Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ex-FMCSA administrator: “Good policy, good data” drove Collins amendment

Count former FMCSA Administrator Annette M. Sandberg among those in the transportation industry who are fed up with the mainstream media’s misreporting of the passage of the Collins amendment in the Cromnibus funding bill earlier this month.

In a letter to the Bangor Daily News, Sandberg, who served as the second administrator in FMCSA history, said she was “perplexed by the unfair and inaccurate statements” being made by opponents of the amendment, named for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). The letter was posted to the newspaper’s website on Tuesday.

“Special interest groups have deliberately misled Congress and the public by distorting the safety record of the industry,” Sandberg writes. “For example, they have selectively chosen a narrow period (e.g., 2009-12), rather than the long term, to paint a negative picture of trucking. In fact, over the past decade (2003-12, the most recent year available), truck-involved fatalities declined 22 percent, and the truck-involved fatality rate (accounting for increased mileage exposure) dropped 37 percent.”

Sandberg spent 22 years in public safety, including three years from 2003 to 2006 as the top dog of the FMCSA. She is now the CEO of TransSafe Consulting LLC, which provides transportation, public safety and security consulting services.

“If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that safety is our top concern. That’s why I’m perplexed by the unfair and inaccurate statements being made by those who oppose a provision recently approved by Congress to temporarily suspend two new provisions in what’s called the “34-hour restart rule.” Let me be clear: This provision, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, debated in the open, and approved 21 to 9 by the Senate Appropriations Committee, will make the road safer.”

Sandberg goes on to say that while it may be “easy” (read: lazy) to characterize the issue as a fight between the trucking industry and safety advocates, the truth is that safety is everybody’s top priority.

“During my tenure and even since, I have found that the trucking industry — and safety advocates — believe that every crash on our highways, regardless of cause, is a tragedy. Truck drivers have families and loved ones who they want to get safely home to, as well,” she said.

The whole thing is worth a read. You can do so here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It’s just one little toll increase, right?

On the smallest of levels, a toll increase adds a buck or two to trucker’s trip across a toll road or toll bridge. It’s only when we zoom out and look at the bigger picture that we see how much these incremental costs can add up.

We were speaking with Don Schaefer the other day. He’s the executive vice president of the Mid-West Truckers Association, based in Springfield, Ill. The members of his association, much like the members of OOIDA, are mainly small-business truckers who own and operate their own trucks and small fleets.

We were discussing how small-business operators are many times forced to eat the costs associated with toll increases, not just in Illinois but across the Upper Midwest and throughout the Northeast as well.

That got us thinking. How much would it cost for a trucker departing from Schaefer’s home state of Illinois and taking toll roads all the way to New York?

With input from a trucking member, a trusted atlas and toll schedules for turnpikes along the route, we determined that a trucker could depart from Rockford, Ill., and spend $42.70 on the Illinois Tollway System to reach the Indiana state line. That is, of course, taking the 40 percent toll increase into account that takes effect Jan. 1, 2015. If that trucker used the Chicago Skyway, he or she would have to add $25.20 to accommodate that roadway’s 2015 toll increase.

After that, still heading east, the trucker would pay $39.70 to use the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to the Ohio state line. Next comes the Ohio Turnpike and another $50 to get to Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike, America’s first “superhighway” also comes with a super cost for a trucker. To cross the Keystone State to the Delaware River exit into New Jersey, a trucker will pay $172.38 starting on Jan. 1, 2015.

New Jersey toll roads add $45.45. Our trucker in the scenario has not even crossed into New York yet and has spent $350.23 in tolls. We haven’t even mentioned federal and state fuel taxes that the trucker pays on every gallon.

A trip across the George Washington Bridge adds $75 during off-peak hours or $95 during peak hours for a five-axle truck. A year from now, those same bridge tolls will jump another $10 to $85 and $105 respectively.

Is this getting ridiculous yet? It doesn’t matter whether a trucker is hauling a gold statue or paper towels, we’re talking serious coin.

Long-haul trucking, by nature and livelihood, traverses multiple state lines. The extra toll taxes hurt anyone in the chain that cannot absorb or pass on those costs to their customers. Small-business truckers are hurt the most in the scenario we provided as many cannot simply pass on the cost or eat the increase.

Those who promote toll roads speak of them as a luxury, a way to stay out of traffic and a way to save time. Time is money, after all.

But not everyone has the money to burn. Many see toll roads as a luxury they simply cannot afford.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The ‘most famous person’ in trucking is not a person at all

OOIDA Senior Member Jon Osburn is coming off a very successful tour-truck stop in Ontario, Calif. While on the West Coast, Jon has met and signed up dozens of new members and connected with truckers on a lot of issues.

Jon had a special visitor to the Spirit Truck in recent days, a trucker who goes by the handle “Indiana Jack.” He’s an interesting fellow who enjoys making videos about trucking, trucking issues and life on the road.

Jack decided he would turn on his camera and set off to say hi to the most famous person in all of trucking.

With all due respect to Jon, Jack was not talking about him. The star of the show, in Jack’s eyes, is Jon’s faithful co-pilot, Sassi the dog.

In true form, Sassi is comfortable in the spotlight and gets her due in Jack’s finished video.

The recognition and admiration are neat, and it doesn’t end there. Jack’s video is also a tribute to Jon’s hard work and dedication to educate and interact with truckers on the issues and about the mission of OOIDA.

Thanks for throwing us a bone, Jack.

Without further ado, take a look at Jack’s video of life on the road with Jon and Sassi, 

We’ve gotten to know Jon and Sassi very well over the years, and it’s always great to see them at the truck shows or any time they stop at OOIDA headquarters in Grain Valley, Mo.

We’re a pet-friendly building here, so you can bet Sassi has the run of the place and knows her way around. In fact, she has her own honorary “all access” badge. To many people who work here, she is the most famous “person” in trucking – a real show stealer.

Jon and Sassi are preparing to take a short break from their tour duties and head back to Idaho for the holidays. Jon’s family is quite excited to be welcoming a new grandbaby to the family soon, so we wish them all the very best.

The 2015 calendar is filling up for the tour truck. Land Line Magazine and “Land Line Now” will have all the details.

Monday, December 22, 2014

OOIDA Board election – one more week to vote

I’ve been on the staff here at OOIDA since 1987 and I’ve covered the actions of the OOIDA Board of Directors as a Land Line reporter and editor. I’ve also served on the board as an employee director for several years and know full well the struggles involved with building the best board possible to represent trucker members of OOIDA.

Achieving that “best” Board of Directors is easier said than done.

OOIDA has more than 150,000 members, and I have no doubt they care deeply about their professional Association and its mission to represent the interests of truckers. But the fact remains that actually running for a seat on the Board is something only a very small percentage of our members are willing to do.

Board members who serve on a nonprofit board have serious fiduciary, legal and ethical responsibilities. They need to be trustworthy, believe strongly in the cause of the Association, and be able to devote considerable – and I mean considerable – time and energy to OOIDA. When they make decisions, they need to make them on behalf of the clear majority of our members. 

We are especially fortunate to have the Board members we now have on our current Board. The Board is presently made up of men and women who bring years of experience in different areas of professional trucking and from all regions of the U.S. and Canada. They are a remarkable assembly of savvy, sensible and outspoken people who truly bring the concerns of the whole membership to the Board room.

As we wrap up 2014, we have an election in full swing and we are about to add more professional truckers into this already remarkable group. If you’re a member, you got your ballot in the mail in November. I hope you have completed it and mailed it back to headquarters. You can vote online, too. Now is the time for you to have a say in who serves on the Board.

OOIDA members have until the last day of December to cast their vote in a Board of Directors election that will seat five new people on the board in the spring.

The six candidates are Arthur Ballegeer, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Tilden Curl, Olympia, Wash.; David Jungeblut, Sibley, Mo.; John Koglman, Oberlin, Ohio; Paul Storz, Independence, Mo.; and Monte Wiederhold, Lebanon, Ohio.  Click here to read short bios about these folks.

Speaking as a board member, I want to offer a special thanks to those six truckers on the ballot for stepping up to run. Congratulations for surviving the stringent qualification process and good luck on the election. Also, to those OOIDA members who are active and qualified to vote, these candidates have stepped up to represent you. They’ve each made a huge commitment to your interests. It’s your privilege as a member to exercise your vote. But more than that – it’s the right thing to take the time to support the efforts of those fellow truckers who have promised to go to bat for you. If you have not voted, do it now.

Friday, December 19, 2014

So a reporter wants to ride along or interview you …

There is an article circulating around that details the ride-along of a Bloomberg reporter for a week. It’s stirred up quite the hubbub and reviews are mixed, with most feeling that trucking took a slap to the face.

I’m not going to get into dissecting the piece here, right now anyway. Because when there is one
reporter who does an expose type article, others think it’s a great idea and decide to do the same – on the same topic.

So there’s a bigger issue at stake here, and that’s how to deal with the press. I bashed on mainstream earlier this week, and I couldn’t be more serious when I say that you have to be careful when you are being interviewed.

Jokes are rarely a good idea. Tongue-in-cheek statements are even worse.

Typically, a reporter interviewing someone doesn’t know just a whole lot about what they are writing about. Hence, the need for the interview. The interview is intended to educate the reporter, who in turn will write an article that (fingers crossed) will educate the readers.

There are reporters who will ignore the mundane and skip straight to the profane for the shock value and popularity of the piece – leaving the educational aspect in the dust with tire tracks on its back. There are those who just won’t “get it.”

While it may not be popular to our counterparts in mainstream, the Land Line staff put together the how-to guide on dealing with the press. Along with our advice, we interviewed Todd Spencer (in-house we even proclaim him the sound-bite machine) and Norita Taylor who is the spokesperson for OOIDA.

The advice is valuable. I can’t implore you enough to read it and take it to heart. You may have the best of intentions, but a misstep can turn a feel-good piece into a hatchet job.

You’ve been warned.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

From the “You Had One Job” file

One of the folks in OOIDA’s Business Services department passed along this story that we thought was too funny not to share.

About a week ago, one of the staffers in the compliance department was exploring the FMCSA’s Hotline Complaint website, and used “Concentra” as a stand-in for the company he was complaining about.

Concentra, as you probably know, is one of the largest providers of DOT physicals, performing more than 750,000 a year from nearly 600 locations in 40 states, according to the company’s website. In 2012, the company began working with FMCSA to develop the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (which took effect in May) and changed the eligibility requirements for physicians who perform DOT physicals.

But did you also know that Concentra has its own “fleet” of nine commercial vehicles? Based out of Houston, the company hauls mobile medical equipment and boasts 10 drivers.

According to FMCSA, on May 27, 2013, one of those drivers received a Driver Fitness Violation 391.41A-F, otherwise known as “operating a property-carrying vehicle without possessing a valid medical card certificate.” See for yourself here.

Read that again, then join me in doing your best Nelson Muntz impression. Because it’s pretty hilarious that the company literally responsible for the new DOT physical rules would have a driver get popped for not having a valid med card.

When reached for comment, Anne-Marie Puricelli, Concentra’s chairman of the transportation committee, said the company “took immediate action in 2013 to correct this isolated incident.”

No word on whether or not the driver in question failed Concentra’s sleep test. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Paging journalistic integrity, STAT

I’m just sick of it. Plain tired.

Trucking gets a bad rap. Far, far too often. And it’s largely at the hands of my so-called colleagues in the media. These lazy hacks are an insult to any of us with work ethics and downright plain, unadulterated ethics.

This fight over the changes to the 34-hour restart has provided an abundance of write-and-rip copy (that’s journo talk for just slamming out a story without any effort). The trucking critics have preyed on the laziness of the mainstream media with scare tactics and wrong information.

And far too many writers buy all of it. Hook. Line. And sinker.

This is how the article that set me off this morning starts:

For the second time in three years, the trucking industry has found a friend in Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Collins got a rider attached to the spending bill approved over the weekend so truckers will no longer have to get two nights sleep in a row before starting a work week.

For the love of all things exhausting. Please.

This sounds like truck drivers never sleep. Never. They stay up for days on end. Eyeballs on stems.

And this isn’t isolated. Since the 34-hour restart changes were introduced, reporters have been glomming on to the “tired trucker” mantra. I Googled the term and there were 35 news stories from just this week. I assure you that term did not turn up any results from Land Line.

These reporters need to turn off the cliché trucker movies and put down the press releases and actually pick up the freaking phone and ask some questions. I don’t know, actually, ask someone who knows?

Journalism 101 tells you one thing. If it’s coming to you in the form of a press release, there is a reason it was sent. The reasons aren’t always nefarious. But, there is a reason that it was sent. You better know good and well what that agenda is before you dare waste the ink to put it out to those who should trust that your reporter BS filter is fully engaged.

Writers (I can’t even bring myself to call them journalists), before you sit down at your keyboard again, I suggest you take a long hard look in the mirror and remember what drew you to this profession. If it wasn’t to seek the truth and to make things better, it’s time you find another career. And, yeah, take trucking off the table of potential jobs. You don’t have the stomach for that. It’s actual, hard work.

Laziness in the journalism profession is rampant, and I for one am sorry for the damage that’s its doing to you, my readers.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Just in time for Christmas, it’s the ‘Truck-Eating Bridge’ calendar

If you or someone you know has had a literal run-in with one of the low-clearance bridges of Davenport, Iowa, let’s just be clear off the top that Land Line is in no way attempting to point and laugh at anybody’s misfortunes.

We just want to call attention to the Quad City Times for a fun, albeit tongue-firmly-in-cheek fundraiser to support the local affiliate of Literacy Leadership Inc., a nonprofit that uses newspapers to help promote literacy and critical thinking skills in K-12 students.

That said, copies of the 2015 edition of the “Truck-Eating Bridge” calendar are hanging side-by-side with the 2015 SuperRigs calendar in a place of honor at both Land Line and “Land Line Now” HQ.

The calendars, which sell for about $21 after taxes and shipping, can be purchased here. With the paper providing the photos and absorbing the printing costs, 100 percent of the proceeds go directly to services provided by the program, which include educational materials and lesson plans for teachers and students. The program distributes more than 25,000 newspapers to area students per week.

Jennifer Praet, Literacy Leadership coordinator for the Quad City area, said the calendars started about four years ago, in response to the tremendous amount of website traffic for photos of the aftermath of both straight trucks and tractor trailers getting their tops cropped by the notorious bridges (clearance on one of the bridges is only 11 feet, 8 inches).

“We have two bridges in Davenport that tend to be a problem,” Praet said. “The bridge over the Mississippi (River) is called the Arsenal Bridge, and then down Brady Street we have a bridge on there that also has very low clearance.

“About four years ago, (The Times) decided if people really want to see these pictures, let’s go ahead and put them out there,” she said. “They started a calendar and it has been a great fundraiser for our nonprofit.”

Bridge strikes in that area are so common, Praet said the calendar has been able to feature new and unique images every year.

“They are all current pictures; we don’t recycle any of them,” she said. “We have so many of them that happen in a year’s time, we can pull them from the last year or so. We’ve never recycled a picture.”

Like any good calendar, this one includes plenty of holidays, including Everything You Do Is Right Day (March 16), National Flip Flop Day (June 15), and World Pasta Day (Oct. 25). Of course, there’s also Truck Day (July 20).

Praet says all the holidays listed are the real deal.

“We’re a newspaper so we checked our facts and cross-referenced them,” she said. “They are actually all holidays. Who doesn’t want to know when it’s National Skip-Housework Day, or Eat Chocolate For Breakfast Day?”

The calendars can be purchased throughout the year, and there is no limited number of copies printed.

Praet stressed that the calendars are “absolutely meant to be in good fun,” and said that the owner of at least one local company that was “featured” in the calendar “thought it was a hoot, and he ended up buying them for that employee as a Christmas present.”

“We have had a huge response from truck drivers themselves and the companies thinking it’s great,” she said. “Obviously it’s an unfortunate thing, and you don’t want to see anybody go through that, but you know it happens. The response we’ve had is this is just great fun, and a neat way to support the charity.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

The newbie driver survey that wasn’t

Transport Topics recently reported that 51 percent of truck driving school graduates are white, 28 percent are African American, 12 percent are Hispanic, and 8 percent are women.

But that’s not the whole story. According to little-known but spunky research firm TGC (Two Guys with Clipboards), there’s a lot more to know about the latest crop of newly minted drivers.

For example, 23 percent graduated with honors, 72 percent graduated with a “C” average, and 5 percent hit the road without knowing which side to drive on. All found employment. However, 1 percent of the latter group drove off to pick up loads and were never heard from again.

TGC reports that a majority of the newbies prefer manual automatic transmissions to manulated manual transmissions, or even hybrid automated manual automacular transmissions. While 10 percent said they mastered a traditional 12-speed manual transmission, it turned out that most had actually trained with a walking stick in a bucket of spackle. All found employment.

TGC’s multiple-choice questionnaire asked why respondents had entered truck driving school. Forty percent selected “want to see the country.” Thirty percent picked “to get rich.” Twenty percent chose “to get away from wife/husband/in-laws.” Seven percent selected “other” and wrote “is that what this is?” Meanwhile, 3 percent entered an enigmatic smiley face.

Asked what they intended to bring along on their trips, 60 percent said they would bring a smartphone; 35 percent said fingernail clippers and tweezers. The remaining answers included nunchucks, Mace, Google Glass, emerald relish, a Monster Jam sheet set, 3D glasses, a bottle of Lysol, a change of clothes, a watch, a dog, a gerbil, a chain saw, and incredibly on each of two separate questionnaires, a tuba.

According to TGC, 20 percent of newbies do not use maps, 29 percent cannot read maps, and 10 percent cannot pronounce maps. However, 90 percent of newbies use GPS navigation at least part of the time. Of this group, 75 percent use truck-specific routing and 24 percent use cheaper car-oriented products. The remaining 1 percent have yet to arrive at their first pick-up destination and responded to this survey through the United States Forest Service.

Not surprisingly, that group had few opinions to offer about truck stops. Among those who did have opinions, 50 percent rated the restaurant their favorite part of a truck stop. Thirty percent preferred the showers while 20 percent voted for the game room. However, a small number of that group were surprised to see the highway racing games showed footage taken from their own trucks.

Despite that, virtually all the newbies said the company-installed cameras did not record them in the sleeper off duty -- except for one woman driver whose dispatcher asked where she had gotten “those cute Dale Jr. jammies?”

Finally, TGC reported that only 30 percent of the newbies completed the questionnaires. The rest quit and went home.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Trucking critics, take a chill pill – and let’s talk some facts

Trucking critics have the rhetoric and spin machine launched into overdrive. To say they are in a fizz over reinstating the previous version of the voluntary 34-hour restart would be the understatement of the century.

Blind emotions are driving these critics to grab at every inaccurate statistic they can. And, if they can’t find one to misconstrue, they are making stuff up.

First, the Tracy Morgan crash. The crash that is the critic's poster child reason for not changing the voluntary restart provision happened under the new version. Not the old one. There is no direct connection between the two. It’s like taking a flight from Kansas City to Dallas and going through Nova Scotia to connect those dots.

Second, please, please, please, give the 82-hour workweek a rest. You can make it happen on paper. That’s it. Real world scenarios do not allow such a week. On paper I could be model thin and mega rich. That’s not happening either. And, who, beyond any profession that bills by the hour wants to work 82 hours in a week. Not me. But maybe I’m just lazy.

Third, quit overstating fatalities – especially when you’re going to ignore who is at fault in those crashes. I’ve beat this drum I don’t know how many times, but since the trucking critics are banging the trash can of bad stats, I’ll put it out there again.

The most recent year of complete crash data released was 2012. Here are some key points:
  •         There were 3,464 fatal crashes involving large trucks.
  •         3,921 people died in crashes involving large trucks (not 10,000).
  •          Research shows that of those 3,464 wrecks involving large trucks, 75 to 80 percent of those      wrecks were not the fault of the trucker.
What the media should be focused on is how most people on the road are dying.
  •         There were 26,540 fatal crashes that did not involve large trucks.
  •          29,156 people died in crashes that did not involve large trucks.
Every life is precious. Every death is tragic. But, you cannot keep blaming truckers and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of passenger drivers who die on the road play a role in their own deaths. Training and safety measures need to happen for personal vehicle drivers, too. No one will go for that, though.

Finally, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, explains that the changes to the 34-hour restart provision will not do very well. So, I’ll use her words. Here’s what she told members of the Senate Commerce Committee prior to the amendment’s overwhelming bipartisan passage 21-9 in June.

“This amendment does not, does not make changes to the maximum number of hours per day that a driver can be behind the wheel … it does not change the mandatory 30-minute meal or rest break during a shift … it does not change the total on-duty window in each shift … it does not change the minimum off-duty hours required between shifts … it does not change the sleeper-berth requirement for splitting off-duty time,” she told committee members.

So let’s tap the brake on the BS and focus on facts. Death and mayhem will most certainly NOT follow on the highways if the changes are implemented. Give it a rest.

On a quick side note, truckers, OOIDA has a call to action out there encouraging support of the full appropriations bill so we can get these changes done. “One more call to your lawmakers – both your congressman and senators – would be a good move. The number for the U.S. Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121. The message is short and sweet. Simply ask the staff person to convey your message to ‘pass the CRomnibus legislation’ and thank them for doing so,” the alert states. And feel free to use any of the above facts when mentioning your support. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Changes to inspection report requirements just a feel good move

FMCSA is really patting itself on the back over a regulatory change that eliminates the requirement to fill out an inspection report on a truck with no defects.

In complete honesty, this is merely a feel good move with an overinflated estimate on how much time and money it’s going to save the industry.

The Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports will no longer need to be filled out if there are no defects. The claim by the agency is that this will save countless hours and boatloads of money – $1.7 billion annually.

The requirement never applied to owner-operators of one truck. So nothing changes for them. And, in most operations, the report was on the very same logbook sheet that motor carriers are still required to keep on file, so no paperwork reduction there.

All of this is not to say that it’s a bad thing. Of course, removing a silly requirement of filling out a report that basically states, “Nope. Nothing’s wrong here,” is a good thing. But let’s not get carried away.

It’s a good thing, and I’m sure the truckers who were out there at the end of their day filling out one more report will appreciate it. It’s just that in the grand scheme of things, it would be so much nicer to see some concerted effort and progress in the agency toward connecting and understanding life on the road.

If they did, they would know the vast majority of drivers likely filled that report out after their pre-trip inspection. They would have also known that the “paperwork reduction” happened a long time ago when those reports were incorporated into most logbooks truckers use.

This shouldn’t have been so much a “woo hoo” in their minds as it should have been “well, that was a waste of time.”

Sure wish FMCSA would punch in and realize you can’t regulate from behind a computer if you don’t truly understand the ins and outs of the job you are regulating. Bet I’ll just keep wishing … 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Trucking lost one of the good guys

There are people in your life whose mere existence is so profound that it’s hard to find ways to come to terms with the fact they are no longer here. That they have died.

This has turned into an ongoing struggle for me ever since I learned of the death of David Mike Pennington. He died of a heart attack on Friday, Dec. 5, at the age of 64. If you knew him, you know what I mean about trying to process this. If you didn’t, I’m going to do my best to explain.
Mike Pennington. Photo Courtesy of Meritor.

Mike has been involved in the trucking industry for years, since 1972 to be exact. For the longest time he worked with Meritor in marketing and public relations. That’s what he was doing when I first entered trucking journalism some 15 years ago and met him. Once you met Mike, you didn’t forget him.

There was never a time when you interacted with Mike that you did not feel as if you were the most important person in the room. His infectious smile and kind heart made us all feel a little bit better.

Mike had a passion for the trucking industry that many would say is unparalleled. His press conferences were visionary. I mean who else could get a bunch of ink-stained wretches to sit in uncomfortable chairs for an hour.

He was always quick with support and a word of encouragement to the newbies, like I was, in the industry. He was the guy you could count on, no matter.

He was a founding member of Truck Writers of North America. Journalists and associated members like PR folks came together to network, to support each other and to, in general, raise the level of professionalism in the trucking journalism community.

I’m chairman of the board of that group. We’re going through a transition right now that is not necessarily comfortable. But, you can bet at every turn Mike was there, ready to lend a hand, offer a word of encouragement, or just tell me “Hang in there, kiddo.”

But Mike wasn’t just about journalists. He was about the truckers, too. More than you will ever know, really.

He recently embarked on a new adventure – being instrumental in the formation of Trucking Moves America Forward. He believed in what we all do and, more importantly, believed in the men and women behind the wheel, out on the road every day. The people we all work for.

He wanted truck drivers to be respected by the public. He wanted to promote professionalism within the industry so there wouldn’t be as many of those who give truckers a black eye. He believed we could all work together and make that happen.

Trucking Moves America Forward is still in the growth stage. And if they stick to the mission as Mike saw it, his legacy will live on in the trucking industry in so many ways.

I think everyone hopes to leave a mark on life here on Earth when we depart. But the profound impact that Mike had on the lives of so many of us, is something that I’m sure he didn’t realize. He was humble like that.

We will miss Mike Pennington. We will miss what he meant as a leader, mentor, friend and kind soul.

This sort of loss cannot be summed up easily. It can only be honored in striving to raise the bar and be the kind of professional and person that Mike Pennington was.

Editor’s note: The Celebration of Life will be held Friday, Dec. 12, 2014 at 11a.m. at, The Amelia Island Club, 5 Ocean Club Drive, Amelia Island, Fla. The Omni Hotel at Amelia Island is offering villa rates for those wishing to stay overnight. Contact Romi Woodin at (904) 491-4700 to make arrangements.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Any job worth doing …

For quite some time now we’ve been hearing a refrain from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration about the need to regulate shippers and receivers and get a handle on detention time in the trucking industry.

It’s been encouraging. Dare we say we were almost hopeful that for once FMCSA was going to do something that would actually help drivers and (gasp) maybe even empower them.

I was rather excited when I received my copy of the agency’s study on detention time. That excitement didn’t even last past the 10th page. It was quickly replaced by anger and disappointment.

FMCSA contracted with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to conduct the study. To gather the “real world” field data, VTTI hired two third-party vendors.

The half-hearted effort put into this study shows a crystal clear case of highway robbery of taxpayer money. The third-party vendors surveyed 31 motor carriers. Not a typo. Really, just 31. There will be some who might argue that surveying 31 motor carriers out of 2.4 million is “statistically valid.” Whatever.

But what launched me into orbit was the fact that out of the 31 motor carriers they surveyed, only two had fewer than 50 trucks. Two.

Let that sink in. Two.

Friday, December 5, 2014

So about all those crashes on the Tennessee-side of “The Dragon”…

By now, you’ve probably heard that Tennessee is joining its neighbor North Carolina in banning vehicles over 30 feet in length from traveling on a mountainous section of U.S. Highway 129 in Blount County along the western edge of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, a stretch known as “The Tail of the Dragon,” or in some instances, just “The Dragon.”

Enforcement is expected to start in January, once the state DOT installs signage to warn of the upcoming change. Fine amounts and other penalties are still being worked out.

There’s an illustrated photo of The Dragon’s many curves and switchbacks hanging in Land Line Editor-in-Chief Sandi Soendker’s office (which is pictured in the photo with this piece). Boasting 318 curves in 11 miles, the stretch is a magnet for motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts looking to put their performance machines to the ultimate test.

My favorite thing about the poster, though (besides the fire-breathing Dragon-Lady, obviously), are the names of some of the turns – Beginner’s End, The Pearly Gates, Wheelie Hell and the Crossroads of Time, just to name a few. The whole stretch kind of reminds me of a real-life “Wolf Creek Pass.” Talk about Hairpin County and Switchback City.

In an announcement on the agency’s website Tuesday, the Tennessee DOT said there were 204 crashes along that stretch of roadway from 2010 to 2012, “a critical number” according to the release. Six of those crashes were fatalities, but only one of them involved a tractor-trailer. The agency also said there were “a number of incidents involving large trucks.”

“Due to the curvy and narrow roadway, incidents involving tractor trailers usually block the highway for several hours and prevent travel for all motorists,” according to the release.

Other media reports were quick to carry stories about the DOT’s decision, touting that big trucks had long been “a bane of motorcycles and sports car enthusiasts.”

Here’s the rub though. Of those 204 crashes that occurred from 2010 to 2012, 167 of them (roughly 82 percent) involved motorcycles, not large trucks, according to DOT spokesman Mark Nagi.

In fact, the exact number of incidents involving large trucks – including the fatality crash mentioned earlier – is … four. Four total crashes involving large vehicles (or .02 percent of all crashes).

Now, it’s fair to point out that because of the narrow roads, the many curves, it’s very difficult to maneuver a tractor-trailer through The Dragon, particularly without said tractor-trailer taking up more than just one lane of traffic. And Nagi said when accidents do occur involving large trucks “the roadway is shut down for an extended period of time.”

“Due to the large number of curves and narrow lanes, it is a difficult roadway for vehicles to maneuver,” Nagi said in an email to Land Line. “Very often large trucks drift into the other lane, putting others at risk. In addition, accidents involving large trucks have shut down the roadway for hours, making it impossible for emergency personnel to get through.”

Fair enough. But if safety is the primary concern, why not ban motorcycles too? After all, they make up the overwhelming majority of the crashes. And the department’s own numbers show that, other than one tragic fatality, big trucks aren’t playing a substantial role in the number of motorcycle crashes?

It’s the state of Tennessee’s prerogative to ban large vehicles from tackling The Dragon, something that North Carolina has done for years now. But the suggestion or even implication that the ban will reduce the number of crashes on this famous stretch of roadway is one curve around which the data can’t hold the line.

Editor’s note: As a side note, in the summer of 2003, “Land Line Now” Host Mark Reddig was associate editor of Land Line. We were hearing so many stories about this stretch of road, Mark stepped up and accepted a special assignment to actually “drive the Dragon” to see what the big flap was. His story, “Beware the Dragon” has been an enduring favorite of Land Line readers ever since.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hoffa’s first Teamster joke

I told Jimmy Hoffa his first Teamster joke. He didn’t like it.

Okay, it wasn’t James R. Hoffa, the fabled, mobbed-up, union boss who went MIA in 1975. It was his son, James P., current head of the union who despite that middle initial is still known as Jimmy Junior.

It was May of 1995; James P. was running for the Teamster presidency against incumbent Ron Carey in an election set for June the following year. On assignment for Heavy Duty Trucking magazine, I met the aspiring union leader at the Sheraton Hotel in New York City. Outside, it was a clear spring day. Inside, three of the half-dozen bulky guys in Hoffa’s suite were smoking cigars. Breathing was a challenge.

Hoffa was talking forcefully about the 15-year (now 40-year) decline in working people’s incomes. I don’t remember exactly how, but for some reason the subject of Teamster jokes came up.

“What’s a Teamster joke?” Hoffa asked. He wasn’t smiling.

Teamster jokes may have been a New York City phenomenon. I don’t know for sure. But I first heard them among the production people who worked in the city’s film industry. Wherever the actors went on location, so did the trucks that brought the cameras, lighting, and sound equipment. Those trucks usually arrived very early in the morning, parked at the curb all day, and left late. For all the hours in between Teamster drivers had nothing to do. Fairly or not, they were famous for eating and sleeping behind the wheel.

“Oh, they’re just jokes that some production people tell,” I said, trying to back away from the subject.

“Tell me one,” Hoffa said.

Uh oh.

I tried to remember a relatively mild one, even if it was lame. One second, then two ticked away as I thought. But for all the trying, only one Teamster joke surfaced. There were at least a dozen making the rounds at the time, yet I could only think of one. Please no, I thought to myself, not that one.

Hoffa was looking at me with steely blue eyes.

“Okay,” I said. “How do you know when a Teamster is dead?”

“I don’t know,” Hoffa responded. “How?”

There was no choice but to deliver the line.

“The doughnut falls out of his mouth.”


Then Hoffa launched into a rather loud diatribe from which I learned, among other things, that Michael Eisner, then the head of Disney, made $100 million in one year while Disney warehouse workers were earning $7 an hour.

The interview was over.

(Just for the record, Hoffa lost to Carey the following year, but won a special election in 1998 and three more since. The next election is set for the Teamster convention in Las Vegas in 2016.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ten reasons Story City, Iowa, needs a truck stop

Story City, Iowa, a town of 3,341, 12 miles north of Ames on Interstate 35, recently rejected a Love’s truck stop.

We think Story City should reconsider. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Story City was settled by Norwegian farmers looking for cheap real estate. They found it here at $1.25 an acre in 1850. A truck stop could only increase property values.

2. Story City was named for Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) who was born in Massachusetts, taught at Harvard, and served in Washington, D.C. He never set foot in Iowa (never mind Story City) because there was no Iowa. But Justice Story was noted for his strong support of private property rights. He would never have forbidden a truck stop. They should build one now for Justice Joe.

3. There are more women than men in Story City, 100 women to every 76-and-a-half men, according to the census. Since 94 percent of all truck drivers are men, Story City could really use a truck stop.

4. Professional baseball player Hank Severeid from Story City once played for the Yankees. That was in 1926. Hank ends the list of famous people from Story City. In fact, he is the entire list. A truck stop would inspire Story City’s youth, like the rails inspired earlier generations.

5. In the 2012 novel “Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland” a small town populated by werewolves is named Story City. This is not good PR. Since trucking is certified 100 percent werewolf free, a truck stop could only help.

6. Story City is home to a citizen who claimed a cop once told him “500 at-large serial killers travel I-35 each day.” In a letter to the Story City Herald, the citizen opposed Love’s because he didn’t want to give predators a reason to stop “and abduct our innocent children.” Clearly, Story City needs a truck stop as a link to the real world.

7. In May of this year, according to the Story City Herald, Story City police had to contend with an apartment burglary, a stolen purse, a theft of catalytic converters from a repair shop, two slashed tires, five disturbances of the peace, four disorderly conduct calls, seven false alarms, seven domestic quarrels, two trespassers, 20 suspicious vehicles and 30 suspicious persons. The town is obviously out of control. How could a truck stop make things any worse?

8. Story City has a very low crime rate, according to government statistics, but that may all depend on how you define crime. According to RealtyTrac, Story City has a foreclosure rate double that of Iowa. Yet the town is home to five banks – a bank for every 660 people that live there. A truck stop would have no impact on this terrible statistic, but Story City should have one anyway.

9. Some residents opposed Love’s because they claimed it would cause traffic jams. Traffic jams? Twelve miles north of Ames and 30 miles east, south and west of nowhere else? What’s a traffic jam in Story City? A truck in front of you? I invoke the reality link once again. Story City needs a truck stop.

10. Truckers need a place in Story City to eat, refuel, and sleep. Story City needs the 50 permanent jobs. They should do the right thing and let Love’s build a truck stop. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Washington state plays blame game in bridge collapse

Federal investigators spread out the blame for the May 2013 bridge collapse on Interstate 5 in Washington state. Unfortunately, the Washington State Patrol puts the blame squarely on the truck driver and has charged him with negligent driving in the second degree.

The collapse of a portion of the Skagit River Bridge was investigated from every conceivable angle and we know much about what happened.

We know that truck driver William Scott of Alberta, Canada, was southbound on I-5 and in the right lane, hauling a permitted over-height load on a step-deck trailer. We know he had a pilot car up ahead, and we know that being in the right lane was not the place to be because the oversized load could not safely pass beneath the arched overhead bridge supports.

We know that a section of the bridge collapsed and that two vehicles plunged into the river. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured.

Scott told investigators he wanted to – and tried to – move into the left lane, but his truck was being overtaken and passed by another truck as the vehicles approached the bridge. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that in its final report, but the second truck driver has never come forward and has never been identified.

The NTSB concluded in its final report that the overhead bridge supports had likely been weakened over the years by numerous – or even countless – strikes by over-dimensional vehicles.

These are all factors, yet the Washington State Patrol’s Major Accident Investigation Team – known as MAIT – claims in its “final report” that Scott was negligent in causing the bridge collapse.

“The MAIT determined the proximate cause of this collision sequence was directly attributable to William Scott’s negligence,” the State Patrol wrote. “It was Scott’s responsibility to know that the height of his load would clear structures such as the Skagit River Bridge along his permitted route.”

The State Patrol says Scott’s load was 2 inches higher than listed on the route permit, and that he needed to know “well in advance” what position he would need on the bridge to ensure clearance.

According to CSA, the company that Scott worked for and continues to work for, Mullen Trucking, has a good safety record.

Sure, in an ideal world, Scott would have moved over. Ramifications from this collision and collapse are ongoing.

The NTSB has recommended to the state of Washington that permitted loads be escorted by two pilot cars instead of one. NTSB recommends a ban on all cellphone use by pilot car drivers because the lone pilot car driver in this incident was on a business call using a hands-free cellphone device at the time of the collision. NTSB has asked for CDL holders to obtain an endorsement to haul oversized loads, and further, the agency is asking for improved signage and GPS data for bridge dimensions nationwide.

Would any of these lofty recommendations have made a difference in this case? Who is to say? One thing is for sure, the Washington State Patrol doesn’t seem to be interested in it. They’re only interested in pursuing charges against the truck driver. The patrol says the driver of an oversized load is responsible for safely navigating his route.

Scott is to appear in court next year on the negligent-driving charge.

Friday, November 14, 2014

For troops, care packages show ‘the little things’ are a big deal

If you read Land Line on a regular basis, listen to our Sirius/XM radio show “Land Line Now” or follow us on social media, chances are you’ve heard about OOIDA’s Truckers for Troops campaign, which is happening all this week.

For eight years now, Truckers for Troops has been raising money to assemble care packages to send to our U.S. military members deployed in combat zones overseas. OOIDA members and corporate sponsors have raised over $400,000 to date – not counting the generous contributions that have already rolled in during our annual telethon, which is happening this week. The way it works is simple – for $35, you can join or renew your OOIDA membership, and 10 percent goes to pay for the care packages. OOIDA matches that 10 percent dollar for dollar.

And just like in life, where it’s the little things that sometimes make the biggest difference, veterans
who have been on the receiving end of the Truckers for Troops care packages say the supplies, personal care items and letters bring a much-needed taste of home to people who are thousands of miles away.

The 507th Engineer Battalion opens up a previous
Truckers for Troops care package.
“We didn’t have a shop or a store on our base, so you can only imagine how nice it is to get anything from magazines to a bar of soap or a toothbrush and toothpaste,” said U.S. Army Capt. Jacob Holl, who received one of the care packages while on deployment in Afghanistan. “It’s always nice to get something from somebody you don’t know. It shows there are people who know it’s not easy. A little love from home can go a long way.”

Holl was just one of several veterans to be interviewed by “Land Line Now” in advance of this year’s telethon. Portions of those interviews are being broadcast during this week’s shows. In addition to interviews with the troops, the show is also reading thank-you letters we received from recipients, and talking with members whose sons and daughters are deployed overseas.

One of those folks is Senior Member Craig Scott, of Lyons, Ga. Scott, who was himself deployed overseas during Operation Desert Storm, signed up his daughter Anisha Taylor and another friend, Army Sgt.  Dave Fulsom to receive care packages while they are on deployment.

“I know exactly how it feels when you receive a care-package like that,” Scott said. “It just motivates you and it’s a morale booster. When I heard about Truckers for Troops, I’m thinking this would be the prime opportunity to do something for them. I didn’t actually have the time to sit there and put a package together, but this would be the opportunity to get a package to them and just knock out two birds at one time.”

Scott said the reaction he got from his daughter and friend when the packages arrived was priceless.

Selection in one of the gift boxes sent out in a
previous Truckers for Troops campaign.
“They couldn’t believe how much stuff it was; they were able to share the stuff with other friends there,” he said. “It just makes (the troops) know that people appreciate them and haven’t forgotten about them. You’re away from home, you’re over there doing your job and you want to be focused on your job. But sometimes you do get, you know, you miss being where you’re from …. When you know people are caring about you, it makes your job easier as a soldier.”

But it’s not just our members who are serving or who have family abroad. The staff at OOIDA and Land Line also have family members who are doing their “patriotic chore.”

Adam Johnson, the son of OOIDA Marketing Coordinator Nikki Johnson, served two tours of duty with the Marines in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 as a forward observer.

As part of forward ops, Johnson said he and his unit often didn’t have the creature comforts of an established military base. So while the personal care items and things like socks were much-appreciated, he said the boxes of raviolis his unit received were one of the biggest hits.

“We were just eating MREs the whole entire time,” he said. “When (my unit) saw that ravioli, they went crazy. The sardines in there too. After you eat MREs for so long … it pretty much just tastes like slime.”

And on a personal note, when I found out my cousin, Staff Sgt. Brian Grisolano was going to be deployed at Bagram Air Force Base last fall, I immediately signed him up for a Truckers for Troops delivery. I told him ahead of time to what to expect, but he said even the advance notice couldn’t prepare him for the size of the box.

“There’s a lot of organizations that send care packages to troops overseas, but what I really liked about the Truckers for Troops boxes is it’s not just for one person,” Brian said. “These are really big boxes … so not only am I getting use out of this, but the 12 guys in my room and the 20 to 30 guys in the rooms next to us, everybody can share what’s inside.”

He said one of his unit’s favorite items were the cans of Silly String.

“It really seemed out there at the time but we had a lot of fun with it,” he said. “Every time we got a Truckers for Troops box, within 20 minutes, there’d be a silly string fight.

“It’s easy when you’re home to take for granted that everything is just within arm’s reach,” he said. “So even something real small, that you don’t think is that big a deal, it makes a huge impact on a soldier that’s overseas. Everything we got meant a great deal to me and all my guys.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the road with the Capitol Christmas Tree

The Capitol Christmas Tree moves across the country under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Forest Service, state and local law enforcement and the public. The journey, which began in north central Minnesota in late October, spans about three weeks and more than 17 stops as communities across the country share in the joy and fellowship of the season. For this truck driving reporter, it was a dream sandwiched between two celebrations.

On a blustery day in Wilmington, Ill., schoolchildren gleefully lined up to sign the tarps cocooning the 88-year-old white spruce making its way to the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Land Line Field Editor Suzanne Stempinski.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Hensley.
According to U.S. Forest Service representative Mike Theune, the tree has a crown spread of 30 feet and a trunk diameter of 30 inches. It was 88 feet tall when it was harvested. Trimmed and prepared for transport, it is roughly 75 feet tall.

To keep the tree at its peak condition, a forester monitors the tree, making sure it stays hydrated and healthy. A specially designed bladder is refilled with up to 45 gallons of water per day. While the chilly temperatures were tough on people, cold weather is good for the tree, allowing it to go into a dormant, resting state.

OOIDA Member Elwood Higdem has been driving truck for 55 years. He’s the man behind the wheel of the Kenworth T880 that hauls the Capitol Christmas Tree. OOIDA Life Member Ken Lundgren is the wheelman for the second truck – a Kenworth T680 Advantage, carrying the ornaments and additional trees that will decorate offices throughout Washington, D.C. 

Higdem relinquished his seat to me for one leg of the journey – a 10-mile trip from Wilmington to Elwood, Ill. 

I’ve been a commercial vehicle driver since before there was a CDL; and I’ve got more than 1.5 million safe miles under my wheels. I’ve pulled reefers and dry vans, flatbed and horse trailers. But I don’t have a lot of experience with over-dimensional loads, so I was excited to have the opportunity to deliver the tree from one destination to another. From the front bumper to the oversize load sign hanging off the back of the trailer measured just under 105 feet. No tight turns for this combo. With flashing lighted escorts in front, and a convoy of support vehicles running behind, it was quite a drive.

Left to right: OOIDA Life Member Ken Lundgren and wife, Pat;
Joan Higdem and husband, OOIDA Member Elwood Higdem.
Photo courtesy of Art Rink/Lifetouch.
People lined up along the street waving, cheering and taking pictures as the truck rolled out. I lined up with the curbs and took turns slowly and with great care as the logistics team had scouted the accesses and angles.

“Be sure to keep the stake on your left and don’t hit the sign as you go around,” advised Higdem as we made our way out of the Wilmington Middle School parking lot. 

These charming old communities with narrow streets were never designed to accommodate equipment this big. The trailer seemed to grow in my mirrors, longer each time I looked. Eventually we made our way onto a main artery and with smiles that got bigger for every mile turned, the procession wound its way to the Community Center in Elwood.

The team waved me to a stop in the middle of the road; my job for the day was done. I set the parking brakes and shut down the engine. Load safe and secured.

Chief of Police Fred Hayes welcomed us to his community. The Kenworth and Capitol Christmas Tree were the centerpieces of their official holiday lighting ceremony, with a huge turnout from the locals. Sandwiches and hot chocolate, cookies and good cheer were in plentiful supply as the day wound down, and the lights came up with stockings and snowflakes adorning light poles throughout the community.

I left Elwood Higdem and his wife, Joan, as well as Ken Lundgren and his wife, Pat, and the caretakers of the trees and their crew, who were planning their travels for the following morning. They were headed to Grand Rapids, Mich., with road construction and a time zone change to factor into their routing. It was another special day in the trip to Washington, D.C.

And for me, I’ll be watching the news as Speaker of the House John Boehner flips the switch at the official lighting ceremony on Dec. 2. The stuff of dreams – delivered.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Instilling respect and gratitude in future generations

Veteran’s Day is an important day around my house – as is Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor Day … You get the pattern.

As a parent you set a lot of goals for yourself when you have children. My list is long, but high up on that list is to instill in my children a deep respect and gratitude for the men and women who have served and who are serving our country in the armed services.
Daniel Craig, a member of the
Grain Valley Marching Eagles,
plays taps atop the U.S.S. Bowfin
over Thanksgiving week 2013.

I can remember distinctly the day I vowed to myself that’s how I would raise my kids.

I was in my early 20s when the National Guard unit stationed in the town where I grew up was sent to Iraq. The town was collectively stunned. It was a small community in northwest Arkansas with a rather large National Guard unit. I doubt there was anyone who wasn’t personally connected to someone who was “going to war.”

For me, my connection was my high school basketball coach – who I adored. Coach Moore left his wife and two daughters, who were right around my age, to go serve.

I wrote coach letters every now and then. Mainly because I liked the guy and it just seemed like the right thing to do. But it turned into a lot more than that.

One of the last letters he sent before coming home really sat me down and made me think. In the letter he asked if there were people who “hate us like they did after Vietnam.”

Admittedly, I was very young when Vietnam ended. I had no recollection of how it really was. All I could tell you was what I learned in the history books. And they fell short on what our soldiers faced when they came home.

I looked out the newspaper office windows and tried to digest his question.

Here we were back home with yellow ribbons tied around everything that didn’t move. Flags lined up and down Main Street. Banners were hung showing support of our troops, everywhere.

I wrote back and told him that he was about to see a heroes’ welcome.

Time has blurred the detail on whether the letter reached him in time. What I remember clearly was seeing him on that float that carried our Guard unit through town during the welcome home parade.

Jake Jones, center, performs with the Grain Valley Marching Eagles
at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Thanksgiving week 2013
As I was perched on a corner lamp post (being the diligent journalist photographing the event), I smiled and waved at him when they rounded the corner. He sort of dropped his head and shook it in disbelief and then looked up and smiled.

Coach was a tough dude. That smile spoke volumes. He finally knew what it meant to be a veteran who was treated with respect, honored and thanked for his service.

Then and there I swore if I ever had kids, I would teach them to show respect and gratitude like coach saw and felt the second time around after serving his country.

I won’t go so far as to say “mission accomplished,” but my kiddos do make me proud when I see them walk up to a vet and ask to shake his or her hand. When they were younger, you would have thought they were meeting rock stars when they ran into someone in fatigues at the store.

Now as teens they are getting the bigger and ultimate sacrifices many have made.

Perhaps the most poignant example is my son Jake.
Grain Valley Marching Eagles lay a wreath at the U.S.S. Arizona shrine.
The wall lists all the men who died on the U.S.S. Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941

The Grain Valley Marching Eagles high school band was invited to perform at Pearl Harbor this past Thanksgiving. Here you have 150 some-odd kids on a trip to Hawaii. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would get out of it beyond a righteous tan.

The band performed at the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. They were also the featured band at the Waikiki Holiday Parade – a parade dedicated to remembering the fallen and honoring military heroes and survivors of Pearl Harbor.

The memories from that trip are powerful for Jake, as they are with all the kids, having met survivors and stood on sacred ground. He still talks often of being over the site of the U.S.S. Arizona and watching the oil bubble up from the wreckage below – tears of the Arizona they are sometimes called.

He called home the night after he visited the memorial.

“Mom, there were so many who died there. There are so many that have died since then. And, here we are a bunch of kids in a parade for survivors. How do we ever do them justice in honoring them?”

I would say his concern in not doing enough is reason enough to think that he gets it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Voting is easy … intelligent voting, not so much

I went early to vote Tuesday, Nov. 4. As I hoped, the line was short. The hallway and voting room were quiet and the chitchat was whispery but clearly heard by all.

One lady in a pink sweatshirt was talking low on her cell phone, calling someone else to tell her how to vote. She obviously had no idea what was even on the ballot: “Hi, it’s me. So I am here at the library. OK. How should I vote? I have no idea. OK. Yes on number three and no on all others? OK thanks.”

And then there was the husband and wife there to vote together, side-by-side booths. It was an endearing sight. There was nothing whispery about how they planned to exercise one of their most critical American freedoms.

HIM: I don’t know any of these people, I am just voting for the first one on the list.
HER: I am voting for that one guy because he had a sign in Geneva’s yard. The sign was nice. And big.
HIM: I am just here to vote for my favorite old baseball player. He was a great second baseman.
HER: What’s he running for?
HIM: No matter, I’m voting for him!

I threw a look at the women at the table who were Election Day poll workers, waiting for one of them to ask the uninformed pair to be quiet. I mean these “election inspectors” kind of have a duty to keep the polling place orderly, right? Aren’t they supposed to take all necessary measures to ensure that the voter casts his or her vote in secret?

It was almost my turn to show my ID and sign in on the precinct clipboard. The people in back of me appeared to know each other and were discussing the ballot for all to hear.

HER: Hey neighbor! Good to see you out voting!
HIM: Well I don’t know crap about who is running and they are all liars, but it’s our duty to vote. Americans have died for democracy and I want that “I VOTED” sticker.

I shifted my attention away from the neighbors to the husband and wife pair, still in the side-by-side booths punching away.

HER: Who was that sheriff that we liked? Is he on here?
HIM: That was a long time ago. I don’t see him on here anywhere. I don’t even see a vote for sheriff.

By that time, I was really annoyed, thinking to myself: Never underestimate the power of a huge group of clueless people.

I am one of those who have been saying for months “get out there and vote” to anyone who will listen. I have said it a hundred times – I don’t care how you vote, just vote. And I meant that.

But I looked around the polling place Tuesday morning and saw only a few people that I thought were making an informed, decisive vote. The rest seemed confused, wielding the punch pen with wild abandon. Has our system become so complex and our campaigns so devious that few of our citizens know how to make good choices?

Later that night, I listened to “the people have spoken!” and “Americans have sent a message!” This morning I read one of the endless articles about voter turnout, blasting people who were eligible to vote but didn’t. I haven’t seen anything about how many of the Americans voted randomly, aimlessly, without looking once at the ballot or evaluating the candidates. And, frankly, I don’t want to.

Here at OOIDA, we spent months gathering info to help our members and other professional truck drivers make worthy choices on the ballot. We talked issues, track records, what’s at stake and who walks the walk. It was in the magazine, online at, in the social media and on our radio show. Based on conversations we had with truckers prior to Election Day, professional drivers might be a smaller segment of voters, but I’ll bet they voted smarter than the general public.

Voting is easy. Intelligent voting, not so much.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NTSB and media miss the point in Maryland crash report

Federal investigators and the media are going all out to blame a truck driver for his role in a truck vs. train collision that occurred in Maryland last year and caused a 15-car derailment and explosion.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s final report on the May 28, 2013, crash at Rosedale, Md., points out straight away that the driver of the truck hauling a roll-off trash container was talking on a hands-free headset at the time his truck entered a railroad crossing and was struck by the train.

Headlines proclaiming driver distraction have all but convicted the trucker for “causing” the crash.

That may be icing on the cake for an already sensational story, but it is far from the only factor that contributed to the crash and may actually rank low compared to some of the more glaring ones.

For starters, a commercial driver talking on a hands-free device is not illegal as a matter of federal or state law.

But that’s not the point I want to focus on here. I have a number of problems with the report and the ensuing coverage of the crash.

Let’s start with the crossing itself. Because it is on a private roadway (known as Dump Road) it does not have any lights, crossing gates or any other warning devices beyond a stationary crossing sign in the shape on an X.

Even if that doesn’t trouble you or is somehow mundane, it’s important to note that there is a complete lack of visibility at this crossing due to overgrown weeds and bushes.

The trucker pointed this out in his statement to investigators when he said he believed “it was not possible to see to the right without some portion of the truck being on the track.”

In fairness, the driver admitted to investigators he did not typically stop at this particular crossing because his truck terminal was nearby and he relied on the sound of train horns to alert him to oncoming trains. Is that the smartest thing? No, but had visibility been better, that likely wouldn’t be much of an issue.

The uphill grade of the roadway leading to the crossing is also an issue for trucks because they must stop and start on a slight hill. Oh, and the stop sign marking the crossing is faded, and upside down.

Next, the NTSB dedicated some real estate in its 84-page report to discuss the truck driver’s health history and traffic record – which is due diligence, I suppose. Both seemed to be in decent shape. It’s the NTSB’s choice of words in these sections that are concerning – that somehow the driver’s weight of 300 pounds, his body-mass index, or that he had once been tested for sleep apnea, were contributing factors to the scenario.

The fact is, a driver’s weight, BMI or status on sleep apnea are not consistent or reliable indicators of that driver’s ability to perform his work duties. He possessed a full two-year medical card issued by his medical examiner well before the crash. The NTSB noted that since the crash, a different examiner restricted the driver to a three-month card after determining he did not follow up on being re-tested for his sleep apnea condition.

The report notes that the trucker’s waste-hauling company, Alban Waste, became a new entrant in the FMCSA database in April 2011. The company failed its new entrant safety audit a few months later after the FMCSA found it lacked in implementing and enforcing a company drug and alcohol policy. Alban Waste was placed out of service in February 2012 but was reinstated in March of that year and passed its new entrant audit.

So what does the NTSB want to see happen? They want an all-out ban on hands-free cellphone use for truckers. They want an increased focus on new entrant audits and for companies to be revoked if they show a pattern of deficiencies. And they want a system that will notify the FMCSA of “violations” that arise in a driver’s medical qualification exam. Does this have anything to do with apnea? Because the current laws and regs are clear that apnea testing is not mandatory.

The NTSB has also provided model state legislation that says trucks should come to a complete stop before entering a “passive” railroad crossing – ones that aren’t marked with gates and signals. The model legislation would also require improvements to sight distance at passive crossings through the trimming of trees and weeds. Local, county and state property owners and the railroads have an obligation to make sure their grade crossings are safe.

In this instance, it doesn’t look like anyone cared enough to make this particular crossing safe, and as a result, a train got derailed, some chemicals onboard exploded, and a truck driver’s name, health history and safety record got sullied.