Friday, June 17, 2016

What’s in a name?

Beyond Compliance. It sounds so innocent. It sounds so good. It’s one of those phrases like “apple pie” that just seems nice when you hear it. If compliance is good, beyond compliance must be terrific.

Yet the actual phrase “beyond compliance” is being used in a way that is, simply put, inaccurate.

I’m referring, of course, to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposal to allow carriers to add certain technology to their trucks and, as a result, have their safety scores improve.

I’m a language guy, and the use of language here flat out stinks.

I start with “beyond.” The word actually has several related definitions. But in this case, the FMCSA clearly intends this definition:

“Superior to; surpassing; more than; in excess of; over and above.”

The fact is, the types of technologies – and even the safety programs FMCSA says should be attached to them – are already in use. Based on the results from carriers who use ELDs, speed limiters and other new truck tech, these do not ensure compliance that is “superior to” or “surpassing” the compliance of others.

Let’s take ELDs as an example.

In fact, an ELD is easily cheated. I’m not saying truckers who run with them are or are not. I know many who are honest to a fault. I’m simply saying that you can run well beyond your hours by what you input when the truck is not moving.

I’m not a trucker myself, as I have pointed out many times. Yet even I could figure out several easy ways to cheat an ELD.

You can start it before the truck even moves an inch. If you are doing your pre-trip inspection, fueling up or any of a host of other activities that – in words I’ve heard used by FMCSA before – “further the business of the motor carrier,” then you should be “on duty, not driving.” That is the regulation.

You could be at that for an hour, or – if you’re doing maintenance before getting under way – quite a while longer than that. If you log it “off duty,” the ELD has no idea that you are telling a fib.

It looks good in the computer, but it’s not compliant.

Held up at a loading dock for nine hours waiting to load? No problem. Just log it sleeper berth or off duty. Wait an hour and get back on the road. The truck’s ELD will think that’s completely legit. After all, it can only tell when the truck is moving, and default to “on duty, driving” status when it is.

Of course, even then the ELD can be tricked.

I have spoken to a number of truckers in the past year whose carriers told them to move a truck from one place to another and put it into the ELD as “personal conveyance.”

That designation was put in the rule so truckers could, when off duty, go to the grocery store, laundromat, doctor, pharmacy or anywhere else they needed to go for personal business, and not be penalized on their logs.

Truckers who insist on running compliant use it exactly that way. You know, as everybody else in America does every single day.

That little loophole is NOT intended for a carrier to compel you to move a trailer from one location to another, to go from where you’re resting for the night to a terminal or to move from a receiver to a shipper in the same town. Yet here we are again. Using “personal conveyance” makes it all look good.

The FMCSA, in its recent response to OOIDA’s lawsuit against the agency’s ELD rule, said all an ELD was required to do was track driving time in order to be “recording a driver’s Hours of Service and duty status automatically and accurately.”

Yet here I am, a non-driver, a non-CDL holder, and in very short order, I’ve pointed out what most truckers know: The majority of hours-of-service violations occur when the truck is not actually hauling freight.

If that’s all you track, then you are not in any size, shape or form truly tracking compliance – and hence you cannot honestly say it is done “automatically and accurately.”

Those are just a few of my problems with the use of the word “beyond” in “beyond compliance.” It’s not beyond it; it’s not even keeping up with it. How about “not quite compliance”? That fits much better.

However, that’s not my only language problem with the phrase “beyond compliance.” I have a problem with the use of the word “compliance” in that phrase as well.

That’s because this is supposed to be about safety, not simply compliance.

FMCSA is proposing setting up a separate BASIC score in the CSA system just for Beyond Compliance.

That system is already heavily criticized by people and organizations inside and outside of government. The government’s own watchdog said that out of the hundreds of things tracked in the various BASICs, it could only find six that actually were predictive of whether a truck or trucker would crash.

The whole point of this was to help anticipate crashes, predict who was more likely to have one, to intercede early and prevent the problems before they are problems. (Never mind the whole Tom Cruise “future crime division” aspect of that. Constitutional rights are so pesky.)

That is why Congress ordered FMCSA to take a step back, go through CSA and fix it.

Yet here the agency is again, moving forward with an expansion of CSA before that review is even out. And it’s not the only time they’ve done that since Congress said “whoa!”

They are pushing ahead with a proposed rule for a new Safety Fitness Determination, one that relies on the same data as CSA. You know, the stuff that for the most part has no bearing on safety whatsoever.

So what are we left with? Not Beyond Compliance, that’s for certain.

To be wholly accurate, the name should be something like “Not quite the thing that’s missing the real point anyway.”

Honestly, it’s accurate, but I don’t think it will play in Poughkeepsie.