Thursday, June 19, 2014

When regulators get it wrong

It seemed like a good idea. Talented technology developers convinced safety advocates that their product in trucks would reduce accidents. Both groups helped convince regulators to make the devices mandatory. But the result was not the great boon to safety that regulators expected.

Sounds like ELDs, doesn’t it? Actually it was more than 40 years ago, and the devices were anti-lock brakes. The aerospace companies that created and manufactured them for multi-million-dollar aircraft were certain that anti-lock brakes on big trucks would save lives – and make them a lot of money.

In 1975, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation went into effect and the ABS trucks hit the road in numbers. It was clear to many drivers that ABS wasn’t quite ready for the highways. Sometimes trucks pulled to one side, then suddenly veered to the other, even changing lanes. Some drivers reported the wheel being wrenched from their grasp altogether. Ingenious technology that was supposed to enhance safety was, at least in some cases, actually hazardous.

Of course, ABS is a great technology. But all at once in 1975, it was too much too soon. A sophisticated aerospace product wasn’t ready for U.S. highways and maintenance shops, and the rule was eventually upended by a federal court. So it turned out those well-intentioned engineers, safety advocates, and regulators had actually pushed a promising technology straight off a cliff. Most trucks would be without ABS for another 20 years.

Is there a lesson here where ELDs are concerned? How about the ill-conceived restart provision of the latest HOS?

In both cases, regulators – this time the FMCSA – have overreached. To enforce elegantly crafted, arithmetically gratifying solutions, they have seriously circumscribed a driver’s real-world options. There is no elegance in the cockeyed realities drivers deal with hour-by-hour, day-by-day. And flesh-and-blood bodies simply do not conform to anything so orderly as a statistical norm.

Will regulators eventually relent? Will an appeals court somewhere come to the rescue? We can only hope.

7 comments:

  1. Looking back, I figured ABS didn't have adequate computing power to deal with traffic situations quickly enough. Now it can. More study back then would have avoided a lot of grief. The Restart rules, sleep rules, speed limiters for trucks, and E-logs all need good studies to; find out if the theories are true, do they actually work, & are they needed for everyone. As we saw in the Jersey Walmart crash, no amount of rules will stop some drivers from being irresponsible. Though you may be within HOS limits doesn't mean you should still be driving. On the other hand, there are often no safe places to pull off to take a short break when you need it, & we all know of situations where we need to pull off, but there is no place to do so.
    But, we can adjust our driving to take into account fatigue until we can get to a safe place for a break.

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    1. One thing to remember about ABS, it's not designed to stop any quicker, it's designed to keep you in control. (We say ABS stands for ABility to Steer.)

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  3. Back in the day,,,,,,,,,, we used to strip the brakes off the steer axle because brakes on a steerable wheel was supposed to put ya in the ditch.

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    1. Hate to say it, but it appears as if the only way to get DC to even listen to us is to shut down. Be it a few hours or a full day, it has to be done. Why? Because they are playing games with our livelihoods. And yet, we control the nation. Think on that. People get everything they need, from a truck delivery. Sure the trains take product cross country, they are slow and still need a truck to deliver from the rail. But if we do it, we most certainly cannot follow the direction of Belinda Bee and her followers nor the people who called for the last so called trucker strike and that so called "the american trucker" who sold out the rest of the truckers for his own two seconds of fame. I honestly forget his name, but NAFTA nor NDAA is not first and foremost on truckers minds now is it?

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