Let’s FIX the system! I’d Rather be SAFE than LEGAL!

Let's FIX the system! I'd Rather be SAFE than LEGAL!

By: Michael R.- 80 Grit

Let’s FIX the system! RATHER BE SAFE THAN LEGAL
1. H.O.S. Rules:
Without question, the current Hours of Service rules are, in a word, ridiculous. The FMCSA’s attempt to create a complex 1 size fits all system is a dismal failure that, in reality, fits no one.

Under the current rule, a driver may, LEGALLY, drive 13 hours in a given 24 hour (midnight to midnight) period; all things being equal and starting with a fresh 70 hrs, as follows:
Midnight: Pretrip 15 mins
00:15 : Drive
08:15 : 30 minute crayon time
08:45 : Drive until 11:45
11:45: Sleeper Berth
21:45: Pretrip
22:00 : Drive until midnight

Grand total, midnight to midnight, 13 hours of driving. Whilst LEGAL, this is a very demanding schedule.

A BETTER, and more REASONABLE one size that really DOES fit all, would be a very simple rule that allows a driver to drive a maximum of 12 hours during any 24 hour midnight to midnight period. This technique would permit a driver to take up to 12 hours of breaks/sleeper berth periods as he or she desires and/or needs based on self-assessment of fatigue. Further, it throws a bone to the nut case anti-trucker groups by cutting the permissible driving in a 24 hour period from 13 to 12 hours.

This rule would allow a driver to sit out weather, traffic jams, and rush hours through major urban areas along their route without compromising their ability to achieve the miles they need to make their appointments. Since there is no RIGID requirement other than the maximum 12 hours of driving, this one size really DOES fit ALL drivers. Furthermore, it makes enforcement a lot easier. The Rubix Cube of rules now in place actually serve to confuse drivers and enforcement officials alike.

With respect to the claim that the current rules are based on sound science and with SAFETY as the principle rationale justifying them, I respond with a hearty “TPhhhttpt!” As recently highlighted several times during this past winter (as well as other “crises”), the H.O.S. Rules can, and ARE, tossed aside for various reasons.

As anyone who has ever driven during harsh winter conditions can attest, one hour in a raging snow storm on slick roads is equivalent to about 6 hours (fatigue factor wise), on dry roads in good conditions. I can’t imagine any cargo being transported on our roads today that would make a bigger BANG that an 8000 gallon Propane tanker. And yet, always keeping SAFETY (NOT expedience!), as the primary goal, Propane tankers were granted a waiver from H.O.S. rules to help ease the shortage in the beleaguered North East.

There have been waivers for salt deliveries, disaster relief resupply, livestock, oil fields, and many others. If, as repeatedly proclaimed by the FMCSA,’SAFETY is the HIGHEST priority,’ then there should NEVER be a waiver of those rules for ANY reason – just like I can’t waive the rules if I hit my 70 hours 10 minutes from home. I would have to park for a 34 hour (probably more like 48 hour), reset, BECAUSE, driving that extra 10 minutes on a sunny day on dry pavement is SO dangerous (as compared to driving an 8000 gallon propane tanker for 15 hours in a blizzard).

Concerning the E.L.D. debate. This mandate has been pushed by the mega carriers and anti-trucking groups alike as the panacea for all of trucking’s sins. Balderdash!

First of all, in a recent response to K.C. Phillips’ letter to Secretary Fox, Administrator Ferro asserts that, even though the majority of drivers ARE safe and compliant, the need to catch and/or prevent the few bad actors out there from non-compliance, is so great, the E.L.D. is a regrettable necessity.

O.K. Let’s take THAT intellectually dishonest sophistry and, without losing or changing the context in any way, shape or form, apply it to a different subject matter: There is an undisputed rash of black males, aged 14-25, who commit armed robberies of convenience and liquor stores. SO, in the interest of public SAFETY, the Federal Government now requires ALL black males in the target group to wear a GPS ankle bracelet and report, twice per day, to their local police department and give an accounting of their activities.

Granted, the vast majority of those men are blameless and low risk, BUT, in order to deter and/or catch those evil doers out there IN that target group, ALL must be placed under the yoke. Without question, there are far more store clerks beaten, stabbed, shot, and sometimes killed than there are people who are injured by truck/car interactions, 85% of which are the fault of the car.

The preceding illustration exposes Anne Ferro’s justification for what it is: Jackbooted thug tactics of the worst kind. Those tactics would not, and should not, be tolerated in ANY sector of this country. Contrary to Ferro’s obvious opinion, CDL does NOT stand for “Criminal Driver’s License.”

What’s next? A little yellow silhouette of a Semi Truck on the front of all outer clothing and our criminal driver number tattooed on our inner forearms??? Scoff not, we are almost there NOW! Currently, we can be roused from our sleep, have our Identity Dokuments verified and our Travel Papers inspected, be forced out of our sleeper berth into harsh weather to “inspect” the truck for contraband, etc… all by armed officials, at ANY time, ANY place, and extorted for pretended “violations.”

The ONLY way I would support the USE (not mandated), of ELD’s would be under the following criteria:
A. The data must be streamed REAL TIME to an FMCSA compliance server
B. ALL driver I.D.’s MUST be cross-referenced to a valid CDL

(1) Should there EVER be two Driver ID’s cross-referenced to the same CDL, BOTH trucks get stopped at the next weigh station: The legitimate CDL/ID is set free, the fraudulent driver gets immediately arrested, the truck, trailer and cargo impounded and sold at auction.

Rest assured, the cheaters out there who manipulate the ELD’s in their operations will scream bloody murder at such a policy… those cheaters are Werner and their ilk. They have dispatchers, driver managers and I.T. staff rewriting history logs and assigning “fresh” driver I.D.’s when a driver gets close to a limit (11/14 or 70 hour clock). They CLAIM to be pushing this mandate in order to “Level the Playing Field.” Uhhh.. NO! They want to impose extra costs on the smaller carriers whilst they still get to cheat. Would they likewise support a rule mandating that they pass on to ALL carriers their fuel, tire, insurance, repair, and equipment discounts??? Unlikely! Why, that would be just plain unfair!

And to all the drivers out there that stand up and proclaim how much they LOVE running under an ELD, I say, “hooray for YOU!” I love eating live snails… doesn’t make it right for the government to force YOU to eat them as well. Personal/business choices are just that: CHOICES. Additionally, recent events show the detrimental effect of ELD’s: the pressure of that rigid big brother system compels drivers to push on in bad conditions, speed through construction zones and the like. These devices are, in my professional opinion, a menace and CAUSE more unsafe practices than they deter.

2. Parking
On the subject of parking: much has been said, but VERY little has been done… despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there is, in fact, a fairly simple potential remedy:
Offer a direct rebate of property taxes to any and all commercial establishments that designate a percentage of their parking lots for overnight truck parking.

Quite simply, if a Home Depot designates 25% of their available parking for truck use, then, upon presentation of their local property tax bill for the year, the Federal Government rebates a direct 25% of that tax bill to the business. EVERYONE loves a financial incentive, and, the best part is: it’s VOLUNTARY!

There are probably better than 8 million parking spaces available out there, and the cost to the government would be significantly lower than the Environmental Impact Studies and construction and manning of rest areas. I can’t think of ANY driver or Motor Carrier that would object to a 1 cent surcharge on every gallon of fuel to fund such a program, knowing it would provide ample, SAFE parking whenever and wherever needed.

Additionally, shippers and receivers engaged in interstate commerce, must be compelled to allow overnight parking.

3. Detention
First of all, I fail to comprehend WHY, after more than 40 years of studies, we need yet MORE study on this subject…

FMCSA certainly doesn’t require such thoroughness before jamming a new set of rules down MY throat.. but ask for something that would actually IMPROVE the situation of the trucker, and suddenly we get the “WHOA! Slow down… not so fast” reaction from rule makers.

Many times I have heard Ferro proclaim that she (read: FMCSA), has no authority over shippers and receivers. Whilst technically true, that’s not exactly honest. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate the commerce between the states (colloquially known as the “Commerce Clause”).

Although FMCSA has not been delegated the authority to make rules affecting shippers and receivers, it would take but one sentence in the next Bill passed by Congress to make it so. All she would have to do, is ask.

The most effective way to reduce detention would be to mandate that drivers be paid (1099) by EACH shipper and receiver from the MINUTE they check in, to the MINUTE they check out of the respective facility. Simply mandate a rate of, say, $25.00 per hour and have all facilities stamp a time in and time out on the Bill of Lading, then Motor Carriers can then invoice them as appropriate.

The ONLY way to make these renegade elements act responsibly, is to make it financially regrettable to detain a driver. There should NEVER be any such thing as “Free Time”! Since we, as Professional Drivers are classed the same as a burger flipper (”unskilled labor”), we should be paid for all the time we spend on the job. You can bet that the cashier at Wendy’s doesn’t give 2 “free” hours every day… he/she clocks in and out, expecting to be compensated for every bit of the “unskilled labor” they provide.

4 Roadside Inspections:
Here’s a subject ripe for intervention by USDOT and FMCSA! The fact that law enforcement is permitted to run completely amok is disgraceful. I cite, as an example, a roadside inspection conducted against ME in February of 2011.

Driving a 2001 model year Freightliner FLD (manufactured December 2000), I was cited for a “faulty” trailer ABS dash warning light (the RULE doesn’t require THAT particular light be included on the tractor unless the truck was manufactured AFTER March 2001, BUT, according the Kansas STATE TROOPER giving me the violation, THAT didn’t matter: the truck is a 2001 model year, therefore, it MUST have a trailer ABS warning light)… he also cited me for an “air leak” at the leveling valve and “tinted windows” for the light band across the STOCK windshield. Even after challenging this completely BOGUS violation report, I was informed that the officer KNEW his job and the violations remained on my CSA until just last month… costing me, incidentally, two different potential jobs.

Recently, I was pulled over for “suspected fatigued driving” in Georgia because, according to the trooper who wanted to play that day, he heard me hit the rumble strip when I drove past him and his wolf pack just crossing the border into Georgia from Florida.

The fact that I was in the center lane when I went by that pack of jackals was irrelevant. In order to “hit the rumble strip,” from that position, I would have had to have been doing some pretty awesome stunt driving!

Administrator Ferro: If you want to MANDATE a piece of equipment for commercial vehicles, make it Dash Cams! The rogue LEO’s need to be put in check. Their misconduct affects the CAREERS of the drivers they torment. For a REALLY effective policy, if a dash cam or record can demonstrate (like the Dec. 2000 truck manufacture date), that a LEO has committed a deliberate act of misconduct, the USDOT should revoke the authorization to conduct inspections for the officer’s home State for a period of at least 90 days. Drag the piggy from the trough enough times, and that species of conduct will all but disappear!

On that subject, riddle me this: WHY is an officer’s determination on an inspection report SO authoritative that it can stand in DEFIANCE of a judicial ruling to the contrary, and yet, should that very same officer determine on an ACCIDENT report that a trucker is NOT at fault, such conclusion is SO presumptively unreliable as to justify a permanent black mark on the driver’s record??

All of your political tongue twisting will NEVER be able to unravel THAT particular little cognitive disconnect! Furthermore, WHO’s the genius that decided to allow small town LEO’s to conduct roadside inspections???

I met a driver in Terrell, TX recently that had been inspect THREE times in a 37 mile, 2.5 hour stretch… once in Ft. Worth, again in Arlington, and finally by Dallas PD. The genius who implemented THAT particular policy should be staked out naked in the Mojave Desert and repeatedly stung in the testicles by scorpions until he gets the point (pun fully intended!).

Administrator Ferro: Imagine, if you will, that you are completely focused at your desk in writing some overly complex 47-page rule directing truckers on the specific requirements for tying their shoes when, completely without notice, your office door is slammed open and an official from the I.G. bursts in, demands you to step away from your computer, rifles through your desk, makes certain that you have the proper number and size of paper clips, arranged in perfect parallel (NOT perpendicular! That might cause a tangle and possible cut on the finger), and, after 30-45 minutes of confrontational harassment, declares you fit and leaves….So… now, after your blood pressure returns to normal and you get RE-focused on your difficult task, about 35 minutes later…. It happens AGAIN!

Another inspector bursts in, and subjects you to the same obnoxious treatment (all whilst being more than just a little sanctimonious), and, you know full well, that should you object in any manner, the inspector will just dig deeper and be even pickier… O.K. 30 minutes later (WHEW!), no violations detected, and you are PERMITTED to return to your work… about 20 minutes later… Yep, ANOTHER one comes barging in!

Ferro: THIS is the environment EVERY driver lives in, EVERY single day! Your little 2 day ride-along in a Cadillac in no way, shape, or form gave you even the slightest clue as to what drivers face out here every day.

5 Speed Limiters and Roll Stability Systems
The desire to mandate the installation of these systems completely belies logic. First of all, as any defensive driving course will teach, SOMETIMES, the ONLY way to prevent mishap in certain circumstances, is to increase your speed. But, even putting THAT aside, differential speeds are a hazard. Four-Wheelers get MORE aggressive and reckless when there is a pack of slow moving trucks between them and their Twinkies.

As for Roll stability systems, I can’t think of anything more dangerous, and more terrifying, than having a computer randomly apply differential braking when I’m going down a slick mountain road. The very idea of such a system brings me nightmares of dozens of burning trucks in crevasses and mountain gorges. WHAT were they THINKIN’?!?!?

6. Four wheeler rules
Ahhh.. the truck driver’s favorite topic of discussion after the H.O.S. Rules!

First of all, giving credence to the numerous statistical treatises on the subject, it’s pretty much indisputable that 4-wheelers are at fault in between 80-85 percent of all car/truck collisions. Texting, cell phone use, makeup application, aggressive driving, etc… are all problems that, no matter how many rules you impose on the trucking industry, you are powerless to change.

The FMCSA is tasked with Motor Carrier safety and not safety of the motoring public at large. HOWEVER, FMCSA’s parent agency, the USDOT, DOES have jurisdiction to regulate, at least on U.S. and Interstate designated highways, the conduct of the general motoring public. It’s high time that it does so.

First of all, reducing collisions between cars and trucks would take a wholesale education campaign… now… for the cost of such a program… let’s shift THAT burden to the insurance industry and/or the public at large. Just like many states have certain requirements which must be met before an applicant can obtain a driver’s license, perhaps a mandatory “Driving in and around Semi Trucks” course should be instituted in order for a person to be authorized to drive on a U.S. or Interstate designated highway.

Offer a tax break to insurance companies that require such training before underwriting a policy. Either or both of these approaches would have enormous benefits. As for the poor behavior and habits of the drivers currently on the road, enact, on the Federal level, cell phone and texting bans on U.S. and Interstate designated roads. Make the fines for offenses VERY harsh. Minimum of $1000 for a first offense then, as was done in Minnesota shortly after the hands free rule went into effect for commercial drivers, let cash-strapped LEO’s set up sting cameras on overpasses with corresponding squad cars being radioed to pull over and cite offenders.

Think of all the MONEY that would generate!

Remember, NO rule or set of rules you impose on trucks will make the general public drive any better.

Concentrate on the 85% before you start bashing the 15%. Any good doctor will tell you that setting and repairing the compound fracture takes priority over an ingrown toenail.

The response by Ferro to the driver who complained that he had TWICE been rear-ended while sitting at red lights, and was now unemployable due to his “high crash risk” under CSA was: “Maybe you need to review your driving territory” made me want to demand her resignation on the spot! The “our mistake, YOUR fault” approach is as un-American as it gets. In my day, if I only got it right 15% of the time on a test, it meant a trip to the Principle’s Office and a serious butt whoopin’ when I got home.

If the FMCSA truly cared about safety and drivers’ well-being, it would outlaw such practices as states/counties/cities who prohibit idling and use of jake brakes. If a driver needs to idle in order to sleep and obtain proper rest, then THAT is a safety issue.

If I need to slow down from 70 mph to 35 mph on a 6% grade in 500 yards (I-25 going into NM from CO), then a jake brake is of enormous benefit and a safety issue. However, since USDOT and FMCSA allow local money grabbers to install trucker traps unhindered, we constantly find ourselves in a position of either violating the ordinance or compromising safety.

Left lane restrictions are another bogus, anti-safety measure enforced by many states. For a MUCH safer traffic flow, the left lane of any Interstate Highway should be designated (within 10 miles of any major metropolitan area), “Through Traffic ONLY”. This would enhance traffic flow and safety by leaps and bounds!

7. Toll Roads
Toll roads only benefit the companies who manipulate government into thinking it’s such a great idea. The public ends up paying more than double the cost.

Remember: Private Toll Roads have but ONE agenda: PROFIT!

The U.S. Government is obligated to provide the Interstate Road System. Ducking that responsibility will only hurt EVERY American who needs to use the roads. Freight rates will skyrocket as Motor Carriers pass on the enormous costs to the shippers, who, in turn, will raise prices. Consequently, the public at large pays TWICE. Every time they traverse the profit maker, and every time they purchase goods transported along same.

As distasteful as it may be, raising fuel taxes is the BEST way to fund the roads. It is efficient, and the infrastructure is already in place. As for those taxes, there should be a UNIFORM tax rate on fuel; not the disproportionate “Gouge the Truckers (AGAIN!)” formula we have now. A flat rate per gallon of fuel is fair to ALL. Not only is the tax on Diesel significantly higher than that on gasoline, but the tax per mile, both at the pump and with the IFTA system, hits trucks at over a 12 to 1 ratio compared to passenger cars.

8. Brokers!
The Property Broker industry has gotten completely out of control. What was once considered an appropriate commission is now laughable. The industry standard was 3-5% of a shipper’s rate was the broker’s cut… now that has become 35-50%. Many broker agreements require the Motor Carrier to waive all rights granted to them under the Bill of Lading Act.

This should be outlawed. No contract circumventing Federal Rights should EVER be permitted. Furthermore, Broker commissions should be capped at 10% and shippers should be obligated to print the rate they paid the broker on the Bill Of Lading. The tail has been wagging the dog for far too long.

9. Insurance Levels
The recent announcement by Anne Ferro that the FMCSA is knee-jerking once again, to special interests by recommending a 350% increase in the insurance level requirements in response to the notions advanced by the lawyers who sue trucking companies is scandalous, at best.

The data demonstrates that the current $750k requirement meets or exceeds 99% of the judgments awarded in cases involving trucks. In fact, the vast majority of carriers already insure for $1 million, 25% above the Federal requirement. The increase of 350+% in response to less than 1% of the cases is a solution in search of a problem.

It has NO relation to safety. PERIOD. It’s all about accident litigation firms wanting to get even richer, and the mega carriers wanting to push up costs on the small business trucker to gain yet ANOTHER competitive advantage. And why shouldn’t they expect Anne Ferro to rally to their cause?? She has done so EVERY time they have asked her to assist them in squashing the independent trucker/small motor carrier.

10. 34 Hr restart and the 8 hr Crayon Break
The FMCSA’s recent implementation of these 2 “scientifically based” changes to the H.O.S. rules are ridiculous. There is REAL data from the inception of those rule changes to present day, that defy Anne Ferro’s assertions. The 8 hr break actually causes more stress and lost productivity than just leaving well enough alone.

If we dispensed with the static 14 hr rule, drivers could take a break any time they felt the need… you know, like grown ups! The 34 hr (most of the time 40-50 hrs) reset is just plain bureaucratic knuckle shuffling. It interferes with established business models, and has a severe negative impact on the smooth flow of freight throughout the nation. It makes absolutely NO sense whatsoever.

11. Anne Ferro
Administrator Ferro is completely out of control. She responds to, and adopts, whatever anti-competitive notions proposed by the large carriers. Her agency has run completely amok and, the ONLY good thing that has come from the absolute chaos and ruin she has inflicted upon this industry is that she has actually caused truckers to begin to unite and formulate plans to shut down in protest of the massive overreach and crippling regulation she has imposed upon all of us.

She needs to be run out of town on a rail!