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.




ELH said...

Nice work Ed....

Belledog said...

Thinking on your post, Ed.

You, Salena and Marlaina have schooled me a lot on the realities of the driving clock (and Marlaina on unpaid detention, and how other countries do it differently and better).

However, you've all warned of the many bad trucking companies out there, and of the major companies that take newbies and don't pay well enough, or treat drivers well enough, to have them stay. They churn through drivers and lives.

While you and Salena are responsible, smart, safe drivers, you work in an industry with little respect for drivers or conditions. Penalizing someone after an accident may still have cost an innocent his/her life and welfare.

I hate to think what would befall too many drivers without hours of service requirements. One of my instructors alluded to doing a 20-hour day so he could book some money and how safe does that make any of us? Suppose you could be compelled to drive absolutely exhausted, because other truckers are willing to chance it? (This impacts company drivers more than O/Os, it would seem.)

I don't like the Big Brother aspects of the onboard recorder either. One of the appeals of trucking is getting away from the boss down the hall.

Do you think drivers and owner-operators could agitate for more of a seat at the table? Because well-trained and experienced drivers should be allowed to judge for themselves how safe they are, particularly if they've had a looong rest that counts as clocked hours while waiting at a shipper.

Within reason, though.

Alternatively, use a potential fight over hours of service to force through better policy with significant detention pay to get the shippers' and truck companies' attention.

My biggest fear is that profit drives all in too much of American business, and trucks and exhausted drivers are too often lethal. It's not like non-commercial drivers are getting any better, or less distracted out there.

But your post was eye-opening on the unintended consequences of regulation.

Ed said...

Thanks ELH. Belledog, you are correct in that we are all paying for the actions of the few. The bad apple ruins the bunch and so on. There was a study just released which showed truck accidents down in 2011, but trucker fatalities are up. The problem is that drivers are now being told when to drive and for how long.

Its like if I told you when to go to sleep every night and when to wake up. It reminds me of the military and I know that it will get more people killed. Also, these drivers are still going to wreck their trucks regardless of the HOS and as a result of all these regulations, the most qualified operators are leaving the business because the regs are unreasonable, unsafe, and the root problem is not being addressed. Yes trucking companies who push drivers too hard are to blame and so are operators who go past their alertness threshold. The CSA would keep track of this in a decent way, but the HOS doesn't work.

Take our team operation for example. We used to be able to drive 5 on and 5 off. No more. It was safe. Now they are forcing you to drive 11 straight in order to make a team run continuously around the clock. This is extremely dangerous hence the trucker fatalities on the rise. Now if the HOS was abolished, the driver in the accident will be penalized by CSA so that their record will follow them around and if there is a fatality, that would land them in court and possibly permanantly revoke their CDL.

Keep in mind that these accidents are occuring regardless of HOS regs. They do nothing today but force people to park and sleep. It doesn't make any sense and it doesn't work. The type of person that the industry needs to recruit must change and the pay must go up to cater to these professional types of people I am referring to. That is what will not change and that is the real issue in trucking.

Treat the drivers as airline pilots and doctors (alright this may seem like a pipe dream, but think about the responsibility these drivers have) are treated and demand better, more highly trained, and educated operators and they will turn it all around. It all starts at the trucking schools. We need new operators that take control of the industry, not the nose to the gutter types that these trucking companies seek to fill their seats.

It is all driven by greed and it will continue to cost lives so that CEO's can take million dollar bonuses. The HOS just addresses the issue of a driver being tired behind the wheel. It doesn't do anything about the systemic problem in trucking. I wish it were different, but unless real light is shed on the corruption in DC, it will stay the same.

Salena and I have been having a good safe time despite the environment and it can still be the same for others who want to come into the business, but you as an operator need to have the most control over your business (I.E. own your equipment, maintain it yourself, find you own customers, pay your own insurance, etc. etc.)

I am not saying to abolish all government regulations, just the HOS. It is about dictating when to sleep and rest. I don't want to see more accidents and fatalities either and frankly the current regs don't affect our operation or those who do oversized/heavy haul too much, but its the solo operators who will be hit the hardest and we will just see what happens.

Telling someone when to sleep doesn't mean that they will. You can force me to lay down and close my eyes, but that doesn't mean I am sleeping. You can restrict the hours that I drive, but that doesn't mean I am well rested. It does mean that I can't run a business and deliver loads, which will make me drive the maximum speed while I am driving to get as far as I can. I will still be paid peanuts as a company driver and now my miles are restricted by EOBR's and HOS. This makes for unhappy drivers who leave and no one who wants to become a driver.

Elh said...

Ed, why can't we have people like you in congress?? straight forward common sense....think of the results!!

Ed said...

There's one vote! LOL! Can you be in Congress and still sit in a semi truck 24/7? Maybe with Skype and the internet it's possible. ELH, honestly if you want me in Congress, the well must be dry. LOL, but thanks. I appreciate that. That is why I wholly support OOIDA and everything they do. Their goals align with what just about all of us Owner/Operators want, from the ranks for operators to the non enforcement of EOBR's.

Everytime you go up against Washington, you need studies from Universities and safety organizations with actual statistics in your corner For every study you have to show the opposition has a study that refutes your study. It is endless and then there are the lobbyists to contend with. You need to wine and dine the elected officials. How ridiculous is that? That is the real problem. There needs to be grass roots efforts in place in every state in the nation to remove funding from elections and eliminate lobbyists altogether.

Dave Sanderson said...

Hi Ed
Nice post. To boil it down a bit as with many of the problems we have been through (low these past ten decades or so) is our government has been left on cruise control (even before it was invented). No one pays any attention until they are rounding a curve going down a steep hill and there is something in their way like now.
I do not think much if anything will change until enough people decide to start paying attention to what is happening around them and those they car about and learn about it and voice (vote)their thoughts on how to make it right.
I try to learn about as much as I can and encourage all to do the same and wait for others. That is why I enjoy your posts.
Thanks again

Ed said...

Thanks Dave, its a huge problem we have to deal with. WE are all in this together. That is for sure. I hope things are going well for you out there.