Posts Tagged ‘DOT’

Understanding the New Hours-of-Service (HOS) Rules

June 17, 2013

Confused over the Hours-of-Service rules

Photo by jonny goldstein via Flickr

Unless you’ve just beamed in from another planet (or you’re a non-trucker), you’re probably aware of the new Hours-of-Service rules that are looming. But do you understand them fully? From some of the feedback I’ve been getting on Twitter and the blog, I’d say there’s still some confusion out there. The Bible flat-out says that all Christians will be persecuted. Well, I’m pretty sure some Bible-thumper at my company has been Skyping with God on my behalf. You see, my company recently decided that I would be one of the lucky ones who got put on the new Hours-of-Service rules a few weeks early. You know, just to try it out. *sigh* Well, I guess this kind of persecution is better than being around when Nero was kabob-ing Christians to light his garden parties. So thanks for that, God. (Read or listen to the full article)

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Guest post: Benefits of Semi Truck Weight Compliance. By Noble McIntyre

September 12, 2012

Photo by Linda N. via Flickr

Hello, one and all. First, a quick update on the status of the new Web site. Things are coming along slowly, but surely. I recently fixed a major problem I’ve been having; so that’s good. But I’m still missing a major component, so you’re gonna have to control your giddiness. I’m sure you’ll manage somehow. Still, I have a feeling that I’m eventually going to have to crack this sucker open to the public with a few lingering quirks. It’s like choosing someone to marry. If you’re waiting for perfection, you’re never going to do it. The Evil Overlord is the exception to the rule. She really hit the jackpot there.

So what’s this about a guest post? Well, if you remember correctly, I told you in our last visit that I was working on providing a couple of guest posts to fill the Sandra Bernhard-sized tooth gap between the posts I’ve written.

Today’s treat is brought to you by a gentleman named Noble McIntyre. Now I’m not positive, but I think Noble may be a bit clairvoyant. A while back, I began playing with the idea of asking for submissions for a couple of guest posts to fill in the gaping hole that the blog was becoming. Not long after, I received an email from Noble asking if I accepted guest posts. I’m telling you people… clairvoyant. I’m guessing that skill comes in handy with his day job. You see, Noble is an attorney. That’s gotta be pretty darn handy to get into the minds of the opposing counsel. And before you say it, yes, I know it’s hard to believe a lawyer was perusing my blog, but that’s just further proof that I rock. I’ve been telling people that for years, but no one ever listens.

So let’s get on with today’s submission. Afterward, I’ll be back to share my thoughts on the subject. Here we go. And oh yea. You ladies may want to check out Noble’s picture at the bottom of the post. He’s a handsome devil, he is. Hands off though, ladies. He’s already been snagged off the market. Sorry to disappoint.

Benefits of Semi Truck Weight Compliance: by Noble McIntyre

It’s human nature to want the most benefit for the lowest cost. It may seem more efficient to load a semi truck to maximum capacity—or more—in order to transport more merchandise in fewer trips. That works in theory, but not always in practice. I’ve taken on semi truck cases that came about when someone was injured due to some sort of negligence on the part of a truck driver or a trucking company like, for example, overloading a truck. And accidents involving a semi have the potential to do much more damage when the truck is heavier than is legally allowed.

Surpassing truck weight limits can also cost more in fees and fines when trucks don’t pass inspection at highway weigh stations. But additional costs in fuel, maintenance, and safety must be considered as well. Here are a few of the ways ignoring trucking weigh limits can increase costs, and affect the safety of not just the truckers, but passenger vehicle drivers.

Road Fatigue

Highways are built to withstand a lot of wear—vehicles driving over them, harsh weather, heat, cold. They’re also constructed with certain weight limits in mind. When those limits are surpassed, the road suffers and begins to wear down more quickly than planned. This not only makes for uncomfortable driving, it increases road maintenance costs for the states the highways run through, and those costs are passed on to the taxpayers. By complying with weight limits, truckers and trucking companies can help roads last longer, and reduce maintenance costs, thereby saving states money that can be put toward other public needs.

Wasted Fuel and Time

It comes down to simple power-to-weight ratio—the heavier a truck is, the more power required to propel it. When a truck is loaded over its maximum weight, it will require more fuel to travel the same distance at the same speeds as a lighter truck. In addition to wasting fuel, this will also translate to higher costs for the trucking company because of the need to buy fuel more often. It also means lost time to stop for those fueling needs. Those costs are most likely passed on to the consumer. By adhering to weight limits, truckers can save time and money both for the trucking company, and for the people who buy the products being transported. For those of us concerned about the effect high food costs have on our communities, it’s frustrating to know that some of those costs could be more reasonable if weight limit regulations were strictly followed.

Safety

When loaded to maximum weight, the stopping distance for semi trucks is roughly 40 percent greater than that of regular passenger vehicles. This is assuming fair weather and road conditions. That distance will increase when roads are wet, for example, or when the truck is traveling above the speed limit. Now imagine how the stopping distance is affected when a truck is carrying more than the allowed maximum weight. Even in good weather, the distance is increased, not to mention, a heavier truck will do more damage to other vehicles and to property should an accident occur. Weight compliance promotes safety for the truck, its driver, and other drivers on the road. I would be more than happy to accept a reduction in the number of clients I have if it meant fewer people were being injured in trucking accidents due to poor practices.

The trucking industry remains the most effective tool in transporting goods from one location to another. There is plenty of room for improvement, to be sure. But until technological and mechanical advances come about that improve efficiency, current safety standards must be maintained. The benefits simply outweigh the costs.

Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law, a firm staffed by experienced Oklahoma City truck accident lawyers.

 

 

 

 

 

Good stuff, Noble. Thanks for entertaining and informing the peeps. Now from a trucker’s view, let me add a few thoughts of my own.

For quite a while now, my company has been sending out a satellite message about once a week reminding us to route around the Pawtucket River Bridge on I-95 in Rhode Island. It seems that about once a week one of my highly intelligent co-workers gets a ticket for crossing the bridge. You know, the bridge that has been marked as truck restricted since 2007. The one marked by those bright orange signs that are really hard to see. Yea, those. I just don’t get it. If a bridge is clearly marked as illegal, why would anyone cross it? Why not take the marked route? It’s not that far out of the way. Yet the coppers in Rhode Island have been picking trucker’s pockets clean for years. These fines aren’t cheap either. We’re talking maximums of $2000 plus. Ouch-a-mundo! But then there are times when things aren’t quite so clear-cut.

Now there isn’t a trucker out there who hasn’t come across a situation that can’t be avoided. Sometimes by the time you see the weight restriction signs on the bridge, you’re already crossing it. Oops. But hey, when you looked at the trucker’s atlas during your trip planning, the road was clearly marked in orange! For you non-truckers; roads highlighted in orange are supposed to be open to trucks. Most of the time, they’re right. But some of the time they neglect to mention that it’s okay to run the road, providing you’re under the weight limit. That would be the weight limit that isn’t posted anywhere in the atlas.

Other times, you find yourself stuck between an FMCSA rule-maker’s head and a hard place. There you sit, staring at a weight-restricted bridge in the dead of night. You followed your company-supplied directions to the letter. Yet there you are. You’ve got no place to turn around. What now? I wrote about this exact scenario in a blog post called Trucking in the Northeast. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I find that prayer helps.

But what about running with an overweight load? Truck drivers do it all the time. But why do we do it? Because your dispatcher says to do it? Sorry dudes and dudettes, but that crap ain’t gonna fly here. Drivers, you’ve gotta think about this. It’s your license. It’s your ticket. It’s your money that’s gonna pay the fine. It’s not a point of pride to say, “I can find my way around any scale.” Okay great.

What good does it do? It takes more fuel to go around the scales. The back roads always take longer too. So why do we do it? Yeah, it’s a pain to take the load back to the shipper for reloading. Yes, it’s annoying to stop five times to fuel in a 600 mile trip just to keep your load legal.

But notice I kept saying “we” truckers. Yes, @DriverChrisMc, I just called myself a trucker again. Mark it on the calendar. The thing is, I’ve done all this myself. I routed around all the weigh stations once a long time ago. I found it stressful and never did it again. Sort of. What I will still do is route around ONE scale if I know I can burn off enough fuel before I get to the rest of the chicken coops (weight stations–a little trucker-speak there). But why even do that?

Well, I know why I do it. Because the places where I load, you either take that load or you sit and idle your truck until you burn off enough fuel to run the load. I’ve asked the company to cut the load. They won’t. I’ve asked to deadhead to get another load. Nothing else in the area. That’s not hard to believe when you’re in the wasteland known as North Dakota. And this is why I NEVER fill my fuel tanks any more. 3/4 max for me. Less if I’m anywhere in the vicinity of one of our 46,350 pound sugar loads.

I guess if you’re an owner/operator, I can maybe see the point of dodging all the scales on an entire trip. Maybe it was “take the load or don’t get paid.” That’s your choice I guess. Just remember that not only are we all breaking the law, but we’re also defying every reason that Noble just laid out. And shame on us all for dissing the Noble.

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Are All These Changes Good for the Trucking Industry?

January 26, 2012

Photo by johanohrling via Flickr

The new Hours-of-Service rules, texting and cell phone laws, the CSA, and my personal nemesis and eternal torturer of my soul, Electronic Logbooks, all claim to make the trucking industry safer. But do they? Let’s take a look at that. We’ll discuss the issues first, then sum it all up at the end. May as well tackle these puppies in order. And yes, tackling puppies is perfectly okay if they’re barking for no reason.

So about these new Hours-of-Service rules. Well, truck accidents are at a 60-year low, so naturally, it’s time to change the rules. Oh boy. Where to start? I guess we really only need to focus on a few of the rules that will affect the majority of drivers. For a complete list of the Hours-of-Service changes, click here.

The 11-hour rule: Well, for once we lucked out. The powers who know whats best for us had wanted to reduce our daily driving sessions to 10 hours. They lost. For now. Don’t expect this to go away though. They’ve already said they’re going after it again. Yay.

The current 34-hour restart rule: The old rule said that if you took an uninterrupted 34-hour break, you got to reset your 70-hour work week. Why was this rule important to drivers? Because if you reset your 70 hours, you could squeeze in 82 hours of working within that week. Thanks to @TameraGeorge1 for pointing me to an article on this.

The new 34-hour restart rule: Used to be, you could take your 34-hour break any time you wanted. Now it has to include two periods between 1:00 AM – 5:00 AM, home terminal time. Granted, they wanted the hours to be from 1:00 AM – 6:00 AM, but they relented. Bless their hearts. But why did they want specific times at all? Well, the divine rulers of all things sacred and righteous said that they wanted us to be sure to get two periods of “overnight” rest. How thoughtful of them. In reality though, these people know trucking about as well as I know the commodity market. They’re pretty sure that we need to sleep sometime and I’m pretty sure that you can sell a pig. That’s about the extend of our knowledge. The difference is, I’m not trying to tell them how to run the commodities game.

So what’s the problem with the new rule? Let me sum it up for you. The new 34-hour rule is as worthless as a drunk Harley rider in a motocross race. Why? Because we truckers don’t sleep when normal folks sleep. Sure, 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM might be prime sleeping time on one day, but two days later it’s the middle of your driving shift. They just can’t comprehend that not everyone has a 9 to 5 day job and not everyone sleeps at night. The concept truly is beyond them.

Now let’s be honest here. The current 34-hour rule is hard enough to do as is. The trucking industry simply moves to quick. The last thing anyone wants is to leave a driver sitting for 34 hours. I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten 30-32 hours into a 34-hour break, only to have to cut it short to pick up a load by a certain time. In other words, freight has to be really freakin’ slow to sit still for 34 hours. Kinda like right now. I’m writing this in the midst of what is looking to be a 42 hour shutdown. Still, that doesn’t happen all that often. Especially this marathon sit-a-thon I’m tolerating today.

So now we’ve got a time restriction on top of all that. It’s not all that often that I get shut down for 34 hours. But now it has to be 34 hours starting and ending at a particular time. I’m sorry, but I really don’t see the shippers staying in touch with my dispatcher to find out if their shipping schedule works with my 34-hour restart.

You can only do one 34-restart per week: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Although it really doesn’t matter, since we’ll be hard pressed to get even one restart per week. If you have enough time to get a second restart within a week, you’ve got bigger problems than it not being legal.

The 8-hour break rule: Basically, you can’t drive more than 8 hours without taking a break of at least 30 minutes. Personally, I can’t wait until I have to refuse a load because the delivery is 9 hours away and a 30-minute break would make me late. Honestly though, for the vast majority of drivers this will have little effect, as most stop at some point in their day to eat. It probably will affect me as I typically eat my mid-shift meal on the run. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Speaking of distracted driving. . .

Distracted driving laws: No texting for truckers. No cell phones for truckers. What’s next? No iPods for truckers? No CD players for truckers? No GPS for truckers? No CB’s for truckers? Okay. I admit. I’d be all right with that last one. But hey, why not get rid of the  gauges on my dashboard? I do look down at them ever now and then. Better get rid of all the billboards too. And while you’re at it, Corvettes are no longer allowed on the roadway. And that beautiful river? Better dam it up. I can’t be caught looking away from the road. And of course, my e-log unit needs to go. All that beeping is waaaaay too distracting.
The CSA, or Comprehensive Safety Analysis: This fairly new system is the FMCSA’s attempt to get rid of bad drivers and bad carriers by assigning points for naughty behavior. If a driver gets too many points, they’re a hiring risk. And since those points transfer to the trucking company, they want to get rid of bad drivers. Problem is, you can be cited for all kinds of things that are out of your control. For instance, I recently got a warning for speeding (I actually wasn’t). Even though I didn’t get a ticket, I still got points on my CSA. Here’s that story and my complete thoughts on the CSA. Also, if a tail light burns out in mid trip, that’s considered unsafe and I get points. But the last time I checked, my eyeballs were restricted to my head. Now if I could just take them out and hang them 70 feet out my window I could’ve seen that burned out light. Oh wait. Can’t do that. That would be distracted driving.
The cursed E-logs, or Electronic Logs: I have so many musing on e-logs that I’m not even going to link to them all here. Just go up to the handy-dandy search bar, type “e-logs,” and mark off a day-and-a-half on your calendar. Okay. It’s not that bad, but I have written extensively about them. My hatred is known far and wide. I’m pretty sure that even that rice farmer in rural China has heard about it by now.
Okay. So back to the question: Are all these changes good for the trucking industry?
Well I guess that all depends on which part of the trucking industry you’re talking about. In short, I think the changes will be good for the safety aspect, so-so for the trucking companies, and downright awful for the driver and their bank account. Gee. There’s a surprise.
First, I think when it comes to safety (which this is supposedly all about), adding time restraints to the 34-hour rule change won’t have near the effect that the trucking godheads believe it will, mainly because I don’t think drivers are going to get it very often, if ever. But this is not good news for the carriers and the drivers. You see, the whole point of the 34-hour rule is to reset your 70-hour work week, enabling you to work more hours, which in turn puts more money in yours and the carriers’ pockets. But if they’ve now limited the work week to 70 hours, what’s the point in having the rule at all? Is it just me, or am I totally missing something here? I guess it will make doing your paper logs easier with a reset, but other than that this rule is as pointless as a lead life jacket.
As for the 8-hour rule, I suppose the more breaks you take in a day, the more alert you’ll be. And if you have to be down for 30 minutes, maybe so many drivers won’t be eating while they’re driving. So I guess you can mark that as a plus for the safety side. As for the carriers, they may experience a few more late deliveries, but that probably won’t happen very often either. As for the drivers, maybe being forced to stop will allow them to quit eating so much fast food. Maybe. Okay, that’s a Mr. Fantastic-sized stretch.
Now for distracted driving laws. This one is probably good for safety. . . as long as they don’t take it too far. Although they may have already crossed that bridge. As bad as I hate to admit it though, distractions do cause us to take our eyes off the road for a brief moment. I think if we were all honest with ourselves, we’d admit this. How many times have you done something while talking on the phone or fiddling with your CB that you never would’ve done if you weren’t? I mean, that’s never happened to me, but maybe it has to you. But where does it all end? With nothing to listen to and nobody to talk to, how long will you be driving before your eyelids come crashing to the ground? Sorry, but the surrounding traffic is better off with me texting (not that I’m advising that) than me asleep behind the wheel. Hey, that’d be a good name for a band. Oh wait. . .
Next we tackle the puppies. I mean the CSA. We’ve already tackled the puppies. As bad I hate to admit it, I believe that the CSA is going to be good for safety. They’re trying to weed out the bad drivers and the carriers who turn a blind eye to safety issues that their drivers are pointing out. Unfortunately, some good drivers with bad luck, a bad day, or even bad timing are going to get caught up in this mess. One bad thing could screw up an otherwise excellent career. Still, I know from my own experience that the CSA has caused me to do some things I haven’t done in the past. That license plate light that’s burned out? Yea, I fixed that. That missing mudflap? Yep. Went to the shop for that too. Watching my speed more closely? Yep. So blame the CSA when you get behind me and I’m doing the speed limit. Yes. I’m now that annoying guy.
As for those hell-spawned e-logs, well, I’d really rather eat a turd casserole than admit what I’m about to say, but here goes. I think that e-logs are good for safety. Gosh, I feel like banging my head against a dresser drawer like Dobby for saying that. The fact is, there’s absolutely no way to cheat. I’ve heard drivers say they can cheat with e-logs, but I think they’re probably so used to lying on the CB that it’s spilled over into their e-logs. I’m sure most carriers love them because they don’t see as many log violations. But is this good for the driver? Well, it keeps them from cheating and it makes them run legal logs, but I stand by it when I say there needs to be more flexibility. Add more flexibility to the Hours-of-Service rules and e-logs won’t be such an issue. I won’t be holding my breath on that one though.
So where does that leave us drivers? Well, I don’t really care. The new Hours-of-Service rules don’t kick in until July 1, 2013 and I’ll be off the road and out of the trucking industry for good by then. Yea. Like I haven’t been saying that since 1997.
*What do you think about all these changes? Let us all hear your thoughts by leaving a comment. And please give this post a rating and force it onto all your unsuspecting online friends. Thanks*

A Trucker’s Thanksgiving

November 21, 2011

Gobble, Gobble

Photo by r_gnuce via Flickr

Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s time to slap-fight your siblings for the drumstick and have spoon duels over the last dollop of Cool Whip, because we all know pumpkin pie just ain’t right until you can’t see the plate beneath the pie.

More importantly though, it’s time to look around us and give thanks for everything we have. For being blessed with an annoying brother who called dibs on the drumstick before you. For your superior health, which enables you to punch him hard enough to leave a giant bruise. For the job that you hate. You know, the job that put that turkey on the table. The job that paid your bills all year. The job that the dude in the unemployment line would kill for. Yes, I know I’m among the guiltiest in this regard. Thanks for pointing that out. Now shut your face.

So that’s what I’m here to do today: count my blessings. And since I’m such a ooey-gooey, touchy-feely, sentimental kinda guy, I’ll do so in my typical fashion. Here are the things that this trucker is thankful for. As expected, let’s start out with:

  • Thanks to the inventors of electronic logs for wasting my valuable time. As if my trips to the mall with The Evil Overlord weren’t enough torture for one man.
  • Thanks to the driver who insists on going the speed limit in the fast lane. I hadn’t realized it was your job to police me. Thanks for keeping me in line.
  • Thanks to all those drivers who slow down when you see a cop, even when you’re not speeding. I hear that if a cop sees you do this, he’ll pull you over and give you an ice cream cone.
  • Thanks to all you good folks who overspend your budgets. Your greed = my freight.
  • Thanks to all the credit card companies who promote this overspending. May your consciences be clear as you sleep on your $800 pillow lined with kitten fur.
  • Thank you to the medical profession for extending life expectancy. It’s going to take every last second of life to pay off these stinkin’ credit cards. Dang. My balance just went up again. Who knew there was such thing as a badmouthing fee?
  • Thanks to all the rubberneckers who bring traffic to a near standstill, even though whatever is happening is on the opposite side of the highway.
  • Thanks to that police officer who issues me a ticket for having a light out. You know, one of those three tiny, but extremely crucial clearance lights that are above my trailer doors. Whew! Did you see that? That airplane almost rear-ended me!
  • Thanks to all the drivers who try to close the gap when I flip my turn signal on to switch lanes. No worries. It’s not like I can’t take the spot after you pass. Aw crap. The next guy punched it too. And the next… And the next…
  • Thanks to all the truckers who tailgate 4-wheelers. Nothing says “professional” quite like a rear-view mirror full of grille.
  • Thanks to the woman who puts on her makeup in 65 mph rush hour traffic. We all know how important it is to look pretty when there’s an open casket.
  • Thanks to all those 4-wheelers who like to hang out in a trucker’s blind spots. Oh well. Out of sight, out of mind. Never you mind that pesky turn signal light that’s making the side of your face glow.
  • Thanks to the driver who locks up his brakes in front of me because he missed his turn. I’ve really been needing to check the integrity of my brakes. Too bad they work.
  • Thanks to the DOT, the FMCSA, the CSA, and all the other organizations who love truckers enough to regulate them. It’s nice to know that you can make me log it if it takes more than 7 minutes to pee, but you can’t make a receiver unload me in less than 3 hours.
  • Thanks to the trucker who parks in front of the fuel islands for extended periods of time. Yes, I know you had fuel card problems. I saw your fuel receipt through the Subway bag with toilet paper stuck to it.
  • Thanks to all the drivers who figure out where the gas pedal is after I start to pass you.
  • Thanks to all the 4-wheelers who go 5 mph under the speed limit on 2-lane highways. It’s a good thing I’m not driving this truck to make money or anything.
  • Thanks to the driver who writes SHOW YOUR HOOTERS in the dust on the back of the trailer. Public opinion: 1 Trucker’s reputation: 0
  • Thanks to the truck who parks crookeder than a homemade TV antenna. I hope you weren’t emotionally attached to that side-view mirror.
  • Thanks to the state of California for making us truckers stay in the far right lanes. It’s not like that’s where all the other vehicles are trying to enter the roadway or anything.
  • I’d also like to thank California for making trucks go 55 mph. We all know how dangerous those tumbleweeds can be.
  • Thanks to the driver who pulls out in front of me from a side street. I’ve been meaning to work on my slalom skills.
  • Thanks to my company for banning all cooking devices from my truck. There’s nothing quite like a cold bowl of Captain Crunch on a blustery winter’s night.
  • Thanks to the inattentive or unyielding trucker who won’t back out of it for two seconds so a slightly faster truck can get around him quicker. I’m sure all those drivers stuck behind you will be talking about the nice trucker when they get to work.
  • Thanks to the DOT for their hours-of-service rules. How would I know when I’m tired without your infinite wisdom?
  • Thanks to the drivers who feel the need to go 25 mph in a 45 mph construction zone. Good thing you’re clairvoyant. Those construction workers are always putting up the wrong speed limit signs.
  • Thanks to all the businesses who put up NO TRUCK PARKING signs. I nearly forgot that my money is less valuable than everyone else’s.
  • Thanks to all the worthless pile of dung truckers who use these parking lots as trash bins and toilets. I’m sure that has absolutely nothing to do with those NO TRUCK PARKING signs.
  • Thanks to all you 4-wheelers who are so kind as to allow me to hang out in the fast lane after I’ve scooted over to help you merge onto the highway. Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were on the phone.
  • Speaking of on-ramps and phones, thanks to the driver who can’t be bothered to put away his cell phone as he’s barreling down the on-ramp. I guess the two cars to the left of me forgot to use their X-ray vision to see you trying to push me over. I know, right? What a waste of super powers.
  • And yet again, thanks to all those wishy-washy 4-wheelers who can’t make a decision when they get to the end of the on-ramp. Yes, I know being 3 car-lengths ahead of me will make it an impossibly tight fit, but why don’t you try anyway.
  • Thanks to the Christians who write Bible verses on the bathroom walls. Nothing says “Jesus loves you” quite like vandalizing someone’s property.
  • Thanks to all the shippers and receivers who value my time so much. Everyone deserves a 5-hour nap in the middle of their workday. Right?
  • Thanks to the soccer mom who cuts across three lanes in front of me to get to her exit ramp. My doctor has been saying I need to increase my heart rate more often.
  • Thanks to the person who flips me the bird for riding out in the left-hand lane. Clearly I misread that sign that read, TRUCKS LEFT LANE ONLY. My bad.
  • Thanks to all the good citizens who vote for anti-idling laws for trucks. While you may not die from harmful gas inhalation, you’ve dramatically increased your shot at getting run over by a trucker who was unsuccessfully trying to sleep in a pool of his own sweat.
  • And finally, thanks to the truck stop owners who wants $37 for a small bottle of Pepto-Bismol. When you’re looking for your place of torment in hell, just follow the signs that say, EXPLOITED A DIARRHEA SUFFERER.
Well, there you have it; a list of things to be thankful for. Yes, I know. Heartfelt is my middle name. That’s just me.
So, what are you thankful for this Turkey Day? As soon as you get done clobbering your brother with that drumstick you stole, why don’t you pop on over to the comments section and leave your thoughts. I’d appreciate it if you’d wash your hands first. I don’t want you touching my comments sections with those greasy turkey fingers. I swear. We can’t have anything nice in this house.

Arguing E-logs

October 28, 2011

Unless something unprecedented happens in the near future (my company changes a policy for the better), this should be the last in a long series about e-logs. Now I know that you’re probably already in the midst of doing a happy little jig about this wonderful news, but let me explain why this should be the last. I can do so in one sentence. Nearly every argument I make against e-logs is comparing it to the illegal ways I can manipulate paper log books.

I’ve had questions about electronic logs before I even got them. Check out Fear and loathing of electronic logs for my initial thoughts. Turns out, most of my fears were warranted. For example, let’s take a brief look at my first run that I took while sneering at my shiny new e-log unit.

Basically, I was pissed because I figured my time wrong (a rookie mistake) and therefore delivered my load late (details in E-logs: My first impression). If I’d have still been on paper logs, I undoubtedly would have taken off a bit earlier because I knew I could fudge the log book a little bit. But the unrelenting clock on the e-log system doesn’t allow that.

Now, would I be hurting anyone if I left an hour or two early so I could avoid being in a rush and possibly have a chance at delivering early? I don’t think so. I’d had plenty of sleep. I’d been off-duty way longer than my mandatory 10-hour break required. This all makes sense to a truck driver, but try arguing this point to the authorities and you’re talking to the wind. That’s because leaving early and marking your log book after you get somewhere is illegal.

Here’s another example. One of the things that most makes me want to hand my e-log unit to my youngest nephew (that kid can destroy anything with the slightest touch) happens when I’m trying to find a parking spot late at night (find a perfect scenario in E-logs: Do they really increase driving time?).

With e-logs you have to start looking for a parking spot earlier than most drivers would like because you have to be parked when the e-log clock clicks down to zero. That means I have to start looking for a place to park at about the 10-hour mark. But on paper logs, I can utilize more of my drive time by pulling into a truck stop when my 11 hours of driving is up. If I can’t find a spot there, I just show stopping there for the night and I drive on to the next available parking. If it took me another 30 minutes to find parking, I’d just leave 30 minutes later the next day. Again, this is illegal according to the folks who supposedly know what’s best for us truck drivers.

What about how e-logs keep on counting down your time when you’re in rush hour traffic? I really hate that because when I was on paper logs I could just show that I stopped at a truck stop to wait out rush hour. I mean, what’s the difference? Either I’m creeping along in rush hour or I’m sitting in a truck stop for an hour. But again, logging yourself at a truck stop while you’re sitting in traffic is illegal.

So there’s my point. I’m trying to convince everyone that e-logs suck because I can’t run illegal like I used to do. Regardless of the fact that these illegal acts don’t really hurt anyone. That’s really what it boils down to and ultimately why all arguments against e-logs will fail worse than a 98-pound sumo wrestler.

Now here’s another side of the coin. Sometimes I’ve wanted to prove a point about e-logs, but I can’t because doing so would backfire like Elmer Fudd’s shotgun when Bugs sticks his finger in the barrel. Usually it winds up being a case of “logging it as you do it.”

First up is how we drivers log at customers (shippers and receivers). Every company I’ve worked for has crammed the phrase “log it as you do it” down my throat. Yet without fail these same companies have told me to log 15 minutes of On-Duty time (mandatory by most carriers) as soon as I get there or just before I leave. Why then? Because not doing so could totally screw up a 10-hour break and make me as inefficient as scraping your windshield with a nickel. Let me explain.

Say I pull into a receiver at 2 AM and I log myself in the Sleeper Berth. My appointment is at 8 AM. So if I’m “logging it as I do it” I should put myself on the On-Duty line for 15 minutes at 8 AM while I check in to the office and back into the dock. Then I’d put myself back in the bunk. But that would interrupt the “continuous” 10-hour break that the law requires. That means I’d have to start my break over again. So by “logging it as I’m doing it” I’d have to be shut down for 16 hours instead of 10; that’s 6 hours before I checked in and 10 hours after.

The company doesn’t want this and neither does any trucker. So in this case, I don’t want to go in and call the company’s scruples into question by saying, “Hey, Mr. By-The-Book! How come I have to log it as Driving while sitting in a traffic jam, but I don’t have to log it as On-Duty when I bump a dock in the middle of my 10-hour break?” Talk about shooting myself in the foot with an elephant gun! What if they thought about it real hard and decided I was right? Which policy do you think they’d change? Yea. That’s what I thought too.

How about the fact that the company only requires me to log 15 minutes to do my pre-trip inspection? What if it takes 30 minutes? Or 45? Well, I don’t want to waste my valuable On-Duty time, so I’m not going to “log it as I do it” in this case either. The company may say that they want you to log it correctly, but they don’t really want you eating up your hours either. Fine by me.

There is, however, one thing I won’t give up on. There is absolutely no reasonable excuse for not making e-logs editable by the driver. Most carriers realize this and have given their drivers a big ol’ pink electronic eraser. Not mine. They’ve set them up according to the DOT “suggested guidelines.” I have no words for how stupid this is.

On paper logs, we could make changes and initial them if we screwed up. With my company e-logs, changes can only be made by a member of the safety department. If no one is there to make the changes until the next morning, I’m still required to “electronically” sign my logs as “accurate” at the end of the day. Since the only button available is to “okay” it, if I choose not to sign, I choose not to move. Even if I’m fully aware I’m signing a log that I know the safety department will change in the morning. And yes, I’ve brought this fact up to the safety director. All I can say is he’d make a good politician. I still don’t have a satisfactory answer.

Am I nitpicking? Yes I am. But a driver’s log book is a legal document that can and will be used to protect or defend us in a court of law. What happens if I have an accident causing a fatality before the safety department changes my log? Yes, the chances are slim, but it is a possibility. The fact is, I shouldn’t even be put in this position. Yet I am. Okay. Now that my blood pressure is testing the integrity of my veins, I’ll just suck it up and accept the fact that my company are boneheads when it comes to e-logs. If it weren’t for the money. . .

Now let’s close this sucker up. You can now see why I’m bringing my unhealthy obsession with e-logs to a close. I just can’t win. Most truckers would agree with everything I said, but throw the argument against e-logs at the lawmakers and I’d end up looking dumber than. . . well, dumber than I actually am. And quite frankly, that’s pretty freakin’ hard to do.

*What do you think about e-logs? Have I missed something? Please leave your comments and give this post a rating while you’re at it. Thanks.*

The CSA (Crappy Sucky Administration)

June 10, 2011

As if the title didn’t tell you all you needed to know, I’m not a big fan of the new CSA rules that the trucking industry is dealing with. In fact, I’d rather jump in the cage with one of those MMA fighters. Being the wuss that I am, it’d be almost as painful as dealing with the CSA, but at least I’d be unconscious in a matter of seconds instead of enduring the never-ending torture that the CSA promises the truck driver.

Okay, so what is the CSA really? CSA stands for Comprehensive Safety Analysis. Now that’s about as technical as this article is going to get. You see, for a change of pace I actually went and tried to do a little research into the CSA before I started writing this article. I gotta tell you, if someone told me my job for the rest of my life was going to involve researching subjects that I care nothing about, I might just join a terrorist group and sign up to wear a bomb vest. Only once I was suited up, I’d walk up and give the head terrorist a big hug, step back, grin, and hit the trigger.

In a nutshell, here’s what the CSA is designed to do. It’s goal is to identify unsafe drivers and carriers. They mean to accomplish this by assigning a “safety value” to both. Basically, anything that a driver can get ticketed for has a value assigned to it. Speeding tickets, parking tickets, driving without your license, equipment violations, preventable accidents, etc.

The carriers get their scores from the drivers who work for them. Any CSA points that a driver receives goes against the carrier too. Now if a driver had collected points while working for another carrier, they don’t transfer to the new carrier when the driver switches jobs. So that’s at least one thing that the CSA got right. The CSA points do stick with the driver through the job change though. They’re like herpes, meaning you’re just stuck with them.

What this means is that drivers are going to be scrutinized even harder when they’re being considered for a job. As if the DAC report wasn’t enough (it shows the history of the driver), now you’ll also have to maintain a good CSA score to be worthy of hiring.

I really don’t have any issues with “grading” a driver, but they should only be graded on things that are under their control. If a driver is speeding, feel free to nail him or her with some points. That makes sense. Clearly if a trucker is intoxicated while driving, they deserve some points… and perhaps a few kicks in the ribs. But what about things that you have little or no control over?

In my 14 years of driving, I can’t honestly remember one time that I went to bed with all my lights working and woke up with a burned out light. There are three situations when I’ll discover a burned out light. One is during my pre-trip inspection when I’m picking up a different trailer. The second is when I’m driving and another driver tells me over the cursed CB radio that I’m “missing an eyeball” (one headlight is out). The third is at the end of a leg of my journey. Maybe I’ve stopped to take a whiz and noticed a dead tail light. Or maybe it’s at the end of my driving shift when I’m doing my walk around.

The point is, lights burn out. Wiring goes bad. Heck, sometimes they just fall out. When does this happen? When you’re driving. So how am I supposed to know exactly when a light burns out? I could do a pre-trip inspection and have a light burn out as I’m driving out of the truck stop parking lot. A cop pulls me over and says I should have done a pre-trip inspection. I did, but how can I prove it? The light was good 3 minutes ago. Am I expected to pull over every minute and check my lights? Uhhhh… no. And that’s just the lights. I haven’t even mentioned air hose leaks and tires with slow leaks. My company has suggested that I should pull over and do an inspection any time I’m getting ready to drive through a weigh station. Really? That’s getting a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? Still, every point I get goes against my record and my future job prospects.

Now some of you may be saying, “Well, usually a cop will let you go get it fixed.” Okay, I’ll give you that. I have been released to get a light fixed, but I’ve also been told to call a repair vehicle to get it fixed. And this leads to another point. What if the cop is trying to be nice by letting you go with a warning? That’s good, right? Well… maybe. It all depends. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know where this is going.

I was cruising around the I-495 loop east of Washington DC and trying to figure out if the FMCSA’s building was within hand grenade distance, when I got pulled over by a couple of Maryland State Troopers. Seriously though, I had seen the smokey sitting in the median as soon as I topped the hill. I glanced at my speedometer and saw I was doing 60 mph. Unlike some of you idiots out there who feel the need to mash the brakes every time you see a cop (even if you aren’t speeding), I just kept tooling along. I knew the speed limit was 55 mph, but I also knew a cop rarely looked at a truck going 5 mph over the limit. That logic is fine, but it kinda gets tossed out the window when his laser gun says I was going 67 mph.

Okay, first of all, I’ve never claimed to be any smarter than a trained cockatoo, but I am smart enough to avoid going 12 mph over the speed limit around the DC loop. I told the cop as much and he said the laser didn’t make those kind of errors. I implied that maybe the operator did. After all, there were plenty of cars screaming around me at 65 and 70 mph. I was expecting to catch attitude then, but I didn’t. Both officers were surprisingly calm at my insinuation.

I went on to explain that my truck was speed-limited at 62 mph at the moment. He said I was going slightly down hill. That’s when I told him that after 14 years of driving, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dumb enough to let myself go 12 mph over the speed limit. I told him he could tell me I was going 67 mph all he wanted, but I would never believe him. I admitted I had my cruise control set on 60 mph and if he wanted to give me a ticket for that, then I’d accept it without a word.

Maybe he thought I’d fight the ticket, or maybe he just wanted to be nice. Who knows? But after a Level I inspection (that’s just a walk-around and driver credentials inspection), he handed me a clean inspection report and a written warning for the “speeding.” I thanked him and went on my way. Maybe I shouldn’t have thanked him. Here’s why.

I later found out that the CSA gives the same amount of points for a warning as they do a violation. As if that weren’t bad enough, here’s where it gets screwier than a screw-driving contest. The thing is, you can fight a ticket. If you win, you can petition the CSA to remove the points from your record. Great! But how exactly can you fight a warning? You can’t. So in essence, getting a written warning is worse than getting a violation. Will there come a day when we drivers are begging the officer to give us a ticket instead of a warning? Lord, I hope not.

Other than the CSA points themselves, what bugs me most about this is that it goes against the officer’s intention. They wanted to be nice by giving you a warning. They’re saying, “Hey, I could’ve nailed you, but I’m going to give you a pass this time. Be sure to watch yourself in the future.” So what has to happen to fix this? Do you think cops will someday realize that they’re screwing us worse by giving us a written warning? Will they eventually learn that they need to give us a VERBAL warning to be nice to us? I doubt it. Most of the cops wouldn’t know a log book violation if it reached up out of the log book and socked them in the kisser. How are they supposed to follow all the regulations of the CSA?

There is possibly some hope for the CSA. They’ve already shown to retract things that weren’t working or didn’t make sense. So they’ve scrapped the whole system and started over. Kidding. Wish I wasn’t. For example, earlier this year they retracted all points having to do with overweight tickets. I’m not sure what they didn’t like about the criteria, but whatever it was, it was enough to make them give it a second look.

The way it was explained to me was that the entire incident came off the CSA record, but @MightyDeno proved me wrong when he told me that his points had been removed, but the violation was still listed on his record. As another Twitter friend (whom I can’t remember) pointed out, that left it wide open to add the points back in later when they worked out the bugs in the system. Looks like they could eventually get you either way.

So what does this mean for the truck driver as we go forward with the CSA program? Well, for one, I’d say we’ll lose some experienced drivers over this. Whether it’s by their own choice or by bogus CSA points from things out of their control is left to be seen. For those who remain, we can plan on being in the dark for quite some time. Very little is explained to us and not many of us want to dive into research and figure it out. Heck, most drivers I talk to still don’t understand the 14-hour rule correctly. And that rule was issued in 2003. The CSA rules are just as confusing, possibly more so. And you can bet they’ll be changing them on and off to confuse everyone even more.

Recently, another driver and I were looking at the latest statistics issued by the CSA and realized that neither of us knew what the criteria for the results were. We asked dispatch and they didn’t know either. The safety department might have known, but they were gone for the day.

One thing is for sure, my safety director will be getting yet another call from me soon. The latest CSA stats showed that we’ve been surpassed by some companies in the HOS (Hours of Service) category. That category just so happens to be the one that has to do with the cursed e-logs. I’ll be asking him to explain why our company, which doesn’t let their drivers edit their e-logs, has been passed by some companies that I know for a fact have editable e-logs. This is going to be a fun phone call.

*Please give this post a rating and share it with your weirdo friends. Also, leave a comment with your thoughts about the CSA. May as well make up your own name for them too.*

Guest Post: This is the Life. We All Have to be Somewhere. This is My Life. By Jean McHarry

May 26, 2011

Hey! Todd here. Yes. I know you were expecting me, but I won’t be the one entertaining you today. Let me explain. You and I both know I’m a blabbermouth, but sometimes I just don’t know what to say about a particular subject. I had one of those cases back in July of 2010 with a post called Riding Along with a Trucker.

This post was written due to a question I got from Lucinda, a woman who was planning on riding along with her trucker husband, but only as a passenger. She was asking for advice. Well, I’ve never done that and neither had The Evil Overlord, so I enlisted the help of a couple of Twitter friends. Patty, a.k.a. @luv18wheels and @CB_SnowAngel (who apparently has given up on Twitter) gave some sound advice, but I knew I’d want more eventually. That’s how we arrived today at my first guest post.

I don’t plan on doing this a lot, but I thought I knew someone who could both answer the question better than I could and reach meet my required level on the Snark-O-Meter. Recently, I decided to hit up Jean McHarry, a.k.a the infamous @raysunshine77 on Twitter. She’s a first class smart aleck on Twitter and she always cracks me up with her sarcastic sense of humor. I’m also beginning to wonder if she’s a long-lost sister of The Evil Overlord. After much manipulation (I lied and told her I liked her), she finally acquiesced. I think you’ll be glad she did. She did a bang-up job on what she admitted was her first writing assignment since high school. I’ll let her introduce herself. That’s her standing next to her devastatingly handsome husband. Love that macho mustache. Hey, wait a second…

This is the life. We all have to be somewhere. This is my life.

By Jean McHarry

Don’t call me a seat cover! Don’t assume I’m a lot lizard! Don’t disrespect me because you don’t want women taking away a man’s job! Don’t accuse me of not having knowledge of this industry because I ride! Don’t ask me to run away with you cause you have a bigger, badder truck! And for the love of all that is chrome, don’t ask me to move the stupid truck!

I have driven, I’ve dispatched, I’ve loaded and unloaded trailers and I’ve run a truck stop. DOT assumes I’m a driver and will sometimes ask for my log book. I have to produce paperwork to show that I am allowed to be here, that I won’t do anything that would be considered work and I pay for this privilege. I love my life, I love being out here on the road. I enjoy every aspect of being a truck driver except I don’t drive the truck and let’s make this clear, I don’t want to drive the truck and no one is going to make me.

My husband has diesel running through his veins. He says it’s all he ever wanted to do (that’s a small lie, he also wanted to be a train engineer or a boat captain) and I believe it’s all he’ll ever do. I enjoy being out here. I love going new places, meeting new people and just being a little bit of a gypsy. Waking up someplace new and not knowing where I’m going to be tomorrow is a thrill that I truly appreciate. I am a passenger. That’s all I want to be.

I call myself a rolling assistant because I do more than just sit here and look pretty. I spend about a quarter of my time playing navigator. Between maps (both truck and city versions), a functional GPS, the company’s routing, the local directions, and my notes on the local directions, I can tell where we’ve been, where we’re at, where we need to be going and just how long it should take to do it all. This knowledge also helps me with keeping an eye on the weather. Twitter really has been my best friend in this endeavor. Those up to the minute updates that tell me it’s raining in Texas helped a whole lot when we were dealing with blizzards in Buffalo. I keep track of loads and payroll, keep up on all relevant news and generally just keep him company.

I cook. That sounds so simple when you type it. Is there any way to make it simple in the truck? We don’t have a refrigerator, so storage of perishables must be done in a cramped cooler that also holds our water. Canned goods have one cabinet available to them and it can’t be opened without something landing on a foot or head. I carry a crock pot, a lunchbox (it’s shaped just like those old lunch boxes your dad took to work and functions kind of like a crock pot) and an electric skillet. One of these days when I find room, I want a rice cooker but at this point something else has to move out for it to have a home.

We try to eat out of the truck for 18 out of 21 meals. Sometimes we accomplish this, most weeks it’s closer to 14 out of 21. Sometimes, we just need out of the truck. It’s not like eating dinner at the house. Imagine you had to eat every meal with your spouse in the bathroom (just throw a mattress over the tub and put the lid down on the toilet). At some point, you would need a break. Restaurants have so much more space and other people to help carry on conversations. These two luxuries can make a really long day seem like a vacation. Because when there are just two of you, there is only so much to be said and quite frankly if he asks me one more time “whatcha doing?”, I might hit him with a tire thumper.

I clean. That’s another one of those things that sounds so simple but is never as simple as you want it to be. Mirrors need to be cleaned. Glass on both the inside and the outside. Dusting (I hate dust and in a truck, the stuff just reappears the moment you knock it off). To sweep and mop (something I try to do every other day) requires half the truck be picked up and put someplace else while I accomplish such an easy task. The cooler (loaded down with ice, half a case of water and whatever perishables have been purchased for the week), the crock pot, the lunchbox oven, the trash can, 4 pairs of boots, 3 pairs of tennis shoes and the rugs. They must go somewhere. I just wish I knew where. The bed is already loaded down with luggage, a shower bag, my purse, laundry baskets, and a dozen bags of other stuff that one of these days will eventually find a home. Once the floors are all pretty, it all has to be put back. At least until bedtime. Then everything has to be moved back up front so we can sleep.

My goal is to try to make his load a little lighter, especially since I increase the weight of the truck (I have to bring a lot of stuff). Didn’t you see all the stuff I just mentioned? I’d like to have so much more, but there will never be room and I probably wouldn’t use it if I finally got it in here. My resolution each year is to try that whole minimalistic lifestyle. One of these years, it’s gonna happen. Trust me.

I spend my day trolling for news articles to read to him. I download podcasts that we both enjoy to kill the hours of driving. There is only so much music and news you can listen to in an 11 hour day. Even less now, since every hour the whole thing seems to repeat. We joke, we tease, we argue, we repeat.

I spend a huge chunk of my day online. I harass people I’ve never met (and some I never will) on Twitter. I stalk people I do know on Facebook. I farm and tame the frontier. I troll truck driving and cooking forums. He used to complain that I spent most of my day on the computer and phone. He’d ask what could I possibly be doing that would waste 7 hours a day. Why wasn’t I looking at the beautiful scenery and enjoying just relaxing while he drove? Why wasn’t I paying more attention to what was going on around us? That’s what he does. Why couldn’t I do that? I tried to explain.

From my side, with no vehicle to control, just looking at scenery that I’ve seen 100 times isn’t entertaining. It’s like staring at a wall. Now when we go home, I drive. That’s 8 to 12 hours, depending on who we are going to visit. He whines the whole time that he’s bored. I tell him to relax and enjoy the scenery, pay more attention to what’s going on around us. That’s how I get new toys.

I’d like to say we are unique, but that wouldn’t be true. I know plenty of couples out here that are in the same boat we are; one drives and one rides. Anybody that has met him will ask how I spend 24/7 with him. I am heavily medicated. All kidding aside, we love each other and we take care of each other and we are co-dependent on each other. We’ve spent time apart. I didn’t like it. He didn’t like it. I respect couples that team. I respect women that stay at home while their husband is out here on the road. I’ve been there, done that and I don’t plan on going back.

*Todd here again. Please leave your comments and/or questions here and I’ll make sure Jean sees them. You can also contact her directly through Twitter @raysunshine77, email her at janedean77@yahoo.com, or check out her Facebook page. I hear she also doesn’t mind the occasional stalker. ;-)*

E-logs: A Second Look

January 23, 2011

Well, I knew it would happen sooner or later. I finally got the warning on my e-log unit telling me I had one hour of drive time left. This was bad, because I was fully aware that I wasn’t going to make it to my delivery point before my time ran out. What would happen?

What? You didn’t really expect me to answer that right now, did you? Sucker.

If you want to get caught up with my ongoing journey with e-logs, check out Fear and loathing of electronic logs, where I speculate about my fears of e-logs long before I had them. Next up was my last post, E-logs: My first impression, which was written after I’d had been using e-logs for a few days.

Fast forward to this post. I’ve now been using the system for a little over three weeks. As I’ve already said more times than Angelina has returned from overseas with a new baby on her hip, it’s clear to me that e-logs can be as good or as bad as the company makes them. Guys like my Twitter friends, @Dean0806, @DroidTrucker, and @darkstaff, don’t have the same issues that I have with mine. Perhaps that’s because my company is aspiring to be as flexible as those open-minded fellows in the Gestapo.

As seen in my last post, one of my first and biggest concerns has already reared its butt-ugly head… twice. Or three times, depending how you look at it. As I arrived at the gate to a shipper, I was expecting the e-log system to sense where I was and ask me if I wanted to show arriving there. It didn’t. Our trainer had warned us this might happen every now and then. No biggie. I just manually entered my arrival and changed my duty status to On-Duty.

Now I don’t know about you other drivers, but when I’m only dropping one trailer and grabbing another, I can be in and out of there faster than a bunny rabbit can copulate. Since my company requires me to show 15 minutes at every customer, I’ve gotten in the habit of going to the On-Duty line as soon as I arrive. I usually still end up sitting around for a few minutes while my e-log catches up with me.

This brings up a point of contention. If dropping/hooking a trailer and fueling are both considered On-Duty work, why is it okay for me to show my actual time when I’m fueling, but I have to show 15 full minutes on my e-logs when I’m at a customer? I’d be curious to know if this is a DOT rule or just another case of my e-logs being set up crappier than a daycare’s Diaper Genie. You drivers with e-logs let me know how yours are set up. I’m guessing I’m not going to like what I hear.

So back to my drop/hook. I’m at a fairly large warehouse. It’s not gargantuan, but my trailer is on the far side of the building. As I mentioned in my last post, our system is set to automatically put you on the Driving line after you go one-half mile. If you remember, I thought that my system was still set at 1 mile (the previous set-up), but I was as wrong as a mustard sundae. It’s .5 mile for sure.

Anyway, I made it half-way around before the system automatically moved me to the Driving line. Okay, in reality it asked me if it’s okay to put me on the Driving line. “Well, of course it’s not okay, you hunk-o-junk e-crap machine, but there’s only one option that says OK!” Even if I don’t hit the “OK” button, it puts me on the Driving line anyway. I drove on, hooked up my trailer, and waited until my retarded mandatory 15 minutes were up.

Now I had known this was going to happen sooner or later, so I took the opportunity to test something on the way back to the guard shack. One of my Twitter friends suggested I try to stop before I got the warning, pull the brake for a few minutes, set myself back to On-Duty, and then take off again. I tried it and it worked after I had set still for a few minutes. Still, what a pain. So there was the first time it happened.

The second and third time I got nabbed happened a few nights later. Because these two happened in the middle of a 10-hour break, they had the potential to be much more costly if things didn’t work as planned. I was told to wait for a dock, so being the seasoned trucker that I am, I went onto the Sleep Berth line. You never know how long it’s going to take and you may as well get your break started. Good thing I did, because it was four hours later when I finally got a dock.

As fate would have it, my dock was on the far side of the building again. While my e-logs still showed me being in the bunk, I got about 3/4 of the way to the dock before my beloved e-log unit dropped me down to the Driving line. I ignored it, docked the trailer, and put myself back on the Sleeper Berth line. When I was unloaded, I drove back to the front office, which of course, nabbed me for the third time.

Even though this movement to and from the dock broke up my 10-hour break, I wasn’t too worried about it. Our trainer had told us situations like this would pop up now and then, and that the Safety Department would be happy to fix it, providing of course that they could verify all this moving around had taken place on-site.

But here’s where I goofed. I had moved while my e-logs showed me in the bunk, which, of course, is physically impossible unless your name is Shaq. Safety said I should have moved to the Off-Duty line to move my truck to the dock. I hadn’t known this so I asked if they would change it anyway. They did, but only reluctantly and with a mini-lecture. So lesson learned there.

So… back to my original fear. You know, the one I teased you about in the beginning? I was almost to the customer, but time was counting down. My e-log unit beeped at me again at the 30-minute mark, the 15-minute mark, and started beeping at me every minute starting at the 5-minute mark. The countdown dropped to 1 minute when I was still 5 miles away from the customer.

What was going to happen? I had heard that the unit would beep constantly until you managed to pull over. I was also fairly certain that I’d feel an uncomfortable “tightness” around my neck as a hologram of Darth Vader silently rose from my screen.

Good lord! It felt like that final minute had lasted longer than a Jane Austen film festival! And just when I thought the suspense would kill me, it happened. Nothing. Absolutely… friggin’… nothin’. The counter read “00 minutes.” That was it. No beeping. No flashing red lights. Not even one Vader sighting. I’ve got to admit, I was a little disappointed. Guess I’ll have to try it again soon. You know, strictly for experimental purposes.

I’ve got lots more to say about e-logs, but I’ll do so in some future blog posts. For now, I’ll just say that I hate the .5 mile limit. If they would only boost it back up to 1 mile, the majority of these false starts could be avoided.

When I asked Safety about this, they said they had received about 10 times the reports when it was set at 1 mile. Since each report had to be examined by a real live person, it was more efficient to field the few calls that were coming in. And that’s precisely why I’m telling every driver I see to call into Safety every time their system screws them, even if it’s for only one minute. Heck, you never know when you’ll need an extra minute or two. Last time I went home, I pulled in with two minutes to spare.

As for the second problem, there is absolutely no leeway with e-logs. On paper logs, if I was going to get to a customer a few minutes after my time was up, I just took my time because I knew a few minutes could be accounted for. Heck, I could even make 15 minutes over work. Now, if I pull in at the 11 hour and 15-second mark, I’ll be given a log violation, which goes against my CSA rating. Of course, it’ll go against the company’s too, but I find myself not really caring about that. That’s good for the company’s reputation, right?

I can tell you one thing, I’m a different driver when that clock is ticking down on me. I’ve talked to other drivers who say the same thing. I try not to care about the load and the customers, but I guess the fact that I do is now considered a flaw in my character.

I find myself doing 65 mph on 55 mph back roads, taking exit ramps a bit too fast, and shifting gears like I’m trying out for a spot on a Formula 1 team. None of this is good and I’m a smart enough driver to know it. I’ve just got to convince myself that the load isn’t as important as my driving record or my life. In other words, I have to learn to fail at one aspect of my job in order to excel at the other. Gee, that should bring my job satisfaction level to an all-time high.

*So what has your experiences been with e-logs. Let us all hear your thoughts by leaving a comment. Oh c’mon. I don’t ask for much. Just do it. 😉

E-logs: My First Impression

January 1, 2011

Despite the fact that I’ve been driving for 13 years, I made a bonehead rookie mistake yesterday. It was especially unfortunate since it probably would have been covered if it didn’t coincide with my first day running with e-logs. But first… what are e-logs?

E-logs are electronic logs. For more details, you may want to jump on over to a previous blog of mine before you read on. I gave it the appropriate name of, “Fear and loathing of electronic logs.”

As my truck was getting e-logs installed, I was taking a class on how to use them. I went in grumpy and hating them. Four hours later, I came out with a slightly less grumpy disposition and a lower hate factor, but I’m still not doing round-off-double-back-handsprings. And thank God for that. I wouldn’t want you to see my cheerleading panties.

One thing I knew going in was that each company can set up e-logs according to their own guidelines. This is something that @Dean0806 had informed me of in the blog post mentioned above. Knowing my company, this was what I was most worried about. My worries weren’t unfounded.

For example, Dean’s company has their e-logs set up where he can creep along (7 mph or less) in rush hour traffic and still be on the “On-Duty, Not Driving” line. My company has it set to go to the Driving line after a half-mile, no matter what your speed is. It used to be set at 1 mile, but they decided that was waaaay too long. Grrr. Keep this under your hat, but I think mine is still set at 1 mile. Shhhhhh.

When they mentioned this in class, all three of us drivers started talking at once. Our concern was this. Many times we’ll be parked at a shipper/receiver waiting for a dock. Or maybe we got there the night before. Either way, if it’s going to be a while, we’ll start our 10-hour break. At some point, we’re going to have to wake up and back into a dock. Now there are a lot of massive warehouses out there. Some of them even have off-site buildings. Many of them will require us to drive over .5 mile to get to the dock. That will effectively break our mandatory 10-hour rest period.

The company is aware of this and is looking into it. For now the fix is to call in to the Safety Department and let them know what happened. If they can verify you never left the property, they’ll fix it. While it’s good that they’ll do that, it’s a big fail in my book. Still stranger, I’m thinking they wouldn’t even have this problem if they’d just left the 1 mile limit in effect. Although that still wouldn’t fix the off-site problem…

Next, I asked about a situation that happened to me not long ago. I had enough hours to get to my delivery location, but they didn’t have any parking. My plan was to park at a nearby Lowe’s that I had been parking at for years. Since I didn’t have enough time to fit in a 10-hour break before my delivery appointment, I was just going to drive the 5 miles from Lowe’s to the customer and show on my paper logs that I had been at the delivery point all night. Illegal? Technically, yes. Done frequently by truckers? Definitely yes. Able to do on e-logs? Nope.

That was my plan anyway. What actually happened is a tow truck driver knocked on my door and told me he was instructed to tow any truck that wouldn’t leave the Lowe’s parking lot. Naturally, I left. Here’s the thing though. I was about 7.5 hours into my break. If I had been down 8 hours I could have used it as part of a split sleeper berth, moved, and gotten my other 2 hours somewhere else. Since it wasn’t, I moved, pretended I didn’t, and delivered my load on time.

But that was only possible because I was on paper logs. I asked the trainer about this scenario and was told that since I didn’t have any hours available, and I had to move before my 10-hour break was completed, I would be charged with a log violation. She did say that the company would note the situation along with the violation so that it could be seen that I had no choice in the matter. While this sucks more than a dehydrated mosquito, that’s not the worst of it.

Since I had moved before completing my 10-hour break and I hadn’t even gotten 8 hours in to set up a possible split sleeper berth, I would now have to start my break over. So now my mandatory 10-hour break has just turned into a mandatory 17.5 hour break (that’s my wasted 7.5 hours that didn’t count, plus my new 10-hour break). Furthermore, I’m sitting 5 miles from my delivery point, but I now can’t deliver because I don’t have any driving time. In this situation, another driver would have to come and deliver my load.

The trainer said the fix for this problem was to plan ahead. If you know that a receiver doesn’t have parking, tell your dispatcher how close you can get and they’ll find another driver to relay the load. This is going to lead to a LOT of relays, especially since my company doesn’t always know which customers allow parking, and which don’t. Even crappier is that many times you can get within the same city as the receiver, you just can’t park at their facility. Since my company doesn’t pay a dime for local runs (within the same city), many of these runs won’t pay anything except for the miles it takes you to get to the relay point. So that guy taking that relay from me would’ve been hosed on money.

While all this sounds easy enough, what about those situations like the one I was in? I’d been parking at that Lowe’s for years. How was I to know they’d change the rules all of a sudden? Or how about those times when you park somewhere questionable because you’ve run out of driving time? Truckers are forced to move all the time for reasons such as this. Who gets stuck with the log violation, the ticket if we get caught, and possibly a service failure if the load can’t be delivered on time? Once again, it all comes back to the driver.

Here’s the next thing that didn’t make sense. Any calls to breakdown must be done during On-Duty time. So say you pull into a truck stop, do your walk-around, and notice a flat tire. You call into breakdown while you’re still On-Duty, then you check into the shop at the truck stop. They say it’ll be about 3 hours before they can fit you in. That’s fine, I’ll just go to sleep until then, get my 2 hours of my split sleeper berth in, and finish the other 8 hours after I’m out of the shop. Right? Wrong. The new e-log rules say that when you are awaiting repairs, you have to log it as On-Duty time. So not only are you wasting time that could be going toward your 10-hour break, you’re also using up your hours on your 70-hour work week. Can someone please explain to me how this is any different from moving on a customer’s property to bump a dock? Cuz my e-log trainer couldn’t.

One thing I was anticipating was for them to say how much time e-logs would save me. It came as expected. She said, “Using paper logs, you have to log 15 minutes for fueling, even if it only takes you 5 minutes. Now, if it takes you 5 minutes, it saves you 10 full minutes of driving time!” To which I responded: “But isn’t logging 15 minutes for fueling a company policy?” It was. “Federal guidelines say that anything under 7 minutes doesn’t have to be logged, other than flagging it. So, in essence, we’re losing 15 minutes, because under DOT rules, we wouldn’t even have to show fueling if it only took 5 minutes.” No good answer followed.

AMMENDMENT:

I later discovered that ANY time working has to be logged. So I was mistaken about this and so was my e-log trainer. Gee, that’s comforting. If they can’t get it right, how the heck am I supposed to? So in the above scenario, even if I managed to fuel in 5 minutes, I would still have to log it as 15 minutes on my paper log. So now that that’s clear as a tornado sky, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled program.

END AMMENDMENT

Next was the mandatory Pre-Trip Inspection. 15 minutes minimum is the standard for both carriers and the DOT. As I happily pointed out, “Here’s another 15 minutes lost. Before, I could log my PTI when I fueled, no matter what time of day it was. Now you’re telling me I have to do it at the beginning of the day, and it can’t be combined with any other activity.” Again. No explanation.

Now back to my rookie mistake. I got my load information and wrote it all down. For some reason, my brain decided that my delivery time of 1300 (1 p.m.) was actually 3 p.m. I don’t know how that happened. I’m guessing the “3” in 1300 stuck in my demented brain. Anyway, here’s how e-logs affected this situation.

Since I got this load information the day before and I didn’t want to sit around and wait, I had already asked if I could deliver early. No one would respond to my dispatcher, so I never got an answer. Now if I had been on paper logs, I no doubt would’ve taken off extra early and tried to deliver before my appointment time. If the customer would’ve taken me early, all would be well. If they wouldn’t take me until my appointment time, I would’ve simply showed taking off a couple of hours later on my logs. Again, illegal? Yep. Done by truckers every day? No doubt.

Instead, I waited until the very last minute to take off. I knew that the second I rolled out, my 14-hour clock started ticking. If I rolled out too early and couldn’t deliver, I’d have burned all that time while I sat waiting on my appointment. I wasn’t going to do that. The problem was, I only left in time to deliver by 3 p.m. When my dispatcher called to ask me why I wasn’t heading toward my delivery, I knew I had screwed the pooch. I had planned on rolling in by 3 p.m. Now I was going to be 2 hours late.

Luckily, I have a cool dispatcher who knows I don’t make rookie mistakes like that very often. It was also lucky that there was heavy fog out that she could blame my lateness on. I’m telling you folks, I’ve got the coolest dispatcher. Still, if everyone on e-logs is trying to maximize their time, it seems to me that it will put a whole lot of truckers in a race against time. Does anyone think that’s a good idea?

So now that my first day with e-logs is completed, here’s my initial impression. They are fairly easy to learn and use. It has some cool features that I didn’t have before, such as a running total of my hours, always knowing what city/state I’m in, and how it automatically knows when I arrive at a customer.

While all of that is great, the ability to search and read messages while I’m driving is my favorite feature. My old Qualcomm unit wouldn’t let me read a message unless I was at a complete stop. They say that I still can’t type while I’m going down the road, which is to be expected. Again, I think they forgot to disable this feature in my unit, because I’ve tried typing while going down the road and it works just dandy. Of course, I’m not planning to abuse this, but still… shhhhhhh.

I’m convinced that the trucking industry is going to have to change if e-logs are going to work. Shippers and Receivers in particular are going to have to start caring about a trucker’s time. And if some of the new proposed rules, such as the hard 14-hour workday take hold, it will be even more necessary. I just don’t think e-logs are quite ready for the weird situations that truckers find themselves in every day.

To sum up, I think the key isn’t the e-logs themselves. The key is how they’re set up. E-logs can be as flexible as a double-jointed gymnast or as rigid as an Eskimo’s clothesline laundry. Here’s to hoping that trucking companies prefer leotards over stiff boxer shorts.

*Please leave a rating and post a comment with your concerns or experiences with e-logs.*

Truckers vs. Cops vs. DOT vs. Carriers

December 21, 2010

Photo by davidsonscott15 via Flickr

There is a constant unseen battle going on in the trucking industry. It’s like the movie “Alien vs. Predator,” only with two more factions that rear back their butt-ugly heads and roar. Perhaps someone should make a massive online video game about it.

It could be called Truckers vs. Cops vs. DOT vs. Carriers. I’d ask all the geeks to play as the Trucker faction. That way the proper groups would receive the bloody slaughter that they deserve. Let me explain what brought this blog post to fruition.

I was sitting at a truck stop in Birmingham, Alabama when it all started. I had arrived there on a Saturday night and was still 150 miles away from my delivery location. The load didn’t have to be there until Monday at midnight.

I could have had the load to the receiver by 9 AM on Sunday, but I was planning on delivering it by 9 AM on Monday. Now why would I do that? My trucking readers already know the answer, so let’s get the unwashed masses of non-truckers up to speed.

Truckers can only work 70 hours within an 8 day period. This is called the 70-hour rule. This includes driving, loading or unloading, fueling, inspections, dropping and hooking trailers, etc. Anything that takes up time to do your job goes against the 70 hours. Enter the 34-hour rule.

The 34-hour rule says that if a trucker is down for 34 straight hours (either off-duty, in the sleeper berth, or an uninterrupted combination of the two), they can reset their 70-hour work week. But why is this a good thing? Because after 7 days of driving, we only get back the hours that we ran a week ago. So if I only ran 3 hours last Wednesday, that’s exactly how many hours I would have available to work this Wednesday (providing I max out my hours every day). It’s a bit more complicated than that, but you get the gist of it.

Every trucker and dispatcher knows that the week before Christmas is busier than a Las Vegas pimp. There are lots of dropped loads, relaying with other drivers, and cancelling or switching of loads, all in the name of getting the driver home for Christmas. Seeing as how this all happened the week before Christmas, I wanted to be able to run as hard as possible that week. And that’s why I elected to do my 34-hour restart instead of delivering ASAP.

That’s when my Qualcomm beeped at me (that’s the satellite communication thingy-ma-bop; yes, that’s the technical name). Weekend dispatch had a preplan for me and needed me to call in. After viewing the load on my Qualcomm, I figured up my logs and realized that I couldn’t finish my 34 hours and still deliver my current load and pick up the preplan on time. I’d have to leave at about the 32 hour mark to do it legally.

I called in and asked if I could finish the 34 hours and pick up the preplan 1-2 hours late. Some customers allow late pick ups, but of course, this wasn’t one of them. I was told that the 34-hour restart is a luxury, not something that is required. He was right and I knew it. Still, most dispatchers would work with you. He said I was the only one in the area that could do the load. Yea, I know drivers, we’ve all heard that a million and one times.

I accepted my fate and figured I’d go ahead and deliver ASAP instead of waiting. That way I could deliver, drive to the pick up point, and get in a 10-hour break before my appointment time. Once loaded, I’d have a full 11 hours to run. That was my plan anyway.

After driving 3 hours to deliver the load, I heard another beep. Assuming it was my load information for this all-important, cancer-curing, God-ordained preplan, I eagerly read the message, only to find out the load had cancelled. I mumbled something not print-worthy, took a few deep breaths, and called in again.

I was told that the load had been double-booked. This means that two drivers had somehow managed to be issued the same load. When I expressed my frustration of being pulled off a 34-hour restart to cover the load, all I got was, “Sorry.” Being the completely unselfish guy that I am, I asked why I was pulled off the load instead of the other driver, to which I got the intellectually-stimulating answer of, “I don’t know.” Good answer, Crap-for-brains.

Now to find a parking spot. There was only one tiny little truck stop with no real parking, and it was already jammed with trucks. I pulled out of the lot, hit my flashers, and pulled onto the edge of the road. Keep in mind, this is a side street, not a major corridor. Seeing as how my Qualcomm doesn’t work when the truck is moving, I had to stop to send a message relaying my intention to drive to the next town to look for parking.

I had been there for approximately one minute (no exaggeration) when a car pulled up with its headlights pointing at me. As I hadn’t blocked the driveway, I figured the guy was just being a jerk. I went about typing my message. When he continued to sit there I began to wonder if it was a cop. No lights or any decals were visible, but just in case, I held up my keyboard to show him what I was doing. He continued to sit there.

Just as I was ready to get out to see if it was a cop, he pulled around to the driver’s side, got out of the car and yelled, yes, yelled at me, “You’re parked in the street!” I said, “My keyboard doesn’t work when the truck is moving. I was just sending a quick message and I was just getting ready to leave. I’ve been here less than a minute. My brake isn’t even pulled.” He yelled yet again, “Why didn’t you move when I was sitting there?” I said, “You were pointed straight at me with your headlights on, you’ve got no lights on the hood or on your dash, and no visible decals. How was I supposed to know you were a cop?”

That’s when he got the look. It reminded me of Martin Lawrence as he’s about to go into his, “Is this because I’m a black man?” tirade that is present in everything he does. I don’t mean this to be racist, but that’s exactly what it reminded me of. Again, a yell. “Give me your license!” I was waiting for a “boy” to finish out the sentence, but it didn’t come.

I handed it to him and he got back in his car. He immediately got back out and yelled again, “Get out of the street!” “Where am I supposed to go!” “I don’t care! Just get out of the street!” He followed me as I pulled around to the fuel bay and within 10 minutes he was back at my door with a ticket in hand. Once I figured out I was getting a ticket, I figured, what the heck Todd; give him a piece of your mind.

In a calm voice I said, “You know, I have a lot of appreciation for the job you guys do, but clearly you don’t have any appreciation for what truckers put up with. I’ve got all these guidelines to follow and no one cares as long as I’m following theirs at the moment. My load unexpectedly cancelled and I was looking for a place to park. As you can see, there aren’t any spots here. Since I can’t drive around without telling my company what I’m doing, and I can’t use my satellite unless I’m sitting still, I pulled to the side of the road. Yes, I know I should’ve pulled back into the fuel bay, but I was just going to be there for a minute or two.”

He said, “That’s not my concern and as far as the rest of these truckers, I’m fixin’ to go move them too.” What a set-up he had just provided. I said, “There’s another thing. DOT has regulations too. If you wake those drivers up and make them move, most of them will be violating the DOT rules. But why would you care about that? If they get caught driving illegally, it’s their license and money that’s in jeopardy. But again, that’s not your problem, is it?”

By this time, he was getting quieter, but he managed to say, “That doesn’t change the fact that you were still breaking the law.” I responded, “Yes, I admit that. But you could have just as easily considered that I was only there for a minute and let me off with a warning. But no…”

He handed me my ticket and told me there was a small place to park about a mile up the road. Being the snarky kinda guy that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to say, “Gee. Would’ve been nice if you’d told me that BEFORE giving me a ticket. I would’ve been happy to move. That’s all I was looking for was a place to park.” I confess that I was overjoyed when I managed to kick up a bunch of dust on his car as I left.

So that’s the battle. The Cops, the DOT, and Carriers all have guidelines that Truckers need to follow. Each thinks theirs is the most important. As long as the driver is complying with their rules, the world is a happy land of fluffy bunnies and chocolate streams. And why not? The driver is the only one taking the risk. Things are just as they should be.

To end this on a somewhat happy note, I called the Chief of Police the following morning. I explained that the officer hadn’t identified himself until he pulled around. I then relayed the rest of the story and asked if I was supposed to be able to read the officer’s mind. He chuckled. The chief realized that I had a good point. He apologized for the incident and asked if I would mind paying court costs if he could have the ticket reduced to a non-point violation. Of course, I agreed. Nevermind that the court costs on a $30 ticket are $101.50. Sheez Louise. Are these people cops or robbers?

*Please leave your stories of your battles with inconsiderate Cops, DOT, and Carriers in the comments for all to enjoy. And don’t forget to give a star rating at the top of the post.*


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