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The rough road to knowledge

Years ago, I interviewed a state senator about a proposal to eliminate the split speed limit in her state.

One caveat of the bill being considered was that it would exempt interstate highways around that state’s largest city – meaning split speeds would remain on those roads.

Here’s the part where you’re wondering, why doesn’t he just say which state, which city? Well, because I really don’t want to shame this person in public. And what happened during that phone call could very well make her feel that way.

I asked this person – the vice-chair of the state Senate Transportation Committee, and a resident of that metro area – why she opposed eliminating the split on interstates near the city.

She immediately started talking about a U.S. highway – not an interstate, mind you, but a U.S. numbered highway that, although four lanes, had intersections with side streets and driveways to business parking lots all connecting to it directly, and stop lights along its length to boot.

People along there didn’t want the trucks going faster, she said. They liked things the way they were.

At that point, I was confused. I asked if she was saying that the 10 mile per hour differential applies at car speeds below 65, or perhaps that the split applied to non-interstates?

Her response was – no kidding – that the U.S. highway “crosses state lines, so who’s to say it’s not an interstate?”

I paused, flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe I heard what I thought I did.

So, I very carefully, as gently as possible, mentioned the difference in the signage (white shield vs. blue and red for interstates), the origin of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, that this was a designation in federal law, not some arbitrary choice of local officials.

I pointed out that the split wouldn’t even affect most of that road, as the speed limit was 55 all the way along the stretch she was talking about.

She was angry, upset, said I was talking down to her, all the while admitting that essentially, no, she did not know the difference.

Here I was on the phone with a state Senator, someone in office for quite some time, the vice chair of the Transportation Committee, and she did not know the difference between a U.S. numbered highway and an interstate. I had to explain that to her.

I had to educate her in something she should already know.

That’s the crux of the matter. I could have handled the conversation better, I’m sure, but at the end of our discussion, she did understand the difference, and she would still know the next time she had to make a decision regarding proposed laws in her state.

Educating lawmakers at every level is vital to creating laws and regulations that are workable, that are in tune with the realities out on the road, that do not favor mega-carriers’ needs and wants above those of small businesses.

We cannot assume that the people elected to our state legislatures, Congress, or our local city council understand what we understand, that they know what we do about trucking, highways, transportation and how the business works. We have to tell them.

It’s also important to realize that if we do not educate them, someone else will. Many of those “someone elses” are with the largest of the large carriers; some of them belong to groups actively opposed to all trucks everywhere, groups that see you as a threat.

Those forces must be countered. And the best people to counter them, to properly educate those lawmakers on the facts, are all of you – America’s truckers. No one knows better what’s happening out there, what does and doesn’t work, like you do.

Plus, those very lawmakers represent you, and they want your vote. Despite sometimes abrupt people you talk with at a representative’s or senator’s office, they listen. Despite the form letters you receive in return, they do read your letters.

Nothing can replace the role you play. And more than ever, your fellow truckers need you to play that role.

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