Friday, April 24, 2015

‘Mis-steak’: Trooper’s email prompts probe into incentivized enforcement

“Inspect the most commercial trucks. Win a steak dinner.”

That sums up a recent report in The Southern Illinoisan, a newspaper based in Carbondale, Ill., about an Illinois State Patrol officer’s scheme to help encourage his patrol division to perform commercial motor vehicle inspections.

The paper was alerted to the contest when an Illinois state trooper accidently distributed the email announcing the winners to a list of media contacts. The trooper, Officer Greg Miller, sent out a second email shortly thereafter asking media to “disregard” the email (which for journalists is akin to waving a hunk of, well, steak in front of the nose of a hungry bear).

Reporter Molly Parker was gracious enough to share with us the emails The Southern Illinoisan received on April 16 from Miller. Here’s the initial email:

“March MCS total per squad

Squad A 65 (winner)

Squad B 42

Squad C 54

Squad D 40

I know this contest was a little painful for some of you to participate in since not everyone likes doing trucks. I want to thank everyone who put forth an effort to participate and help with your squad totals. Congratulations to Squad A for winning the steak dinner. There will be more contests throughout the year covering different activity categories.”

Three minutes later, according to the time stamps on the emails, Miller sent out a one-sentence plea asking media to “disregard” the previous email.

Those of you who regularly read or get updates from Land Line already know we’ve been covering bills in several statehouses that would explicitly prohibit law enforcement from instituting so-called “quotas” on enforcement activity.

As it turns out, Illinois already has such legislation on the books, according to State Police Sgt. Mike Link, which prohibits the police force from requiring “a specific number of citations within a designated period of time.”

“This was not a ‘contest’ offered by a patrol division,” Link said in an email response to Land Line. “The Trooper in this instance, who does not hold a supervisory position, was simply attempting to motivate his peers to perform safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles (CMV). We are not aware of any similar challenges. ... The Illinois State Police does not promote the use of rewards to encourage enforcement activity.”

Link said that the state police have launched an investigation to determine whether the steak dinner might have violated policy, and that Trooper Miller is not on any sort of administrative leave pending the inquiry.

“The ISP does not support any type of enforcement-related quota system nor do we encourage any enforcement action which targets a specific demographic,” Link wrote. “Our goal is to provide safe highways for all of the motoring public by reducing injuries and fatalities.”

Link also stated that squads are made up of anywhere from five to 12 troopers, which would be a pretty hefty bill at even a low-end steakhouse. (Link told The Southern Illinoisan that the ISP believes the steak dinners would have been a personal purchase and “no state resources would have been utilized” so hopefully those guys at District 22 have a “Swear Jar” or some other kind of fund where they’ve been saving loose change to pay for a dozen Porterhouses.)

He also stated that the troopers in Miller’s district conducted a total of 224 commercial vehicle inspections during March. Of those, 243 written warnings and 39 citations were issued, including 15 out-of-service violations (four for both truck and driver; six driver-only and five truck-only), or roughly 6.7 percent of all the trucks and drivers that were stopped.

While it may not be a “quota” system in the classic sense, the idea of incentivizing cops to perform enforcement operations stinks like a slaughterhouse (The Illinoisan editorial board concurs, filing a scathing editorial on Tuesday that says such a policy is “past its expiration date.”)

Motorists in general, and truckers in particular, should not be seen as a cash cow for supplementing state revenues.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Are Swift driver cams a game changer?

The decision by Swift Transportation to install driver-facing cameras raises both short-term questions and long-term concerns.

The company recently announced the deployment in a video broadcast to drivers. The DriveCam system, as it’s called, includes both forward-looking and driver-oriented cameras. According to the company, the forward-looking camera will help determine fault in an accident. The inward-facing camera will detect and help correct poor driving habits. Few drivers have a problem with forward-looking cameras. Cameras aimed at them are another matter altogether.

So the immediate question arises: Will those driver-recording devices have an impact on Swift's efforts to recruit and retain drivers?

The dearth of willing drivers, a major concern for more than a decade, has taken on near hysterical status in recent months with logistics experts predicting serious bottlenecks at least and at worst something like chaos in North American supply chains.

Virtually every carrier regards driver recruitment as its top priority. At Swift, for example, if you dial the company’s main number in Phoenix, a recording advises drivers to press one and customers to press two – a small but telling indicator of priorities.

Of course, Swift, with the largest truckload fleet on the highways, needs to recruit more drivers than its competitors. Will those competitors and their recruiters use Swift’s driver cam deployment against the big carrier? Will the cameras prove to be a deal breaker for would-be Swift drivers?

On the other hand, Swift’s competitors might see this deployment as a precedent to follow. Major carriers did not follow the lead of truckload giant Werner Enterprises when that company deployed automated log technology in 1998. Anticipated driver reaction was likely a factor then. But in 2015 when cameras seem to be everywhere, driver cams could be a different story.

Swift’s move raises other concerns for drivers across the board. It’s hard to argue against the often stated safety justifications for driver cams. Driver cam providers claim they help fleets remediate poor driving habits and offer glowing statistics in support. But we’re used to seeing sparkling stats for new technology products – fuel cost routing comes to mind – that turn out to be far less effective than originally claimed.

More to the point, the driver cam systems as they currently exist represent an opening wedge. They do not at present send live video over Omnitracs, PeopleNet, or any other popular mobilecom system. But that will very likely change over time, and not very much time at that.

And there’s a more immediate worry. Swift claims its DriveCam system saves and sends only video when triggered by hard braking, swerving or other incidents detected by sensors. They cannot trigger a save-and-send remotely, they say. But there is no technological reason a remote trigger can’t be made part of the system right now.

Such a remote trigger would enable management to request a 20-second video of the driver at virtually any time. It’s not a live view, but it’s pretty damn close.

There can be no doubt that at least for company drivers, the days of unobserved independent driving are winding down.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FMCSA says to take a selfie

If you’re shaking your head wondering what in the heck I could possibly be talking about after reading the headline, you’ll really be shaking it after you know.

This past week the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance held its spring meeting. The organization is composed of local, state, provincial, territorial and federal motor carrier safety officials and industry representatives from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The group attempts to provide uniformity in enforcement across North America. For example, this group sets the out-of-service criteria for roadside enforcement.

Anyone who isn't sure how to take a selfie could learn a thing
or two from Jami Jones' eldest son, Kade. Here he demonstrates
the power selfie. (Photo by Kade Jones, himselfie)
Currently, with recent changes to the medical certification requirements on truck drivers, there has been some confusion.

In December 2008, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a final rule that requires drivers to present proof of medical certification to their state driver’s licensing agency each time they get their medical card renewed. The states are required to enter the certification into the Commercial Drivers License Information System – dubbed CDLIS – for law enforcement to access on the roadside.

That reg was supposed to go into effect in 2011. But there were states that weren’t ready to enter the certification information into CDLIS. So FMCSA delayed the requirement that states enter the information until Jan. 30, 2015, even though truckers still had to present their cards to the DMV.

Now that the state reporting requirement has kicked in, truckers are required to retain their medical card for only 15 days to give the states time to enter the certification into the mega database. But, given the patchwork of ways states handle accepting certification and what proof they provide, OOIDA recommends hanging onto the medical card anyway.

At the CVSA meeting, OOIDA representatives in attendance said problems with some states either not providing receipts or not entering the medical certification information into the database were brought up. It’s leaving drivers on the roadside unable to prove compliance with the regulation.

Seeking some sort of guidance or clarification from the FMCSA, the question was asked of FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement and Program Delivery Bill Quade: What should drivers do to prove they went to the DMV and provided a copy of the medical certificate.

His response?

“Take a selfie,” he said, OOIDA reps report.

A selfie? Really?

What if, heaven forbid, you’re not a teenager who takes hundreds of selfies on a regular basis? What do you do then? Drag your kid along for help? Ask the clerk at the DMV to snap one of you under the sign holding your card?

Say you get this purported photographic evidence. Then what? Post it to Facebook and Tumblr. Maybe Tweet it out to @CVSA while you’re at it?

I know I’m stepping out on very novel and very thin commonsense ice here, but excuse me, FMCSA, why don’t you just work with the states to fix the problem?

A selfie.

To borrow another phone-era phenomenon, texting slang, I’m just going to leave this at SMH.*

*For those who don’t know, SMH means Shaking My Head.