Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Land Line Now Blog has moved

We have moved the Land Line Now Blog from BlogSpot onto our own Web site.

All our future posts will be placed there.

To view future postings on the Land Line Now Blog, go to http://www.landlinenow.com.


Mark H. Reddig
Land Line Now

Friday, October 24, 2008

Attitude Adjustment

I know the economy is bad. I know we’re all struggling to get by. I know sometimes it’s raining and sometimes your dog dies and sometimes you just have a really bad day. And that’s fine. It happens to all of us.

But I’m getting more and more suggestions for RAZZBERRIES these days, it seems, from folks complaining about the attitude that they’ve been getting at truck stops across the country.

I won’t say it’s reached epidemic proportions yet, but the monkey has definitely escaped from the lab and infected more than a few people. I had a couple of calls recently about one truck stop that blocked off the majority of its parking lot and told truckers those spots were reserved for a biker event that was coming to town.

That’s all well and good, but one caller told me he just wanted to park his truck and go take a shower. He was very rudely told by the manager of the establishment that he was not welcome there and that the spaces were reserved for bikers. Another caller told me he had a very similar experience at the same place.

Then there was the guy who went to buy fuel and couldn’t use his card because the pump wasn’t on, so he went to the fuel desk to ask for help and was confronted with a line of people buying everything in the store except fuel. He simply asked the woman at the fuel desk if she could turn the pump on and was very rudely told that he would have to wait in line. He finally had to go and get the manager just to get the pump turned on.

And then there’s Diesel Dave Sweetman’s latest column in Land Line Magazine, for another example.

I don’t know what’s going on out there, but it sounds like some of these folks could use a serious attitude adjustment. So for anyone reading this who happens to work at a truck stop, let me help clue you in on something.

You work at a truck stop. The key word there is “truck.” Truckers are your bread and butter, your lifeblood, your main reason for existing. There are plenty of truck stops out there. And trucks have these things on them called wheels that allow them to keep on rolling right past your truck stop and on to the next one.

You see, the other key word in your business is “stop.” If the trucks don’t stop, your money most definitely will.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You been here four hours! You go now!

Truck parking is in short supply, and it’s a growing challenge faced by truckers nationwide.

But in some parts of the East and West Coasts, it’s at the crisis stage.

Take New Kent County, VA. An OOIDA member called us recently, saying a truck stop there posted signs that limit parking to four hours. The signs, and apparently some employees at the truck stop, say it’s a county ordinance.

I think anyone familiar with trucking knows that’s nuts. And this is representative of what’s happening in many locations on the East Coast.

A rule like this passed by a local government can only be based on one of two things: It’s either ignorance of the realities of trucking, or – worse – they just don’t want truckers hanging around.

Mind you, they certainly don’t mind eating, wearing or buying what the truckers bring. They just don’t want them around.

So which one is it? I’m betting on option No. 2.

So let’s think about solutions. And here’s where we start: How many of you live there in New Kent County, VA?

If you do live there, have you called your representative in the county government and explained this to them?

Have you explained that you pay taxes too? That truckers have no choice but to rest the amount required by the federal regulations?

Even if you don’t live there, if you just haul there, give them a call. Let them know this is having a detrimental effect on your ability to serve their citizens.

If you’re a citizen of Virginia, call your state lawmakers. Explain that putting a two-hour limit on parking in rest areas – which is also taking place in that state – prevents truckers, who have no other option, from parking in the state at all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Get Out the Bubbly!

Let’s pop some champagne and lift our glasses to Rachele Champagne.

Rachele’s the trucker from Gatineau, Quebec, who decided in July to organize the first ever all-female truck convoy to raise money for breast cancer research.

A short three months later, on October 18th, it became a reality when 29 trucks convoyed down Highway 401 in Ontario with 29 women behind the wheels.

By Rachele’s estimate, the participants raised at least $15,000.

“For 29 trucks, I’d say that’s pretty good” Rachele says.

I’ll say!

Plus, Rachele got donors to give all sorts of items that the women could take home – from bags containing things like bracelets and coffee mugs; to jackets and a coffee maker; to $1,500 worth of fuel.

“I think everyone left with a smile,” she says.

Will Rachele and the other women stage another convoy next year?

“Absolutely!” she says – adding that she bets there’ll be twice as many trucks next time.

Personally, given the short amount of time Rachele had to organize this year’s convoy, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a hundred trucks in the next one.

So, ‘cheers!’ to Rachele Champagne or en francais, ‘Sante!’

Monday, October 20, 2008

Drill, baby, drill

You’ve heard the chants at rallies across the country: Drill, baby, drill.

Folks are ready to use our domestic oil reserves so we can escape the dependence on foreign oil.

But those folks may have forgotten something. And the sad part is, it’s obvious, and I don’t think anyone – or at least very few people – have figured it out.

We can have all the oil in the world, but what if we don’t do anything to increase our refining capacity?

You can have all the oil in the world, but without the refinery capacity, what you have is a nice reserve of unrefined lubricant. It’s certainly not something you would want to put in your vehicle.

I guess the politicians missed that. Not that I’m surprised.

But we have to think beyond the political slogans and easy solutions. We have to think about the entire process of providing energy to this nation, start to finish.

If we mess up this one, we could damage our nation in ways I don’t even want to think about.

Friday, October 17, 2008

OOIDA employees get TWIC'd

I recently talked to OOIDA’s Joe Rajkovacz and Rick Craig about the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, program. If you listen to the show at all, you probably already know all about it.

But just in case, here’s a quick recap: It’s the security card that all ports in the U.S. will be requiring by next spring. If you drive in and out of any ports in the U.S., you’ll need to have one.

One of the things Joe and Rick told me that surprised me was that you could use the TWIC card as an ID for airport security as well. I guess it makes sense. It’s a Transportation Security Administration thing, after all, and they run security at both ports and airports.

I had to laugh, though, when Rick flashed his card at Kansas City International Airport and was waived on through. Then Joe went next, only to have the security guy stop and wonder what kind of card it was supposed to be. At least the folks at the Los Angeles airport seemed to know what was going on.

It would be easy to dismiss this because Kansas City is a smaller airport. So what does it matter if they don’t know what’s going on, right?

But consider this: On September 11, 2001, a group of men made their way through sloopy airport security and managed to kill 3,000 people within a couple of hours.

The airport where they started? Portland International Jetport, Portland, ME. I’ve been to that airport many times. It makes Kansas City look like New York’s JFK Airport.

Okay, so the folks at the airports don’t know what’s going on, so what? This card is for ports, right? Surely the folks at the ports know what’s going on. Maybe they know, but for now, at least, they can’t do much with that knowledge. There are no card readers installed at the ports yet.

So does that mean you shouldn’t bother with a TWIC card? Well, that depends on whether or not you want to haul freight in and out of the ports. Flawed program or not, TWIC is here to stay.

Let’s just hope the TSA realizes that, too, and fixes those flaws before they become part of the permanent record.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

CARB enforcement, no holds barred

CARB has taken the kid gloves off.

The California Air Resources Board announced just last week that it was sending members of its staff into the field to begin strict enforcement of its idling rules – including the five-minute limit for commercial trucks.

Here’s how things work in a nut shell.

Trucks, even those with sleeper berths, are not allowed to idle more than 5 minutes in an hour.

The only exceptions for the vast majority of truckers are:

  • You are stuck in traffic;
  • Idling to service or inspect your vehicle;
  • You are using a power take-off device;
  • You cannot move because of mechanical failure, or bad weather;

If you violate the new truck idling rules, you could face a fine of $300. And if you do it again and again, you could face even higher fines, sometimes running $1,000 to $10,000.

The situation is dire for some truckers, who face forced confinement in their sleepers for rest periods.

The new enforcement effort has caused a lot of trucker reaction. One truck driver told us that the agency was stepping up enforcement in truck stop parking lots, something he questioned. Is it legal to go onto private property to enforce the rules?

It’s a good question.

I asked OOIDA’s Member Assistance Department about that. They concluded pretty much the same thing I did. There is nothing to stop CARB from doing that.

The truck stop is a public place, a business that welcomes members of the general public onto its property. And once CARB enforcers walk on that property, there’s nothing to stop them from ticketing any idling truck they see.

But that’s just another aspect of the situation – not the fundamental problem.

California has decided to single out truckers among all vehicle drivers as somehow responsible for the state’s air quality.

Admittedly, diesel fumes are worse than car fumes. But California has a heck of a lot more cars than it does trucks, and they’re all emitting tons upon tons of pollution.

Will state officials tell cars to shut the engines off and stop idling? I’d say no.

That’s because, first, so many cars run on the roads there, it would be impractical to try to shut them all down.

Second, trucks are an easy target. There aren’t nearly as many as cars, and with so many groups demonizing trucks, it’s easy to get lawmakers or agencies to pass a rule restricting them.

Of course, that leaves us with a number of problems that CARB hasn’t addressed. So let’s take a look at those.

First, this is inconsistent with other laws. Truckers are required to take their 10 hours off to get rest. How can the government expect truckers to get proper rest in a cab where the interior temperature may be well above 130 degrees?

Unfortunately, many of our laws contradict one another. And we the people pretty much have to live with it. Saying “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” won’t get you out of a ticket.

Second, while CARB could make an argument that owner-operators have the option of purchasing idle-reduction equipment such as APUs, no one can argue with any logic whatsoever that company drivers have that option.

So what should they do? Apparently, CARB’s answer is that they should roast out in the desert heat, which is plain bull.

So what can people like you and I do to help out those truckers?

The best thing is to get some useful information out there that can help those truckers.

We’ve spelled out the rules, which is a good step. But we plan to go much further. For truckers who don’t have an APU or other similar system, we’ll do some research and see if we can get some solid advice for you to follow.

But no matter what, be ready – those fines are high enough they could cause some real financial damage.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Are Some Journalists Taking the Easy Way Out?

When I was in journalism school, I was always taught that question mark headlines – and question mark lead sentences, for that matter – were a no-no. They weren’t expressly forbidden, but they were seen as a last resort of weak writing.

You’d never know that to look at the news today, though. It seems like every news Web site and news network out there is asking questions. Is the economic crisis over? Is the economic crisis just beginning? Are land sharks a danger to you and your family? We’ll have the answer to that question coming up at 11.

ABC News seems to be one of the worst offenders in this category. Look at the headlines from their Web site from Friday, Oct. 10. Early in the morning, the headline read: “Black Friday?” And pondered just how low the stock markets were going to go.

A short time later, the headline was changed to something slightly less apocalyptic: “Gray Friday? World Markets Tank, Dow Flails from High to Low.”

Apparently someone at ABC News decided to adopt the federal government’s color-coded terror watch system and use it for news coverage.

The market threat today has been upgraded from black to gray. I suppose if it recovers, it will go to charcoal gray, then slate gray, followed by light gray. Who knows? If it’s a really good day, it could go as high as off-white.

But I digress. The problem I have with question headlines is that they are a cheap way to draw in readers or viewers or listeners. “Is grass really green?” Well, of course we all know it is, but we might tune in anyway just in case the folks on the news crew know something we don’t.

But think about it this way – if they know so much more than you, why do they keep asking such stupid questions?

I’ll have the answer for you at 11.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Trouble in the land of TWIC

We reported recently that after years of delays, the federal government has finally opened all the enrollment centers for the TWIC card – the Transportation Workers Identification Credential.

Of course, we still don’t have all port facilities using the cards. And we don’t have the electronic readers necessary to check them to ensure they’re valid.

But, hey, you can enroll. I guess that’s something.

Or is it?

A trucker called in to OOIDA headquarters recently to tell us what we suspected would happen all along. To enter the ports he services, he has to have not only his TWIC card, but also a card for that port, a card for some terminals, a whole box of cards just to do his job.

The whole original idea of TWIC was not only security, but to replace all the other cards.

You may remember that back then, Todd Spencer said that TWIC would not replace the two dozen or so cards some truckers have to carry – it would be just one more card. And here we are, years later, watching that prediction come true.

This is a boondoggle, a waste of taxpayer money that has yet to yield any result for the American taxpayer or the American trucker.

Unfortunately, it’s also a reality right now. Truckers who want to work the ports have to sign up, have to turn over some very personal information, have to travel the miles and miles to get to an enrollment center, have to pay the fee.

It’s been a big concern for me to hear it’s causing truckers this kind of inconvenience … although that word hardly describes what a pain in the butt this has been.

The problem here, though, is not just the pain. It isn’t even charging a fee for what could be your fourth government background check.

It’s a philosophy of how government interacts with industry – a philosophy carried out only halfway.

The federal government has been very reluctant to put more regulation on big businesses. Some of you may read that and think, hey, I thought they wanted to deregulate all business.

But the fact is, you and all the other truckers out there know that the amount of regulation you face has not decreased one iota. You have logbooks and FAST and cargo securement and hazmat endorsements and medical cards and chain laws and spring thaw restrictions and weight limitations and split speed limits and kingpin-to-rear-axle limits and IFTA and IRP and drug tests and on and on and on.

But big business … well, things are running pretty smooth for them. The current folks running things in Washington have been pretty lax in enforcing regulations in regard to them. Ask anyone who’s talked with their carrier about possible violations of the leasing regulations.

So when the feds put TWIC out there, they said it would replace these cards, but then they did nothing to make that happen, no regulation requiring ports or terminals to use it in place of all the other cards. They just accepted that it would happen; call it a faith-based security initiative.

Well, no one is accepting on faith that you fill out your logbook. You are required to meet the regulations imposed on you. Why shouldn’t the shippers, receivers, brokers, big carriers, and yes, port terminals be required to do the same?

If TWIC is going to work, they can’t just enforce it on the trucker; they have to do something about getting the ports to use it to.

Of course, there’s also the other option – they could give up this nonsense and come up with something that actually works.

What a concept, what a radical idea! But then again, we are dealing with the feds … so don’t get your hopes up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What’s in your wallet?

Let me see if I’ve got this straight.

We’re on the brink of a financial Apocalypse because greedy Wall Street suits handed out so much bad credit … and our only salvation is to pump billions into the credit markets so the suits can start handing out credit again.


I’m going to do my patriotic part by running up the credit card at 28 percent interest.

Then I’m going to get one of those adjustable rate mortgages and put the family upside down in our payments.

Will the bank give you a home improvement loan, a vacation loan and a cereal malt beverage loan if you’re not making your monthly house payments?

If so, I’m gonna get me some of those too.

After all, the administration has set the example for borrowing – the national debt now tops $10 trillion, up from $5.7 trillion eight years ago.

That means I – and every other man, woman and child in this country – already owe $33,000, just to pay off the national debt.

China alone has underwritten $500 billion of our debt and unless they pull the ‘nuclear option’ (dumping those US treasury notes) they’ll probably lend us more.

So what’s a little more personal debt, eh?

I say let’s loosen up those credit markets at any cost – and let the good times roll!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bike and hike? Pay to play

California is in the midst of a debate about the state’s highway funding.

We say highway funding, but in reality, the proposal on the table would spend a lot of cash for things far removed from cars and trucks. The proposal would use $90 million dollars of highway user money to put a bike and hike trail along a commuter rail line.

One of our listeners did a little figuring. He calculated that for the length of the trail, that would mean the state of California would spend $1.3 million per mile.

Remember, this is a commuter rail line along an existing rail line. The land is there and available, so this is all for bike and hike.

That same listener was incredulous, just as I am right now. What kind of idiot spends $1.3 million a mile for bike and hike trails? What are they paving this thing with, gold dust?

We have a bike and hike path not far from OOIDA headquarters. They used land already owned by the public, smoothed out and leveled the ground with a Bobcat, and then laid down some pea gravel. Project done.

I’m betting it didn’t cost a fraction per mile of what this thing is running.

I don’t object to this kind of thing overall. I’ll admit, I use those trails. I like them. And if I want more, I can vote to raise my own blasted taxes and pay for it. If I’m not willing to pay, and I want to walk, perhaps I can use a unique and highly advanced creation of 20th century scientists – the sidewalk.

What I do object to is money that was paid for paved highways being stolen away for this kind of thing.

If you want this kind of path in your town, be ready to pay for it. But don’t make some trucker who’s already dealing with sky-high fuel prices pay yet more just so you can pedal in peace.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hot fuel still in the hot seat

Hot fuel – it’s an issue that OOIDA first brought to the public’s attention years ago. It’s an issue the association and others have fought to fix – and one the oil companies have fought to ignore.

Here’s how hot fuel works. A standard gallon of diesel at 60 degrees contains 139,000 Btu, or British Thermal Units. Run the temperature of that fuel up to 90 or 95 degrees – something that’s not unheard of – and it could contain as many as 2,000 Btu less.

That means you could spend a thousand dollars more a year for fuel, and go fewer miles on each tank of fuel.

Fuel companies compensate each other for the difference. The only people who don’t get some compensation for the difference temperature makes are you, truckers or motorists.

Some time back, we found out the very same oil companies who started this mess have found a way they think they can avoid responsibility.

The ploy involves stickers placed on the pump. I’ve seen or heard of several different versions, but they all follow a similar theme: We sell gas measured by the gallon, not measured by how much energy it provides. We’re not responsible if that energy level per gallon falls below what you expect.

We first became aware of the stickers when they appeared on pumps in California. We’ve been told recently they’ve made it all the way to the East Coast.

It’s clearly an attempt to circumvent the real issue of hot fuel, a disclaimer that in essence says, “We’re informing you officially that we intend to cheat you, so that makes it all legal and OK.”

Well, I have a message for those folks: It’s not OK.

OOIDA is continuing to pursue this issue. Another group is continuing to pursue a lawsuit. Others are still pushing in state and federal weights and measures groups to have the rules for how fuel pumps work changed.

And we’ll keep all of you updated as the issue progresses. But as you know, with our government, really changing anything takes years.

The problem we face is that slow speed of change, and the incredible resources possessed by the folks who want to keep things the way they are.

The problem our opponents face is that we have a lot of patience, and a long memory. And we will not forget.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Back to the Future? Instead, let’s consign futures to the past

Recently, Terry Scruton reported on a Senate hearing where our elected representatives investigated what role that speculation played in this year’s oil price run-up.

Speculation, in this case, pretty much refers to activities on the futures market, which itself is not much more than a legalized, disguised and very dangerous form of gambling.

Here’s the theory: You start by finding a time where you think oil will go up in price over the next three months. You buy a load of oil that’s not scheduled to arrive here for a month to three months in the future. You make the purchase with borrowed money, using virtually none of your own. Then, as the oil is near delivery, you go back to the same market and sell it for the higher amount.

As the stock market and the rest of the economy started to tank, folks thought oil was a good investment. So they started investing in these “futures.”

Remember, over the past year, if you adjust for seasonal variations, the supply of oil and the demand for oil to burn was pretty typical. What there was more demand for was oil futures. And that drove the price of those futures – and eventually, the price of the oil they represented – up.

That’s the case with oil – the very nature of the market encourages further speculation, encourages traders to commit acts likely to drive up the price, so they can take hefty profits and never actually have to possess one ounce of oil (they never take delivery unless the price drops below what they paid for it).

But this problem isn’t limited to oil. Not by far. It’s pretty clear to me that the futures market is at the heart of many of our economic problems over the years.

Ask a farmer how much they were paid for the amount of wheat used in a loaf of bread. It’s pitiful.

Sure, some of the cost of the loaf went to the baker, to the cost of the yeast, to the retail store, and – God willing – to the trucker who brought it there.

But when some brands of bread are running well over $3 a loaf, it’s ridiculous that the person who produced the most important ingredient gets paid the least of anyone involved in the process – in some cases, as little as 5 cents for the wheat that goes into that loaf.

So where did the rest of that money go? A lot of it ends up on the futures market, where a trader who never worked a day on a farm in his life pulls in huge quantities of cash for the wheat in that bread.

That doesn’t even address the ultimate problem: The end consumers – in this case, economically struggling families who have to pay that much more for the food they need – get stuck with the bill.

Here’s a telling statistic: I’ve seen salaries listed for futures traders that run from $80,000 to $300,000 plus – a figure nearly unheard of decades ago. Farmers are often paid no more for wheat now than they were in the early 1920s. Don’t believe me? Check out Kansas History Magazine.

I really do think the same kind of thing is happening with oil. In both cases, the end consumers – truckers or grocery shoppers – are getting screwed.

The only big difference between the oil and wheat situations is that for oil, the producers – in this case, oil companies – aren’t getting paid a pittance like the farmers. They’re getting rich, too.

It’s just one more thing to discuss when you call your representative or your senators.

Only they can pass the laws needed to properly regulate futures trading and prevent this kind of crisis again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I think we should sleep on it

Sometimes, issues are real, and require real attention.

Sometimes, they’re artificial, and still get attention because someone inflates their importance in order to serve their own agenda.

Sleep apnea is a little of both.

On the one hand, we have the FMCSA’s Medical Review Board, which wants to force anywhere from a third to half of all American truck drivers to be tested for the illness every year – at an out-of-your-pocket cost of thousands of dollars. They want that test whether you’re really at risk for the disease or not.

On the other hand, you have those who have criticized opponents of that plan – including OOIDA. Some have claimed we haven’t covered it enough on Land Line Now, or that truckers don’t really understand the problems.

I think that’s a criticism I need to address.

First, I don’t think anyone wants someone who really might have apnea to avoid a test.

Also, I think many of us have a very good idea what apnea is. Many of us have it – myself included.

And finally, we actually have talked on this show with a number of medical professionals about what apnea is and what it does to people who have it. We’ve also talked quite a bit about CPAP machines and how they treat the illness.

However, that’s a whole different matter than what the Medical Review Board is talking about. They want any trucker with a BMI, or Body Mass Index, of more than 30 to have the yearly testing. The last estimate I saw indicated that could be around 42 percent of all truckers.

It’s uncalled for, and it’s unnecessary.

In talking with folks on the air and off, virtually all say the simple Body Mass Index test is inaccurate in determining whether someone is obese. And it’s a very inaccurate way to determine who’s at risk for apnea.

Again, this isn’t just some Joe off the street – this is information that comes from medical professionals.

The method used here to measure BMI is to simply compare your weight and height. A truly accurate BMI test involves placing you in a tank of water and measuring your displacement. Far fewer people would show a BMI of 30 with that test.

Second, while obesity – when correctly measured – is one indicator for apnea (not a guarantee you have it), it’s not the only indicator.

Here are just a few of the possible factors that can indicate you are a potential sleep apnea sufferer:
  • People who are overweight;
  • Men with a 17-inch neck or larger;
  • Women with a 16-inch neck or larger;
  • Older men and postmenopausal women;
  • Adults and children with Down syndrome;
  • And children with large tonsils.
Again, that’s just a few of the kinds of people who are at risk.

Whether you get tested for apnea is a decision that should be made by you and your doctor, not by some bureaucrat who is sitting at a desk a thousand and a half miles away.

So why are they doing this? Why use BMI as a method to decide who’ll get tested for apnea?

The answer lies in who is calling for this.

Charlie Morasch, who’s one of our writers down at Land Line Magazine, found some interesting facts when he looked.

For example, he discovered that one member of FMCSA’s Medical Review Board is an executive committee member and board member of the National Sleep Foundation. The National Sleep Foundation is funded largely by drug companies, and also receives funds from CPAP manufacturers.

Gee, do you think that person might have a vested interest in hundreds of thousands of truckers being required to undergo sleep testing – which would be performed by companies represented by the National Sleep Foundation – and being required to buy machines – which would be provided by the CPAP manufacturers?

So here’s the upshot. I’m with those who say we need to treat apnea seriously. But I’m not in favor of forcing people into unneeded medical tests. And I’m not into forcing hundreds of thousands of truckers who don’t have medical insurance to have to pay for those tests out of their own pocket, or give up their livelihoods.

Let’s let doctors who know their patients decide what testing is necessary. That’s the way it is now, and that’s the way it ought to be.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bad food, few choices, rotten results

Have you eaten at your favorite truck stop lately?

If you have, it’s very possible that the old sit-down restaurant has been replaced by a fast-food joint.

And that’s a problem. A longtime OOIDA member, Leland Jennings, told us recently that it’s no wonder truckers’ health is in trouble. Look at what they have to eat.

It’s not just truck stops. The local restaurant, or any restaurant that offers something that wasn’t pre-packaged and developed in a lab, is quickly disappearing.

So how do we address this?

There’s only one way: You’re the customer. Talk to the local managers, and let them know what you want.

But don’t stop there. Get the phone number for their corporate headquarters. If the manager won’t give it to you, just Google the company. Most of them put the headquarters number somewhere on their Web site. Call and make them aware as well.

Any company that hears from a large number of customers – well, at least any company whose officers have half a brain among them – will respond.

It’s about the only way to get some action. We can’t expect the government to step in and force truck stops or other restaurants to offer better or healthier food. And I’m pretty sure it’s not a good idea to get them involved.

It’s going to be a hard battle, something that’s especially obvious when you look over this situation. When I’m thinking about eating out, and I see what we’re offered, I start to think that the kind of food all of us like is a thing of the past.

Let’s hope not.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why bad laws get piled onto good people

If you’ve been reading the pages of Land Line Magazine’s Web site, you’ve seen that officials in Dane County, WI, were pursuing an ordinance that they hope will reduce truck idling in unincorporated areas of that county.

Here are some of the basics:

  • The proposal would restrict idling to five minutes an hour.
  • If temperatures are below 39 or above 80, trucks could idle an additional 15 minutes an hour.
  • And, like other proposals, ordinances or laws of this kind we’ve seen all around the country, this one focuses on the effect diesel emissions have on the health of the area’s population.

It doesn’t sound much different from what we’ve seen elsewhere. But it raises some questions, such as:

  • Why do they keep ignoring the health of the trucker?
  • What about truckers who take along their kids, or pets?
  • What ultimately is the end game of this; how far are they going to carry this idea?

I had a few thoughts about that.

First – and this is the sad part – in most places that have an idling restriction, the trucker’s health is not protected. But many of those same cities will fine a car driver for leaving an animal in a vehicle that doesn’t have the heat or air conditioning operating.

In fact, when I used to eat lunch every day at a bar and grill up the street, frequently, all the K-9 officers from this county would be eating there, too.

Every single one of those vehicles was idling so the animal would be safe and comfortable.

Second, why is this happening – why are public officials going out of their way to protect some citizens, and not others? Why don’t they understand what this is doing to the trucker?

In part, this is a plain lack of understanding. Some public officials that I’ve spoken to, or that truckers have told me they’ve talked to, say they never thought about what it was like for that trucker to sit in the cab. Some didn’t realize that the regulations require them to be in there at certain times.

I’ve even had one insist to me that all the truckers stayed in hotels every night. Seriously, this person really believed that.

These laws can be set by any level of government, they can be different from town to town, and you can face a fine without ever knowing in advance, or even having a chance to know, that you’re in violation of some law.

I’m no fan of federal regulation, and I prefer a lot of things to be done locally instead. But sometimes the feds or some other nationwide force needs to be setting the rules.

That’s why we have federal trucking regulations. That’s why we have IFTA and IRP.

If only one idling law applied nationwide, at least truckers would know what they faced. And we would have the opportunity to make our case to the feds once, instead of having to deal with the governments of 50 states, as many as 3,000 counties, and tens of thousands of cities and towns.

Again, this is why it’s so important to start calling all your public officials – not just the ones in Congress, but also in your state legislatures, your county commission, your city council.

Otherwise … look at how out of control things can get.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What, is there no crime in Jersey?

This past week, Land Line Magazine reported about a bill in New Jersey that could put local law-enforcement officers into the truck inspection business.

State Sen. Shirley Turner of Mercer, NJ, introduced a bill earlier this year that would authorize “appropriately trained” local law-enforcement officers to inspect trucks.

Apparently, New Jersey police are brimming with free time – going about their days lacking any actual crime to combat. How else would they get the time needed to conduct Level I inspections?

Plus, don’t we have a state agency doing this now? Why the duplication of effort? Do large convoys of problem trucks clog the highways there, requiring hundreds, if not thousands, of additional inspectors?

The simple answer is no – on all counts. Those officers have some other things to take care of, real crimes, that should take precedence over this.

So why is the state training local cops to fulfill a state function?

The fact is, training local officers to inspect trucks is not about safety. It is – and has always been – a local government fundraiser.

The DOT doesn’t even train those local officers the same way state inspectors are trained. In most cases, one local officer is trained by the state, and then that officer trains the other local police to do the inspections – usually in a much-abbreviated fashion.

Local police should not be involved in this. Period.

If New Jersey needs more money, perhaps they should ask their citizens.

And maybe if they had spent those citizens’ money wisely, they wouldn’t need so much more.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pirates of the Subprimean

Friday was “Talk Like a Pirate” day – and that raises the question, are there still pirates out there?

My sources tell me yes – only they wear suits and work on the 40th floor of big investment banking companies.

Their latest caper was a little raid on the subprime housing market. That could end up costing the rest of us $1 trillion or more.

But instead of walking the plank, I’m betting these pirates sail off happily into the sunset with the treasures they amassed just before the subprime ship went down to Davey Jones’ locker.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Another bone-headed idea that needs to die

Is a 6-foot-5-inch man who weighs 265 pounds and has a 36 inch waist obese?

To most of us, that would seem like a ridiculous question. Of course not – looking at just those statistics, without additional information, it seems to describe someone who’s in pretty good condition, who works and is reasonably muscular.

Obese means something entirely different. I know from obese – I’ve been that way a good part of my life.

The American Heritage Dictionary – which I’ve always regarded as pretty authoritative – defines the word this way: “Extremely fat; grossly overweight.” I may be off-base (although I really doubt I am), but I don’t think of a 36-inch waistline as extremely fat or grossly anything.

And yet that’s exactly what the FMCSA Medical Review Board wants all of us to believe.

For some time, we’ve been following the proposal by the FMCSA Medical Review Board to use BMI – body mass index – as a way to determine which truckers should be tested for sleep apnea.

This idea has brought in as much reaction as any other issue we’ve explored in the three plus years we’ve been on the air.

Part of that reaction was a call from a trucker named Kevin, who is 6-foot-5-inch, 265 pounds and has a 36-inch waistline.

I put those figures into a widely accepted body mass index calculator. And guess what? His BMI is 31.4.

Under the Medical Review Board plan, any BMI over 30 would require you to have regular testing for sleep apnea – testing that can cost thousands of dollars.

Considering the financial state of trucking, the state of the economy, and the number of truckers who lack any kind of health insurance – double the percentage of uninsured in the general population – this is unconscionable.

I sincerely doubt our friend Kevin is a prime candidate for apnea.

In fact, I don’t think he’s overweight, much less obese. But the medical folks are trying to tell us he is.

Wonder why? Here’s the answer: The test they’re using to calculate body mass index is highly inaccurate.

It has no way to tell the difference between weight from fat and weight from muscle. And of course muscle weighs more, so a lot of people who are in very good shape, and who have a very low risk of apnea, are going to get caught up in this if the plan becomes a formal proposed regulation.

Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet. It may not. But if it does, we’ll make sure all of you know.

Meanwhile, I want to put out a challenge to any trucker out there who’s in good physical condition. Plug your height and weight into an online BMI calculator. You can use one here.

If it says you’re overweight or obese, here’s what I want you to do. Next time you see your U.S. senators or representative, ask them to look you up and down and then ask if they think you’re obese.

I’m betting that for many of you, the answer would be no. It’s a great way to show your lawmakers how ridiculous this proposal is.

As some of you know, I have sleep apnea. I know it can be a serious problem if it’s not treated, and if someone really does have it, I want them to get help.

But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to needlessly drain other people’s wallets or subject them to unnecessary medical tests to do that. That kind of activity is why health costs in this country keep spiraling upward, which helps no one but harms all of us.

We need to make sure this bone-headed idea never sees the light of day. Please, make your voice heard today.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do you see what I see?

I have to be very careful how I word this. I know a lot of truckers like to ride motorcycles in their spare time, so let me just say this is not really aimed at you.

I live in the Kansas City area and lately I’ve been seeing a lot of signs up around town – some billboards, some on those electronic signs that usually have traffic updates on them. These signs are telling me to watch out for motorcycles. “Look Twice for Motorcycles.” “Watch out. Motorcycles are everywhere.”

I have no problem with this message, and I agree with it wholeheartedly on general principle. Where my problem comes in is this: Not a day goes by that I don’t see some yahoo – usually on a crotch rocket, never on a Harley – come zipping down the interstate, weaving in and out of traffic like he’s the only one with someplace to go.

I usually drive the speed limit, or close to it anyway. Maybe a few miles to the north of 65 or 70, whatever it happens to be. Not excessively fast. These guys come whipping by me like I’m standing still. And usually they’re going so fast I don’t even realize they are there until I hear the engine go buzzing by my ear like a horsefly on steroids. I even saw one guy doing a wheelie for several miles, thinking he was impressing everyone around him. I was not impressed.

I’ve been startled by these idiots on more than one occasion. So much so that I’ve jerked the steering wheel. Thankfully, not enough to cause my car to swerve, but enough to scare the bejeezus out of me. Oh, and did I mention I drive to and from work each day on 40 miles of Interstate with my 19-month-old daughter in the car?

So you can see why I might be a little agitated.

My point is this – somebody at the Missouri Department of Transportation (maybe Kansas, too, I’ve seen the signs on both sides of the state line) has decided to put up all of these signs promoting motorcycle awareness and safety.

And yet every day I see these morons on wheels driving so recklessly it’s a wonder there aren’t more news reports of tragic motorcycle accidents every day in this town.

But you know what I don’t see? A single sign telling folks to share the road with trucks. Not a one.

You know what else I don’t see? Truck drivers swerving in and out of traffic putting other people’s lives in danger because they’re in a hurry or they just want to show off.

Which, again, is not to say that I don’t support the message of motorcycle safety and awareness, because I do.

I just wonder if maybe those messages aren’t being aimed at the wrong people.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Supply and demand rears its lovely head

Something very profound has happened in the global oil market.

The price of a barrel of oil is suddenly becoming responsive to supply and demand again.

As a result, oil (at this writing) is selling for less than $92 a barrel – as opposed to $147 a few months back.

Saudi Arabia’s oil minister thinks, based on actual demand, it should be selling in the $50 to $65 range – and maybe it soon will.

Some say the big change dates to late summer when the politicians started screaming for the heads of speculators on platters – since some analysts were saying that speculation was accounting for as much as half of the price of a barrel … or even more.

Even the toothless Commodity Futures Trading Commission vowed to “investigate” (but naturally, came up with nothing).

Apparently the CFTC concluded the $69 billion that was pumped into the futures market by big, institutional investors had no impact at all.

Most fourth-graders with a pocket calculator would say otherwise.

In any case, the political and regulatory activity seems to have had a chilling effect on whatever was causing oil to just keep going up in price.

Most chilling is the call by some politicians to close the so-called “Enron loophole” that allowed big investors – who have no intention of actually taking delivery of any oil – to buy as much as they want to protect their money against the weak dollar.

We’ll see how it all unfolds.

But it’s refreshing to actually see oil prices reacting to apparent demand – after being told by fast-talking analysts for years that a single broken pipeline in Nigeria … or a refinery retooling in Botswana … or seagull droppings on an off-shore rig is behind the latest big jump in crude.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A no-brainer the ATA doesn’t get

Why should a trucker haul two loads for one paycheck – a paycheck no larger than that trucker would have received for the single load?

It seems like a simple question with a simple answer: The trucker should say no.

But that’s exactly what would happen if the ATA is successful in its push for longer, heavier trucks.

This idea is nothing more than a scheme by some of the larger carriers through the group that represents them – the ATA – to save some money and make more profit.

Frankly, they’re not the ones I’m worried about in this economy right now. I’m far more concerned about the plight of small-business truckers, both owner-operators and the small fleet owners. It’s far harder for them to afford upgrades to their equipment or to recover increased costs.

And if the big carriers do upgrade, let’s face it – to survive, most everyone will have to follow suit.

But that isn’t the only reason to oppose this.

First and foremost, there are real safety concerns about these trucks.

That’s not intended in any way to run down the truckers who drive these rigs. But those trucks have to share the road with four-wheelers who have enough trouble figuring out how to drive around a single 53-foot trailer.

I’ve watched how they react around doubles. Believe me, we don’t want the kinds of things I saw happening more often.

And then, there’s the question of what they do to the highways.

Some folks say they aren’t a problem for roads to handle. I even heard from one trucker who pointed out that if you spread the load out over enough axles, the weight per axle is less than a standard, 80,000-pound, 53-foot, 5-axle tractor-trailer.

OK, I’ll admit, that sounds like it makes sense – at least, until you consider this: Which wears more on a highway. One SUV, or 10 SUVs?

Obviously, it’s 10 SUVs. Frankly, it’s a no-brainer.

Yes, if you spread that weight out over more axles, you distribute it, and you lower the pounds per square foot.

But you’re still putting that much more net weight onto the road.

Our roads today were designed with the 80,000-pound semi in mind. And they can occasionally handle larger loads when needed – which is why we have permit processes to handle those loads.

But they’re not designed to handle that much more weight on a day-in, day-out, hour-by-hour basis. And if you add that much, it is going to wear them out faster.

At some point, we have to set some limit on the weight and size of trucks allowed on our highways. And frankly, I think the limits we have now – the ones our roads were designed for – are just fine.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Don’t take the chance

We recently warned truckers about problems with two drugs – Byetta and Chantix. Both were the subjects of warnings from the FDA – the federal Food and Drug Administration.

But despite the evidence and warnings from that agency, at least one trucker thinks the warnings may have been overblown.

I think that trucker may have a point, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. If you’re taking Chantix, the FMCSA has told your doctor to revoke your medical certification to drive.

Here’s the key sentence from the statement by FMCSA Administrator John Hill:

“… It appears that medical examiners should not certify a driver taking Chantix because the medication may adversely affect the driver's ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.”

That may sound innocuous, but it means that you could be taken off the road. In this economy, I don’t know many truckers who can afford that kind of vacation.

And I’d add this – Chantix may well have worked well for you as an individual. I don’t doubt that one bit. And I absolutely believe that many, if not most, folks on the drug didn’t experience the side effects.

But that doesn’t mean it will work well for everyone, or that everyone won’t get the side effects.

The FDA issued the warning because so many folks did experience the negative side effects that it’s not worth the chance. The fact is, you don’t know till you take a drug whether you will experience bad effects or not, and in this case, it’s just too much of a gamble.

But even with that aside, truckers can’t work without medical certification. And I’d urge everyone out there to not take that risk.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

To tax or not to tax … that is the question

The proposal in Canada that could lead to a carbon tax – essentially, a tax on anything that has exhaust emissions – hasn’t drawn nearly the attention it deserves.

But some folks are paying attention. And some are thinking of ways to divert that tax away from one of its most likely victims – truckers.

First, let me say this: I’m not going to get into the whole discussion on global warming. But the reality is this: Whether you agree with the idea of global warming or not, it is going to drive policy, including proposals to create taxes like this.

So back to our carbon tax. One truck driver called with an interesting suggestion – why not put the tax on the producers of carbon – the oil companies.

I’m no fan of our friends in the oil business, though I use plenty of what they make. But here are a few things to consider.

Number 1: Guess who will really pay? That’s right, you and me, because they’ll pass on the cost to their customers.

Number 2: Do we really think the oil companies’ lobby will allow this? Probably not, and they throw around a lot of money in the U.S., and I suspect in Canada.

Number 3: No matter how a carbon tax is implemented, some businesses will come out ahead and some will get the shaft. There is an incredible danger that this could end up, as so many things do, as corporate welfare for the big guys, and a burden on the small guys. And small businesses make up the bulk of trucking.

We need to find a way to address this issue, to deal with tax proposals like this, that also addresses the needs of small businesses.

A carbon tax that crushes small businesses is not a good idea for trucking, for the economy, for America and Canada, or for the environment.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Taxed to death

It’s no secret that many truckers – like many other Americans – face so many different taxes, so many things pulling away bits of their income, that they feel taxed to death.

But truckers have specific concerns, and face specific challenges on this topic not faced by other Americans.

On top of the typical income, sales and property taxes, truckers have federal fuel tax, IFTA, IRP fees, 2290s, and on and on. And that’s if you don’t count the most insidious tax of all – tolls.

One trucker asked the obvious question: How many times do I have to pay for the same road before it’s really paid for?

Truckers are not alone in caring about this. We do here at OOIDA, and we’re working hard to fix as much of this problem as we can.

The fact is, truckers pay as much as 36 percent of the money going into the federal Highway Trust Fund. And I’m pretty sure they aren’t 36 percent of the traffic.

One of the first things we’re working toward is to make sure the road taxes you do pay really do go toward roads.

If they were spent on roads, instead of being diverted to other purposes, the government, state, local or federal, wouldn’t need more of your money.

The question that trucker asked me – how many times do I have to pay for the same road before it’s really paid for? – is a good one. And we’re asking it all the time. But to arrive at a real solution, we need your help.

Call your members of Congress, and tell them all the taxes and fees you pay. Explain it all, including the extra tax if you ever buy a new truck. Explain how it’s supposed to be used to pay for the roads you use.

Make sure they understand that truckers are paying 36 percent of that federal Highway Trust Fund. Stress that all that money is supposed to pay for roads, but doesn’t. And tell them that if they don’t want to spend road money for roads, then they need to stop asking for more.

We need to work together. We are making progress, but the job isn’t finished yet. We intend to keep fighting until we’ve won. We hope you’ll join us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Things are not always as they seem

I get plenty of suggestions for Roses & Razzberries every day. That’s not to say that I have more than I need. By all means, keep them coming.

Most of them are pretty straightforward. A Razzberry for some ambulance-chasing lawyer here, a Rose for a good truck repair shop there.

There are some, however, that seem to be one thing, but when you start scratching at the surface, turn out to be something else altogether. I have to examine these more carefully. After all, I wouldn’t want to fire off a Razzberry in the wrong direction and hit some innocent bystander.

Roses and Razzberries aren’t things to be taken lightly. Someone could lose an eye.

I recently received a suggestion for a Razzberry for Woman’s World magazine, and, more specifically, for an article that quoted Jason Toews, a man who runs a Web site called Gasbuddy.com.

In the article, Toews was quoted as saying one of the best ways to save fuel is to drive behind a semi. Drafting, I believe, is the technical, NASCAR-approved term. Toews was quoted as suggesting that doing this could save you as much as 10 percent on fuel.

While that may be true, I’m sure everybody reading this is already saying to themselves “yeah, but it’s dangerous as hell.” And it is, no question about it.

So why would Toews recommend this as a way to save fuel? Truth is, he didn’t. I e-mailed Toews when I saw the article and demanded (yeah, I went a little overboard) to know why he would make such a dangerous and irresponsible recommendation.

Here is the response I got:

Although I have not seen the article, I vehemently expressed to the reporter that one should NOT do that because of the dangerous nature of drafting. I had used it as an example of how much impact wind resistance has at highway speeds, and that the impact is exponential as you go faster. If there was no/limited wind resistance at highway speeds, your fuel economy would be significantly better. I’m surprised that they would print this, especially considering that it does not seem to have come with any warnings to NOT do it.

Translation: Jason never recommended drafting behind big trucks. He used it as an example of how wind resistance can affect your gas mileage. Woman’s World took that as a recommendation and ran with it. With no warning whatsoever about how dangerous and stupid it would be to ride five feet from the bumper of a truck rolling down the highway at 65 miles per hour.

What’s more, Land Line Magazine staff writer Clarissa Kell-Holland talked to the folks at Woman’s World, who told her they stand by what they printed, in spite of our warnings and Jason’s insistence that they include a warning in the article.

Now we have moved beyond the realm of simple incompetence and into the realm of willful ignorance, arrogance and just flat-out irresponsible journalism.

I’m glad we checked that out; otherwise, I would have unfairly given a Razzberry to Jason instead of putting the blame squarely where it belongs: with Woman’s World magazine.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good Samaritans make good neighbors

I’ve been at OOIDA for over three years, and in that time I’ve seen some heartbreaking stories. One of the most heartbreaking was the story of Randy Jay Tomblin, a truck driver from Flatwoods, KY.

Randy first appeared in the pages of Land Line Magazine in 1999 because of an incident that happened at a truck stop the day his son died. I won’t go into the full details, but Randy got an emergency call from his wife on the road and when he went to the truck stop to try and call her back to find out what happened, the folks at the truck stop were less than accommodating.

But that was just the beginning of Randy’s troubles.

In 2006, Randy stopped to help what appeared to be a stranded motorist alongside the highway. He was rewarded for his good deed with a knock on the head, a gunshot wound to the back and an empty wallet.

All of that was bad enough, but it was what Randy said in an interview after the incident that really broke my heart. He said his days of helping others were over.

I can’t really blame Randy for having that sentiment. What breaks my heart is that we live in a society where that sentiment is even necessary. That we are so afraid for our lives that we can’t bring ourselves to help others in need.

Too many stories like that tend to make for jaded, bitter journalists, and jaded, bitter truck drivers.

Thankfully, there are other stories that come along and balance everything out. The kind of stories that make you think, OK, maybe the world isn’t doomed after all. The kind of stories that give you hope.

The story of Dave Marsden and Bob Griffith is one of those stories. In case you missed the recent broadcast, Bob is a truck driver who is struggling just to get by. He told an Associated Press reporter that he couldn’t even afford to buy a prom dress for his daughter.

Dave is a retired truck mechanic and Navy veteran who read Bob’s story and couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. So he called Bob up and offered to pay for his daughter’s prom dress.

When I first read the story, I knew I had to talk to these guys and I’m glad I did. Dave Marsden reminded me that there are good people left out there. They may be hard to find, but they are there.

You see, what Dave did for Bob wasn’t just a one-time thing. It’s the way Dave lives his life. If he sees someone who needs help, he helps them out as much as he can. It’s that simple. He doesn’t question it. He doesn’t think about it. He just does it. It’s as natural to him as breathing.

And that, my friends, is a breath of fresh air.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Just the beginning

So the ATA wants bigger, heavier trucks. What’s the big deal? What makes those trucks any different than our regular, 53-foot, 80,000-pound rigs?

We got a wake-up call about a year ago that spelled it out – the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

While I hesitate to ever say that trucks were involved in something like this, the incredibly heavy trucks parked on the bridge during construction may have played some role in the event.

Our infrastructure is designed with an 80,000 pound truck in mind.

We have a system for dealing with the occasional load that’s larger – we permit them, we often have special routes for them, and we have a bridge formula that’s specifically designed to deal with them in a way that protects our roads and bridges.

You know, since we’re here in Missouri, I wanted to check that state’s regulations for how and why they permit heavier loads. And I found something very interesting indeed.

It says this: “Economic factors in either the saving of time or costs for routing will not be considered of primary importance in the routing process and the department reserves the right to designate routing and travel time for all movements.”

So what does that mean in English? Just because it costs the carrier less doesn’t mean the state has to let them do what they want with a larger, heavier load. The state has the right to route and set times for the load that protect safety and the integrity of the road.

The bigger carriers and their shipper and receiver allies want to stop this system and let those 97,000 pound trucks roll as a matter of regular routine.

So what happens if we throw that all out and just let these suckers loose on our roads?

I shudder to think. Minneapolis could be just the beginning. And that is a scary thought indeed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Looking at the world through rose-colored lenses (or some other color)

Reed Black reported a little while back about research showing that intensely blue light produces alertness – and about researchers in Troy, NY, who are working on a device to take advantage of the light’s effect.

Shortly after that aired, I got a call from an OOIDA member named John Tolbert. John said that on the U.S.S. Missouri – the famed battleship on which the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II – the bridge used blue lights instead of red during battles.

It thought that was pretty interesting – apparently, the Navy knew about this effect for quite some time.

But then John went on to say that he wears yellow-tinted glasses for better vision at night. Just like the blue lights, I had never heard of that before.

So I checked into it. Often, on the Web, they were referred to as yellow-tinted polarized lenses.

I also found a number of references to those lenses being used in hunting and shooting – and being prescribed for folks who have difficulty seeing at night.

Other sites refer to them being use for enhancing color contrast and depth perception.

But a lot of those sites also note that before you use yellow lenses, you should probably talk to your optometrist and make sure they’re right for you.

It may seem like something far less important than what we usually discuss on this blog – the more serious topics of trucking. But what could be more important than being able to see better at night?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Insult on top of injury

If you want to get truckers really mad, you only need a few words to do it. One example: brokers.

Another one sure to get a rise is the word, “lumpers.”

A recent call we received here at OOIDA headquarters is a good example of why.

The trucker said he recently delivered to a loading dock in the St. Louis area. The lumper fee was a whopping $120 – a figure that I find astounding, but which – unfortunately – I acknowledge is more common in some places than I really want to think about.

When our friend the trucker tried to pay the lumper with a ComCheck, he was told doing that would cost him $3 extra.

So let me get this straight: Truckers don’t get the surcharge for real increases in fuel costs, but a lumper – someone who’s probably not even reporting the income, someone who may not even be in the country legally – gets to charge him an extra $3 just so they can cash the check he paid them?

It’s ridiculous that you have to pay for a lumper at all; it’s even more ridiculous that you have to pay $120 for the lumper’s so-called service.

To be handed a $3 charge just because of how you paid them – that’s insult on top of injury.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Political horse trading

We all know about how the Canadian province of Ontario has passed a law requiring speed limiters on trucks there.

One of our callers recently pointed out that the same folks who pushed for the limiters have also pushed for longer, heavier vehicles there in Canada.

For a long time, OOIDA officials have said the push for limiters here was being made for several reasons. I’ve talked most about the competitive reasons, such as driver recruitment.

But here in the U.S., again, those carriers pushing for limiters are the same ones pushing for longer, heavier trucks.

It’s pretty obvious this is an attempt at a political trade. We give you slower trucks; you reward us with bigger trucks.

We need to make sure that our politicians understand what is happening here. Speed limiters make roads less safe. Trucks the same size as a Boeing 707 make highways less safe.

So this isn’t a trade off … this is a combination of two factors both of which will make our highways less safe for everyone.

I encourage everyone reading this to call your elected officials, and make sure they understand those basic facts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Big truck insanity

Recently, the ATA and a number of shipper and receiver groups started yet another push to allow longer, heavier trucks onto our nation’s highways.

It’s not really a new fight for them, or for all of us. But this time, they are trying some new angles to get Congress to agree with their request.

But the facts behind this discussion haven’t really changed at all.

One of them I haven’t brought up lately is a simple matter of measurement – there are a lot of places where a double, much less a triple, wouldn’t fit on the existing streets, or into an existing dock.

A trucker recently called in to remind us about that. He mentioned some of the spots he drives in California, but what we’re talking about here isn’t unique to California – not by far.

In fact, there are plenty of cities where the whole infrastructure system is built around a single 48-foot trailer – where they even have trouble with a single 53-foot trailer.

Putting doubles or triples into that situation is insane.

What we’re seeing here is larger carriers whose office-bound bean counters have determined that this will save them cash. And that’s what this is about – their money.

It’s not about safety, it’s not about the environment – it’s money.

We were all taught in Sunday school that the love of money is the root of all evil. Seems sometimes that old wisdom is the best wisdom.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A revelation in Ontario: Heavy things go down hills fast!

The new speed limiter law in Ontario isn’t yet in effect. The province still has to create a regulation to enforce that law.

The proposed regulation contains the method officials want to use for enforcement.

Here’s how it will work, straight from the proposed regulation:

“A truck charged with a speeding offence … will be deemed not to have a functioning speed limiter.”

That and the rest of the regulation don’t indicate any leniency for a rig going faster due to a downhill grade.

But it’s pretty obvious that will happen. Heavy things go faster down hills, and those speed limiters don’t have a switch that activates the brakes (to all you folks in Ontario government: That was not a suggestion!)

Well, it turns out that not only are provincial officials aware of this little bit of basic physics; they even acknowledged that downhill grades can have an effect.

Another part of the proposed regulation says, “A speed limiting system is functioning properly if it prevents a driver from accelerating to, or maintaining a speed greater than 105 km/h on level ground.”

They seem to be acknowledging that a downhill grade can push the limited truck faster, but they offer no break if that happens.

We’ve encourage truckers to file their comments on this. I hope everyone who reads this will file comments and point out this obvious contradiction.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Thank you for visiting Dallas! Here’s your ticket

Idling regulations are – pardon the pun – a hot topic right now.

In part, that’s because of the weather – we’re in the heaviest of summer heat, and we’re not that far from winter.

But more important, it’s a big issue now because so many cities, counties and states are continuing to heap regulations onto truckers, despite the truckers’ basic human needs for heating in the winter and reasonable cooling in the summer.

It comes up in all kinds of situations – even in places you might not think about.

For example: the Great American Truck Show in Dallas.

Several truckers have called here to OOIDA headquarters saying officers are enforcing idling restrictions around Dallas. Since the truck show, and the lot where truckers will stay while there, are in the heart of that fine city, I think we can rest assured enforcement will happen there as well.

I was curious as to the exact regulations in effect there in Dallas, so I checked the latest issue of Land Line Magazine.

Dallas has a five-minute idling limit running from April through October every year, so the truck show would certainly be included.

But I found some good news in there as well.

The rule has a number of exceptions – including one for complying with the hours-of-service rule.

Frankly, though, if there’s a question, I would err on the side of caution.

I think we all know that enforcement officers who have a question are likely to write that ticket and ask questions later – and, as one of my co-workers here said, sometimes those exceptions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Border Fix

There’s been a lot of activity lately regarding the Mexican Cross-Border Trucking Pilot Program.

Most important, the House Transportation Committee acted on a bill designed to end the program once and for all.

The members of the House who introduced this bill designed it to avoid the wording problems the administration used to get around previous attempts to stop the program.

But that situation has many truckers skeptical … and concerned. What’s to keep the Department of Transportation from playing word games again.

I understand the concern, and I think it’s a valid point – especially because the Department of Transportation is already very clearly in violation of the law … a fact they refuse to acknowledge.

The only answer I can give is the part of the bill that forbids the DOT from granting operating authority to any other motor carriers based in Mexico, unless the DOT gets permission to do so from Congress.

I think we can all rest assured that Congress isn’t giving that permission any time soon.

It’s a sticky situation. But there’s another light at the end of the tunnel.

In less than six months, most of the current leaders of the U.S. DOT will be out of a job when a new president takes office.

Hopefully, whichever candidate wins, the new administration will be on that takes a dim view of what the current DOT has done.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Speed limiter laws and the encroaching ‘nanny state’

A few weeks ago the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Highways and Transit had a hearing entitled “Improving Roadway Safety ...” One of the panelists was a safety advocate who argued that stricter speed limits on our national highways should be placed on the national agenda. He argued that this measure would save both lives and energy.

When the debate is framed this way it is difficult to argue against these seemingly noble objectives. It follows that safety and public health are held up as paramount concerns for the government. Although I’m sure that safety advocates have good intentions, much is at stake in this complex debate, including many personal freedoms, standards of living and the livelihoods of small-business truckers.

Small-business truckers are again having to confront burdensome legislation – under the banner of enhancing highway safety – when conducting their occupations. In Canada, the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec have approved legislation requiring heavy truck engines to be limited to a maximum speed of 65 mph. This legislation was originally pushed in the name of promoting highway safety, in spite of research to the contrary. Unfortunately, these efforts are insidious in several ways: they create congestion, impact the livelihoods of drivers, and make highways less safe.

In the U.S. Congress, there is a bill that seeks to establish a national maximum speed limit of 60 mph on highways (HR6458). Though this legislation is a long shot, it embodies the core dilemma of this debate. The thought behind this bill is that reducing the speed limit will reduce fatalities on our nation’s roads, but with this logic, we could lower the national speed limit for highways to 25 mph and reduce vehicular fatalities even further. Of course, this outcome would also cripple trade and commerce. There are obvious tradeoffs in this debate and a need to strike a delicate balance that promotes safety while not overly burdening highway users.

This issue carries great salience because it represents broader themes of political philosophy. One side of this debate talks about the morality of social protection and the other side talks about the morality of personal responsibility and individual liberty. In addition to calls for speed limitations, many other issues are caught in this philosophical tug of war, including mandatory seatbelt laws, prohibitions of smoking in buildings, mandatory helmet laws for bicycle riders, and laws to combat obesity. What makes all these issues similar is that they share the goal of enhancing safety and “public health.” The social protection camp would argue that one role of the state is to allow people freedom to do what they want up to the point where other people are harmed.

With all this in mind, the question is: At what point are we venturing into “nanny state” territory, where the government attempts to run the private lives of its citizens? To this end, it seems patronizing to make decisions for people in areas that should be subject to individual choice and discretion. One example of governmental over-reaching is the trend toward public health laws aimed at attacking the scourge of fatty foods. It seems to me that if we justify laws based on what’s good for people, there is no end in sight. In the end, life is about living. Many good people willingly choose to drink, smoke and eat fatty foods, and are well aware of the health risks.

Granted, there is a keen need to strike a balance when serious public health issues are at stake. The question remains whether excessive speed limit laws fall into this “nanny state” category. I would argue that excessive speed limitations on highways represent the encroachment of the “nanny state” into the personal lives of citizens.

Now what’s the difference between laws targeting fatty foods and excessive speed limit laws? While the former can be blamed for thousands of deaths, increased disease, and a loss of productivity, the latter has an affect on other people, not just the individual. Surely, one could attempt to argue that the thousands of deaths on our nation’s highways every year call for a more strict scrutiny and regulation of speed limitations for commercial vehicles. Although a persuasive case can be made to the general public in this direction, it is altogether unconvincing because vital philosophical issues hang in the balance.

Safety advocates may push for national speed limitation laws under the banner of increasing highway safety, but they would also be pushing for limiting personal freedom, livelihoods, and individual discretion.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Stopping speed traps

Florida lawmakers recently announced an effort in that state to cut down on speed traps.

That sounds great to most people. But others ask an obvious question: Why are those speed traps a problem as long as you’re running the speed limit? As one trucker said, “If you break the law, you break the law.”

The problem, and what makes these speed traps and not just speed limit changes, is when a town puts a sign where it’s hard to see till you’re right on top of it, dropping the speed limit so far that you can’t possibly get your speed down in time.

Let’s try a scenario that I’ve actually seen: You’re going right on the speed limit for hundreds of miles. You suddenly turn a tight corner and see a sign just a few feet up the road dropping the speed limit 30 or 40 miles an hour.

You tell me how likely you are to succeed at that task driving a fully loaded rig with 80,000 pounds and a 53 foot trailer.

My view: No way.

Some of these towns deliberately set up that very situation with a goal of raising their city budget not from honest taxes, but from fines on out of town truckers and other out-of-town drivers.

That’s the kind of thing Florida’s lawmakers and lawmakers elsewhere are trying to stop. And I think they have a point.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cash or credit?

Cash or credit at the pump? It used to happen at fueling stations all the time. Many thought the practice had gone away. But it never really did.

And it’s raised another question in the mind of some truckers. How is it that a station can charge less based on how you pay? To one trucker who called our program, it sounded like a form of price gouging aimed at credit card-using customers.

But in fact, it’s not.

Most of the discount they’re offering for cash payment is due to how the credit card companies make their money. They charge a percentage of the purchase.

I remember it used to be 4 percent of retail purchases. So when you paid a dollar, 4 cents went to Visa, Mastercard or whoever.

Now that a gallon of fuel is more than $4 … that 4 percent becomes 16 cents to Visa, not 4 cents.

I’m not sure 4 percent is still the number, but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t gone down.

Part of what’s driving this as well is the incredibly thin profit margins local fuel stations have on diesel purchases. Some only pull in a few cents per gallon in net profit. So 16 cents off that becomes a make or break situation.

I’m not trying to justify what they’re doing. I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror in the morning if I tried to justify anything fuel companies did right now. But this is why they’re offering that discount.

That being said, I think one more point needs to be made: If you are charging more for credit card purchases, you should have to put the higher price on your sign.

If cash buyers get a discount, bonus! It’s like Christmas.

But no one should ever be subjected to pulling in for one price, only to be charged another when they walk in to pay.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Getting the priorities straight

More and more states and cities are passing laws against hand-held cell phone use.

And while there are some studies to indicate using a cell is distracting to drivers, and therefore constitutes a safety hazard, some contend that other, more serious problems should take precedence.

I do think those critics have a solid point. With murders, robberies and violence in the streets, we would seem to have plenty of work for our law enforcement to do. Certainly I think most would agree those would take precedence over stopping Johnny from talking with Buffy on the cell phone.

However, to the credit of the folks in California (you won’t hear me say that often), I do think we need to do something about many four-wheelers’ driving habits.

How many times have you seen someone putting on makeup, turning completely around to discipline a kid, doing paperwork from their job, bending over to pick up something off the car floor … or nearly hitting your rig because they were gabbing on the blasted phone instead of driving?

That’s what the folks in California are trying to put a stop to.

Of course, if instead of that, they required driver’s education, that very well might solve that problem – and a whole mess of other problems.

But I guess that would be too hard for them to do.