Posts Tagged ‘DOT’

The EOBR Myth

October 18, 2010

Used with permission of Xata Corp.

Quick: What’s the leading cause of trucking accidents? If you were to ask that question to the non-trucking public, they’d probably tell you that trucker fatigue was the culprit. They’d be wrong.

It’s not their fault. The media, our lawmakers, and many interest groups are cramming that idea into their ears with one of those cannonball-stuffing doo-hickies. I’m not going to go into all the statistics on this because, well, that’s just not my bag, baby. Still, I’m not asking you to take one loud-mouthed trucker’s opinion on this either. I let OOIDA (Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association) do the dirty work. Check it out for yourself.

So what is the leading cause of truck accidents? Well, actually the leading cause is 4-wheelers. In some studies it’s estimated as many as 71% of accidents involving a truck and a passenger vehicle are caused by the 4-wheeler’s actions; not the truck’s. Putting that fact aside, the accidents caused by a truck driver are usually caused by driver error, not driver fatigue.

Speeding, taking a turn too fast, improper lane changes, tailgating, and driving too fast for conditions are just a few things that cause truck accidents. Most of these kinds of accidents are the result of being in a hurry. Even when time isn’t an issue, accidents are more likely to be caused by pure carelessness, not driver fatigue.

Any honest trucker will back me up on this. Not counting time issues, the majority of close calls are caused by the stupidity of other drivers, reaching for your iPod, reading your map, eating, spilling your coffee, daydreaming about your lottery winnings, or being lost due to bad directions (see Truckers get lost about that whole ball of frustration). The vast majority of truck drivers have the common sense to get off the road before we get too tired. Despite this well-known fact, the people and industries that know what’s best for everyone else has decided that EOBRs are necessary to prevent these infrequent fatigue-related accidents.

Now I’m sure all my trucking friends have already heard of EOBRs. The acronym stands for Electronic On-Board Recorders. Basically, it’s a tell-all device for truckers. It’s what the “black box” is to the airline industry. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you likely will soon enough. There is a major push by industry groups and lawmakers to make EOBRs mandatory in all commercial vehicles. While I do think EOBRs have their merits, I also believe them to be as important to preventing accidents as the Easter Bunny is to delivering presents on Christmas Eve.

So what are the good points about EOBRs? Well, for one thing, they can detect sudden lane changes, hard braking, excessive speed, etc. That kind of information could come in handy when truckers are trying to prove themselves innocent of an accident. On the flip side, it could also be a prosecuting attorney’s ace-in-the-hole if you’re as guilty as a drunk Alcoholic Anonymous member. Secondly, I believe EOBRs would succeed in keeping those rare renegade drivers in check. It would be kind of hard to run two log books and drive until your eyes are drooping like that weird, old lady underarm flab with an EOBR installed. So that’s a good thing.

There are a couple of things that EOBR haters are worried about. First, is the whole “invasion of privacy” issue. Sure, the box would show your company where you live when you go home, but who cares? They already know your address. And yes, it shows where you’re currently located. Well, maybe if you don’t want someone to know that you’re at the nudie bar, you shouldn’t be there in the first place. While I suppose that it could be the foot-in-the-door to something more sinister, I’m just not that paranoid. And if you’re driving like a crazy person, I don’t mind the little box tattling on you.

Another complaint is the cost. Now I’ve never priced one of these puppies, but I’ve read that some of these units can cost as little as $300-$400 to install. That’s just a couple of weeks of G-string fodder for some of these guys. And if you’re a company driver, you’ve got no call to complain about the cost at all. The company will be paying for it.

The thing is, most company trucks already have some sort of EOBR in them. Our current satellite systems already show how fast we are going and our location at any given time, therefore many of us company drivers are already dealing with them. And what do you think electronic log books are? They’re just glorified EOBR boxes.

I know what some of you regular readers are thinking. “But you said you had fear and loathing of electronic logs.” I did, and still do to some extent. I don’t know exactly how they work, so that’s part of the mystery. But here’s why I’m dreading the day that I get e-logs. Time management.

The difference between our current satellite system, or even a black box that is mounted under the driver’s seat is; no one is monitoring your satellite system unless something warrants an inquiry. But e-logs are monitored real-time. If that thing is beeping at you, your dispatcher is seeing it too. This presents a problem.

Admittedly, the way the vast majority of truckers do their log books is technically illegal. Still, most truckers don’t run two logs books and backlog trips either. We simply fudge a few things here or there to suit the situation. For example, let’s say I’m going into the shipper the night before my morning appointment, therefore, I’m not in any particular rush. If I hit a traffic jam just before I run out of hours, no big deal. As long as I don’t have a DOT weigh station to deal with, I can just take my time getting to the shipper, get there 15 or 30 minutes later than “technically” legal, and show getting there when I had originally planned. Illegal? Yes. Driving 5 mph over the speed limit is too. Good thing none of us do that.

The biggest problem I see with e-logs is that there will no longer be any wiggle room. Now if I’m almost out of hours when I hit that traffic jam, what happens? Well, I get tagged by my company for driving over my hours. Either that, or traffic breaks free and I put the hammer down to bust my hump to the shipper (or any other safe parking space) before the stinkin’ e-log machine starts beeping at me.

So I ask you; what’s safer? Calmly driving 15-30 minutes over my allotted time, or driving like a Formula 1 driver injected with squirrel DNA to keep from going over my time limit? I imagine that it’s going to feel like an episode of “24” every time I get behind the wheel. Is a trucker driving an 80,000-pound weapon someone you want racing against the clock every day?

*Please leave a comment with your thoughts on EOBRs and how you think they will affect you. And if you liked this post, please make use of that pretty “Like” button below.*

Non-Truckers: Don’t Take It for Granted

September 11, 2010

As I’ve stated before in “Why I do this,”  one of the main reasons I have an online presence is to inform non-truckers what it’s like to live as an Over-The-Road trucker. Sure, bad days can come off sounding a bit whiny sometimes, but the idea is not to gain sympathy. The plan is to help people stop and think when they’re around trucks. From what my non-trucker friends tell me, it’s been working.

Driving a truck isn’t the hard part of trucking. Living the life is. Once you learn how to drive the monster truck on steroids, the actual driving is usually a pleasure. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the desert, a hillside full of fall foliage in the Northeast, or a glimpse of Lake Coeur d’ Alene in Northern Idaho never gets old. It also helps not to have a boss who is constantly trying to catch you surfing the web instead of working.

Of course, there’s also the threat of crossing snow-covered Rocky Mountains, fighting rush hour traffic, and the very existence of New York City, which is about as much fun as a titty-twister from a professional arm wrestler. Still, the majority of time it beats staring at a cubicle wall and kissing some jerk’s buttocks day after day.

So what exactly is so hard about the trucking life? It’s the little things that most non-truckers rarely, if ever, think about. For instance,

When was the last time you:

  • had to wonder if your shower was going to have hot water?
  • had to worry about having good water pressure in that shower?
  • had to worry about even getting a shower?
  • had to get dressed in the middle of the night to take a leak, or worse?
  • had to blow a non-family member’s pubic hair off your toilet seat?
  • had to brush your teeth while smelling someone else’s butt funk or five someone else’s?
  • couldn’t easily get to a hospital when you were puking up something that resembles cottage cheese and hot dog chunks?
  • had to be a contortionist to make your bed?
  • were up all day and were then told you need to drive 500 miles?
  • got out of your vehicle and the parking lot smelled like boiling urine?
  • tried to pass a vehicle for 5 minutes before you gave up and got back behind the freak with the fickle right foot?
  • couldn’t find a place to park?
  • had to sleep in a pool of your own sweaty B.O.?
  • couldn’t sleep because your toes felt like they’d been dipped in liquid nitrogen?
  • got bad directions, cursed, missed your turn, cursed, and couldn’t turn around for 10 miles, cursing the whole time?
  • were woke up and solicited by a hooker? Sorry men. Dreams don’t count.
  • were separated from your spouse for over a week… and that happened every month?
  • were forced to have a marital spat over the phone?
  • missed your child’s big event because you were in another state delivering a load of really important ketchup packets?
  • had to post a “Beware of falling objects” sign in your vehicle to remind you every time you open a cabinet door?
  • couldn’t get to a Starbucks when you really, really, really needed a fix?
  • realized that your restaurant choices were limited to where you could park?
  • had to get out of your vehicle 10 times just to back into a parking space? And you weren’t 16-years-old.
  • had to drive up a painstakingly long 6-mile hill at 25 miles per hour?
  • had to drive down a painstakingly long 6-mile hill at 25 miles per hour?
  • were told you couldn’t drive any further until you got a nose-hair-sized crack in your windshield repaired?
  • had to account for every 15-minute period of your day?
  • had to sit for 10 hours just 15 miles from home because the Department of Transportation has deemed that it’s too dangerous to drive another 15 minutes?
  • had to live in a room the size of a walk-in closet, sometimes with another crabby person?
  • had to sleep in a bouncing bed? On second thought, don’t answer that.
  • had to pack a suitcase to go to work?
  • had to do 15 loads of laundry in 30 hours? I should have bought stock in April Fresh Tide years ago.
  • had to pay twice as much as another driver for the exact same traffic violation?
  • were issued a DUI after one beer? CDL holders can be; because we all know that the type of plastic card you hold makes all the difference in how your body handles booze.
  • had to fuel at a particular station, even if the lines were longer than an NBA star’s criminal record?
  • had to take a particular route to work, even if it took longer than the way you’d prefer to go?
  • had to cancel a vacation because your employer couldn’t get you home in time?
  • were told you could go home on Friday afternoon, but you didn’t actually get there until the following Thursday?
  • got a 30-hour weekend after working for 3 or 4 weeks?
  • said “TGIF” and it actually meant something?
  • had a friend that didn’t involve an Internet connection?

I rest my case for now. I urge my non-trucking readers to appreciate the normal lives that they lead. Your life may seem mundane at times, but please don’t take it for granted. When you’re on your way to your weekend golf game or a baby shower, remember the truckers that are en route to the docks at Golfsmith and Babies-R-Us. Hopefully, those thoughts carry over into the weekdays too.

To the folks out there who are considering driving a truck for a living, I’d like you to think long and hard about what you’re getting into. While it’s true that you’ll never really know if you’re cut out for the trucking life until you’re actually doing it, you can do everything in your power to be informed before you try to enter the industry.

Talk to truckers. Read about trucking. Ride along with a trucker for a week or more if you can manage it. Whatever you do, please don’t get into trucking without careful consideration. The last thing we need out here is another whiny trucker. Just follow me on Twitter if you don’t believe me. 🙂

*So, what is it that I missed? What do you think people shouldn’t take for granted? Let us all know by leaving a comment. And please pass this post along to all your non-trucking friends. Who knows? Maybe they’ll started giving us truckers a bit more consideration out on the road. Thanks.*

Fear and Loathing of Electronic Logs

August 10, 2010

Photo by Capture Queen via Flickr

First of all, I’d like to thank Jason, the brains and brawn behind Truck Driver News, for letting me guest post on his site as well as my blog. Forgive him, for he knows not what he does.

As I sat at a company terminal waiting for a grease job (for my truck, you perv), I asked an older driver what he thought about our company’s announcement that they would be evaluating electronic logbooks. You’d think from the horror in his eyes that I had just told him that the new CSA rules had implemented mandatory castration for all male truck drivers.

This was not the first he’d heard of it. He admitted that it scared the dookie (my word, not his) out of him. He said, “I’ve been driving a truck since 1970. Old-timers don’t take to change very well.” Well neither do us 13-year young-timers.

I admit it. Electronic logs freak me out. But why is that? I certainly don’t have any hands-on experience with them, so why the fear and loathing? To help answer that question, I enlisted the help of my Twitter friend, Dean. His real friends know him better as @Dean0806.

Not only has Dean been using electronic logs for six months, he’s also a regional driver who delivers tires. 10-15 stops throughout the week is a common occurrence for him. That makes him a perfect candidate for brain-picking. If he weren’t such a huge Texas Longhorn and Dallas Cowboy fan, I’d probably think he was even more brain-pick-worthy. Alas, we must forgive him. We all have our faults. 😉

After a flurry of email and Twitter exchanges, I think I’ve pretty much got the gist of this. Keep in mind that this is the way that Dean’s system works. He informed me that each carrier is able to adjust these electronic demons to suit their evil desires. First we’ll get an overview, and then we’ll address the concerns I still have.

Electronic logs track when and where the truck goes. When it’s moving, it logs you on Line 3 Driving. Duh. When you are stopped and the brake is pulled, it can be set to automatically log you onto Line 1 Off-Duty, Line 2 Sleeper Berth, or Line 4 On-Duty Not Driving. Dean’s system defaults to Line 4. The City, State, and time are entered automatically. If he chooses to change anything on Lines 1, 2, or 4, he can do so by going to an edit screen. He can edit the previous eight days logs.

The driving line, however, cannot be altered. Furthermore, the system will alert you when you get close to your 11-hour driving limit, your 14-hour work limit, or your 70-hour weekly limit. Another cool feature is available when a DOT officer wants a copy of your last eight days of logs. You simply get a fax number from them, enter the number into the computer, and the system will fax them copies. Cool, huh?

So that’s it in a nutshell. Now, here’s my concerns.

Concern: What if I’m stuck in rush hour traffic? Will this be wasting my driving time?

Answer: That depends. Dean informs me that his company has set up the system so that if he’s moving slower than 7 mph, he can log off the Driving line and onto Off-Duty. After 2 miles, or if the speeds increase to 8 mph, the system will put him back on the driving line automatically. Honestly, that sounds tolerable for situations like rush hour, construction, wrecks, etc. As long as the speed is below 7 mph, I’d just have to reach down every 2 miles and pop it back up to Off-Duty. And Lord knows it takes a while to go 2 miles in those conditions.

The times I’d most hate electronic logs is during that incomprehensible traffic that goes 5 mph for a mile and then all of a sudden it picks up to 60 mph. Next thing you know, you’re back to 5 mph. Rinse, repeat, and curse. Talk about a pain.

Concern: What happens when I have used all my available drive time to get to a customer, then after I’m loaded/unloaded the customer doesn’t have any place for me to park for my mandatory 10-hour break?

Answer: According to Dean, the truck will beep at you like crazy when it knows you’re driving illegal, but it will allow you to drive. We truckers know that these situations happen. We also know that it’s breaking the law to drive over our 11 hours. We also know that if there’s no place to park, there’s no place to park. Master Yoda would understand what the DOT Gestapo doesn’t. “Drive on we must.”

Concern: Since we can’t “fudge” the logbooks a little here and there, won’t this cause a loss of productivity?

Answer: My guess is yes, at least in the beginning. Ever since I started with this new company, I’ve been keeping track of how electronic logs would affect me. In three weeks time, I’ve had three, possibly four loads that I would’ve had to refuse because I knew that the electronic logs couldn’t log it. I knew I could log those same loads on paper logs without a hitch. On three other loads, I would have delivered late due to circumstances that happened during the trip. As of now, I’m on paper logs and I’m completely legal. I really love fudge.

Conclusion: Trucking companies are going to have to rethink the way they do things. No longer will they be able to give you a load that is marginal, or heck, even productive. If they do, they can expect more late pickups/deliveries and more drivers running out of driving hours before they can deliver. And because of that, they’ll be doing more relays with other drivers. These relays are a pain-in-the-hemorrhoid holder for the planners. Of course, my love of planners is well-known, so perhaps I would get some joy out of watching them squirm. My guess is that productivity will go way down until they figure out that they can’t push us as hard as they used to.

The thing is, most drivers don’t mind being pushed. I didn’t legally log 3100 miles last week by refusing loads that were going to be tight. I took the ones I knew I could log legally, and I refused the others. The DOT gave us rules to log by. I follow those rules and I make money. Why can’t they just leave well enough alone?

*Are you using e-logs yet? If yes, what do you think so far? If not, tell us about your own thoughts and concerns by leaving a comment. And if you know anyone who’s getting ready to start using e-logs, please let them know that I’ll be writing about them as I learn to use them. Thanks.*

Please, oh Please, Give Me the Bypass!

September 30, 2009

Have you ever seen a long line of trucks pulling off the interstate and wondered what the heck was going on? Either they’re heading into a weigh station or the Tropicana Tan bus is on the side of the road with a flat tire. Either way, it’s the law to stop…isn’t it?

I love me some PrePass!

Weigh stations are set up by the DOT (Department of Transportation) and are usually manned by state troopers and/or vehicle enforcement officials. Their main purpose is to check vehicle weights, but they also do vehicle and driver inspections when the mood strikes them, which usually just so happens to be when you’re behind schedule on a tight load. Also, I’m pretty sure some of them used to be biologists because during these inspections they seem to be looking for any molecules that are out-of-place.

Weight limits in the U.S. are limited to 12,000 pounds on the steer axle, 34,000 pounds on the drive axles, and 34,000 on the trailer, or tandem axles. Add them together and you get a gross maximum weight of 80,000 pounds, or 40 tons. If the trailer has single axles instead of duals, 20,000 pounds is usually the limit for each axle. Special permits can be purchased for oversize loads.

The weight of the vehicle itself determines how much freight you can haul. The typical company-owned truck/trailer combo that you see usually weighs in the 34-35,000-pound range, which leaves enough room for 45-46,000 pounds of freight. The trick is getting all that weight distributed well enough to avoid an overweight ticket. Truckers call this “axling out.”

Bridge laws determine how you need to distribute your weight (for a detailed explanation and a cute little visual of the bridge law, click here). In short, bridge laws determine how far your drive axles (on the truck) must be from the trailer axles to avoid damaging bridges. These laws vary from state to state, so you need to find out which states you will be traveling through and then adjust your tandems to meet the minimum requirements for your trip. You can find these distances in a trucking road atlas or sometimes the company provides them to the drivers. California has the shortest distance when it comes to bridge laws, coming in at 40 feet from kingpin (the knob on the trailer that hooks to the tractor) to the center of the rear most axle. If you’re going to axle out a heavy load going into California, it’s a must to get most of the weight between your axles.

There are three basic ways to get your load to axle out.

  1. Load the freight evenly – Most trailers nowadays are 53 feet long, but the weight of your freight determines how much of the 53 feet you can use. If you’re hauling styrofoam coolers, you can load it from floor to ceiling, all the way to the trailer doors. However, if you’re loading only nine-5,000 pound coils of metal, you’d better space those suckers out to avoid being over the 34,000 pound axle limit. Learning how to position freight comes with experience, but in general, if you can get a 45-46,000 pound load within the first 48 feet of trailer space, you can get it to axle out. Why do you need to leave 5 feet at the rear of the trailer empty? That’s where bridge laws and our next method come into play.
  2. Slide your tandems – Most trailers are built on a rail system that enables you to slide the trailer box independently from the frame. This is done by pulling a lever near the trailer axles or operating an air-powered switch, which in turn pulls 4 pins out of a sliding rail underneath the trailer box. You then lock your trailer brakes, release your tractor brakes, and start sliding your trailer along the rail system. When you get it where you think you want it, you release the lever under the trailer, jump back in the truck and slide the trailer a few more inches until it locks in place.
  3. Slide your fifth wheel – This is the part of your tractor that hooks onto the trailer’s kingpin. On some trucks the fifth wheel is adjustable for fine tuning an extremely heavy load. I’d rather be forced to watch reruns of General Hospital for days on end than slide a fifth wheel. They aren’t used nearly as often as the trailer sliding system and therefore are typically as cranky as the old lady down the street who smells like cat urine and mothballs. If you must do so, you slide the fifth wheel much like you would the trailer, however, you start by lowering the trailer’s landing gear to the ground. This is usually necessary to take most of the weight off the stubborn little fifth wheel. You then lock the trailer brakes, release the fifth wheel pin (either manually or air-powered), and start sliding the fifth wheel by moving the tractor forward or backward. Brace yourself before you start moving because when and if it ever unlocks itself, it’ll usually jar you hard enough to cause you to vomit up your spleen.

So there you have it. But how do you know if you need to adjust your weight in the first place? Well, again, that mostly comes from experience. I feel pretty comfortable guessing where the tandems should be on loads under 40,000 pounds. However, if something looks fishy to my experienced eye or a load is heavier, or is already sealed, I simply slide them to where I think they need to be and head for the nearest truck stop with scales, which is most of the major truck stop chains. The first weigh will run you $8 to $10, depending on the truck stop. If you’re over the 80,000 pound limit, you’re probably going to be heading back to the shipper for reloading. If you’re just overweight on one set of axles, you can pull off the scale, slide your tandems a bit, and reweigh for $1, as long as the reweigh is within 24 hours and it takes place at the same truck stop where you did your first weigh. If you can’t get legal on all three axles, you’re most likely headed back to get your load adjusted by the shipper. By the way, the majority of carriers reimburse the cost of scales. If not, save your receipts for tax time.

Although you can get most loads to axle out with room to spare, every once in a while you’ll encounter a load where the best you can do is 100 or 200 pounds overweight, either gross weight or on a particular axle. Before I head back to the shipper, I ALWAYS call my company first. I’ve had numerous occasions where they told me to run with the load because some particular weigh station you’ll be crossing will allow a little leeway. Don’t ever try this without permission and always get permission in writing (via satellite). If they won’t give it to you in writing, refuse to haul it. Overweight tickets are notoriously expensive, and it’ll be yours to pay if you can’t prove you were told to run with it.

Weigh stations are a pain-in-the-wazoo, but unfortunately, they are a necessary pain-in-the-wazoo. Luckily, some companies provide a wonderful little savior that sticks to your windshield. It’s called a PrePass. Just as a toll pass allows you to roll past toll plazas, PrePass allows you to pass weigh stations. At least most of the time. And that’s why I say, “Please, oh please, give me the bypass!”


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