Posts Tagged ‘truck safety’

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)

ATTN: This is the last time I will post on this site. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the Trucker Dump blog, go here to subscribe.

To subscribe to the podcast, search for Trucker Dump in iTunes or click here to take you there.

The podcast can also be found on the Stitcher and TuneIn Radio apps, on Podcast Gallery, and in the Microsoft and BlackBerry podcast directories.

Guest Post: Truckers with Sleep Apnea: How to Know If You Have It And What to Do About It. by Doug Thomas

January 10, 2013

Photo by JohnnyJet via Flickr

Photo by JohnnyJet via Flickr

Hey there, sleepy-head! Silly you to think you could just jump right into today’s guest post without me blabbing for a bit. You’ll never learn, will you? So you may be asking, “What’s up with another guest post, slacker?” Well, hopefully this will be my last one for a while. The new Web site is pretty dang close to being ready; bugs, quirks, and all. But for now we’ve got yet another guest post that fits my critera perfectly.

In the last guest post, You Can’t See America from the Trucker’s Lounge, by our friend Kevin McKague, we discussed something I know very little about; exploring as a trucker. (And by the way, since Kevin guest posted for me, he’s since started a blog of his own called, Kevin’s Untitled Travel Blog. Check it out when you get a second.) In that same line, I don’t know much about today’s topic: sleep apnea. Had this post not been brought to my attention, you’d have probably never seen this subject covered on my blog; and that’s too bad considering how important this topic could be in the near future. How so?

Because every trucker’s favorite organization-to-hate, the FMCSA, is considering making all overweight truckers have mandatory sleep apnea tests, that’s why. And considering a recent article I read said that 73% of truckers are overweight, it stands to reason that a lot of truckers are going to need to wake up to this issue (pun intended). And as you’ll soon read, this sleep apnea thing is a problem that likely haunts more of us than we’d like to admit. So without further ado, I give you… HEY YOU! WAKE UP! I said, without further ado, I give you:

Truckers with Sleep Apnea: How to Know If You Have It And What to Do About It. by Doug Thomas

Hey, everybody. On reading through this blog, I was once again reminded how much of an issue sleep and tiredness is for truckers. I’m not a trucker, but I’m a driver, and I know how tired I get after long trips. Most truckers can get back to “normal” after a good night’s sleep or two. Others can’t. And that could point to a serious problem called sleep apnea.

People with sleep apnea often go undiagnosed, because the early symptoms could point to all kinds of things. We’re talking mainly tiredness during waking hours, a feeling of mental fogginess that makes it hard to concentrate and focus, and snoring. A device called a CPAP machine is the therapy of choice – assuming the person with this condition gets diagnosed.

A very under-diagnosed condition

Of the estimated 100 million people around the world who are thought to have sleep apnea, about 80 percent are undiagnosed, because, like I said a minute ago, there are many possible reasons for being tired and not being able to focus well. And there are plenty of people who snore and don’t have sleep apnea. Most of these people just self-treat and hope for the best. CPAP machines can do a great job in treating diagnosed sleep apnea, as we’ll see a little later. But first, what is sleep apnea?

It is a genetic condition that causes the throat to close while a person is sleeping. The result is the breathing stops – for as long as a minute in some cases – and the brain is immediately deprived of oxygen. You may be saying, “Well, Doug, I can hold my breath for a minute and not go stumbling around the next day unable to remember my address.”  That’s true, if you deprived your brain of oxygen for only one minute.

What if this happens 50 times a night? Or 100? Not all “apneic events,” as these breathing stoppages are called, last a whole minute, but the seconds add up. What CPAP machines do is deliver pressurized air to the nose through a tube and mask to prevent the throat from closing. But who thinks of going out and buying a CPAP machine just because they’re tired?

Not most of us, including most truckers. Sleep apnea isn’t a total mystery in society, but I’m amazed at how many people have never even heard of a CPAP machine. Likely there are many people who suspect they may have this condition but put off seeing a doctor about it. This can be dangerous, particularly for truckers, whose lives depend on clear thinking, alertness and quick judgments.

Sleep apnea can lead to many dangerous health issues

Sleep apnea doesn’t just “go away.” There is no cure for it. It may or may not worsen as you age – but it’s always going to be there. Like I said, the early symptoms are tiredness, fogginess and snoring. But more severe situations can crop up if the condition isn’t treated. Sleep apnea has been linked serious health problems including:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Stroke

Does everyone with sleep apnea wind up with these conditions? Certainly (and thankfully) not. But it’s not worth taking a chance. Truckers who snore loudly, are chronically tired, and have trouble concentrating should check with their doctor. After doing an initial screening, if the doctor thinks you may have sleep apnea, you’ll be scheduled for a sleep study before starting therapy with a CPAP machine.

A sleep study involves spending a night at a sleep center, where technicians will monitor your breathing and oxygen levels during sleep. The results of the study will go back to your doctor, who will make a diagnosis.

Using a CPAP machine and mask while you sleep at night will take some getting used to, but it’s well worth it – as you’ll find out as soon as you begin living with more energy and clarity. And as soon as your spouse stops waking you up and saying, “Can you keep it down with the snoring?  I’m trying to get some sleep over here!” 

****This is a guest post by Doug Thomas, freelance writer for The CPAP Shop, a retailer of equipment used in sleep apnea therapy including CPAP machines, masks and various equipment and accessories.

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.

No definition found.

Time to Step Up and Help Some Fellow Truckers

May 17, 2012

An unhappy Lou

Ever been in need and wished someone could help you out? Well that’s where a couple of our fellow truckers are right now. They need our help so it’s time to step up, folks.

The people in question are Lou Obadal and Heather Pontruff. So what’s going on? Well, Lou has had back pain for months, but being the macho trucker (like we all think we are) and needing the money, he toughed it out and kept driving until it totally took him down. I’m no doctor, but it has something to do with a couple of herniated discs. That just sounds painful.

So we’re looking at a case of bad timing here folks. No insurance, no workman’s comp, and to take the proverbial knee to the junk, the company they worked for cancelled their contract after Lou got injured. Ahhhhh, yes. There’s nothing quite like an employer who sees you through the hard times. For the full story, check out Heather’s article clevery titled, Your Back Doesn’t Always Have Your Back. If you’re a super-generous person and you’ve already decided to donate to the cause, well God bless you. If you need convincing as to why you should help Lou and Heather out, the price you pay is having to read on. Actually, I hope you do.

So why should we help Lou and Heather? Well, because there’s that whole “Do Unto Others” thing to consider. There’s also the fact that they’re fellow truckers and if we can’t take care of our own, then who will? Well, wait a second here. Actually, Lou is the “official” trucker. But anyone who knows Heather knows she’s really a trucker too. She may not do the actual driving but she rides along with Lou, takes care of most of the business stuff and still manages to do lots of good in this world. What kind of good? Well I’m glad you asked.

First of all, let me say that Lou and Heather had absolutely nothing to do with what I’m about to say. Knowing them, they’ll probably be shocked and humbled by it. All they asked of me was that I help spread the word by retweeting the link to their fundraising site. While I’m doing that whenever I get a chance, I think these two truckers deserved a whole blog post. And let me tell you why:

  1. Because Lou and Heather are funny. Just check out Heather’s YouTube Channel for verification of that. My personal favorite is the one where Heather is tormenting a totally wasted Lou. Funny stuff.
  2. Because they’re nice folks. For instance, Heather can have a completely opposite viewpoint from you and still carry on a civilized conversation that doesn’t turn into name-calling. Case in point; we both think each other’s spiritual beliefs are nuts, but we can have heated debates about it and still walk away friends. Not being a meanie is always a plus in my book.
  3. Because Heather speaks out for truckers. I especially appreciate the fact that she writes in-depth, well researched articles about today’s trucking issues. And that means yours truly doesn’t have to do any research. I can just wait until she posts an article on her Web site, Trucker’s Voice, and then retweet it with the words “yeah, what she said” tacked onto the end of it.
  4. Because they’re our Twitter buds. I know Heather’s active on Facebook and other social Web sites too (check out Trucker’s Voice for all the places you can find her).  While Heather does most of the tweeting, Lou pops in every now and then. What is it with husbands and boyfriends that don’t tweet? Perhaps Heather and @raysunshine77 could explain this phenomenon to us. I’d ask @ChrisandCasey (cancelled Twitter account) too, but Casey seems to have dropped off the face of the planet. I’m hoping the boys at the space station will snag her with one of those cool robotic arm doohickeys before she slips past them.
  5. Because they are two of the most generous people I know. In 2010, they started an organization called Trucking Santas to help provide a decent Christmas for families who weren’t going to have one. As part of this program, they also adopted three facilities within the United Cerebral Palsy of Central Maryland. They tweeted some heartwarming pictures of their visits to these facilities last Christmas season. Now how many of us can say we’ve done that? Don’t expect me to raise my hand. I’m busy twiddling my thumbs, looking around non-chalantly, and whistling.

So what do you think? Are Lou and Heather worth dipping into your checkbook? I sure think so. You don’t have to give a lot, but I’m sure there won’t be any complaints if you do. 😀 I’m sure anything will be appreciated. You can be a proud sponsor when you donate or do it anonymously. You can even hide the amount you give. Better hurry though. The fundraiser ends on May 27! Quite frankly, if I’d realized it ended that soon, I’d have done this earlier. My bad. But please don’t let my procrastination issues keep you from helping to reach their goal. They’re just over halfway there! Donate now! And please pass the word along to whatever social networks you belong to. Let’s get this puppy moving!

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.*

Big Rig MacGyvering

August 3, 2011

Photo by striatic via Flickr

The Evil Overlord and I have driven quite a few different trucks in our driving careers, but I’ve been through more than my fair share of trucks recently. It all started with “Hell Week 2: The Sequel” and continued with my most recent truck crapping out on me last week.

I’ve also owned quite a few personal vehicles in my life. But I’ve never had the same assortment of sounds from them that I’ve experienced in the cab of a big rig. And that’s where we truckers excel in our MacGyvering skills.

Every truck has its share of squeaks, clicks, and creaks. The trick is finding them, as many of these sounds only happen when you’re driving down the road. But finding them is of utmost importance because listening to a continuous squeak will eventually cause you to yank out fistfuls of hair. Now I kinda like my faux-hawk, but I’ve got no desire to have a real mohawk. I’ll leave that to the punker dudes.

I feel sorry for solo drivers when it comes to squeak-hunting because it’s rough to track down a noise that only happens when you’re scooting down the road. That’s where team drivers have a distinct advantage because one person can hunt down the noise while the other drives. This is especially important because as a team driver one of you is always trying to sleep.

Hearing even the slightest persistent noise when you’re trying to sleep is akin to buying a Ford Explorer. Let me explain that. You may never notice how many there are until you start driving one. All of sudden you see them everywhere. Likewise, once you hear a noise in a truck, you’ll always notice it. You can try to ignore it, but it’s completely impossible. You may as well face the fact that until you crawl your cranky butt out of bed and find the squeak, you’re never going to get back to sleep. Once you figure out where the annoyance is coming from, it’s time to whip out the trucker’s MacGyver kit.

Just as MacGyver could make a bomb out of a stick of Juicy Fruit and a cigarette lighter, a trucker can stop any noise with whatever is at hand. Duct tape, paper clips, toothpicks, bungee cords, paper towels… you name it.

The Evil Overlord was the master MacGyverer. When a cabinet door rattled, a properly placed folded paper towel silenced it. If it was placed too high or too low on the door, the squeak persisted. Only when placed in one particular spot did the squeak quit driving us crazy.

Other times, the canned goods in the cabinets would “click” together from the road vibration. That’s when you’re glad that the cashiers at Wal-Mart think that each cup of ramen noodles deserves its own sack. All those extra plastic bags were perfect for shoving down between the cans.

The Evil Overlord brought an extra towel from home to keep one of our coolers from rubbing up against the side of the cabinet. She’s crammed everything from toothpicks to Q-Tips to small pieces of cardboard in between the plastic moldings on the interior of the bunk or on the dashboard.

Other times the MacGyvering falls to me. If the offending noise requires WD-40, duct tape, bungee cords, or tools, The Evil Overlord reluctantly sets me loose and stands clear. As a typical man, you really can’t make me any more giddy than encouraging me to jury rig something. There’s just something about the smell of a fresh roll of duct tape and WD-40.

I believe the truck designers have it out for us truckers when it comes to the drawers in these trucks. I’ve had problems with the drawers in more than half of our trucks. Either it squeaks like a frightened mouse or it won’t stay closed. We’ve managed to fix the squeaks with strategically-placed paper towels, but I’ve had to resort to bungee cords to keep the stinkin’ thing closed at times.

Naturally, if the noise is coming from the exterior of the truck and there’s even the remotest chance of sweating, that’s my job too. I’ve had to bungee the heck out of a catwalk (the walking platform behind the cab of the truck) to keep it from rattling. I’ve had to cram an old towel in between some load locks and the rear of the cab. I’ve had to pull over on the side of the road after The Evil Overlord grumpily woke up with a pigtail (the electric cable between the truck and the trailer) thumping against the rear of the cab. I’ve even had to use a big piece of folded cardboard to keep the hood from squeaking.

So if you ever need to locate and stop an annoying squeak, call a trucker. There are few things that a trucker can’t rig when given a challenge. Now if I could just figure out how to MacGyver a small bomb out of a stick of Juicy Fruit and a cigarette lighter, I’m sure I’d be up for “Uncle of the Year.”

*I know you all have your own rigging stories, so let’s hear ’em. Leave a comment so we can all learn new and exciting ways to use duct tape.*

Hell Week 2: The Sequel

July 13, 2011

Photo by designshard via Flickr

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may as well admit you knew this was coming. Heck, @darkstaff said as much in a Tweet. Even stranger, that weirdo even said he was looking forward to it. 😉 So now it’s time to spread the joy in a blog post. Something that future generations can read and marvel at the intelligence of the writer. Oh hush.

As I typed “Hell Week” as the title, I had a sense of deja vu. Sure enough, a search of my blog confirmed that I had already done a “Hell Week” back in September of 2009. So I took my cue from the extremely creative Hollywood movie studios and created a wonderful new title. Hope you appreciate all the thought I put into it.

As I mentioned in my last post, “Post-Hell. Pre-Hell.”, I had a good time the last time I was home. When I hit the road again, I was totally kickin’ butt in the miles department. I had delivered in Dallas and immediately grabbed a load heading to Denver. Now at that point, I should have known to expect the worst. The only good thing that’s ever happened to me in Denver is meeting @alanqbristol and getting treated to some excellent pizza. Denver just so happens to be the city that hosted my only two preventable accidents. And they both happened on the same day. That story is reserved for another day. And that’s what lead up to the doom that loomed.

So, finally on to Hell Week. As Glenn Frey said on the “Hell Freezes Over” album, “And here’s how it all started…”

Friday

I was sitting in Denver, CO waiting for a load when the hell started. I received the load info for a run that picked up immediately. Or so I was told. I started my day on my *&$#ing e-logs and drove .8 miles to my shipper. I dropped my trailer as instructed and checked in. They proceeded to look at me like I was from Neptune and told me the load wouldn’t be ready until Saturday. I called my safety department to ask if they could ignore me starting my day since I’d only done a pre-trip inspection and drove .8 miles. That’s POINT 8. Not even a full mile! I don’t even know why I asked. I knew the answer.

What’s worse is by the time I went to go pick up my empty trailer, the yard jockeys had already grabbed it and stuck it in a dock. I asked to get it back, but they had already begun to load it with product that another driver was taking. Grrr.

Surprisingly enough, I got another load about 3 hours later. I was shocked to see it picked up 538 miles away in Omaha, NE. Hey, it doesn’t matter us company drivers. We get paid for every mile, whether loaded or empty. So ff I went.

Saturday

It was just after midnight on Saturday morning when the attack came. A deer came out of nowhere and we collided with both of us at full speed. I pulled to the shoulder to assess the damage. The grill was gone. My left headlight and signal lights were out. My bumper was cracked and was stuffed with deer hair. Or is it fur? Heck, I’m no outdoorsmen. I checked the rest of the truck and didn’t see a drop of blood anywhere, but I knew the deer was history. I could see where the antlers hit the radiator. It was pretty hard to miss with the coolant gushing out.

Okay, now I’m in a hurry. No time to go back to check on the deer. Besides, that’s a few weeks of supper for some redneck family. Don’t thank me. I just like to do my part to help society. I’m very giving like that. Anyway, it’s too bad my truck is speed-limited. I had about 8 miles to get to the next truck stop; about 20 to get to one with a shop. After calling my maintenance department, my goal was the shop. I got about 4 miles before the engine overheated and shut itself off. I coasted to the shoulder shaking my head in disgust.

My plan was to let the engine cool and run again until I got to the shop. I went to open the hood to help the motor cool, but it felt like it was going to come off the hinges. I rethought that strategy and left it in place. The last thing I needed was a hood lying on the highway. Unfortunately, I had to readjust my plan when it took an hour to cool down enough to run again. Now my goal was the first truck stop. I had gone 4 miles the first time, so I figured I could make it with one last 4-mile sprint. I had gone 3 miles when I saw the flames. Yes, I said flames.

Wouldn’t you know it? 2 A.M. in the middle of Nebraska and this is where a big rig catches on fire? I pulled to side of the road again, watching my e-log count down. If the road didn’t clear soon, I’d have a log violation on my hands. Then again, at least I wasn’t roasting marshmallows on my truck. I finally pulled into the truck stop about 10 minutes after my log ran out. Of  course, there wasn’t any parking so I had to go across the street and park in a hotel parking lot.

I called maintenance again and they asked if I wanted to get a hotel room there. Since the weather was nice and cool, I passed. I think me not wanting to go to hotels is a remnant from days past when The Evil Overlord was out here with me. I HATED having to pack all her crap and lug it to the hotel. I will go to a hotel if the weather sucks, but only then.

The next morning I found a spot at the truck stop and called in again. I was informed no one would be towing me until Monday morning, mainly because the local International dealer was closed on the weekends. While that wasn’t exactly happy news, at least I had access to a shower and a microwave so I wouldn’t starve or smell any worse than I normally do. I didn’t even ask for a hotel room. Why doesn’t my company love me more?

Sunday

To my surprise, the tow truck driver showed up on Sunday afternoon. Apparently he’d been having Sunday lunch at his mother’s house, which was close to me. I sat in my truck the rest of the day outside International dealer. Thankfully, there was a convenience store right across the street. I worked on my new Web site all day and got a lot accomplished for once. Had a lot of good Twitter time too. Thanks to everyone for keeping me in a good mood that day.

Monday

I checked in at the shop as soon as the door opened. By noon they had evaluated the damage. Apparently, there are only two styles of radiators used in that year of truck. They had one in stock. Of course, it wasn’t the one I needed. This is Hell Week, you know. It was going to be Thursday before they got the part. And that decided that.

I had been planning to stick with the truck, but with that bit of bad news I elected to hitch a ride from another company driver to the nearest company terminal. Then the plans changed. I’m quite convinced I would’ve had a Half Hell Week if that hadn’t happened. Instead they sent a different driver to haul me back to the Denver area to pick up an abandoned truck. My first thought was,“Great. If a driver is a big enough jerk to abandon a truck, I wonder how nasty it’s gonna be.” My fears would soon be realized.

A driver named Danny picked me up and we were both grateful neither of us smoked. He was funny and just as talkative as me, possibly more so. Ha, ha. Very funny. I know what you’re thinking. Anyway, after a quick stop for coffee, we were on our way.

Tuesday

We arrived at the Flying J in Aurora, CO about 3 A.M. and I went inside to get the keys from the cashier. Supposedly, they had been left there, but the cashier couldn’t find them. Well, that’s just fabulous. We began looking for the truck. We found it and the door was locked. Grrrr. But then I noticed the windows were rolled down. I told Danny, “This guy must’ve been a real jerk to leave the windows down.” He agreed. I stood on the running board and reached inside to unlock the door. That’s when the face popped out from the bunk area. Holy crap! I wasn’t prepared for that! The driver was still in it. What the heck? I thought it was abandoned?

Okay. First off, I could smell the cigarette smoke when I was standing on the running board, but didn’t notice the butt funk until I was throwing all my stuff in the bunk area. This truck smelled horrible. I mentioned the smoke to the driver, but didn’t mention the B.O. issue. Aren’t I sweet? Like all smokers, he didn’t think it was all that bad because he smoked with the windows roll down. Oh boy. I won’t get started down that path.

Now here’s a reminder to everyone that there are always two sides to a story. The driver’s girlfriend would be there to pick him up in a few hours. Since I wasn’t going to sleep while he was in there and he didn’t appear to have any intention to get out of the truck, we chatted. Naturally, I asked him why he was quitting. He told me he got another job and had put in a two-week notice. That was three weeks ago and his dispatcher had just given him another load to Wyoming. Problem was, he lived in Joplin, MO. That’s near my home and the opposite direction from Wyoming. Small world, huh? And that’s why he was “abandoning” the truck. Two sides, folks. Two sides.

Turns out his apartment building was one of the many lost in the recent tornado. I felt sorry for him… but not for long. The job he got was my dream trucking job (if there is such a thing). FedEx had hired him to drive from Joplin to St. Louis and back 5 days a week. Home every day. I’ve been looking for something like for years, so I asked him how he landed a sweet gig like that. He said, “Every single time I was home for the last 4 years, I went into the FedEx terminal and asked ’em for a job.” Okay. Clearly this guy deserved it more than me. Kudos to him… and curses.

The driver’s ride finally arrived and I rolled out my sleeping bag. I wasn’t going to get any of my real bedding out as I had no intention of staying in that truck. Having a kick-butt dispatcher, she called me first thing that morning and asked me about the condition of the truck. When I told her what a pig sty it was she said, “Okay. I’ve already started looking for a load to the yard.” No argument at all. I really wasn’t expecting that.

I got a load and as I was loading it I talked to another driver. Would you believe it? His family was from Joplin and his mom was in the hospital at the time when St. John’s Hospital was hit. The world keeps getting smaller and smaller.

When I took off, I discovered that Mr. B.O. liked to idle his truck… a lot. As some of you know, our truck’s speed is determined by idle time. This truck was at 54% idle time. Any trucker will tell you that going 60 mph sucks. However, it’s amplified to the tenth power if you’re going 60 mph across the flat lands that is I-70 in Eastern Colorado and nearly all of Kansas.

The load delivered near St. Louis, but my goal for the day was Kansas City. Since my company doesn’t allow certain toll roads, I had to bypass the Kansas Turnpike between Topeka and KC. The first leg of US-40 is lined with trees and is as dark as Satan’s closet. I was only going 45 mph when I came within 20 feet of hitting another deer. Had I not hit the brakes HARD, Rudolph would’ve been toast. About five miles further, I came about 50 feet from taking out all of Rudolph’s relatives.

Wednesday

It was just after midnight and time was ticking down on the ol’ e-logs as I was pushing it to get to KC. I was planning on pulling into a Quik Trip I knew of and grabbing some hot water for some ramen noodles, then booking it to a little parking area just west of KC before my time ran out. Being the bonehead that I am, I was thinking the QT was on I-435, when it was actually on I-635, so no hot meal for me.

After my mandatory 10-hour bunk time, I finally caught a break. My dispatcher had been looking for a relay that would get me near our yard and she found one going directly there. So by Wednesday night, I was waiting at the yard for the shop to open Thursday morning.

Thursday

I was waiting with bells on Thursday morning. I asked for a new truck and of course, was told there weren’t any available. They offered to clean the smoky B.O. truck. I told them I’d give it a shot, but I wasn’t holding my breath. I mean really, I’d already been holding it for a couple of days.

I was right. After the cleaning, it simply smelled like an orangy, smoky, B.O. truck. Time to go see the boss. She said the same thing. The only trucks available were reserved for the new hires. Okay. That’s when I got a bit hot.  I said, “So basically, the new hires are more important than someone who’s been with the company for a year?” She went back and talked to the guy in charge of tractors. After a long time, she came back and told me to hang out and they’d find something for me. They finally did.

This truck didn’t smell at all like smoke when I got in it the first time. And since it’d been sitting in the hot sun all day, I thought I had a good one. However, the longer I’m in it the more I notice I can smell it sometimes. It’s very faint and it comes and goes, so I’m not going to pitch a fit about it… for once in my life. HA! Beat you to it.

I got a load to the Texas Panhandle and after picking it up, I noticed that my e-logs where acting funky. I called and to my delight I discovered that my new truck was one of a handful of trucks that was testing a new version of software. Oh boy. It was still buggy and required me to call the Safety Department for corrections nearly every time I picked up or delivered a load. The bugs are still there. And that really “bugs” me.

Friday

Just before I got to Amarillo, I blew a trailer tire. I had planned on delivering the load by midnight since that was the end of the pay period, but now that wasn’t going to happen. With the Hell Week I was having, I needed it. Alas! Another ray of light! I called night dispatch and asked them to include the load on that pay period. Amazingly, they agreed. I’d asked them numerous times before, but this was the first time they actually did it. I knew those jerks were always lying in the past when they told me they system wouldn’t let them. Grrrr.

And for good measure… an extra day: Saturday

I was on my way back from Texas when I noticed a lump on a trailer tire. That’s not all that strange, except it was night and I was moving at the time. The lump was that big. I stopped to check it out and I was shocked. It looked like a cantaloupe was trying to bust out of the sidewall! I considered letting some air out to alleviate some of the pressure, but quite frankly, I was scared to get any closer to it than I already was. By the time I got to Joplin to get the tire fixed, the bulge had actually gone back down. There was a rip in the sidewall, but miraculously, the tire was still inflated.

Anywho, a mere 5 hour wait for the tire to be fixed and I was on my way again. And thus ends Hell Week 2. Got a Hell Week of your own? Or how about a Hell Day? Click on the comment button and let’s hear about it. I’ll bet you can do it in waaaaaaay less than 2882 words. Heck. You could probably start a new country and write your own Constitution in fewer words.

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.*


%d bloggers like this: