Monday, December 31, 2012

2012

2012 was a unique year for our operation.

We had approximately 5 months off work this year.  That is a good thing right?  Don't you wish you could take 5 months off work?  Unfortunately for us owner/operator types, time off is brutal.  When the wheels aren't rolling and there is no freight on the deck or in the trailer, the money isn't coming in.

On the other side of the coin, we had opportunities to run continuously 24 hours a day for weeks at a time and that was too much work.  You have to balance it all out.  You can burn out and you can veg out.  We did a little of both.  2013 looks to be a great year for us regardless of EOBR's, Hours of service regulations, and CARB regulations.

2012 was a year when dogs were being trained to drive.  2013 is the year they will drive big trucks.

 
Here are some notable things which happened to us in 2012:
-Salena bought her Mom a new car!
-The head on the truck's engine cracked (it was under warranty) and was replaced.
-We eclipsed 500,000 miles on our new truck. 
-We hauled some of the most dangerous freight that hits the highways through snow storms and icy roads
-We had more time off this year than I have ever had in the 17 years I have been driving
-We were guests on a radio show


Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Industry


When it comes to complaining about changes in the trucking industry, there are thousands of people out here doing that already.  A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the trucking industry was started.  Its purpose was to help farmers, manufacturers, government, and basically anyone needing to move large, heavy “stuff”.  Whether across town, across the USA, or overseas, there were people dedicated to doing it. 

Trucking was a very lucrative business, but a primitive one, and very tough on the operators both mentally and physically. In an effort to make roads safer, the Department of Transportation created the Hours of Service. These enabled local law enforcement to crack down on trucking companies who were pushing their drivers too hard.  It didn’t work.  Despite the regulations, there were no stiff penalties for violating the Hours of Service; the regulations weren't taken seriously, and the logbook was commonly referred to as a “comic book”.  Even the OOIDA has admitted the average truck driver lies on their log book.

Maybe, just maybe, the problem isn't that the Hours of Service created back in 1938 aren’t being enforced or respected; maybe the problem is that the system was created and run by the government to dictate how people should behave when in their truck.  It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.  It probably never will.  

I think drivers are the ones who should be responsible for the hours they drive, just like anyone else who drives a motor vehicle.  The Hours of Service, as a regulation, should be abolished completely.  It’s an unnecessary regulation. It can’t be any simpler than if you’re tired, don’t drive.  And if you drive while tired and have an accident, you’re penalized.  If you drive while tired and have an accident where you kill someone, you will be tried for manslaughter (which is what they do now), and if you’re found guilty, you go to jail.  The Hours of Service won’t stop someone from being tired or taking a life. 

Telling me how and when to drive, expecting to regulate when I’m going to be tired or awake, is taking it too far.  Don't misunderstand me; I vote, I support the system, I respect the authorities, and I abide by the rules and regulations which govern me.  And I will continue to do so, as I have my entire life. 

Having said that, I run a trucking business, and just about every trucking business has the same goal; to profit, and to do it safely.  There are two real threats to safety in the trucking business:  operators who run while tired and dangerous trucks (either poorly maintained or poorly loaded). There is still a need for weigh stations, because stopping trucks to see if they’re abiding by the weight limit laws are a good idea for everyone since we share the roads with others.  And when a carrier has a good safety record, they have to stop less at the scales, which makes sense – it would be nice if there were more companies who met the requirements to be given the green light.

But if a motor carrier threatens to fire you because you claim you’re too tired to drive, don’t work there.  Simple as that.  Ideally, a half-way intelligent person would get the word out that a particular motor carrier is trying to force people to drive while tired so no one would work there.  And if loads continually get refused, the company will have to tell the customer there are no drivers to get it done.  That’s just how it’ll be.  “Sorry, buddy.  My driver doesn’t want to work today.”  The carrier will either fire you and keep his customer, or keep you and find another customer.  But they will know better than to force you to take a load you can’t legally take.

And with today’s modern technology, it’s surprising that any of them still try that tactic since you can record any threats made by the carrier.  Doing that and playing it back for them might ensure that they wouldn’t force you to work when you can't or won’t.  Or, just turn them into the police and walk away.  Simple as that. You’ll still have a clean motor vehicle record, which along with a spotless criminal record, will be able to be checked to verify your background and you’ll be free to drive for whomever you choose. 

The industry needs safe drivers.  The best way to do this is to have a real training period; say, six months to a year. During this time you would be expected to pass rigorous testing to become a skilled heavy equipment operator. You receive your hard earned degree at the completion of the program, and you start out in the industry with a beginners rank or title.  Let’s call that rank “Operator First Class”, and as a subcategory, “with a van trailer specialty”.  After a specified period of time and further training, you work your way up to “Operator Second Class” with the subcategory of “van and platform trailer specialty”.  And so on.   

For each specialty, there will be additional training and subsequent degrees.  These “degrees” stay with you, and after you’ve successfully logged a half-million miles over a five year period, you reach “Operator Third Class”, with whatever additional trail specialties you may have added.  If you were to be fired, you claim unemployment based on your experience level and pay grade.  It’s kind of like getting promoted in the military – as you advance, so does your rank.

If you leave the industry and come back in a few years, you come back as “Operator Third Class” and resume where you left off.  You may need a refresher course to familiarize yourself with the new technology and equipment, but the job itself hasn't changed, so you don't lose all of your hard work and dedication. This scenario works for everyone because the trucking companies still make money on the work the drivers do, and the drivers do well because they work as hard as they safely can.   

There’s no need for a union here, just an organization to maintain the status quo. You would pay your yearly fees, and help keep the system in a state that favors the safe drivers.  The organization would fight the legal battles that arise to protect the drivers’ interests.

We are 74 years into the implementation of the first Hours of Service.  That “tracking” of our hours has led to Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs), Facial Recognition Cameras that are installed to look AT the drivers (which are currently being tested), cameras on highways, in intersections and at weigh stations, and nationwide databases that record and penalize operators no matter where they work. None of this is making the roads any safer and all of it is creating an environment no one wants to work in.

Trucking companies are the ones who are pushing for ways to get you to work as many hours as possible, and know what you’re doing while you are working those hours.  They want to be able to track you and their shipment at all times.  Their end goal is to pay less money out and take more money in.  It’s that simple.  And they really don’t care how much experience you have, as long as you can drive their truck. 

Unless the operators can wrestle back the control of their environment, the end result will be poorly trained operators, inefficient transportation of goods on the highways, poorly maintained equipment, as the trucking companies will not be able to continue to fund their maintenance accounts, higher accident ratios, and an even worse quality of life for the complaining masses that are already driving trucks. 

I would rather see professional operators with pride in what they do, demanding higher pay which would in turn fund better trucks, which they would use to haul freight at increased rates, which would happen through the whole process of supply and demand.   It would also eliminate abusive trucking companies’ practices.
 
Will we ever see that happen? Only time will tell. In the end, the people who want a career in trucking won’t be happy working in an overly oppressive environment full of people watching and controlling their every move.  What they want is to be treated like adults with professional skills and given the respect that they have worked long hard years to earn.

 

 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

CSA 2010

Compliance, Safety, and Accountability

It doesn't work.  End of post.

Seriously though, CSA is possible today because of the advent of the internet, computers, and modern technology.  This is why it is new, untested, and unproven.  CSA has hit us truckers square in the face and lately it has been shown to actually hurt the safest carriers in the industry by classifying them as unsafe.

It's the government's attempt to regulate driver's behavior.  In other words, it's like a computer telling you how to act more human.  Legally. 

The CSA was designed to:

1. Enable companies to hire safer drivers.
2. Enable drivers to work for safer carriers.
3. Enable law enforcement to target unsafe drivers and carriers more easily.
4. Create a higher demand for safe drivers.

The CSA program is for any carrier with a USDOT number.  That's pretty much everybody in any form of trucking.  I could write an entire website devoted to the CSA, but that has already been done.

The bottom line is that your equipment must be in good working order, logbook must be accurate, freight must be properly secured, and you must be fully capable of operating the vehicle both mentally and physically.

At first glance the DOT looks for:
A.  Truck and trailer
    1. License plates
    2. Inspection stickers
    3. Cleanliness of the vehicle (Dashboard free of clutter and truck recently washed)
    4. Overall condition of the vehicle such as missing mudflaps, damaged tires, and
        faulty lights (A nice paint job can really help you here)
B.  Condition of the load
    1.  How the load is situated on the trailer (positioned correctly and legally)
    2.  The condition of the securement devices (undamaged straps,chains, and binders)
    3.  The correct number and type of securement devices
    4.  The weight of the entire truck and trailer
    5.  The weight of each axle
C.    The condition of the driver
    1.  Driver's ability to answer all questions about your load, equipment, and operation accurately
    2.  Driver's environment (clean cab free of garbage)
    3.  Driver's appearance (clearly awake and alert, clean and decently dressed)

If the operator does all of this, drives a nice looking truck that's in compliance, and knows what the heck they're talking about in regards to the rules, regulations, and load information, then they'll do well during an inspection. 

Reading this from the perspective of someone who is not in the industry, or as a newcomer, you might be discouraged from embarking on a career in trucking as it would appear that the DOT is being a little too hard on truckers.  Worst case scenario, you should be prepared to lose everything at the whim of a DOT officer at a roadside checkpoint because they have the power to ban you from trucking with a series of failed inspections.

This is a boon for large trucking companies and the FMCSA as it legally removes all power from the trucker and puts it in the hands of the government.  No longer can a truck driver keep working in the business legally after they operate unsafely.  No one wants unsafe operators.  I know I don't want them.  Unfortunately though, with each law that's put in place, qualified operators are singled out and penalized unjustly.  This is the ultimate drawback of government oversight. 

The main problem in the industry is still not being addressed:  It's a general defunding of the working class.  In the trucking industry though, it means the roads are less safe, the drivers aren't as professional as they could be, the equipment is in worse shape, and the general environment is catering to the large trucking companies over the start-ups (destruction of the small business trucking companies).

An example of a large trucking company which owns no equipment, yet operates as a middleman between truckers and customers is CH Robinson.  CH Robinson nets billions of dollars as a middleman.  This is a company that takes money from the customer, decides how much money the trucker will do the load for, then sells it the trucker.  The customer and the trucker both lose money in this transaction.

This matters to CSA why?

Simply put, the time has come for customers and truckers to communicate directly with each other and completely cut out all brokers/middlemen.  Sorry brokers, it's nothing personal.  The technology that's available now eradicates their business model.   Every truck today has a laptop in it and every driver has access to load boards.  Given the reality that customers and truckers will become more tech savvy, trucking companies and brokers are worried that the small business trucker will gain the upper hand.  This is a direct threat to the major trucking companies. 

CSA 2010 was created to help EOBR's become a reality.  EOBR's will allow every single truck to be tracked by Qualcomm, Peoplenet, Skybitz, and ultimately the government, which acts in concert with the major corporations who fund the lobbyists to push their agenda.  At its core, it's the oldest game in the book:  Wipe out the competition.

Even more insidious is the way in which this is being justified.  The people who are pushing these laws are using images and stories of people killed in truck accidents to mandate their policies, yet there are no studies to date which show that CSA 2010 or EOBR's do anything to promote safety.  In fact, so far the evidence is to the contrary.  There is a rush to get this done, but rest assured it has nothing to do with safety.  It's all about stopping the small businesses from taking complete control of this industry. 

The mega-carriers and giant corporations have a war chest full of cash to throw at this, thanks to the hard working men and women out here who perform work for them.  I don't see this changing anytime soon, so all that can be done is to stay on top of the changes and understand who the major players are.