Overdrive Extra

Jack Roberts

The writing on the wall

| May 10, 2013

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.

I remember thinking at the time, God, the music those Ruskies listen to is HORRIBLE! And, more to my point, Geez, does EVERYONE over there have a dash-mounted video camera?

Turns out, yeah. They do.

In Russia, these days, a good way to make a quick ruble is to throw yourself in front of an on-coming car and collect a nice little insurance settlement. Also, it’s accepted that having a video record of a car accident is very good thing in court proceedings.

There are already a smattering of fleets here that use dash cameras. Could the practice become widespread?

I’d say yes, given the ever-decreasing size and power of digital video recorders and the obvious benefits a video record would have for a driver seeking to prove they weren’t at fault in an accident. All in all, I’d say get ready for this one. It’s a no-brainer.

What about EOBRs? The mandated use of on-board data recorders is already a hot topic here in the States and most drivers are firmly opposed to the idea.

If you’re in the “opposed” group, you’re not going to like what I’m about to tell you next: Based on what I’ve seen in Europe, an EOBR is only the first step of what will eventually happen here.

In Europe, each and every CDL has an imbedded electronic chip on it. Moreover, a truck cannot be started unless said CDL is fitted into a slot on the EOBR (usually mounted on the bulkhead over the driver’s head). It’s a bit like sliding a card into an ATM – only it stays there the entire time the truck is in operation.

Once in position, the electronic chip on the CDL copies and stores data off the EBOR for a specific period of time. If you get pulled over by the Polizei, the first thing they do is scan your CDL to see what you’ve been up to. Got an Hours of Service violation when you tried to stretch things a bit the other night? Or did you drive too fast through a commercial area three days ago? It’s on that chip. And you’re going to get a ticket for it. It doesn’t matter if the cop actually witnessed the crime or not. He’s got electronic evidence in hand. And you’re busted!

Another technological inconvenience European drivers have to put up with are on-board breathalyzers. Mostly this is a Swedish thing right now, but it looks like it’ll spread across the rest of Europe fairly soon.

And it’s exactly what you’re already thinking: Each truck in a fleet is equipped with a breathalyzer. Once the driver’s CDL is in the EOBR, the truck still won’t start until the driver blows into a breathalyzer tube and passes. Oh, and don’t flunk. Because the unit will beam a “Fail” message to fleet HQ if you do and you’ll probably get fired.

Most drivers I know here would object to this purely as an affront to their professionalism. On the other hand, a slip of paper in a courtroom proving a driver wasn’t impaired at the time of an accident is probably worth 40 million times its weight in gold. So, it’s hard to argue in terms of pure, cold Vulcan logic.

Will we ever see these technological impositions here? I’d say yes, to one degree or another. For older drivers, who remember trucking’s glory days, these “advances” must seem incomprehensible. But those guys are few and far between and getting scarcer by the day. And new drivers just entering the workforce today really don’t and won’t know any better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hippie388 Robert Martens

    EOBRs are coming, the only question is how fast the FMCSA can get them into trucks. Speed governing is coming, the preliminary draft went across Ray Lahoods’ desk a few weeks ago. Right now it stands at 68, but most everyone that will stand together, and that’s not all the independents and those that don’t care enough, want at it 65 or less, so I suspect the final draft to be put to the test will be 65. As far as cameras go, the FMCSA already has three different carriers under agreement to run cameras in their trucks, except it is not only a forward facing camera, it is also one mounted in the cab to monitor the driver. The point in the article about drivers using cameras in self defense is valid, but the regulations or ideas the FMCSA is currently evaluating have little to do with drivers being innocent. If and/or when the FMCSA implements regulations requiring cameras in the truck, it will be just another step in trying to control the driver, and in my opinion, bypassing individual rights in the name of possible safety.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.lanier1 Don Lanier

    Pitiful excuse for plain and simply hiring and training men or women to be PROFESSIONAL, When I have to stare into a dash camera all day I hope they enjoy what there going to see, EOBRS dont matter to me, Im a safe driver, its only the cowboys and idiots that require these to be safe, Ill be retiring before I planned from this Biz because Im already tired of the disrespect we as TRUCKERS get lumped together and berated and accused and etc…its ridiculous …the time they waste on Gadgets to force DRIVERS to be DRIVERS IS DUMB…either your safe and a pro or your not and no amount of idiot boxes, cameras and gadgets can make a BAD driver GOOD…

  • Terrence Peters

    why not just wire us up…and keep a second by second tracking of our everyday lives (sounds familiar like big brother is watching?) maybe we could even invite them into our private lives? what the hell?? why not? they have taken most everything else away…what is it they want anyway?? oh….I remember now drive cheat run yourself into the ground don’t stop don’t eat properly don’t sleep properly just get it here yesterday…. and do it for little of nothing but if you get caught? it’s your problem! yeah….that’s it!

  • http://twitter.com/Sportsbozo1 Charles Champagne

    Good luck to all of my brother truckers out there. Big Brother has finally taken ahold of the trucking industry! You will all lose money in this industry. As for all the regulations, they are nothing more ways too control how much money you can make. We are the unappreciated producers in this society! I’m done working for peanuts and will no longer subjugate myself to the whims of those who have no knowledge of what it takes to perform my job on a daily basis. Bureaucrats creating constraints, so that they can control the incomes of those who perform the tedious daily job of transporting everything society needs too survive! As far as I’m concerned the profession I have dedicated my life to is no more!

  • Ron

    Maybe they’ll start thinking twice when they create a driver shortage because of the “safety regulations.” If it comes to EOBR’s and dash cams in the trucks. I will quit driving. What I want to know is when the 50 united states became the 50 police states. What the !@#$ does Ray LaHood actually know about safety with a truck anyway, he’s an Obama administration puppet like most others in Washington.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.forker.79 John Forker

    good bye America, hello communism !! Hell why don’t they just put a chimp with a chip in the drivers seat !! Enough already , It’s time to send a message………STRIKE !!

  • Just Another Nobody

    First off, the 55 mph speed limit is nothing new. It was done before, and it was changed. It didn’t work the first time.

    As for them doing it again, go ahead. That is when the Shippers will jump up and down about their freight not being delivered in time, and the Receivers will be upset for not getting it in time.

    As far as the forward facing camera: yeah, it may prove your innocence in a situation, but it can also prove the drivers’ fault in a situation. (If big trucks need forward facing cameras, everyone else should be forced into having them also.)

    As far as the driver facing camera, they need to have that on all cop cars. As a matter of fact, all vehicles should have them too. (That is when the American Citizens’ feathers will fly.)

    George Orwell sure had it just about right in his book: 1984. Big Brother has already gotten too deeply ingrained over our lives.

    But this is still in the beginning. More is yet to come, so sit back, relax, and see what we have in store for us. There are not enough of us that would ever stick together to fight this conclave of secret meetings to rule over our every step of our lives.

    So we’ll end up just like 1984s’ characters; seeking out some place that we can go just to get out of view of the government if only for a few minutes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.leidal Dan Leidal

    I feel that the FMCSA should butt out on this… The companies are already pretty much installing the EBORs for liability reasons… I already run a foreward facing dashcam, and put offeder footage on youtube, including cops… I will not tolerate a breathylizer, or camera recording me in the cab… Some of these proposed ideas will not fly, but cause a mass exedous from the industry…

  • Rich

    STUPID ARTICLE : Its not a given those things will happen here .

  • Barrie

    Having been a truck driver and having been in Europe (but not as a professional driver) for a time, I can tell you that I am not surprised by the article.
    The European mind-set is different from the American one when it comes to a lot fo things. One of them being work. Their working class still has a history of handing down traditions and professions from one generation to the next. In America, it is much more expected for a child to pave their own path professionally.
    The size of Europe and the smaller roads actually makes the 55 mph limit a much smarter application. Even the Autobahn has limits in populated areas.
    And in European culture it is common place for blue collar workers to have a beer with their lunch time meal. At least it was when I was over there. So the breath-o-lizers make more sense.
    Having said that, I don’t necessarily agree that those implementations will work in the US, nor that they should or will even happen. That same tendency we have to carve our own path has also given us a better sense of self-reliance and responsibilty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/william.mckelvie William McKelvie

    No amount of technology will stop the what is going on today, and what has become worse over the past recent years, especially as long as the FMCSA allows the BIG ATA CARRIERS to continue the current three week training programs, then becoming a trainer not much longer after that. As long as the FMCSA allows that, not much will change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.sitlerphd Andrea Sitler

    There are experiments with driverless vehicles. It may not be that far off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.sitlerphd Andrea Sitler

    LaHood is gone but his replacement is only worse. We all threatened to leave when the CDL came in and some did but new blood replaced the losses. Companies and the gov want puppets not thinkers. They want programmable steering wheel holders that they can tell when to eat, sleep, fuel and drive. “Import” drivers from overseas will do this. New blood will do this for they know no other way. The driver of yesterday is a dieing breed and one the gov, as well as industry, wants to see gone. They do not want Rambo with 2 log books and free thought. They want a good drone that will do as it is told. Sad state for a once proud profession.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.sitlerphd Andrea Sitler

    Excellent comments and unity but not at the right place or way to make a difference. The CDL in the EOBR has, in sorts, been here in the states already. Over a decade ago I had a friend drive for a large company out of FL. He had a card that had to slide into the “then version” of on EOBR for the truck to start. When you became close on hours, it buzzed. It got worse and worse until the truck shut down when you ran 15 mins over. There was an override so you could get off the highway but that was about all. We have already played with this idea in the US.

    Qualcomm type technologies tracks driver behavior. The police could ticket off that if they wanted to issue a speeding ticket for days past. It is all here. Everything that Europe has and more.

    The question is whether or not individual freedom or public safety will be the determining factor of implementation in the end. With the wave towards Home Land Security’s carte blance, I see the driver loosing in the end.

    Big fleets already embrace this tech. They are running the O/O and small fleet outs. The writing is on the walls. It is just a matter of how long until it all comes to pass?

  • Moon Lite Trucker

    I am an independent o/op who chose to get my own authority because of stressful demands put on me even as a “leased on” o/op. I grew up in rural America on a ranch and was taught to respect authority as well as be fiercely independent.
    Because of the loading and unloading schedule in flatbed trucking and the 14 hour rule, it would cost me about 20-25% in miles. That would make it financially impossible to continue to operate. I may stretch the 14 hour rule but overall I believe that I do operate in a safe manner as defensive driver. I can and do stop and take a power nap if I feel the need and am a much safer driver doing this than pushing hard to get the miles in in the allotted 14 hours.
    The independent nature without interference from the government is a strong part of the history of this country and is evident even in the U.S. Constitution. Keep in mind the Bill of Rights were written to protect the citizen from oppressive interference upon our lives by any level of government

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