Posts Tagged ‘weigh stations’

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

September 12, 2012

Photo by Linda N. via Flickr

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Semi Truck Weight Compliance: by Noble McIntyre

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

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

Road Fatigue

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

Wasted Fuel and Time

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

Safety

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The CSA (Crappy Sucky Administration)

June 10, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 26, 2011

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

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

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

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

By Jean McHarry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-logs: Do They Really Increase Driving Time?

February 14, 2011

Photo by Howard Dickins via Flickr

Every day in America, people who “know what’s best” for truckers are trying to convince us how great e-logs are. One of the biggest things these pushers are trying to make us snort is that e-logs will increase the amount of time a driver has to drive. So is this true?

Well, I for one can’t stand wishy-washy people who beat around the bush. That’s why I’m going to give you a once-and-for-all straight-out answer to this question. I can say with every fiber of my being that the answer is yes… and no. Uhhhh… Maybe???

I’ve been running e-logs for a couple of months now so I feel I’m fairly qualified to answer this question. For the first month, I had to pull double-duty by doing e-logs while still keeping paper logs. This gave me a chance to compare the two systems side-by-side.

In the beginning, I kept noticing that I had just a tad bit more time on my paper logs than on my e-logs. There were two loads in particular that came down to the wire. On both, I went over my drive time on my e-logs, but just managed to get the job done legally on paper logs. Good thing I had been told that paper takes precedence over e-logs. Word has it that it’s also very effective against a rock, but pretty much worthless when it comes up against scissors.

I knew it! Those fibbing safety jerks! How dare they lie to me! I told them they were full of rumpidus wastioli! So the real answer to the initial question is NO! E-logs don’t save the driver time!

But wait… Hmmmm??? Now that I think of it, it is kinda weird that this only happened the first couple of weeks. I mean, the second half of the month I started noticing that I actually did have a little bit more time on e-logs than what my paper logs where showing. So what’s up with dat? Had the time-space continuum changed somehow? Were the e-log pimps somehow messing with physics? Nah. That couldn’t be it. Surely no one praising e-logs has the brains to tamper with such complex forces of nature.

I guess I’ll have to admit that I was the problem. I soon realized that during the first couple of weeks there had been numerous times when I had forgotten to take myself off the On-Duty line. You see; my particular e-log system is set up to automatically put you on the On-Duty line when you quit driving and forget to change your duty status. Since I was new to the system, my safety department would have been glad to change these screw-ups for me. Seeing as how it was only 15 to 20 minutes extra here or there, I hadn’t bothered to ask for the fix. My bad.

Once I realized that the moron in the driving seat was the problem, I remedied this by using the timer in my beloved iPhone. If I go to the On-Duty line to do my pre-trip inspection or to show time at a customer, I set my alarm for 16 minutes. 15 is required. 14 minutes and 55 seconds means you have to start over. So 16 minutes it is. It worked. Well, for the most part it has. I have the attention span of a 5-year-old at a life insurance seminar, so nothing is 100% effective for me. You see, timers work best when you remember to turn them on. Just a little tip from your Uncle Todd.

So there’s your final answer to the question. Yes, e-logs actually do increase your driving time. Good. That’s finally settled. Oh… Wait just a sec… I forgot about something. That’s all theoretically speaking. But we drivers know that nothing works according to plan when you’re sitting behind the wheel of a big rig.

So now e-logs have given me a few precious extra minutes in my day. I’m so giddy I can barely control myself. I feel like belting out a Fred Figglehorn-like scream of joy, but my male hormones are making it utterly impossible. Now I can drive later into the night. My paycheck this week is gonna be a whopper. Right?

Wrong. While it’s always great to gain a few extra minutes of driving time, e-logs make it harder to use all those minutes. Here is how this has worked for me. My e-log unit has just beeped at me telling me that I’ve got one hour left to drive. Since I’m a super-trucker who knows where every truck stop in America is, I know there’s a series of truck stops coming up. One exit is about 15 minutes down the road, another is about 50 minutes, and the third is 1.5 hours.

Which one do I stop at? Since I have an hour to drive, I’d like to make it to the one that’s about 50 minutes out. That way I can utilize most of my drive time and still get parked before Vader pops out of my e-log screen and starts with his mental stranglehold. Oh wait. We decided in the last blog post that that wouldn’t happen. Oh well. I still don’t want to get a log violation.

But what happens if that truck stop has a full parking lot? You might be fine if you’re pulling in before dusk, but what happens after nightfall when truckers descend on truck stops like vultures on a rotting carcass? You know, now that I think of it, a lot of the truck stop parking lots do share that similar odorific funk.

Well, if that truck stop is full, you drive on to the next safe place. Maybe that’s a rest area, which naturally means no shower or food, or maybe it’s that next truck stop that’s half an hour over your legal driving limit. Well gee. What to do?

Maybe I should just stop at the one up here in 15 minutes to be safe. And sadly, that’s what I find myself doing more often than not. Why? Because if I discover that their lot is full, I’ll have one more chance at the 50-minute truck stop before I run out of driving time. So, you non-truckers may be asking, “What’s the big deal? How would being on paper logs help you in this situation? When you’re out of time, you’re out of time.”

Oh ye of little trucking intelligence; lend me your ear. E-logs deal with time set in stone. That’s the way it should be. But a trucker’s schedule is set in sand, or possibly really thick water. Picture that as your toilet bowl the morning after your 21st birthday. With paper logs, there’s not a doubt in my mind that I’d go to the truck stop 50 minutes down the road. I’m going to maximize my log book to the fullest. If there’s parking there, that’s great. If not, oh well. As long as there’s not a weigh station with a bunch of gung-ho DOT officers between me and that next truck stop, I’ll just go there to park for the night. If that’s full, I’ll go on to the next.

The thing is, my paper log would show me stopping at the 50-minute truck stop, even if I didn’t. Illegal? Yes. Maximizing my time? Yes. Done by truckers every day? Yes. But here’s the deal. When I’m an hour further down the road than I’m supposed to be at the end of the night, it just means that I take off an hour later than I actually show leaving the next morning. That also means I drive one less hour that day. It all evens out.

So now we ponder the opening question yet again. Do e-logs really increase a driver’s available drive time? Although e-logs may gain you a few minutes here or there, real life situations make you lose more than you gain. Therefore, my final answer is a big fat nope. Besides, I’m through being a flake. Although I wouldn’t mind being a frosted one. Everyone loves those. They’re GRRRRREAT!

*Please leave a comment if you have your own experiences with e-logs or if you have questions. Thanks*

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.*

Solar Driving as a Trucker

October 5, 2010

Photo by barockschloss via Flickr

Go to Lunar Driving as a Trucker, read it, and reverse everything. *smirk*

Lunar Driving as a Trucker

September 22, 2010

Photo by Jason Bache via Flickr

Here’s a heads-up to any prospective drivers out there. If you think Over-The-Road (OTR) trucking is a 9-to-5 job, you’re gonna be more disappointed than a stoner with a bag of oregano. We have a name for you folks: Solar drivers.

Solar drivers are guys or gals who only like to run during the daylight. While our circadian rhythms are ideally designed for solar driving, the chances of you getting to do it every day are about as good as you finding a Christian Atheist that’s interested in converting to Islam.

Remember that I’m speaking of OTR driving. Sure, you may be able to find a local driving job that will let you do the solar thing, but if you’re a long-hauler, well, good luck with that. And don’t get your hopes up for a local driving job with big bucks and no whammies.

The fact is that freight can pick up or deliver at any time, and 9 times out of 10, you’ve got no choice as to whether you’re going to be a Solar driver or a Lunar driver. Most loads simply don’t have enough extra transit time for you to be picky.

Common sense would tell you that most businesses are open during the day, so that’s when you’ll be awake and driving. That’s all fine and dandy, but what if you pick up a 500-mile load at night and it delivers at 7:00 AM the following morning? This happens quite frequently, so you should expect it.

I’d love to tell you that you won’t have to drive at night very often, but if I did I’d be a bigger liar than if Pamela Anderson came out and said that she was born with those entities (no pun intended).

There is an exception to this rule. If you’re a team driver, you may get to choose Solar or Lunar driving. Since a team truck pretty much runs around the clock, you can usually get on a schedule. For instance, The Evil Overlord is a Lunar driver. Each afternoon I’d wake her up, and after wrestling the grenade launcher from her, we’d eat and shower. Just before dark she’d start her driving shift and finish sometime before sunrise. You can do this too if you’ve got a flexible co-driver who’s willing to drive the opposite shift.

I’m a lucky guy. Not only am I blessed with devastating good-looks, but I’m also capable of switching from a Solar driver to a Lunar driver in less time than it takes you to roll your eyes at that “devastating good-looks” statement.

So tell me. Why is it that you want to be a Solar driver? Are you sure that it’s all it’s cracked up to be? Here’s my argument for embracing your inner Lunar driver:

  • There’s no rush hour at night. That should be enough in itself.
  • There is no such thing as a good time to cross over the George Washington Bridge into New York City, but if you must, 3:00 AM is the time to do it.
  • There’s less construction at night. Even when the crews are working the graveyard shift, there’s fewer 4-wheelers around that haven’t figured out how to merge BEFORE you get to the giant flashing arrow!
  • When it’s time to go to sleep, the truck stop parking lots are less crowded in the morning.
  • There’s less traffic at night.
  • The darkness is sooooo peaceful.
  • The chicken coops (DOT weigh stations) are less likely to be open at night.
  • Fewer drivers are cursing at each other on the CB radio.
  • It’s fun to flash your bright lights at people. Kidding. Okay, maybe sometimes. Ohhhhh. So THAT’S why he was cussing at me on the CB.
  • If you’re a woman trucker, it’s harder for people to notice you. Therefore, they don’t slow down, act stupid, try to get your attention, and unwittingly block you behind other traffic. The Evil Overlord drove at night for this very reason.
  • Did I mention that there’s less traffic?
  • Heavy winds usually get calmer at night.
  • The fuel bays are typically less crowded at night.
  • So are shippers and receivers.
  • There’s no waiting for a shower at 2:00 AM.
  • If you pull out of a parking spot after dark, you just made another driver happy enough to pee his pants, which could actually be the very reason why they’re looking for a parking space in the first place.
  • And I should also mention that there’s less traffic.

Then again, as I’m making this list, some negative aspects of Lunar driving come to mind. For instance:

  • Potty breaks become an ordeal because all the rest areas are packed tighter than a Mexican illegal immigrant’s apartment. On the plus side, the exit ramps are usually quite dark. So do what you gotta do.
  • OH CRAP! DEER!
  • More drunks on the road… or the sidewalk… or the shoulder of the road… or the ditch… or on the wrong side of the highway… or all of the above.
  • You can’t see the ladder laying in the middle of the road until it’s too late. That would be the ladder that fell off the roof of the aforementioned drunk’s VW Beetle.
  • You can’t see the Smokey Bears (police) at night. Not that it matters when your speed-limited truck gets outrun by an armadillo with a limp.
  • Snow-packed and/or icy roads at night are much more dangerous, which is why you should pull over and tell your dispatcher to stuff it.
  • Your choice of fast food is Subway, Subway, or Subway. If you’re lucky, you can wait a few more miles and find a Subway.
  • It’s harder to read street signs in the dark.
  • Fewer of your Twitter friends will be online. Now put down that phone and drive.
  • Finding a parking spot in the middle of the night just plain sucks.
  • Getting brighted by some jerk who’s just doing it for fun. *snicker*
  • I did mention that there’s less traffic at night, right? Oh shoot. That went in the other section.
  • Sometimes that pesky circadian rhythm jumps up and yanks your eyelids shut for no apparent reason. Even if you’ve had plenty of sleep.
  • The Fuzz can easily see if you’ve got even one teeny-tiny-little-light that has burned out. They’ll pull you over as the VW drunk guy does a U-turn in the ditch to retrieve his ladder.

So maybe there are some advantages to being a Solar driver. I can do either, and quite frankly it’s nice to have to mix it up a bit. I wouldn’t want to have to choose between the two, but if I were forced, I’d go with being a Lunar driver. Why? Did I mention there’s less traffic on the Lunar shift?

*Got pros and cons that I’ve forgotten? Leave a comment so that everyone can read them! And please pass this on to anyone who you think might enjoy it. 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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