Opine now

By Randy Grider
[email protected]

Most people like to give their opinions when asked. A lot of us don’t even wait for an invitation to make our two cents’ worth known. We’ll tell anyone listening – whether it be on the CB, at a driver lounge or over the phone to friends and family – exactly how things should be.

Most of us can solve half the world’s problems in less than 30 minutes. We’ve got the answer to whatever ails society.

So why is it that we’re so hesitant to opine through the proper channels when it comes to issues that really matter? Right now, we’re in the middle of two important public comment periods – one dealing with electronic onboard recorders in truck cabs and the other with speed governors on trucks.

We know both topics are important because we’ve received letters, e-mails and phone calls from readers telling us exactly how they feel. On Feb. 5, I went to the Department of Transportation’s website to see how many responses were there. For the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed EOBR rule to be mandated for the industry’s worst offenders of the hours of service, I found 610 submissions. For the American Trucking Associations’ petition to govern speed at 68 miles per hour on future new trucks, there were 175 responses.

When you consider there are more than 1 million over-the-road truckers in this country, less than 800 comments on both proposals suggests a great deal of apathy among the very people these two proposals could affect the most.

I’ve read some strong arguments for each side of both issues. It’s true that the greater the speed someone is traveling, the greater chance for serious injury or death when an accident occurs. But we believe the proposal forces a split speed between large trucks and four-wheelers, which can create unsafe conditions and more congestion in some instances. Unless four-wheelers are also mandated to have governors (as ATA also supports), it handicaps the safest group on the road – professional truck drivers. Remember, more than 70 percent of accidents are caused by four-wheelers.

Of course, there is the matter of better fuel economy for drivers who don’t speed. The cost-conscious drivers have already implemented better fuel-economy practices to enhance their bottom lines. They are smart drivers who didn’t need speed retarders to do so.

In the case of EOBRs, they’re supposed to force the worst offenders into compliance with the hours of service. Those carriers that fail two compliance reviews within a two-year period will be required to install EOBRs in their trucks. Sort of home confinement – the old Martha Stewart ankle bracelet, if you will.

Again, smart drivers who choose to run within the law usually come out on top of the game. They don’t run themselves until they are fatigued and manage to make a good living.

Still, we know there are a certain number of drivers who will fudge their log books. They are usually only hurting themselves by hiding unpaid time on-duty. Some drivers feel that onboard recorders could force the industry to pay drivers for all time worked, and ultimately, increase wages.

What strikes me as ironic is the contradiction between the two proposals. In the case of speed governors, the call is to put them on all trucks – not just those who are the worst offenders. But the same doesn’t hold true in the case of EOBRs. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to both proposals? To be fair, either put governors on the trucks of repeat offenders to equal what is proposed on EOBRs or put EOBRs on all trucks to match the speed-governor proposal.

However you feel about each respective proposal, the time to voice your opinions to the officials in charge of rulemaking is now. If you wait until after the fact, you might as well tell it to the wind.

Comments may be submitted to Docket Management, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh St. S.W., Washington DC 20590, or by logging onto the Docket Management System at this site. For the speed-control-device proposal, reference Docket Number NHTSA-2007-26851 by March 27. For the electronic onboard recorders proposal, reference Docket Number FMCSA-2004-18940 by April 18.

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