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.