Friday, April 17, 2015

Trucker and family pay in-person visit to thank firefighters who saved his life

Sometimes in life, you have to go the extra mile. Or in the case of trucker Norman “Cuz” Towell, an extra 550 or so miles.

Towell, 58, of Salisbury, N.C., made the trek from his home to Indianapolis with his wife and granddaughter on Saturday, April 11, to say thanks in person to a group of firefighters and first-responders who saved his life more than a year ago.

“I wanted to come here and say ‘I love you guys because you took time to try to help me,’” Towell told WTHR Channel 13 News in Indianapolis. “They could have took another job, another profession. But they chose to be firefighters. And they did a good job. They weren’t giving up till they got me out of that truck.”

The crash occurred on Oct. 13, 2013, when Towell was traveling eastbound on Interstate 74, near I-465. Another vehicle cut him off, forcing him to slam on his brakes in an attempt to avoid the traffic ahead of him. The braking caused his truck to roll over onto its side, leaving him pinned in the cab. It would take rescue workers approximately 90 minutes to free him from the wreckage.

Those first-responders told The Indianapolis Star that at the time, they weren’t sure Towell would survive the crash. He spent 16 days at a local hospital before being transferred back to a hospital in Charlotte, where he underwent 30 surgeries and the partial amputation of his left leg.

A father to seven children and grandpa to 12, Towell’s been in the trucking industry for 26 years. Despite losing his leg, he hopes to someday drive again.

The gesture of making an in-person thanks is an uncommon one, according to some of the firefighters who were interviewed.

“Every now and then you’ll get people bringing us cookies and trying to fatten us up,” said first-responder James Hutcheson. “But very seldom do we have someone walk in and say ‘Thank you for what you did.’”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

404 Error: Common sense not found


That’s the last phone number I have memorized. It also happens to be my home phone number … when I was a child.

Cellphones, tablets, laptops, GPS and other forms of technology have opened up storage space within our brains by making it unnecessary to memorize information. Life is easier, but what happens when technology malfunctions or goes away completely?

Recently in Green Valley, W.Va., a flatbed truck hauling lumber overturned on an embankment. According to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, the driver went up a narrow roadway that he could not maneuver through. In an attempt to back up, the trailer flipped over an embankment.

Why did the driver take that route? His GPS told him to.

Modern technology frees our mind of basic decision-making skills, but at the cost of disabling us from making those decisions when we need to. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a wonderful, digital age we live in, but we need to supplement gadgets with good ol’ “analog” methods.

Most truckers have lived most of their lives without the kind of smart technology we have today. I was born in 1983. I didn’t have the Internet until my senior year in high school, and I didn’t replace my pager with a cellphone until I was 18. A smartphone with GPS capabilities? Not until I was in my mid-20s. I am young enough to be tech savvy, but just barely old enough to know a world without such conveniences.

Children born in the early ’80s will be the last generation to know the need to memorize data and read a map. As the Millennials get older and become the next generation of drivers, they may be entirely dependent on technology. Forbes has predicted that driverless cars will take over by 2040. It’s one thing to draw a blank when trying to call someone when your cellphone is dead. It’s quite another, and more serious, predicament when you need to override the automation system of a metal machine that weighs several tons and is hurtling down the roads at 65 mph.

Sometimes new technology doesn’t always mean better technology. Mp3 players are quick, easy and allow us to store thousands of songs on a tiny device. However, the sound of a 33 record through a tube amp is far superior to any digital download, CD or cassette tape. In much the same way, electronic logging devices may be easier, but they can never accurately reflect real-life data on the road.

Necessity is the mother of invention. So is convenience in 2015. Let’s all make sure we can function in the absence of convenient technology and not completely replace “the original” with lesser, newer (albeit more convenient) technology.

Convenience is dangerous when abused and taken for granted.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

FMCSA reacts to the 34-hour restart suspension

How does the FMCSA really feel about the 34-hour restart suspension? Perhaps there’s a clue to the agency’s attitude in this apocryphal Federal Register entry. Or maybe not.

AGENCY: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
RULE: Hours of Service for Drivers
ACTION: Update
SUMMARY: Congress in an insouciant snit has ordered FMCSA to lift the hours of service (HOS) regulation that limits the use of the 34-hour restart provision to once every 168 hours (which we believe sounds more regulatory than “week” or “seven days”). We’re cool with that, because it’s temporary – just until a study shows how wrong they are.

All we need is one participating driver in the control group to, for example, take down a bridge. He will obviously have done so because he failed to include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. in a restart. Congress will clearly see its duty: Suspend the suspension or kiss America’s bridges goodbye. The original restart rule will return.

Indeed, the rule was correct when we promulgated it in 2011. It was becoming increasingly clear then that we could not have drivers randomly sleep when they think they’re sleepy rather than when they should be sleepy, nor could we tolerate drivers restarting willy-nilly. After all, it has been shown that such disciplinary pandemonium is inimical to social order, never mind truck stop decorum.

So we required that any 34- hour restart include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Statistics plainly show truckers shouldn’t drive between 1 and 5 when they have nobody to bump into but each other. Better they should hit the road at dawn and mix it up with school buses. Keeps everybody on their toes.

Moreover, it was never the intention of this agency to circumscribe the operational discretion of drivers, merely to encourage them in the most genial way possible to do things our way. Our goal is fatigue management, and we can’t manage fatigue unless drivers are sleepy when they’re supposed to be sleepy, not any time they like. The restart rule nudges truckers intelligently toward that goal, like horses toward the paddock.

By the way, expect a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to mandate Sleep Number mattresses, summer eiderdown comforters, and St. Genève eiderdown pillows for every sleeper berth – though we will allow drivers a choice between silk and cotton.

We do try to be reasonable.