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The American Trucking Associations last month filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require that newly built large trucks be equipped with tamper-resistant speed limiters that would govern top speed at 68 mph.

The association also asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to prohibit tampering with speed governors if the 68 mph limit becomes law.

Although ATA says limiting the speed of trucks will produce safety benefits, the organization’s broader objective is to highlight the speed issue for all highway users. “We believe this goes a long way toward a national dialogue on excessive speed,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer, in announcing the petition at a Washington, D.C., press conference.

In a prepared statement released just prior to ATA’s announcement, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association claimed that ATA is secretly using this concession as a bargaining chip. “These petitions are intended to be a Trojan horse for the true objectives of big trucking companies – doing away with current truck size and weight restrictions as well as increasing their importation of cheap, less-qualified foreign drivers,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA. “Reduced speed promotes safety only if all vehicles are moving at those same reduced speeds.”

Graves says ATA’s proposal is consistent with its policy supporting a national speed limit of 65 mph. The 68 mph limit provides a cushion allowing for safe passing, according to ATA. Many carriers already govern their trucks, with a majority limiting speed to 68 mph or below. In addition to safety improvements, ATA says that carriers that govern their trucks at 68 mph cite savings in fuel consumption, liability costs and equipment wear and tear.

Mac McCormick, CEO of Best Way Express and ATA’s first vice chairman, says the proposal isn’t uniformly popular, “but it’s the right thing to do.” McCormick adds that a speed limiter was needed to level the playing field. “If a guy speeds, that’s a competitive advantage, in my mind, at the expense of the traveling public.”

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ATA’s petitions follow an earlier petition submitted to FMCSA by the safety advocacy group Road Safe America and major trucking companies. Although that petition also proposed a 68 mph limit, it would require all engines be equipped with electronic control modules that stop at 68 mph. Governors became standard equipment on Class 7 and 8 trucks in 1991.

Graves says ATA is not supporting that approach because focusing on newly manufactured equipment will make the controversial proposal more acceptable to the broadest constituency. Also, because any qualified technician could change the settings on today’s ECMs, a new tamper-proof chip is needed to make the speed limiter meaningful, ATA says.

As in previous election cycles, trucking industry contributions strongly favored Republican candidates in 2006, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is among industry organizations and fleets putting money into state and federal campaigns.

Among the top 20 transportation contributors to federal candidates and parties for 2006, as of Sept. 11, United Parcel Service was No. 1, with 68 percent of its $2.06 million going to Republican candidates, the center reported. Also on the transportation list, FedEx was No. 3, the American Trucking Associations was No. 11, and the OOIDA was No. 20.

Among the contributors involved solely with trucking, ATA gave the most – $599,629 – of which 78 percent went to Republican candidates and parties. OOIDA contributed $215,464, of which 79 percent went to Republican recipients.

“Key issues that drivers can have impact on, specific to states, are toll roads and privatization,” says Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. Many states are considering adding or increasing tolls or privatizing bridges and roads to pay for improvements and maintenance.

For example, in the spring, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill that leased the state’s toll road to a foreign consortium for 75 years. The plan was supported by most Republican legislators and opposed by most Democrats, according to OOIDA.

On the federal level, OOIDA contributed $5,000 to U.S. Reps. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Ben Chandler, D-Ky.; Ron Lewis, R-Ky.; Anne Northup, R-Ky.; and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. The association gave its largest single contributions to U.S. Sen. Peter Hoekstra, R-Maine ($7,000), and U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn. ($6,500).

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the candidate who received the most from trucking contributors was U.S. Sen. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., who received $63,200, followed by U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., who received $55,400.

Among contributions to federal candidates this election cycle that came strictly from political action committees, trucking PACs gave 80 percent of their $1.1 million to Republicans and the rest to Democrats. Only two PACs gave more than $100,000: ATA contributed $502,129 and OOIDA gave $195,891.

The largest donations ATA gave to individuals were $10,000 each, all to Republicans: U.S. Reps. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Eric Cantor of Virginia, and U.S. Sens. Conrad Burns of Montana, Mark Kennedy of Minnesota and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

A survey indicates that owners of 2004-model trucks report significantly more engine complaints and poorer mileage than 2003-model owners did the year before.

There was a bright spot for Caterpillar owners, however: For the sixth year, a Caterpillar engine ranked highest in the vocational segment.

As Class 8 truck makers use new emissions technologies to meet new federal standards, satisfaction has dropped, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Heavy-Duty Truck Engine/Transmission Study, released Oct. 5.

Among owners of 2004 models, the average number of reported engine problems increased to 74 problems per 100 vehicles. Last year, the same survey of 2003 owners averaged 46 engine problems per 100.

Problems should decline with upcoming model years, says Brian Etchells of J.D. Power.
“In the 2005 study, there was a greater mix of manufacturers using old and new technology engines, so we’re just now starting to see the overall impact of the emission regulations,” says Etchells. “As we see more new engines, we see the problems increase.”

The survey of 2,529 primary maintainers of 2004-year trucks measured satisfaction in engine quality, performance, cost of ownership and warranty.

Of these four areas, customers were least happy with ownership costs, especially in routine engine maintenance costs and fuel efficiency. Reported fuel consumption was 5.72 mpg in the 2006 survey, compared to 5.91 mpg in 2005 and 6.04 mpg in 2004.

The Caterpillar C-12 ranked highest among vocational heavy-duty truck engines, performing particularly well in three of the four factors that determine overall satisfaction: engine quality, performance and cost of ownership. The runner-up was Caterpillar’s C-15.

Among non-vocational trucks, no one truck maker was represented enough for J.D. Power to name a leader in customer satisfaction.

President Bush signed port-security legislation Oct. 13 requiring each CDL applicant to demonstrate that he or she is a U.S. citizen, a permanent legal resident or otherwise legally present in the United States.

The CDL requirement, recommended years ago by the DOT Office of Inspector General, was added to the bill in an amendment proposed by Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.). The U.S. Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is tasked with implementing the change.

The amendment “helps close some serious loopholes in our nation’s security efforts,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association.
The Pryor-Talent amendment also requires DOT and DHS to formulate steps to verify a carrier’s operating authority during a roadside inspection and to improve compliance with federal immigration and customs laws in cross-border operations.

Another trucking-related provision in the finished port bill requires threat assessment screening – including name-based checks against terrorist watch lists and an immigration status check – for all CDL-carrying port truck drivers who have access to secure areas but lack a hazmat endorsement. The assessment would be the same as the one orderded by the Coast Guard for port facility employees and longshoremen.

The same week Congress sent the port-security bill to the White House, the president and CEO of a trucking company that hauls container freight in and out of seaports told a U.S. House committee that the recent proliferation of security credentials has saddled trucking companies with unnecessary costs and procedures.

“The trucking industry understands that securing the nation’s supply chain involves costs,” Philip Byrd Sr., president and CEO of Bulldog Hiway Express, told the House Committee on Small Business. “Motor carriers like mine are more likely willing to bear the cost of one, but not multiple, background checks and security credentials.”

Faced with widespread opposition, the Virginia Department of Transportation says it no longer is considering an ambitious $13 billion plan by private contractors to double the width of I-81 to eight lanes by adding four tolled truck-only lanes from border to border.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board did, however, commission an environmental review at its Oct. 11 meeting to consider simply widening the highway, perhaps along its entire 325-mile length in Virginia. Also still under consideration, and included in the environmental review: a rival proposal to shunt much I-81 truck freight onto railroads.

DOT says it supports smaller-scale, short-term measures to fight congestion along the I-81 corridor, such as building occasional truck-climbing lanes, for which $100 million in federal money already has been appropriated.

A 2005 environmental impact statement said traffic estimates do not support tolled truck-only lanes. That proposal, which DOT has been considering for three years, was opposed by a variety of interests, including the American Trucking Associations, railroads, taxpayer groups, environmental groups and local governments and representatives.

The proposal “would have been a disaster for our economy, for our environment, and for communities in our part of Virginia,” said state Delegate Ben Cline, a Republican whose 24th House District includes 50 miles of the I-81 corridor.

Driver turnover among truckload carriers declined during the second quarter of 2006, but the job market for truckers remains tight, the American Trucking Associations reported Sept. 15.
The turnover rate among large truckload carriers dropped from 116 percent to 110 percent, the lowest rate since the 2003 fourth quarter. The turnover rate among small truckload carriers decreased 11 percentage points from the first quarter, to 100 percent.

“Despite reduced rates among both groups, driver turnover remains relatively high by 1990 standards,” says Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist.

Turnover rates of 100 percent or higher do not mean that every driver left and was replaced. Usually the turnover rate among new drivers is much higher than 100 percent, while the turnover rate among veterans is much lower.

Long-haul, heavy-duty trucking is experiencing a national shortage of an estimated 20,000 truck drivers, a shortage expected to increase to 111,000 by 2014.

Large trucks will continue to use local New Jersey roads after the U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped a state bid to confine them to major highways.

Without comment, the court announced Oct. 2 that it would not hear the case, giving a victory to the American Trucking Associations and U.S. Xpress, which had argued the ban on trucks heading through the state on local roads is unconstitutional.

The ban prohibited double trailers and 102-inch-wide trucks from secondary and rural roads. Trucking companies said the ban cost them millions in extra tolls and fuel.

The administration of Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, hopes to unveil a new truck rule that will pass court muster, says Kris Kolluri, the state transportation commissioner.

A less sweeping rule, designed to keep trucks on state and national highways and county roads that have lanes at least 11 feet wide, remains in effect, Kolluri says.

A federal jury in Denver found on Sept. 5 that USIS Commercial Services, formerly known as DAC Services, is not liable for any wrongdoing or damages in a lawsuit filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and individual truck drivers.

The jury was tasked with considering whether USIS had failed to follow reasonable procedures to ensure maximum accuracy in collecting employment history information from trucking companies, information that often is used by other trucking companies in the hiring process.
“The decision means that the jury believes USIS is fully compliant with Fair Credit Reporting requirements and that the policies and procedures we have in place do not cause harm to drivers,” says Kent Ferguson of USIS.

The plaintiffs requested class-action status in their original suit, filed in 2004. That request was dismissed earlier this year.

USIS recommends that all truck drivers review the information contained in their DAC Employment History File just as they would information in their credit reports.

They can do this by contacting USIS Commercial Services at (800) 381-0645.

ZF Meritor, a joint venture of ArvinMeritor and ZF Friedrichshafen, has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit in Delaware charging Eaton with engaging in anticompetitive conduct in the heavy-duty truck transmission market.

ZF Meritor says Eaton trumped its agreement with Freightliner in late 2000 by guaranteeing “millions in annual rebates and other incentives” if Freightliner purchased 92 percent of its line-haul and vocational transmissions from Eaton and gave Eaton standard position on the models that previously had ZF Meritor as standard.

Eaton issued a statement that it “has competed in a fair and vigorous manner in heavy-duty truck transmissions. Our customers chose to purchase transmissions from Eaton because we provided superior value, innovation and service.”

ZF Meritor’s shares at Freightliner and its sister company, Sterling, were about 23 percent and 17 percent, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2000. In the fourth quarter of 2005, those shares were down to 4 percent and 3 percent.

“Eaton’s conduct forced ZF Meritor, though still a legal entity today, to cease operations,” ArvinMeritor said in its Oct. 5 announcement. ArvinMeritor announced recently that it would stop supplying manual transmissions to the heavy-duty market and focus on the automated FreedomLine instead.

Goodyear is accepting nominations for the 24th annual North America Highway Hero program through Nov. 30.

The program honors truck drivers “who selflessly risk life and limb to come to the aid of fellow motorists,” says Steve McClellan, vice president of Goodyear commercial tire systems. “We believe honor should always be met with honor.”

To be considered for the award, a nominee must be a full-time driver of a truck with 14 wheels or more and a resident of the United States or Canada. The heroic incident must have occurred in the United States or Canada between Nov. 16, 2005, and Nov. 15, 2006, and the driver must have been on the job and in the rig at the time.

The 2006 winner was Douglas Crawford of Ashford, Ala., a driver for Saia Motor Freight. He dragged another trucker from his wrecked rig on I-85 in Georgia moments before the truck exploded.

For more information, call the Goodyear Highway Hero Hotline at (330) 796-8183 or visit this site.

Motor carriers can assess administrative fees and make profits on charge-backs to independent contractors, but they must disclose documents that demonstrate the validity of those charge-backs, a federal judge in Florida has ruled.

Judge Henry Adams issued an order regarding various motions for summary judgment in a long-running class-action lawsuit filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association against Landstar System.

Adams granted Landstar’s motion that charging more for products and services than it pays third-party vendors is lawful. But he also granted OOIDA’s motion that such mark-ups in charge-backs be disclosed.

“The legislative history makes clear that the regulation does not require the lease to state on the face of the lease the amount of charge-backs or the mark-ups, but rather to list the items subject to charge-backs and provide access to the documents to determine the charges’ validity,” Adams ruled.

The court also rejected OOIDA’s allegation that Landstar had violated federal regulations by making undisclosed and/or undocumented withdrawals from freight revenue before calculating compensation due owner-operators. Landstar complied literally with the rules governing disclosure of compensation, Adams ruled.

The judge again rejected Landstar’s claim that OOIDA lacks the standing to file a class-action suit in the case.

Truck drivers hauling within Florida must spend fewer hours behind the wheel, according to new state driving restrictions that took effect in early October.

A truck driver hauling within Florida now cannot drive more than 12 hours after 10 consecutive hours of rest. The previous state rule allowed 15 hours of driving after eight hours off duty.

The more strict federal regulations for truck drivers in interstate travel allow up to 11 hours of driving after 10 consecutive hours of rest.

Most truckers in the state already abide by the federal hours-of-service standards and would not be affected by the new restrictions, says Philip Abraira, president of the Florida Trucking Association.

The rule has changed to reduce the number of crashes linked to tired truck drivers, says Lt. Jeff Frost of the state Motor Carrier Compliance Office.

The change also makes Florida eligible for an additional $3.6 million in federal funding for safety programs.

Florida ranked second in the United States in 2005 for the number of fatal large-vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A traffic safety group says the state’s new hours rule doesn’t do enough to combat driver fatigue.

“It’s still too long,” says John Lannen of the Truck Safety Coalition. “It just doesn’t make sense that they wouldn’t have met the national standard or really improved on it and protected their citizens and the people who visit the state.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s board of directors unanimously voted at its fall meeting to affiliate with the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada.

OOIDA is the much larger of the two groups with more than 144,000 members in North America, including 3,000 in Canada. The Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada has about 500 members.

Celadon Group has purchased the truckload business of Erin Truckways, also known as Digby Truck Lines, for about $21 million.

As part of the deal, Celadon obtained 270 tractors and 590 trailers and offered employment to about 150 Digby drivers.

“At Celadon, our driver turnover has been significantly better than the industry average over the past few years, and we plan to work hard to retain the Digby drivers,” says Celadon Chairman and CEO Steve Russell.

The company will keep about 90 of the newest tractors and 180 of the newest trailers and get rid of the rest, Russell says. Digby drivers will keep their units until they are given newer equipment.

Digby had a core group of quality customers and drivers but suffered from excessive costs, Russell says. According to Digby’s financial statements, the Nashville company generated about $48 million in gross revenue in 2005.

Toronto trucking company Vitran announced Oct. 2 that it has expanded its U.S. network by buying Pjax Freight System of Pittsburgh for $132 million.

“Following two successful acquisitions over the past 16 months – Chris Truck Line and Sierra West Express – we have continued to focus on further extending our geographical footprint,” says Rick Gaetz, Vitran president and CEO.

“This important acquisition expands our reach into the all-important Atlantic Coast as we continue to press forward with our goal of complete less-than-truckload coverage throughout both Canada and the United States, and a strong cross-border business to complement countrywide coverage on both sides of the border,” Gaetz says.

Pjax operates from 22 terminals, 13 of which are owned and were acquired with the transaction. The company’s estimated revenue was $175 million for the 12 months ended Sept. 30.

Vitran will pay $80.3 million in cash for Pjax, plus $26.5 million of assumed debt, $13.2 million in stock and holdbacks totaling $12 million payable over the next 365 days.

The future of the federal Share the Road Safely program, designed to improve four-wheelers’ driving behavior around large trucks, is uncertain, according to a Sept. 8 report from the Government Accounting Office. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spent most of this year’s Share the Road Safely money on education, without data to indicate whether this improves driver behavior, says GAO, the investigative arm of Congress. The American Trucking Associations operates its own independent Share the Road program.

The 2006 Great American Trucking Show, held Aug. 24-26 at the Dallas Convention Center, reported 45,914 attendees and 560 exhibitors. GATS attendance has increased 15 percent in the past three years. It is the only trucking event among the 50 fastest-growing trade shows in the United States, according to Trade Show Week magazine. For information on GATS 2007, visit this site.

The second annual Truckers’ Charity Ball is planned for Feb. 17, 2007, in Scranton, Pa., and this year’s event also includes a photography contest.

The black-tie event, hosted by northeast Pennsylvania’s “KnightTime” trucker radio show, will take place from 7 p.m. to midnight at the Masonic Temple and Scottish Rite Cathedral.

The ball will feature food, an open bar, a silent auction, music from the band Remember When and the presentation of the Knight of the Road Awards.

Proceeds will go to the Teddy Bear Education and Emergency Assistance Fund, which provides financial assistance to truck drivers and their families who have suffered illness, injury or disaster.

The weekend will begin Friday with a private tour of the Mack Trucks plant in Macungie, Pa. For more information, call (877) 234-6362 or visit this site.

TRAVELCENTERS OF AMERICA is being purchased for about $1.9 billion by Hospitality Properties Trust of Newton, Mass., which owns 310 hotels. The transaction is expected to close in early 2007. TA says business will continue as usual at its 162 locations in the United States and Canada.

MARY PETERS was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Sept. 30 as President Bush’s new secretary of transportation, succeeding Norman Mineta. The former transportation director for the state of Arizona, Peters was federal highway administrator under Bush for four years.

RADIATION DETECTORS will be deployed at Interstate weigh stations in the Southeast, thanks to a $3.2 million grant to six states from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “The work that we are doing in the Southeast will ultimately lead to a web of radiation detection systems on our nation’s highways,” says Vayl Oxford, director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.

EDISON YEAGER of Burnside, Pa., a driver for Kephart Trucking, has been named a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association for saving the life of a roadside choking victim on I-80. Flagged down by the victim’s wife, Yeager successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver.

NATIONALEASE PURCHASING and AmeriQuest Transportation and Logistics Resources have signed a merger agreement. AmeriQuest will provide purchasing and value-added services, while the leasing members of both companies will operate as NationaLease, representing more than 700 locations and 150,000 trucks in North America.

FEDEX GROUND has dropped its request that its home-delivery drivers be allowed to operate their trucks to and from their residences without being considered “on duty” for hours-of-service purposes.

ALLIANCE PARTS, a Freightliner division, has added a catalog and dealer locator to its website.

LOVE’S TRAVEL STOPS opened a new location in Calvert, Ky., at Exit 27 from I-24.

PETRO STOPPING CENTERS opened a new location in Spokane, Wash., at Exit 272 from I-90.

THE TRUCK TONNAGE INDEX decreased 2.1 percent in August after gaining 0.7 percent in July, the American Trucking Associations reported. Compared with the same period in 2005, the index was down 2 percent.