Friday, January 13, 2017

Watch CHP escort a jackknifed FedEx tractor down a snowy hill

It’s a nightmare scenario for a truck driver – jackknifing at the top of the grade on a snow-covered mountain road.

This played out for one unfortunate FedEx driver at 8:30 a.m. yesterday on Interstate 80, just above Floriston, Calif. Faced with an extended shutdown of the interstate to wait for a tow truck, the California Highway Patrol instead made the bold decision to escort the tractor down the slope, and into a turnout near Floriston.

The CHP office in Truckee has a video of the truck, which still had engine power. Watching it wind its way down the hillside is the sort of thing that will make even a seasoned driver’s blood run cold. The good news is the maneuver was successful and the highway reopened to traffic within an hour, according to the CHP office’s Facebook post.

In the words of one CHP officer at the end of the video: “I cannot believe that worked.”

Tell us what you think, drivers. Any critiques on this technique? Ever have anything similar happen? What did you do?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New gadgets move us closer to a world of ‘RoboTruckers’

Gadgets and other technological devices can be fun, useful and make our lives easier.

Having access to GPS can save time and reduce stress when driving for the first time in an unfamiliar area. Other smartphone applications can allow truck drivers to stay better connected to family and friends during another lonely night parked at a truck stop.

But where do you draw the line to decide whether or not a gadget is helpful or a hindrance? When do we reach the point that there are too many contraptions in the truck, and when do those gadgets begin to deter a responsible and experienced truck driver from doing his or her job in a safe manner?

It seems to me that we may very well have reached that point.

Mercedes recently announced it’s working on a vest for professional drivers that would monitor their heart rate and other vital signs. The idea is that the vest would know if the driver was on the brink of a heart attack and would stop the truck automatically.

Obviously, there are a ton of questions here. Do we really trust the vest to be that accurate? What if a driver has an irregular heart beat but isn’t in immediate danger? What if the truck is in the middle of a steep climb in the mountains? What if the truck is going through a busy intersection?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I didn’t get health insurance in 2016. Will I have to pay a penalty?

Pending any potential repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, the law at this time still requires most Americans to have some form of qualified health care coverage. Absent such coverage, the law levies tax penalties against those who do not have employer-provided health insurance and who elect not to enroll in a plan offered through a state, federal or private insurance exchange.

But there are several key exemptions people may be eligible for that will allow you to waive the penalties come tax time. The website has a handy primer on what those exemptions are, how to apply and what happens after. Those exemptions are based on a number of circumstances, including certain hardships, some life events, financial status, and even membership in certain groups. Click here for various exemption forms from

If you were homeless, if you faced eviction or foreclosure, filed for bankruptcy, or even had medical expenses you couldn’t pay, you may be eligible for a hardship exemption under the law. Other hardship exemption categories include the following: if you experienced domestic violence; if you were the victim of a flood, fire or other natural or human-caused disaster that substantially damaged your property; or if you experienced the death of a close family member. You may even be able to claim an exemption if you had an unexpected increase in expenses due to caring for an ill, disabled or aging family member.

The HealthCare.Gov website lists a number of exemptions as well as the forms needed for you to apply for one.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sharing the road could get dicey

Things could get dicey when human drivers start mixing with self-driving vehicles, at least according to a report from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

“During the transition period when conventional and self-driving vehicles would share the road,” the report says, “safety might actually worsen, at least for the conventional vehicles.”

That’s not what I expected to read.

Written by researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, the report is dated January 2015. I found it on a Research Institute web site under the heading “Recent Publications.”  

2015? Recent?

I called the university for clarification. Turns out the website isn’t updated as often as it should be.