Letter to Trump: Parking, 14-hour rule, congestion ever more urgent issues with ELDs

| May 02, 2017

I believe it is the responsibility of every driver to stay informed about current topics and issues within the industry, and I believe it is just as much a responsibility of every driver to step up and make their voices heard, call their Senators, their state Representatives, and yes even the president if necessary. Below is a portion of a letter I sent to President Trump soon after he took office. It is much like letters or phone conversations I have had with my state representatives, and until common sense wins out the day, or the Lord calls me home, they and my fellow drivers can expect I will continue to make my voice heard. –Clifford “Chappy” Petersen

Clifford “Chappy” Petersen, the author of this piece, is the same Clifford “Dream Walker” Petersen you’ve read letters from in this space previously. As Petersen says, “I had my CB handle changed from Dream Walker to Chappy by another driver and my wife.”

Dear President Trump,
I am not sure if you know about the ticking time bomb set go off during the last part of your first year in office, so perhaps I should elaborate. Your predecessor pushed congress and the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) to mandate the use of ELDs (Electronic Logging Devices) for all drivers by December 2017. Before you get the wrong impression, I currently use an ELD with the company I work for, and I in fact enjoy it for the most part. However, there are some issues that make using it challenging, and the same issues could prove to be detrimental to the industry, and really should be addressed before such a mandate takes place.

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The first of which is the dire need for truck parking. According to a report published by ATRI (American Transportation Research Institute) in December 2016, “Safe, legal truck parking has historically been a major issue for motor carriers and commercial drivers, but the problem is now reaching a critical juncture. State budget woes have led to the elimination of many hundreds of public truck parking spaces. Evolving supply chains and truck operational changes have moved the truck parking “sweet spot” form many urban areas. Even planning issues such as zoning, property condemnation and “livable communities” have had a major impact on the quantity and location of critical truck parking. Among truck driver respondents, “truck parking” was the third highest ranked issue in 2016.”

This report corroborates The Jason’s Law report released in 2015 and confirms what DOT (Department of Transportation) officials have stated. According to their numbers, “59 percent of states have truck parking shortages in public rest areas and 31 percent have truck parking shortages in private truck stops.”

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An ELD will automatically record truck movements if a driver must move a truck because they are forced to do so by law enforcement, shippers, consignees or weather. If a driver is out of drive time for that designated period, this will automatically give the driver and HOS (Hours of Service) violation and could result in a fine and termination from a company. Yet often drivers are forced to do so. However, part of this problem can be easily addressed by giving drivers back their clock. What I mean by that is currently HOS regulations dictate that a driver cannot stop the 14-hour clock once it is started unless said driver takes an 8-hour sleeper berth rest period.

This means that once our day is started we have 13.5 hours to get our 11-hour driving period done. We do not actually get to work 14 hours, because we are forced to take an off-duty, often unpaid 30-minute break within an 8-hour period. This means that myself and, per ATRI’s survey, many other drivers lose anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half of productivity every day just looking for parking. We must be parked before our drive time runs out, and if by chance there is no space at our first choice, we must go to plan B. At the same time, it can take up to 30 minutes to park once we find a spot, depending upon how busy the area is (i.e. waiting for other trucks to get parked or out of the way). By allowing drivers to stop their 14-hour clock when the need arises, many times such issues can be avoided. Which brings me to my second topic: “Congestion.”

Because drivers are forced to continue once started, many of us find ourselves spending more time sitting in traffic jams (again affecting productivity), that could have been avoided by simply stopping our clock and taking a short break during rush hour traffic. Of course, there are times when our clock is dictated by shipping and receiving appointment times.

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However, even those times can be adjusted to some degree, due to traffic volume in certain areas. Still, per another report by ATRI in April of 2016, congestion has a cost. Their research shows that over 728 million hours are lost every year due to congestion, which is the same as 264,781 commercial drivers sitting still for an entire year, and causing an operational cost increase of over 49.6 billion dollars. [4] Most of that in fuel, which intern causes more environmental issues.

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Every driver understands the need for regulated time and safe practices. I have more than 18 years’ experience now, and I remember how drivers abused HOS and paper logs. If asked, every driver can see the need for a 14-hour workday limit. Nevertheless, if asked, every driver will tell you their productivity and safety would be better addressed if they could start and stop their clock when the need arises. There is no reasonable excuse to take that ability from a driver. Drivers are even forced to drive in bad weather, when their instincts tell them they should stop, creating more unsafe conditions.

I know it is hard to find in government entities, but where is the common sense? Why can’t the FMCSA simply place a 14-hour limit within a 24-hour period. That way drivers are still limited to only 14 working hours per day, but have the ability to split that up, to better enhance their own productivity and safety.

Personally, I have discovered that the loss in productivity between parking issues and congestion costs me anywhere from 1 to 2 loads a month, which in turn might cost me anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 a month as an owner-operator, or about $500 a week out of my paycheck as a company driver.

To give you another example: not long ago I worked as an end dump driver for a small 30-truck company. Because I had never done end dumps I had a trainer for about three weeks. During that three-week period my trainer and I chased another of their drivers around the country picking up and dropping our loads with the same customers. Yet by the end of the three-week period, the driver still on paper logs picked up two more loads than we did. Knowing what the loads paid, I did some estimated figures and discovered that once all their trucks are on ELDs each truck will lose about two loads a month, which equals about $250,000 of lost revenue to the company per month. You’re a business man — I think you can see that companies cannot afford to lose that kind of money every month. This is not because drivers are cheating on paper logs. This is because on paper logs we have 7.5 minutes of wiggle room, because they are broken down to 15-minute increments. So if in the morning I must log 15 minutes for fueling, but it only takes me 7 minutes to actually do it, then at night I can make up that time if it takes me a little longer to find a parking space.

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All of that said, I would like to bring up another issue which seems to have not been addressed in any way. That is the potential for hacking. Every truck built from the year 2000 and on (and some earlier models) are controlled by a computer, what we in the industry call an ECM (electronic control module). This is why the mandate for ELDs only applies to trucks built in model year 2000 or later. These ECMs control everything from speed to fuel consumption and engine braking. At the same time, ELDs are by and large monitored by companies in the home office, which means they are connected to the internet. This opens the door for possible intrusions, and may allow for hackers to gain control over a truck, determining how fast it will go, even completely shut a truck down if they wish. Think of it, a tanker hauling jet fuel purposely shut down in the middle of rush-hour traffic, say on the George Washington Bridge in New York, creating a very unsafe condition for accidents, or worse — potential terrorist attack. We are already seeing trucks being hijacked and used in such attacks around the world. Sir, I am a Marine, I proudly served my country and take pride in continuing to do so as a trucker. I pray that neither I nor one of my fellow drivers is ever put in that position. This is a concern that needs immediate attention if this mandate is to proceed.

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While this is just one issue the trucking industry is currently facing, it is the most crucial. Another issue currently pressing upon us by those in government, are the desires of certain people and entities to place limits on how fast a truck should be governed. Yet once again they do not take into consideration the drivers ability and need to control their truck, nor how it will affect productivity, or congestion. If they do, they simply brush it off, so they can push through their own agendas. Mr. President, the ATA (American Trucking Associations) do not have the best interest of truckers at heart. Please do not let them fool you — they are only lobbying for the major mega carriers. Only the OOIDA (Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association) looks out for the individual driver, and they are a resource you can trust. Not only do they want a safe environment for drivers, but they also want what is fair for all, small and big alike.

Your view of any or all of these issues? If you’re reading on a smartphone, tap the image to call and leave us a message to weigh in with your story. We’ll round up responses in a special mailbag podcast. Alternately, drop a comment below. If you’re on a desktop, call 530-408-6423. Make sure to tell us your name and state of residence.

Driver pay is another major issue in our industry, but in the interest of keeping this letter as short as possible I will not get into it deeply now. However, just to give some idea of what is going on, twice in the last year the ATA and others have tried to piggyback and push piece pay (that is pay per-mile) into at least two bills, thereby forever setting in stone how drivers should be paid. Sir, it was determined years ago that piece count pay systems were unconstitutional [for many workers], yet it still goes on in our industry. Driver pay and wages are in dire need of reform — drivers have not had a cost of living increase in 33 years, and today make less for more work, than our fathers and grandfathers did as drivers. Another reason they are trying to push it through is to protect some mega carriers from law suits currently being fought over. I am all for someone having a dream and making it pay off, but there comes a point when greed takes over and tramples the dreams of others. Did you know that drivers often sit at loading or unloading docks for 2 hours or more, and never get compensated for their time? You want safe roads and drivers, designate them as skilled labor, pay them by the hour for all of their time, and drivers will slow down because they will not have to push to make up lost time and wages.

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