, you will get garbage out of it. Since people program computers and devices those electronics are no more perfect than the human beings who created them.

That understanding has gotten lost along the way. Now we live in a day and age of believing that if the computer says it, it must be true.

Not so.

I’m not anti-technology. I like my gadgets. But, not to the point I quit thinking for myself.

Take the case in Baltimore where an attorney got a photo enforcement ticket for speeding. The ticket claimed he was going 38 in a 25 mph zone. Problem is – the photo showed his car stopped. The 10-second video “alibi” clip that will be used in court shows the car – stopped. Brakes applied, stopped.

The problem is so rampant in Maryland, that one lawmaker wants to fine cities and the manufacturers of these cameras that erroneously snap photos of law abiding citizens and issue them a ticket.

The “following too close” radar is one for the scrap heap, too. How many times a day in urban traffic are trucks cut off by four-wheelers? Can you imagine you get cut off in traffic, the cop shoots the radar at you and voila! You’re following too close.

I know law enforcement agencies are suffering from lack of funding and looking for other ways to do routine enforcement. States, cities and counties will try and convince you that technology is the answer. No manpower required to make the street safer.

Bull. Remember garbage in, garbage out.

The machines are not perfect. Nor do officials seem to care if they are. The tickets issued by these devices are generally cheaper than the equivalent ticket issued by a live officer. Cheap enough that a lot of people would pay the $40, accept the violation that is not turned over to insurance in a lot of cases, and save the trip to court.

Don’t even get me started with electronic on-board recorders … my blood is already boiling.

It’s time to dial back the technology and start thinking for ourselves again. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

The hucksters are at it again

It was hucksters who leased the Indiana Toll Road to private investors in 2006, and it is hucksters now who are telling the State Budget Committee they need more money.

Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Mike Cline plays the role well.

Cline recently told the State Budget Committee that Indiana needs an additional $200 million per year just to meet the maintenance needs for highways and bridges.

But wait. The toll road lease was supposed to be the gift that keeps on giving for the Hoosier State. Governor and chief salesman Mitch Daniels told us that back in 2006 when he traded away the toll road to private investors for a one-time cash infusion of $3.85 billion.

Proceeds were to pay for a 10-year list of transportation projects called Major Moves, and there was supposed to be money left over to help Indiana leverage transportation funding well into the future.

So why is Cline back in front of lawmakers asking for what could amount to a fuel-tax increase or something else to pay for transportation? The Major Moves money is all spoken for, or spent, and we’re only heading into the seventh year of the Indiana Toll Road lease. Have we mentioned that the toll road lease will last another 68 years, until 2081? That’s right.

It’s because of hucksters that the private investors who operate the 157-mile toll road scored a total of 75 years of toll revenue with guaranteed toll increases for the price of a 10-year transportation plan that has all of the money spent or dedicated in just seven years.

Even with these numbers on the table, the pitch men continue to dote all over the lease plan.

Cline himself appeared at a transportation stakeholder conference in Ohio in late October, and even took the podium as a guest speaker. (If you haven’t heard, there are salesmen in Ohio talking up a possible lease of the Ohio Turnpike to private investors.)

“The lease of the Indiana Toll Road in 2006 is good for Indiana, and it’s positioned us for strong economic performance,” Cline told the audience of transportation officials.

“Our toll road is currently being maintained and operated very well by our concession company. And I’ll note that many people that were originally skeptical of the transaction have come around to and acknowledged that, you know, this was a good deal for Indiana.” (Ohio Public Radio, WKSU 89.7 captured audio clips of the speech).

Only one month has passed since Cline said those words, yet here he is on bended knee asking his own state budget panel for more money.

These things happen when we listen to the pitch men, even if the state could use more money for transportation. Who couldn’t use more money right now?

Bottom line is, the public deserves more oversight and more accountability – not less – when dealing with crucial issues such as transferring public assets over to the private sector.

Cline has had the audacity to call it a “myth” that tolls have doubled on the Indiana Toll Road during the first five years of the lease, but the numbers do not lie.

The $14 truck toll prior to the 2006 lease is now up over $32. That’s more than double. Cash tolls for motorists have also doubled from $4.65 to $9.40. The only tolls that haven’t doubled are for those paying electronically with a transponder.

But this is what you get when you let hucksters do the math.

Ohio, be on your guard.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sitting ducks?

Government-funded programs are being created to help military personnel and veterans make a transition to the civilian workforce by putting them in trucking jobs. Now DOT is partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs with a new trucking job placement center. These initiatives are commendable. It can even be argued that maybe it’s a little overdue.

I believe with all my heart and soul that, generally speaking, society is failing our vets. There isn’t nearly enough being done to help them heal from their wounds from war, both mentally and physically. And given the unemployment rates, especially among vets, the job market is clearly not doing its part.

That’s why it’s very hard to look past the noble intent of the DOT’s program. But knowing the predatory nature of the underbelly of the trucking industry, the DOT cannot blindly hand out money and pat themselves on the back. Any program like this must have some safeguards built in for our veterans.

They do not need to come home and go through the industry’s tried-and-true practice of a bait and switch. They don’t need to attend a two-day training program with a promise of a job – only to be told at the end of it that there aren’t any left. But, there is a lease-purchase program we can sign you to. One where you have no equity in the truck, and the company controls your income and time on the road (i.e., away from home). It’s a program where the company gains everything and you lose everything.

That’s just one example of how the shysters in the trucking industry will take advantage of our veterans. They do it on a daily basis to average men and women. There’s nothing stopping them. Why would they grow a conscience overnight and retool those lease purchases for vets? There’s no incentive to change.

We would be insane to send our troops into battle untrained and unarmed.

Yet, without any accountability on the part of the motor carriers who will hire them and without any legitimate training standards, we put our vets at risk of being sitting ducks by leaving them untrained and unarmed against the predators ready to capitalize on this back-to-work program.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ultimate gate crashing: Touring the Truman Home

So I am on assignment Saturday night in my hometown of Independence, MO, on the town square for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree whistlestop event, on the tree’s way to DC. The drivers of the Mack trucks pulling the Christmas tree really wanted to see the Truman Home.

Land Line Editor-in-Chief Sandi Soendker and U.S. Capitol
Christmas Tree drivers, OOIDA Life Member and
former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (left), and Duane
Brusseau (right) at the Truman Home.
Independence is my hometown, and I live there still. I knew it was too far for a quick walk, so I thumbed at my car, parked just across the street. They accepted and I drove them to a place I know well.

The big white home at 219 Delaware St. is timeless and unpretentious yet elegant. It’s kept spotless and looks like Harry and Bess just walked out. It’s tended to and guarded by the National Park Service. It was about 4 p.m., the gates were locked, and the park rangers were closing down for the day. We parked and got out anyway.

Me to the rangers: “Locked? oh man. Can’t you make an exception? These guys are the drivers of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree; they are parked up on the square for tonight’s event.”

We asked if we could just get a photo of them on the porch.

Ranger looks at the truck drivers: “Sorry.”

Me to rangers: “Would it make a difference if I said this guy is a former United States Senator?”

I wasn’t bluffing; he really was. He also happens to be an OOIDA Life Member, CDL holder and, on this U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree journey, one of the two truck drivers.

Ranger looks at the guy, kinda checks out his faded jeans and long thick gray hair, pulled through the back of his Mack Truck cap.

Ranger: “Sorry.”

The driver hesitates to play this card, but says: “I do have a permanent U.S. Senate ID …”

He goes through his wallet and produces the ID. The ranger looks at it and decides to talk to the other ranger. He comes back shortly.

Ranger: “Let me see that ID again.”

The driver has already put it away, so he gets his wallet out again and shuffles through his collections of laminated IDs.

Driver: “I know it’s here, I just put it away … here it is … OH WAIT, that’s my Walmart card …”

Finally he found it, and the rangers were convinced that he was really Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

We got a personal tour of the house. We even got to go in through the back door, just the way celebrities and former presidents used to do.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Persons of interest

A roomful of truckers and driver advocates, a handful of deaf drivers, a trucking lawyer, a regulatory expert, at least one wellness advocate and one brave FMCSA official. That’s just a few of the people who attended the Second Annual Truck Drivers Social Media Convention in Kansas City last weekend.

OOIDA members Allen and Donna Smith – the event founders, coordinators and producers – brought together some interesting individuals.

On Saturday I sat beside a woman I had never met. A pretty, sassy, smart, witty woman in heels and a fringed shawl. From her long perfect fingernails I guessed she might not be a truck driver. As it turned out, she was a guest speaker and panelist. Her comments were a bit disarming and thoroughly enjoyed by all. Here’s an example:

“I really appreciate truckers. ... In fact, sometimes I flash them when they pass me, just to show my appreciation …”

I would have never guessed this woman to be the award-winning national media personality and host of the “Dr. Daliah Show” – Dr. Daliah Wachs from Las Vegas.

She was seated during the panel discussion by Paul O. Taylor, a well-known attorney from Burnsville, MN. His presentation was especially good, and Dr. Dahlia told him she never liked a lawyer as much as she liked him. Nor had she ever sat that close to one.

My favorite part of Taylor’s hourlong business seminar-type speech was about how to be a whistleblower and survive it. That topic is his specialty.

One guy who did another seminar-type business presentation on Saturday was Richard Wilson, a regulatory expert from Trans Products and Trans Services. Rules and regs – that’s a tough topic to keep an audience enthralled, but Richard always hits one out of the park and he did at the social media event, as was expected. I give Richard five stars for tackling “What motor carriers don’t want you to know.”

I especially liked the presentation by Rick Ash, an OOIDA life member and owner-operator from Lakewood, CO. Rick spoke on driver wellness and, using his own weight loss tale, caught the attention of many. Interest in driver wellness? That in itself was significant, right?

Elaine Papp, a nurse and FMCSA official (Division Chief of the Office of Medical Programs), made an appearance on the stage, doing a solo and also appearing on a panel. It wasn’t the friendliest atmosphere for Elaine, who addressed hot issues like the medical examiners registry, BMI, sleep apnea, etc. but she stayed for the whole event.

I also got to spend some time with OOIDA members Lee and Kari (pronounced CAR ee) Fisher from Salida, CO. Neat people. The convention featured a truck competition, and Lee Fisher won third place with his International 9400i. If the contest had been for who had the most dogs, the Fishers would have been grand champions, because they were traveling with a cab full of dogs and new puppies. Not your typical cab accessories.

Kari was named the winner of the Jason Rivenburg “Making a Difference” award for her work with the Missing Truck Driver Alert Network. Good job, Kari.

Others honored for the award include grassroots activist Kylla Leeburg of Truckers Against Trafficking. Kylla teaches high school history in her home town of Broken Arrow, OK. I was thinking to myself as I watched her compelling presentation (and video), how fortunate her students are to have her as a teacher.

Others honored were OOIDA Life Member Sandy Long, an activist and driver advocate, writer and blogger; driver Desiree Wood for her advocacy efforts on behalf of women truckers; and Kathy Cass for her advocacy and support of drivers through her Facebook, “Advice Page for Drivers and Their Families.”

I also met a trucker named Isaac Bland, an OOIDA member from Buckley, WA. He was there representing Trucker Charity. He told me about a recent mission in which he drove to Kansas City and “rescued” a trucking family who needed to get  home. The upshot is: Palmentere Brothers went belly up last week and the driver and his family needed to get home. Palmentere offered a bus trip but that did not include their belongings.

So Isaac, who was delivering in Springfield, MO, drove in and took the family (and their stuff) home to South Carolina. Roses to Isaac and to Trucker Charity, whose motto is “get ’em fed, get ’em home.” Isaac did just that.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

OOIDA State Watch is your go-to place for state activity

Issues addressed at the state level of government can have far-reaching effects on the trucking industry. As a result, it is important for professional drivers to keep an eye on legislative happenings at statehouses around the country.

Because truck drivers already have a full plate each and every day, OOIDA is committed to providing truckers with information about what is taking place at state legislatures from the northeast to the southwest.

Noteworthy items collected by the Association on statehouse happenings are available in the State Watch section of Land Line Magazine. Valuable information is also discussed on “Land Line Now” on Sirius XM Channel 106.

However, the only place available to truckers for complete state-by-state coverage is State Watch online.

The State Watch page includes a U.S. map that allows visitors to select any state of interest. From there, visitors can access information on state issues of relevance to the trucking industry.

Information is available, and frequently updated, on bills introduced during the legislative year, as well as other issues considered for introduction. Also available for each state are any Calls to Action sent by OOIDA to members and other truckers.

Additional information is available for the projected regular session dates; a link to the state legislature’s website; and phone numbers to inquire about the status of a bill, or to contact lawmakers.

Also included on the state pages are links for where to access social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, for governors and state political parties and more.

Questioning whether a particular state has addressed an issue in recent years? Wondering what year a state passed a notable new law? Visitors can likely find answers via archives of legislative actions in each state for the past decade.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dog years

LL Managing Editor Jami Jones shares a birthday with
a famous hood ornament
Last week, we celebrated two birthdays at Land Line. One was the birthday of Managing Editor Jami Jones, the other was of the Mack bulldog hood ornament. Some people enjoy sharing a birthday with famous people, historical icons. Jami takes pride in sharing hers with the bulldog.

Here in our ground-floor wing at OOIDA headquarters, we have a bit of Mack d├ęcor going on. Posters, bulldog crossing signs, little Mack oil cans, Mack cups. In my office I have three of the bulldog ornaments looking at me from various viewpoints. One of my keepsakes is a chrome ashtray with the dog on it and initials, J.J.J. It belonged to Jim Johnston and he gifted it to me just last year, knowing my penchant for cool Mack stuff.

So we won’t go into detail on which birthday it was for Jami, but it comes nowhere close to that of the iconic Mack Bulldog hood ornament, which turned 80. Incidentally, according to Mack Trucks, that’s an estimated 560 dog years.

There’s an interesting story about how the bulldog first became associated with Mack Trucks that Mack shared with us last week in a birthday press release. Kudos to Mack, by the way, for a concise statement that was enjoyable and noteworthy.

During World War I, British soldiers nicknamed the Mack AC models used in the Allied effort “Bulldog Macks” because of their tenacity. That bulldog moniker stuck.

According to the press release, the first one was hand-carved out of a bar of soap. Here’s the story as it was told to us. In 1932, Alfred Fellows Masury, a chief engineer at Mack Trucks, was in the hospital for surgery. Not one to be idle for long, during his recovery, Masury hand-carved the first model of the now iconic Bulldog hood ornament out of a bar of soap.

Once released from the hospital, Masury applied for a patent on his design. The patent was granted Oct. 11, 1932.

Sadly, Masury was killed in the crash of U.S. Navy airship Akron a year later, the same year the Bulldog hood ornament began adorning Mack trucks.

It’s a neat heritage. We join Mack in tipping our hats to Alfred Masury for that legacy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Well, well, look who’s talking about toll diversion

The New York Times recently asked a panel of contributors if toll revenue should remain with a roadway on which it is collected or be diverted to other programs including public transit. One of the panelists, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, gave the most surprising answer of the bunch.

Believe it or not, Rendell says he is against the diversion of toll revenue for public transit.

“No, money from drivers’ tolls should not subsidize other costs, like mass transit,” he stated in response to The Times’ question.

“Public transportation is so important to our nation’s economy that it must be the recipient of its own dedicated funding,” Rendell added.

If memory serves, and in this case we have a pretty good one, it was then-Gov. Rendell who signed the controversial Act 44 into law in 2007. That’s the law that requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to pay the state DOT a sum of $450 million a year from its toll coffers to be used for other projects.

And if you haven’t guessed, Act 44-supported projects include mass transit in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Oh, and memory serves to point out that Rendell is a former mayor of Philadelphia.

Any warm-up we may have felt toward Rendell on his apparent change-of-heart on toll diversion gets iced immediately in the second full paragraph of his contribution to The Times. He goes on to say that tolling is vital and that Congress should consider lifting current restrictions on tolling interstates, including current toll-free routes. That’s more like the Ed Rendell we know.

If you have time, check out the online debate and some of the other responses.

The question of toll diversion is timely given the New York State Thruway Authority’s proposed 45 percent toll increase for truckers, and the fact that the Thruway is mandated by law to subsidize the state’s canal system.

Monday, September 17, 2012

New Jersey mayor wants ticket camera money

For years truckers and motorists alike have questioned the true intentions behind the use of automated enforcement.

Advocates for the technology say the devices, which are commonly used at intersections to detect red-light runners and elsewhere to snap photos of speeders, are all about safety. They say the cameras are there when law enforcement cannot be there.

Not too many people buy the explanation. Plain and simple, most view the “enforcement tool” as a moneymaker.

In fact, elected officials with an affinity for the devices will occasionally draw attention to the economic benefits of automated ticketing machines. The most recent example of this way of thinking popped up in a New Jersey community that borders New York City.

Fort Lee, NJ, Mayor Mark Sokolich told The Record newspaper he wants red-light cameras installed in his town in the worst way and admitted it was for money. According to the report, the mayor said – and I quote the newspaper – “... for money reasons. There, I said it. These things generate income.”

Ticket camera use in New Jersey has been a topic of conversation in recent months. The mayor’s comments continue the dialogue.

Concerns about whether everything is on the up-and-up there spurred the state DOT to suspend the doling out of tickets at 63 of the 85 intersections statewide that employ the money-making devices.

The focus was on yellow time. However, DOT officials shortly thereafter determined that everything was fine and they allowed the program to continue at the sites in question.

Some state lawmakers are tired of the shenanigans that are encouraged through the cameras use. Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Washington, is leading an effort at the statehouse to permanently ban the cameras in the state. He also has an online petition to rally support.

Doherty, and many others, question why Sokolich’s proposal to install red-light cameras in Fort Lee is not being put on the local ballot.

The answer is simple: The mayor knows the deck is stacked against him.

Sokolich told the newspaper “you put this on a referendum ... (and) I don’t know if it would garner enough support to pass.”

I think it’s safe to say he’s right. I also think it’s safe to say that the public is tired of being viewed as cash cows.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Truckers remember Sept. 11

OOIDA Member Rudy Acevedo of Cantonment, FL, who sadly passed away in December 2011, led the convoy of 28 trucks loaded with steel to the foundry where it was forged in Coatesville, PA. Right behind him in the convoy was OOIDA Senior Member Tim Philmon of Middleburg, FL. At the time, both said being part of the 206-mile journey was the highlight of their professional driving careers. (Land Line file photo by Gregory Cazillo,
It’s been more than two years since OOIDA Senior Member Tim Philmon of Middlesburg, FL, was part of a convoy that hauled 500 tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center back to Coatesville, PA, where it was forged.

On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Philmon told Land Line that he still considers being part of that convoy of 28 trucks one of the most meaningful experiences of his life.

“Last night I went through some videos and pictures last night and started reminiscing,” Philmon told Land Line on Tuesday, Sept. 11. “My parents always talked about Pearl Harbor as the defining moment when the world changed, which I wasn’t around for, but I think Sept. 11 (where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives) is the day that changed this country forever.” 

The steel beams the convoy hauled back to Coatesville are now making their way across the country as part of 9/11 memorials.

Last year on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2011, Land Line spoke to some truckers who were on the front lines hauling emergency supplies and debris, while others maintained the 21 refrigerated trailers that served as temporary morgues until the bodies could be identified.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mercy sakes alive …. A Route 66 convoy

OOIDA Life Member Barry Chesler and his wife, Gigi
(Photo by Paul Abelson)

Land Line Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson was in Morris, IL, this week to see trucking “step back in time.” Here’s Paul’s report from the scene:

For years, members of the American Truck Historical Society (ATHS) have been gathering to show their classic and vintage iron. The major event is at their convention and meeting each year, held at different locations around the country. Regional gatherings are also held, often at industry events like the Iowa-80 Truckers Jamboree. But all the events are static, with trucks just on display. At least that’s how it was until now.

This year, ATHS Regional VP-Ohio Mark Schroyer, Coldwater, OH, had an idea. He grew up in trucking. His father started as an owner-operator and built a successful, family-operated fleet. Mark chairs the ATHS membership committee. He came upon the idea of taking trucking's history on the road in a convoy, and what better road for the first ATHS Convoy than “The Mother Road,” Route 66.

Due to the age and condition of the trucks, the group decided not to actually travel in convoy, but to depart each morning from the gathering point and, after traveling separately, reassemble at the next scheduled destination.

In connection with their 40th anniversary celebration, Travel Centers of America agreed to sponsor the convoy at nine T/A and Petro truckstops, starting with yesterday's assembly and this morning's departure at the Morris Il T/A. The Convoy will finish Sept. 15 at the Route 66 Rendezvous in San Bernardino CA. Route 66 was selected because so many major fleets, some still with us and many now gone, were located along the old route.

“We were hoping to attract 10 to 15 trucks for the initial convoy,” Schroyer said. “But by late afternoon, we had almost 40 registered for one or more legs.”

Several retired OOIDA members were ready to go from the start at Morris. OOIDA Life Member Barry Chesler, Rochester NY was there with the two loves of his life: Gigi, his wife, and “Halfpete,” his ’83 Peterbilt cab on an ’87 GMC pickup chassis. Power is from a ’94 Cummins taken from a Dodge pickup. “I’ve always been an owner-operator,” Barry said. “No one would hire me because I had no experience, so I bought my own truck.

“I’ve always been into cars and light trucks. I had show cars and show trucks. That's why I built Halfpete.”

OOIDA Life Member Ron Williams, East Berlin PA, has been driving more than 42 years, but is now semi-retired. He works a 2000 International leased to Trailer Transit. But his pride and joy is his ’76 Kenworth W900A with a 475 Cummins and an Eaton-Fuller 15 speed.

“I had it in a garage for 12 years. Then I restored it to take it to shows. It was a tandem drive, but to save fuel and make things easier, I converted it to a 4-by-2,” Ron said.

The assemblage of trucks drew a few bystanders, too. Aaron Stoudt, an OOIDA member known as Paladin (Have truck, will travel) from Fairmount IL, was passing through the T/A. He had heard about the convoy, and wandered away from his 2006 T600 to see the assembled trucks.

“I've always liked trucks, new or old,” Aaron told Land Line. "I heard about the convoy and was happy to see it was on my route. Some of these are treasures. It’s good to know that people keep them running.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Speed trap poll a reminder that work needs to be done

A nationwide poll reveals the top speed traps in the U.S. and Canada. The results show that Ontario is on drivers’ radars for having ramped up enforcement efforts.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchang
The National Motorist Association released the revealing numbers in recent days from its own online polling conducted at The driver’s rights group used feedback from the past five years about chronic speed traps in Ontario and 52 other states and provinces.

What they found is that travelers in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Washington D.C. were more likely to report what they believed to be overexuberant enforcement of traffic rules. In fact, responses from drivers in Ontario were nearly double the next two highest locations.

In contrast, the locations deemed most favorable for travel without fear of overeager enforcement are New Hampshire, Quebec and Minnesota.

Speed traps are nothing new to truckers and others who spend time traveling. It’s safe to say that far too many cash-strapped communities rely on the revenue enhancer to bolster local coffers.

In recent years some state legislatures have taken steps to discourage such activities in cities and towns that are known as trouble spots for travelers.

Idaho is one of a half-dozen states not included in NMA’s rankings, but lawmakers there addressed speed trap concerns this spring. They approved a rule to remove the authority from towns to set speed limits on state highways.

A three-year-old law in Missouri is also intended to rein in speed traps. The rule reduced from 45 percent to 35 percent the amount of total revenue small towns can receive from traffic violation fines. Anything more goes to the state.

The Show-Me State ranks 44th on the speed trap exchange poll.

Louisiana (No. 13) also has taken steps to put a stop to speed traps. A 2009 law requires that in areas where tickets are issued for driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit, revenues from tickets must go to the state.

States that have moved in the wrong direction on the issue in recent years include Oklahoma (No. 20) and California (No. 36).

Spurred by concerned truckers, a newspaper investigation nearly 10 years ago found excessive ticketing in certain towns. Oklahoma lawmakers soon thereafter barred towns such as Caney, Big Cabin and Stringtown from enforcing speed limits on highways within their city limits.

Citing a desire to remove the speed trap label from communities affected by the law, the state eventually reversed course, thus allowing small town police departments to get their ticket books back out.

A new rule that took effect the first of this year in California gives communities leeway on setting speed limits and, as a result, reduces yellow light intervals.

NMA says that “a speed trap exists wherever traffic enforcement is focused on extracting revenue from drivers instead of improving safety.”

It is a safety issue that requires more attention at statehouses across the country. Protections are needed to dissuade towns from relying on traffic tickets to bolster coffers. In addition to safety concerns, such activities discourage travel and commerce.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The spin on the bus crash goes round and round …

Depending on who you believe, professional truck drivers played a role in saving the lives of bus passengers caught in a nightmare situation earlier this week on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The driver of a Megabus suffered a medical emergency on Monday during a trip between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The bus began swerving from side-to-side around 6 p.m. near the Bedford exit, leading to some very tense moments for all involved.

A passenger named Stefon Braxton later told a TV news reporter that two truck drivers were just as much to thank for the outcome as the quick-thinking pastor who jumped behind the wheel to steer the bus to safety.

“These two guys really saved our lives. After we got off to the side, they just drove off. So I just wanted to let them know we thank you,” Braxton told WPXI in this news video.

Braxton said the trucks on either side of the bus kept it from leaving the roadway.

“It would hit and bounce back a little bit,” Braxton said in the news clip. “They kept us from swaying more. When you look out the window the truck was right there. This is how close they were to us.”

But the owners of the bus say no, no, no … that the bus never made contact with the trucks.

“Though some claims have been made that two trucks were involved in the incident, a review of interior and exterior video shows that the Megabus made no contact with a semi,” the company stated. “There is also no physical evidence of contact on the exterior of the bus.”

To this point, Megabus officials have not released the video they say proves their version.

Megabus also denies reports that the bus driver lost consciousness. The company asserts that the driver never passed out and kept her hands on the wheel. The driver had simply forgotten to take her blood-pressure medication according to reports.

Regardless of whose side you take, no one disputes the heroism displayed by the young pastor, James Grantz of Pittsburgh. And whether truck drivers played a role or not, some might say the pastor’s hands weren’t the only ones guiding the bus to safety that day.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

If only they could see themselves

There’s not a mirror to be found at the New York State Thruway Authority offices. Agency bigwigs continue to blame everyone but themselves for their problems and to justify a whopping 45 percent toll increase for trucks.

A couple of months ago, a little birdie – actually a paid consultant – told them they could get more money out of truckers while avoiding a toll increase on the general public. They trotted out the wear-and-tear argument, insisted that truckers weren’t paying their fair share and that toll increases would be the remedy.

In a recent press release, Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas J. Madison turned more blame outward by accusing the state comptroller of contributing to the agency’s past financial problems “by failing to report years of fiscal gimmicks and deferred expenses.”

Madison used the same press release to take a jab at long-haul truckers.

“The fact remains that tolls for large trucks on the Thruway – mostly long distance haulers – are 50 to 85 percent less in New York than in comparable states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” Madison stated.

“And each of these trucks creates thousands of times more damage to roads and bridges than a passenger car. Heavy trucks, not passenger vehicles, should bear these added costs, so that tolls can be kept as low as possible for all motorists.”

Mr. Madison, a five-axle truck already pays $88 for a full-length trip on the Thruway, a rate that would jump to $127 under your proposal.

Comments on the proposal are due Friday, Aug. 24. A spokesman says the agency received 1,310 written comments as of midday Thursday in addition to the 108 who spoke during three recent public hearings.

Truckers reported to Land Line that the vast majority of comments were in opposition to the increases.

As the Thruway plan runs its course, an observer would be naive not to recognize a separate action by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to charge trucks 125 percent more on its facilities by 2015.

And we’ve recently learned that tolls on the Tappan Zee Bridge – part of the Thruway system but with its own separate toll – could triple once a replacement bridge is completed in a few years.

These agencies live in a bubble. Everybody wants more and wants to put the burden on everyone but themselves. Who is left paying the price? It’s the truckers and trucking companies, the manufacturers and businesses, the commuters and the consumers.

Someone needs to deliver a load of mirrors to the Thruway and the Port Authority so they can take a good, hard look at themselves.

There’s still time to give ’em an earful at

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

‘It’s a beautiful day above the clouds’

Darrell Hicks
Why was Darrell Hicks such a special guy? Land Line Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson speaks for our staff and our industry with the tribute he wrote today. It’s one we wanted to share. Here’s Paul:

“It’s a beautiful day above the clouds.” 

That’s how “Uncle Darrell” Hicks began his personal telephone voice mail message. It was more than a cute opening. It reflected his belief in God and the afterlife he had confidence in. Darrell’s faith was how he lived his life, in his desire to help others wherever and whenever he could.

“Get involved!” They weren’t quite the first words Darrell said to me at my first TMC meeting, but it was certainly the theme of his greeting. I later found that the words went beyond just encouragement. They were words that Darrell lived by.

Darrell started trucking early in life, riding along with a friend and his father delivering trailers to dealers. He was only 12 years old, but his travels sparked a love of trucking that lasted a lifetime. As a college student, he earned tuition driving for a contractor building I-96 in Michigan. He later hauled boats to Chicago and New England.

He is a Lifetime Member of OOIDA and has earned every accolade the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) could bestow on an associate (industry supplier) member.

It was in February 1984 when I first met Darrell. I had just joined TMC, and Darrell was on his way up the leadership ladder. He was already recognized as an authority on truck cooling systems and coolant chemistry, having worked for Union Carbide (Prestone) then Nalco Chemical. Nalco spun off its trucking operations to Penray, and that included Darrell. He remained with Penray until his retirement in 2007, helping fleets, truck builders and engine makers troubleshoot their most difficult problems. After retiring, he still did consulting for suppliers.

In late 1984, the industry was facing a crisis. New truck engines were overheating, warping cylinder heads and blowing gaskets. An emergency task force was created at TMC to identify and solve the problem. Darrell was a member, representing coolant suppliers. The task force found that high silicate coolants were causing silicate dropout, forming a green “goo” that hardened when cooled. It plugged radiator cores, especially behind fans.

By mid-1985, a solution was found: the recommendation to use low silicate coolants in heavy duty engines. In June, Darrell helped present the solution to TMC. As he often said, TMC members had the problem solved before most of the industry knew there was a problem.

His efforts at TMC went beyond just coolants. True to his advice about getting involved, Darrell helped organize technical sessions and was often a presenter. He was always there to solve problems, and was concerned with the needs of those around him. He volunteered as a meeting mechanic in the pre-PowerPoint days, making sure slide presentations were properly organized and helping study group chairmen by making sure meetings ran smoothly.

He also served as a study group secretary, keeping minutes of meetings. Because of his efforts, he was named a Recognized Associate in 1989. As such, he was eligible to participate in TMC Associates’ leadership and was eventually elected Vice Chairman of the Associates Advisory Group and Secretary of the Recognized Associates.            

In 1992, Darrell was awarded TMC’s highest honor, the Silver Spark Plug for his many contributions in advancing truck maintenance.

Darrell’s efforts weren’t confined to TMC. In 1993, at the Iowa 80 Truckers Jamboree, he first met Gary King, founder of the Trucker Buddy program. It teamed truckers with elementary school classes using picture post cards to show students bits of America. The pen-pal program later expanded internationally.

Darrell had experience as a trucker and traveled extensively with his job. Upon learning about Trucker Buddy, he volunteered to become one, and was accepted. He remembered his school days when a supplies salesman who called himself “Uncle Dudley” was popular with students at his high school. He adapted the title and became “Uncle Darrell.” It caught on, and he adopted the entire trucking industry as his nieces and nephews.

When Trucker Buddy grew too large for the King family to run, Darrell was asked join the Board of Advisors, which soon became the Board of Directors. By the start of the 21st Century, he had become president of Trucker Buddy, a post he held for four years.

His interest in truck shows and show trucks brought Darrell to the National Association of Show Trucks, where he again “got involved.” In 2000, he was elected to NAST’s Board of Directors.

He supported local trucking organizations whenever he could. When living in the Chicago area, Darrell was an active member of the Midwest Parts and Service Association, a local trucking educational group. When he moved to Arkansas, he helped the Arkansas Truck Association’s Maintenance Committee organize the technicians’ competition that became part of TMC Super Tech.

TMC was close to Darrell’s heart. He became just the second recipient of TMC's Gerri Murphy Award, named for its first Director of Member Services.
He promoted both TMC and OOIDA wherever he could, recruiting fleet maintenance directors, shop managers and even owner-operators to become members of TMC, and drivers and owner-operators to join OOIDA.

In 2009, Darrell was one of the most respected senior leaders of TMC. He was still seen welcoming new members to the meeting with the same words he used to greet me 25 years earlier. “If you want to get the most out of this organization and make a name for yourself in our industry, get involved!”

Sadly, that was to be Darrell’s last meeting. He developed pulmonary fibrosis, a progressively debilitating lung disease. When he could no longer fly nor drive long distances, a friend from Illinois drove to Darrell’s home in Tulare, CA, to get him and take him to the TMC meeting. It would have marked his 30th anniversary with the Council. Unfortunately, he was unable to handle the high altitudes crossing the mountains and the duo had to turn back. But the effort demonstrates the esteem in which Darrell was held in the industry.

Darrell’s last job was driving a bus taking elderly outpatients to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fresno.

“The pay wasn’t much (volunteer work), but I enjoyed the free lunch I got at the hospital and the company of the veterans,” Darrell said.

When he could no longer drive, he rode as a helper as long as he could. That’s the kind of guy Uncle Darrell was, always thinking of others first.

Although his illness was progressively debilitating, Uncle Darrell never lost his cheerful spirit and desire to help others, even solving former customers’ problems when they called for advice. That was Uncle Darrell. He was here to get involved.

He left us peacefully on July 10. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Starbucks’ new energy drink debuts today

I am hearing that Seattle-based Starbucks has big plans to make a dent in the competitive world of energy drinks with Starbucks Refreshers, set to hit stores in the U.S. and Canada today, July 10, with locations worldwide to follow.

Energy drink? I admit this makes my ears perk up. I’m no different from a lot of chronically tired people, especially truckers. I’m always beat at the end of the day and I hate that, so I am always seeking the holy grail of energy drinks. One that tastes good, works instantly, not harmful to your body, and doesn’t make you feel icky.

I’m over Red Bull and Crystal Light, and I’ve moved past Rockstar, Bawls, AMP and Monster. Five-Hour Energy is my current favorite.

I’m interested, however, in this new Starbucks’ product. You can get the “Refreshers” in various fruity flavors. It can be purchased mixed by the server, ready to drink, or ordered to go in the form of an instant product that dissolves when emptied into water.

Starbucks tells HuffPost that their all-natural drink line is a “breakthrough innovation” that will likely set it apart from competitors. That breakthrough word always interests me. But the main reason I’m so interested is probably because they’ve made such a deal of keeping it under wraps.
The ingredients have been kept top secret.

Today I read that the Huffington Post now has the scoop on the covert ingredient. If you thought it was a super blast of caffeine, like their coffee, you’re wrong. Drinkers will get their energy from an extract of green coffee beans, which are beans not yet roasted.

Green coffee beans? Sound familiar? It’s that same stuff that Dr. Mehmet Oz has been raving about on his TV show. In April, Oz sent the ground extract flying off the health food store shelves with just a few comments. Oz says the natural compound contained in the beans promote weight loss.
I got some and tried it. It gave me heartburn.
Maybe I just need to stick to a peanut butter sandwich and glass of orange juice.

Monday, July 2, 2012

‘O say can you see?’

Photo by Smithsonian Institution
We Americans are deeply attached to our star spangled flag. We fly it over homes, cemeteries, places of business, stadiums, airports, racetracks, battleships, everywhere. Here and all over the world where American people have lived and died, you’ll see the stars and stripes. It’s our unique signature.

We’ve planted it on Iwo Jima, the North Pole, Mount Everest, even the moon. Our flag is everywhere. We wear caps, pins, tee shirts, we tattoo it on our bodies, we paint it on our face, we decorate cakes with its image and wrap murals on our 18-wheelers.

I myself, have got a real deep thing about my flag … have had ever since I was about 12.

Early this morning, I was looking out my window at the American flag that we hung off the eave of my front porch for the Fourth of July. It was barely daylight and the first rays of the sun were just about to hit my house.

The flag, which had been still in the semi-darkness, suddenly fluttered in the breeze.

It instantly took me back to something that happened when I was in the sixth grade and my teacher told us a story that simply smacked me upside the head. I’ve never looked at the American flag – or heard the national anthem – in the same way.

Previous to her story, I was like a lot of kids. I didn’t know much about our flag except that it had a star for every state. I knew how to hold my hand over my heart and recite the pledge. We did it in school every day. But it was pretty much just words, no more than a dry recitation. I knew every word to the national anthem but the meaning of those words was pretty much lost on a kid.

Fortunately for me, my sixth-grade teacher’s style of teaching included being a superb storyteller.

She told us about this guy who was a lawyer who lived during the War of 1812 when our country went head on against the British. The war wasn’t going well and Washington was in shambles. The lawyer was supposed negotiate for the release of a prisoner so he boarded a British ship in Baltimore harbor. While aboard this ship, he overheard the Brits planning to attack the city of Baltimore the next day. He ended up in the middle of a major battle, one that turned out to be key to winning the war.

The city was being defended by the garrison at Fort McHenry. Because the lawyer had heard the battle plans, the British took him prisoner until after the battle was over.

When my teacher described the how fierce the battle was, us kids were getting pretty interested. She talked about the rockets pounding Fort McHenry all day and night. Historians say the British naval fleet unleashed more than 100 tons of shells, bombs and rockets on the fort – one every minute. My teacher described the lawyer, stuck on the British ship, not knowing if the city would fall or not. She described him, pacing, anxious, his eyes peeled on the dark shoreline. By that time, Mrs. Patrick had the full attention of the class.

She was passionate when she explained to us that this was a little known battle, but nonetheless, it came down to our scrappy little Navy fighting off on the war ships of the British Empire.

Through the dark and the smoke and bombshells, the lawyer could hear but couldn’t see much. He couldn’t know if the city or ultimately, the nation, was safe.

Then, in the early morning light, there it was – a giant red, white and blue flag flying high over the fort. The commander of the garrison had ordered it hoisted so everyone would know they had held off the invaders.

That lawyer was Francis Scott Key and he wrote some emotional verses about that battle on the back of a letter he was writing. It was later put to music and of course, has become our national anthem.

I remember that story and how my teacher told it, as if it were yesterday and every kid in my class had a lump in their throat at the end. To us, suddenly, the words to that “Star Spangled Banner” all made sense.

I never hear that song without experiencing that same feeling.

And the flag that flew that morning over Fort McHenry? We STILL have it. The commander of the post kept it for years and passed it on down to his family members. It is now in possession of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. It’s one of our most sacred national treasures.

It hung in the entry hall in the Smithsonian until 1999. It’s now been repaired and preserved and currently the proud focal point of a brand new exhibit. How fitting is that for the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812?

I wish Francis Scott Key could know that 200 years after he scribbled down those verses, we still have that old flag. And that yes, the star spangled banner does still wave … well, you know the rest of the words.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Moneymaker on ‘up-and-up’?

Photo courtesy of
The motoring public is fed up with all the shenanigans that are tied to ATMs, or automatic ticketing machines. Earlier this week, officials in New Jersey asked a lot of questions about the integrity of an enforcement tool that has raked in millions of dollars.

In the Garden State, the question is whether red-light cameras employed around the state have adequate yellow times.

Concerns about whether everything is on the up-and-up spurred the New Jersey DOT to suspend the doling out of tickets at 63 of the 85 intersections statewide that employ the money-making devices.

A 2009 state law permits towns to post cameras at problem intersections to see if the devices reduce the frequency and severity of crashes most common by red-light runners. However, agency officials say the DOT has not checked to make sure the cameras are timed in accordance with the law.

Officials in Cherry Hill, NJ, likely have not been too concerned about yellow time at the city’s lone intersection outfitted with cameras. The community across the river from Philadelphia reportedly has raked in about $1 million in the year since the devices were activated.

To recap: That is $1 million at one intersection.

Until the yellow time issue is resolved, the agency ordered 19 of 25 participating municipalities to stop issuing tickets at all affected intersections – including Cherry Hill. Two more municipalities have one intersection affected.

Not surprisingly, cameras will continue to operate during the review period. If a camera is found to be in compliance, tickets from that camera will be issued. As of Aug. 1, any cameras found to be out of compliance will be shut down.

Some state lawmakers are calling the DOT’s decision a good start, but they believe a permanent ban is necessary.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, said what was initially intended to help promote safer roads has potentially promoted the opposite.

“I’m sure there are many drivers who’ve felt pressured to speed up or slam on their brakes so they don’t get caught on camera going through a red light,” she said in a statement. “If the yellow lights are improperly timed, these cameras present a double safety threat.”

Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Washington, said that if safety is truly the goal, there are simple steps that towns could take to fix dangerous intersections. He suggested increasing the length of yellow lights and adding an all red cycle.

“The fact that simple fixes continue to be ignored while ticket revenues continue to flow into town coffers makes you wonder if safety is really the goal,” Doherty stated.

In addition to Doherty’s call for appropriate yellow times, governments’ goal should be to keep traffic moving in as safe a manner as possible. If safety is the main objective communities should be pursuing intelligent traffic lights that actually monitor and are triggered by traffic flow.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Where’s the dignity?

For the family of a missing driver, there isn’t a worse feeling than being thousands of miles away from where their loved one was last seen. Unless it’s hearing a botched report of his disappearance.

In the days after the family of OOIDA member and owner-operator Surat Nuenoom reported him missing from his hotel room on March 15, they depended on law enforcement to look for him, as well as the local media to get the word out to the public to look for him.

And while the Williams County, OH, sheriff’s office did all they could to find Surat – conducting a scuba search, a K-9 search and a helicopter search in the area where he was last spotted, it was a single news report by WTOL News 11 in Toledo that appeared to have brought the public’s search for Surat to a screeching halt.

That news report, “New developments in the Williams Co. hotel disappearance,” aired on a Toledo television station on March 19, four days after Surat was reported missing and – from what we now know – the day that Surat drowned in the retention pond near his hotel room.

The reporter interviewed a source for the story, who claimed Surat showed up at his garage sale that was at a parking lot, told him his name was “Surat,” and then purchased items from him, including a chainsaw. The station also ran surveillance footage of what they “confirmed” to be Surat arriving and leaving the sale in a stolen Cadillac Escalade.

However, the news station never called Surat’s family to confirm that the man in the video was actually him before they ran the story. They also didn’t share this information with Williams County Sheriff Kevin Beck, lead investigator in the case, to confirm any of the information with his department first.

Surat’s family drove from New Hampshire to Toledo to view the footage and to prove that it wasn’t him. While the station later pulled down the story that aired, the damage to Surat’s reputation and his family had been done.

It was nearly two months later that Surat was found drowned in a retention pond near the Ramada Inn in Holiday City, OH, where he was staying. While the news station later reported that dental records confirmed it was him, they never clarified that their previous news report had been wrong – that it wasn’t Surat in the surveillance video.

But the damage to Surat’s reputation was done, which is a real shame considering what they could have reported about him. They should have said that he was a native of Thailand, but became a U.S. citizen and later served his country in the U.S. Air Force, and then later worked for KBR to bring supplies to our troops in Iraq. That he was a husband, a father, a grandfather and a professional truck driver.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Sex for sale in Altoona? Cops say no

Do you know what is the second-most lucrative crime in the world, second to drug trafficking? According to several new studies, it’s human trafficking, which includes children (boys and girls), teens and young women and selling them for labor and for sex. The FBI says it’s a $30 billion-a-year industry.

We recently reported the story of a mechanic at the Boss Shop in Altoona, IA (Pilot Flying J) calling the cops on a woman he thought was selling her kindergarten-age daughter for sex at the truck stop. Not happy with the officer’s investigation, which resulted in no arrest, the mechanic made an official complaint to the mayor of Altoona to get a more thorough probe of the incident.

The best original story on this deal goes to the Des Moines Register and reporter Timothy Meinch. I emailed him, checking up on what else he knew about the case.  I had a hunch Meinch would be following this story closely. His readers certainly were.

Yesterday I heard from Meinch, and he provided me with a pretty thorough update. The cops did follow up and interviewed everyone and his brother. And the brother’s dog. The woman turned out to be the wife of a trucker. The child was his daughter. The woman and child were walking around the truck stop while the father was getting his rest in the bunk of the truck. To cut to the chase, the cops could not determine any type of wrongdoing. 

While that tip did not expose a sex trafficking crime, we know it’s happening in truck stops and other places where people travel. The FBI estimates there are currently 200,000-300,000 American children, teens and young women sold into the sex trade every year.

Truckers are the eyes and ears of the open road. If you see this kind of behavior, something that doesn’t look right – don’t deny your gut instinct. Report it.

No doubt about it. The mechanic at the Boss Shop must be commended, no matter what the investigation revealed. He saw something that disturbed him and had all the appearances – in his mind – of something that smelled funny. Security professionals call that a DLR – doesn’t look right. And he correctly notified the authorities – in fact, he pushed them – and they followed up.

If you witness actions that cause you to suspect trafficking is going on, call the cops. Or call the National Hotline for Truckers Against Trafficking at 888-373-7888.

Monday, May 21, 2012

They ride for those who can’t

Run For The Wall
riders roar past OOIDA.
They ride to raise awareness. They ride to heal. And most importantly, they ride for those who can’t.

One of the most moving days of the year for us at OOIDA happens in May. As Memorial Day approaches, we await the day – a Monday in this case – that hundreds of motorcycles will roll past as they make their annual Run For The Wall to Washington, DC.

And although we are familiar with how the day will go and what to expect as we line the hillside to greet them, seeing the riders and hearing the roar of the motorcycles still has the power to overwhelm.

No matter how prepared we are, and no matter how many years we’ve seen those stoic riders glide past on their way to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, we get caught up in the moment and feelings of pride for this country and those who serve it.

With each rider that passes, with each wave, and with each honk of a horn, we connect. We feel. For those brief, powerful moments, we are with them.

Bright, sunny day or not, the sunglasses come in handy when Run For The Wall roars past.

There’s always at least 400 riders at this stage of the Central Route. By the time they pick up their full contingency, and meet up with the Southern Route, they will be thousands strong. And by the time their wheels turn for Rolling Thunder next Monday, there will be hundreds of thousands.

Many truckers, OOIDA members and staff have military backgrounds. And we are proud to know people who participate in Run For The Wall.
OOIDA staffer Rena Meyer and her husband Dave
prepare for their first Run For The Wall experience.
They’ll end up in DC on Memorial Day.

OOIDA medical benefits administrative assistant Rena Meyer and her husband, Dave, are on the journey for the first time. Last Friday, they loaded up their rides to join up with Run For The Wall at an official stop in Kansas. Dave is 20-year Army. He told us they are riding for all fallen heroes.

For the participants, the missions are personal. They know why they ride.

And even if we’re not riding, even if we’re the ones waving from the hillside, we will do our part to help carry the torch.

(Photos by Nikohle Ellis)