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Todd Dills | December 01, 2011

The limits of social media

More drivers are needed in Washington, D.C., meeting rooms to impact regulatory planning

Truckers News Senior Editor Todd Dills blogs daily from Nashville, Tenn., via www.overdriveonline.com/channel19. Follow him at http://twitter.com/channel19todd. To read Todd’s blog on your smartphone, scan this QR code using a decoder, which can be found in your phone’s app store.

The final moments of the panel discussion among attendees and presenters during the Truck Driver Social Media Convention in Tunica, Miss., Oct. 15, brought the point of the whole event into focus. Frederick Schaffner of TheAmericanDriver.com — whom you may know for working to change Virginia’s two-hour truck parking time limits at rest areas to a more realistic overnight parking ban — questioned panelist and attorney Paul Taylor’s statement about the difficulty of affecting change in government once new regulations, rules and procedures are implemented.

Schaffner took issue with that, given his success with the Virginia effort, demanding answers from the panelists about what drivers should do to be heard on regulatory issues, to change the industry — and what they could do to help. Taylor noted that the panelists, including former owner-operator Rich Wilson (now with the Trans Products compliance service provider) and James McCormack of Trucking Careers of America, however active they’d been in driver issues during federal rulemaking, are ultimately service providers to drivers. “You have to lead,” Taylor said.

Drivers’ destinies are in their hands, as Schaffner’s example proves, when it comes to industry change. And while online social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and others are potent tools toward collaborating and planning to influence regulations, drivers showing up and making their physical presence felt in Washington, D.C., will be a key part.

Of all the viewpoints put forward by drivers and panelists during the Tunica event, it’s Wilson’s image of 13 million CDL holders on hand for a regulatory planning meeting in our nation’s capital that holds center stage in my mind. “What if we said [the CSA SMS rating system, for example] was unfair 13 million times, is somebody going to listen?” Wilson asked.

Use social media with traditional trade and government-produced media to stay abreast of what bureaucrats and politicians are doing on the front end of regulations, get other drivers’ viewpoints, network with those who care most about the industry and make plans to show up and tell regulators where you stand, whether at congressional hearings or FMCSA committee meetings. At the least, Wilson noted, routinely submit well-thought-out comments on the federal docket. FMCSA by law is required to consider all of them.

In large part, however, the work gets done in person in D.C. The ultimate message emerging from the social media convention is more drivers are needed there.

Schaffner, now off the road and with time to be a voice for drivers, pledged to be a presence on their behalf at Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee meetings in the future. “I’m going to be there,” he told me before the Oct. 24-27 series of MCSAC meetings. Connect with him on Facebook and send him comments on regulatory issues for future meetings.


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Trucking ambassador?

In my interview with Joe Bechtold, general manager of the Midway Travel Plaza truck stop that was the star of this fall’s Truck Stop Missouri cable show on the Travel Channel, he expressed satisfaction with the show’s depiction of the trucking industry. He thought the show was a positive force for the industry’s public image. Think again, says Bruce Wieser, proprietor of the Dispatch Me Home social site at http://dispatchmehomeext.ning.com, who said the few Truck Stop Missouri episodes he’d seen were little more than a circus. After I ran another post detailing Wieser’s thoughts and asking for others, he gave the show a second chance. “Watching another two episodes … It turned out to be a huge mistake on my part. All it did was solidify my first thoughts and impressions of this grossly poor supposed look at the trucker and trucking industry of this country. The first of the two 30-minute shows mostly dwelled on how hot it was, and keeping ice in portable coolers along with trying to curb a dog that felt the need to urinate on the corner of the Travel Stop building. Mr. Bechtold sent his manager out on a scavenger hunt for a ‘fire hydrant’ that was to be placed in a grassy area to give said dog an alternative area to urinate. … At the very least … change the name of the show to exactly what it is depicting: ‘Travel Plaza Missouri.’”