When the time bombs started going off: Channel 19 year in review, part 1

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Running down the happenings and haunts, the flailing and freaky successes and failures, of what has been quite an eventful year on the blog here. As always, here’s a big shout-out to you, its reason for being. Keep the tips coming, owner-operators. And as last year, we’ve got a full 14-hour clock’s worth of on-duty time, and more, left yet, so check back Thursday and Friday for the second and third parts… Now, counting down the hours to 2017 … 14, 13 …

We’d been warned repeatedly about the feds’ and states’ efforts to tie medical certifications directly to drivers’ CDLs, requiring CDL holders to report to state licensing agencies upon receipt of their med certs. The year started off with another explosion in that area, with Eric Toms‘ story of canceled CDL privileges after failure to get the med cert in on time. The business outlook for Overdrive readers for the new year 2016 was trending a bit pessimistic, compared to the prior year. And yet: around 3 in 10 still expected 2016 to exceed 2015 in success as 2015 had fallen off for more than half from 2014. And this despite the rules and regs, chiefly the then-recently-published electronic logging device final rule, which to many seemed designed to tax owner-operator businesses.

I will do what I can to maximize my hauling and revenue. No cheap freight and [more] loaded miles.” —Neil Westerlund‘s 2016 outlook, restating the brass tacks of many an owner-operator business

Transformers film-series stunt truck hit the auction block, and I was fortunate enough to be on location when a couple brothers of the highway got together for the first time to celebrate the humanity behind the whine of 22.5s and so much more in song

… and took a couple rigs out on a runway and beyond for a video shoot:

A shipper called out for more direct contracting with owner-operators, and Texas-based Zach Beadle‘s workhorse cattle-and-more-hauling Peterbilt cabover got the magazine-cover treatment attendant to a story about building the customer base of shipper-direct freight. How were leasing carriers planning to treat the ELD mandate’s pre-2000 model year truck exemption? That depended on the carrier’s size, if a CCJ survey was any indication.

Boom! Uh oh. Oops. The future of the 34-hour restart was called into question to start the month of February, as implications of less-than-adequate language in the FAST Act highway bill that was intended to solidify the restart’s future became clear — hopefully without those pesky 1-5 a.m. and once-per-week-use restrictions, hopefully for many anyway. Repercussions of the language foul-up were ultimately limited, as late in the year the fix was in. Just how that would play out was a topic of considerable disagreement between trucking companies’ big lobby and the FMCSA. Stay tuned as this time bomb continues to tick into the new year.

The past, present and future of driver pay was all the rage, and the “driver shortage” notion was analyzed and discussed and thrown under the falling-fuel-surcharge bus with the Subway sandwiches and creative captions of a variety of Overdrive readers.

FMCSA said drivers all told would save $2 billion worth in time with mandated ELDs, and we questioned whether that was true. The agency also wound up and started the ticking clock on a change in the safety-rating game with introduction of its Safety Fitness Determination rulemaking, which a coalition of groups said violated FAST Act stipulations against use of CSA-related data — many were inclined to agree (including this editor), though executive-branch feet weren’t exactly held to the fire over it all, which more or less remained the case at the end of the year — if, that is, you don’t count November election results as a little heat under the toes … time will tell.

Did I call 2015 the year of the dashcam? Maybe, but I think 2016 might better have fit the moniker, as untold numbers of drivers picked one up. Prices, as Mark Bezley was quick to note in February, have come way down for quality video recorders. Bezley’s tale on the blog about a crosswalk-law citation he had overturned in a local court in Washington State with introduction of dashcam-vid evidence got the subject going this year. Plenty more examples have followed throughout, notably in today’s “Fighting tickets” feature story.

Sadly, “Country Dan” Dixon, well-known for his time on XM Radio, passed on, and joyfully, an Arkansas-based hazmat hauler released a recording of stunning rockin’ country called “Every Mile I Drive.” Take a listen:

I finally met longtime owner-operator Louis Stone, a source for a variety of stories over the last couple of years, the first day of March at headquarters of a unique take on an owner-operator business, to say the least — one special desk, too.

The fuse continued to burn on the 34-hour restart, with readers weighing in on a variety of options for its future, many arguing for a return to greater sleeper-split flexibility, more options to extend the 14-hour clock with mid-period rest.

Kudos poured in for driver Gary Hurd for two lives saved in the course of his work delivering freight for Tulsa, Okla.-based Paul Transportation, and independent owner-operator Howard Salmon recorded and released his “A War Within” to Overdrive‘s audience of his fellow truckers. The future was all the rage as the “Tomorrow’s Trucker” two-part series wrapped up in the March magazine, and Gary Carlisle, manager of the small fleet of oil-services company Agri-Empresa, had a good bit to say about it. His message in light of all the prognostications of safety-technology saviors, not to mention everybody’s favorite “shortage”: The more things change, the more they stay the same …

Arkansas was installing a “virtual weigh station” to be manned only by roadside troopers downstream, and with CSA scores firmly behind the curtain with legislation passed in late 2015, brokers and shippers got a pitch for a “CSA equivalent” product that would enable them produce scores for the purpose of vetting carriers.

I made a run with independent owner-operator Ted Bowers, of Knoxville, Tenn., who told me his comeback-from-near-ruin tale of taking stock, diligence, persistence and a little help from a new business partner:

If the truck procurement/driver employment situation in small fleet expansion presents a chicken-egg type conundrum, operators would do well to focus on the driver first, the most important part of the equation, most readers agreed.

Enforcement in one Pennsylvania county in April joined those in North Carolina in getting proactive in responding to complaints about exit- and on-ramp parking, in spite of the well-documented actual shortages of parking in corridors all over the United States. There was a little hope of changing public attitudes in evidence in local reports, though.

“Usually, it’s when the sun goes down. I try to find a place before the sun goes down, and after that, it’s really playing the lottery.” –Trucker David Realffe, who told ABC he’s been fortunate and hasn’t had to park on a ramp

A reader recalled Butch Mueller‘s fine old Pete from the byways of Wisconsin in his youth, and Bob DeLullo‘s thoughts on CSA and the proposed SFD rule were a distinct variation on the “garbage in, garbage out” phrase to describe systems doomed by the component parts on which they are based.

A big part of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s argument against ELDs — that FMCSA essentially did not in fact go far enough on the ankle-bracelet aspect of Congressional requirements for ELDs — raised more than a few eyebrows, presaging results later in the year when the 7th Circuit rejected the argument.

A household-goods hauler called for a mass vacation, and the now-famous pseudonym of Wes Memphis was revealed as the freight hauler began narrating his guinea-pig status in his fleet’s transition to e-logs.

“I had gone from Sonny Pruitt to just another downtrodden drone on the digital grid.” —Wes Memphis in his week 3 installment. Nothing, however, as he was quick to note, is quite so simple.