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Starting May 3rd, Jon Osburn and OOIDA’s Tour Truck, the Spirit of the American Trucker, will be at the TA truck stop in Savannah, Ga. That’s located at Exit 87 on Interstate 95. Stop in, say hi to Jon, and join OOIDA for a $10 discount. See the full Spirit Schedule. Air date: April 25, 2017.

Land Line Now Blog

When it comes to training, truckers want to see more

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration created the driver training rule, it left something important out – a minimum number of hours that a trucker would have to spend behind the wheel during training.

That’s especially curious considering that the agency had set up a committee of interested parties to perform what’s called a negotiated rulemaking – and that all but two people on the committee had voted for a minimum 30 hours.

But for some truckers, even the 30 hours didn’t do the trick. They really thought more would be needed.

One of those truckers is Jerry Armstrong of Tyronza, Ark.

“30 hours is nowhere near enough to train somebody on how to drive a truck,” Jerry said. “I mean, they’re not going to have any training on going up and down hills, in snow and ice, coming in and out of truck stops.”

And Jerry is right – absolutely right. In fact, I would wager the overwhelming majority of truck drivers would agree with him.

However, the 30 initially called for was far better than what we had before – which is zero, nothing, nada, no behind-the-wheel requirement whatsoever.

It’s also better than what the agency settled on, which is also nothing.

They are going with the ATA company line that truckers should be tested based on skills, not an arbitrary number of hours. But many of their larger members have demonstrated that they will do as little as possible.

OOIDA said as much in a petition filed jointly with Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways.

In the petition, the groups wrote: “The rule simply requires that candidates demonstrate to their instructor that they are proficient in performing a series of maneuvers while operating a CMV. In fact, the agency notes that there is no requirement that a candidate perform each skill more than once.

“Thus, this so-called performance-based standard requires no behind-the-wheel training at all for drivers who can maneuver a truck-trailer combination in an off-road setting included in the CDL skills test, exactly the same bar that CDL candidates have always been required to pass while taking the skills test administered by state licensing agencies.”

However, there is a positive side to this. Laura O’Neill-Kaumo, who at the time was OOIDA’s director of government affairs, told Land Line Magazine, “We have a first step. Yesterday there was no driver training regulation, and we now have one.” 

As to the 30 hours that the committee agreed on, OOIDA agreed with that because it’s what the Association could get.

OOIDA, like so many others in trucking, would like far more time. Many in the industry would like to see an apprenticeship program. We’d all like to see more qualified trainers.

The program now is “get what you can get, and then fix it later.” It’s not the start we wanted to see, but as Laura said, it’s a start. And a small start is better than never starting at all.

Hammer heads

Here’s a statement you don’t often hear: Lawyers sure make my job easier.

I’ve been doing ROSES & RAZZBERRIES for both Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now for 12 years, and there is one thing that never fails. Whenever I need some good old-fashioned RAZZBERRIES, I can always count on some sleazy ambulance chaser to deliver.

The latest example came to us from OOIDA Member David Sykes of Sneads Ferry, N.C., who snapped a pic of a billboard featuring a lawyer trolling for victims of semi-truck accidents and urging them to “Call The Hammer.” What is it with these guys and that nickname? I know there’s one in Texas, too. Heck, there’s probably a Hammer in every state. You never see one called “The Wrench.”  Or “The Pliers” (“We’ll pry that money away from those big, bad evil trucks!”). It doesn’t really matter. They’re all tools anyway.

So if these hammer heads are so common, what makes this one stand out? Well, I’ll tell you. Our man David may be from North Carolina, but he snapped the picture at this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville. That oh-so-tasteful sign was posted directly across the interstate from the Expo Center. 

Nice. We can’t really fault the city or the billboard company for this one. But we sure can blame the lawyer. That sign was tasteless at best, poor judgement at worst, and just plain wrong either way.

Here’s a recipe for an angry mob: Take a billboard that insults an entire profession and place it in prominent view of the location of that profession’s biggest event of the year. Brilliant!

That’s kind of like setting up a meth lab right across the street from police headquarters. It isn’t going to end well. What’s next? Is this guy going to get his own booth at next year’s show? I suspect if he did he wouldn’t need to chase any more ambulances. They’d be coming to him.

The big silly in Big Sky Country

For years I’ve been hearing about California’s split speed limit. And for the most part I think the anger is justified.

Honestly, in the modern parlance, I think you could refer to that phrase as a “trucker trigger word.” It generates anger the moment you say the words “California speed limit.”

That’s why we spend time talking about it. And it’s why OOIDA has put the California split on the Association’s “to do” list for 2017.

But a trucker recently pointed out to me that it is far from the worst example of split speeds in our nation.

That honor may well go to the state of Montana.

On Montana’s interstate highways, cars have a speed limit of 80 mph, while trucks are limited to 65 – a 15 mph differential, among the highest ever.

The problem with split speeds, as I’ve said many times before, is that when different parts of traffic move at different speeds, it causes faster vehicles to bunch up behind slower ones and leads to those drivers passing in a rush when they get the chance.

In short, a speed differential creates the very conditions necessary for accidents to occur while at the same time purporting to be a safety feature.

That’s what surprised me so much when I looked over the Montana Department of Transportation’s web page on speed limits.

Right on the page, just below where the various speed limits are listed, is the gold standard – the 85th Percentile Rule, the basis for uniform speeds created by the federal government so many years ago.

Here’s what it says on the Montana website, right under those speed limits:

“Decisions about rational speed limits are based in part on something called a speed study. During the speed study, data is collected at select locations along the roadway. This data is then analyzed to identify the 85th percentile – the speed at which 85 percent of the people drove the roadway during ideal conditions.

“The 85th percentile speed is typically used as a starting point for setting a rational limit and is considered to be the maximum safe speed for that location.”

To their credit, state officials have correctly and clearly stated the basic rule – accepted across the country and confirmed by decades of research. However, they kind of missed the point.

The 85th percentile rule is the basis for a single, uniform speed limit. And that isn’t being followed when you deliberately force a huge percentage of the vehicles to move at a significantly slower speed.

You can pretty much plug in your cliché of choice here. Can’t see the forest for the trees, missed the boat, as dense as London fog – they all fit in some way. It seems inconceivable that Montana would miss the obvious contradiction on their own website.

For my part, I’ll stick with “it’s as plain as the nose on your face” – for how obvious it is that Montana’s split speed needs to go.

Where was OOIDA? Let me answer that

Normally, what happens in late March in Louisville, Ky., occupies the attention of the trucking industry for that week.

However, this year, while the Mid-America Trucking Show was underway, something else grabbed the headlines.

Two tractor-trailers pulled up in front of the Truman balcony on the White House, and officials of the American Trucking Association met with President Donald Trump.

The most frequent question I heard at Mid-America this year was this: Where was OOIDA? Why weren’t they there as well?

So let me answer that.

First, this was an event set up by ATA. And it was actually connected to the Republican health care bill that failed over that weekend, an attempt to show another industry that could benefit from the president’s plan.

Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, told a group of us recently that OOIDA did not consider health care policy as core to the Association’s mission. In short, we’re a trucking organization that represents individual truck drivers on issues specific to that industry.

And while the Association would not be interested in that event for that reason, they are glad to work with the administration now and at any time in the future to improve a host of problems plaguing the industry.

For my part, in talking with a few truckers who asked me about it at MATS, I had a different take.

First, from an outside, general public perspective, the event may have promoted a better image of trucking, which is a good thing. And in my world of “credit where credit is due,” the folks at ATA who put this together did a good job, and deserve a proverbial pat on the back from the folks they work for.

And while the trucking executives in attendance did get a few minutes with the president to discuss health care (again, not the pressing issues in trucking, but health care), the fact is, the main result of the event (in terms of mainstream media coverage) is a picture of the president honking a truck horn.

While this was being planned and going on, OOIDA’s government affairs staff was earning their pats on the back as well.

They were earning their salt through their successful effort to end the much-derided once-a-week requirement and the two mandatory 1 to 5 a.m. periods from the 34-hour restart rule.

They were also taking a victory lap on the elimination of the Safety Fitness Determination rule, which would have used points and ratings from the widely discredited CSA system to rate the safety of small-business motor carriers and determine whether they would be pulled off the road.

OOIDA’s staffers were not getting pictures. They were working within the halls of government, in the offices of U.S. representatives and senators, at the regulatory agencies, working to fix the many problems that beset truck drivers every single day.

They were also working with state governments across the country to stop outrageous bills charged to truckers for non-consensual tows, eliminating or preventing split speed limits and more.

They were developing and then announcing a campaign titled “Knock Out Bad Regs,” an effort to identify the regulations that most create problems for truckers and eliminate them from the books.

OK, OOIDA didn’t get the photo op, yet. The ATA scored some PR points.

But in the end, which group got more done that week? Were I to make that bet, my money would be on the folks at OOIDA’s D.C. office. They do the heavy lifting, and they get the important work done.

And in my book, that is what counts.

Wear comfortable shoes

Tuesday was the big day  - the day we left our Land Line Now studios in Grain Valley and headed east about 470 miles to Louisville, Kentucky, for the annual trek to the Mid America Trucking Show, or MATS.

MATS, which started in 1972, has grown into the longest-running must-see event for the trucking industry. Three days and thousands of people at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, and I will be one of the thousands. You’ll easily recognize me. I will be the slack-jawed blond looking lost because I probably am. The expo center is beyond huge.

It’s my very first trip to the  MATS and getting there was half the fun. Barry Spillman, our producer- extraordinaire and sound engineer, promised to not eat beef jerky on the trip to Louisville for obvious reasons, and in turn, I promised not to take off my shoes in the van for less than obvious reasons, but trust me, you DON’T want me to take off my shoes. (Barry violated our agreement.)

Mark Reddig, the host of Land Line Now was the other companion for this cross-country excursion. Mark made no such contractual arrangements, but unnamed sources told me to be prepared lots of pit stops for caffeine intake and a multitude of stories. (...note to self, pack headphones)

For anyone heading to MATS from the Kansas City, I’d like to pass along two important bits of information. Make sure you get gas before you pass Mount Vernon, Illinois, on I-64. And equally important, be polite to the Indiana State Police when stopped. (Right Mark?)

The Mid America Trucking Show covers more than a million square feet filled with trucks, technology, exhibits, products and people. Did I mention there’s lots of people? More than 70,000 people are expected to visit the show to see the latest innovations in the trucking industry. Be prepared to walk.

The most oft repeated bit of advice I got from many MATS veterans, “Wear comfortable shoes” My  Fitbit is fully-charged to record my thousands upon thousands of steps. All those steps will help work off the calories consumed. Press events are often accompanied with breakfast, lunch or dinner or snacks. Some might call it bribery. I call it southern hospitality.

And remember, if you see me somewhere in the West, North or South Wing and I appear lost, please be kind and guide me to the Land Line Now Booth, #11128,, and remember you were a MATS first-timer once too.

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