The writing on the wall
Forgive me if I’ve got Europe on the brain these days. I’ll be spending a good portion of this month in Germany, “on assignment,” as the big-shot network journalists like to say. So it’s inevitable, I guess.
I was thinking this morning about my Autobahn blog from last week, particularly about the section recounting how trucks in Germany are strictly regulated to 55 mph. I got a chuckle thinking about the incandescent, boiling rage that would erupt in the States if somebody told truckers here they would be allowed to go 55 mph – and no faster, ever. Trust me, I have many, many four-wheeler friends who would be delighted to see such a law passed. But doing so might be the one thing that would provoke nationwide truck strikes and a general meltdown in the driver population at large.
I don’t think such a law will ever happen, of course. The very nature of a law goes against the deeply-ingrained notion of American equality: If you get to drive 70 mph, then I get to drive 70 mph.
And also it’s worth noting that Germany is about the size of the state of Oregon and Western Europe is – and I’m guessing here – probably about the size of the American Midwest. So going 55 mph there isn’t the massive productivity- and time-killer it would be in the States.
But, in many other ways, a truck-focused trip to Europe is like looking into a crystal ball. You can learn a lot about how fleets will be doing business here in the States soon by checking out what’s happening over there.
There are a couple reasons for this. I’m thinking about writing a blog soon asking if Europe is now the technological center of the world in terms of new technology. Not to tip my hand, but it’s pretty obvious that a great deal of the new truck technology we’re seeing here in the States today is originating in Europe.
The other point is that we now see clearly that technology and regulations go hand-in-hand. In other words, technology makes it easier for governments and their regulatory agencies to manage, monitor and enforce regulations on fleets and, now, individual drivers and vehicles.
This could be a problem here.
I don’t buy into the stereotype that long-distance truckers are “loners.” I tend to see them as simply highly independent. These are people who, by their nature, don’t need – or want – to be micromanaged. By anyone.
Tell me what you want hauled, where you want it to go, when you want it to be there and get the hell out of my way, seems to the basic professional view held by most drivers I talk to. And anything that contrasts with that philosophy is unwelcome – to put it mildly.
This strong streak of American individualism runs counter to a European philosophy, which broadly speaking is much more tolerant of accepting and following rules.
To this point, European truck drivers put up with a few technologies that I can already envision American drivers grumbling about.
The first – and least intrusive (to American minds) — are dash-mounted video cameras.
Last week a 747 cargo plane crash was caught on a dash camera in Afghanistan (not Europe, I know – but bear with me). And earlier this year, when a meteor flew in from space and blew up a sizable portion of the Ukraine, the event was caught on a multitude of dash cameras.