Safety 411

Published monthly in Fleet Owner, Safety 411 is a timely and informative commentary on safety and security issues by David Heller, CDS, TCA’s Vice President of Government Affairs.

By:  David Heller, CDS

There are too many problematic issues that make the idea unworkable

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” is just as true today as it was when Sir Isaac Newton first introduced us to his third law of motion. I get it. So when I start mentioning physics at a deeper level than the proverbial apple falling off the tree and striking Newton on the head, thus discovering gravity, watch out. However, physics aside, Newton was certainly on to something when he realized that any issue, regardless of its importance, will undoubtedly contain the opinions of each side. In other words, there are two sides to every story.

Bearing that in mind, I must point out a question recently posed online at inquiring whether longer trailers are the answer. There are some key things to note when asking this question that must be explored in order to come to a fair conclusion. Most importantly, any possible mandate for a configuration that is beneficial to just a small portion of the trucking industry can only be construed as irresponsible at best. Certainly, the benefits for a less than truckload (LTL) carrier are massive; however, the truckload environment represents about 78% of the U.S. freight market share, a vast number to say the least, and a number for which a mandate of twin 33-ft. trailers just will not produce any benefit.

The rest of the transportation industry is also unlikely to benefit. For instance, whether the introduction of the trailer combination called twin 33s or double 33s takes freight off the road and alleviates the pressure placed on our nation’s infrastructure still remains up in the air. It is fair to note that for the LTL side of the industry, this may be a fair and accurate description of the likely outcome. But not all freight is handled or shipped by truck. In fact, railroads represent 7% of the U.S. freight market share, of which intermodal freight, defined as two or more modes of transportation used in conveying goods, is a strong part of that railroad number.

In saying this, the railroads currently have no way of hauling twin 33-ft. trailers in an intermodal environment. There are no rail cars designed to accommodate them. Current rail configurations can “double stack” two 53-ft. trailers or even place four 28-ft.  trailers on a car, but nothing can accommodate 33s, thus rendering any productivity a moot point. Let’s now account for great American ingenuity knowing that there are some brilliant engineers who can design a car to accommodate 33-ft. trailers.

Even still, this does not take into account the costs of those trailers, to say nothing of the fact that the rail infrastructure could have an even bigger problem with tunnel clearances. Tunnels designed for current rail configurations would need to be rebored, a process that would require enlarging a tunnel to accommodate the new trailers, possibly costing billions of dollars.

Here is where the aforementioned physics starts playing a major role because accounting for today’s science, you just cannot fit a larger object into a space designed for a smaller one. In other words, a reduction in trucks on our roads would not be the case, and some studies actually state that the diversion of freight from railroads because of this very factor neutralizes the productivity argument.

Our industry is certainly not without its problems. Highway funding shortfalls, driver shortages, and even the lack of usable truck parking spaces continue to permeate through the hallow­ed halls of government. Allowing the usage of twin 33 configurations doesn’t cure the industry’s problems; it actually exacerbates them.

Driver shortage or not, the vast number of drivers who would need the doubles/triples endorsement would increase exponentially.  As much as we would like it to happen, the wait times for a CDL aren’t decreasing, so imagine the logjam of drivers looking to gain endorsements to a CDL for a new vehicle configuration that is driven by market forces looking to deliver more product.

I could go on with many more arguments against this configuration, but the plain and simple fact is that the trucking industry, in and of itself, is divided on this issue. Taking into consideration the added costs to our nation’s infrastructure, which is already woefully underfunded, should stop this conversation dead in its tracks. Insisting that we accumulate an even bigger tab for an infrastructure system that already needs billions of dollars more than we are collecting is just not fiscally responsible.

So while we debate whether longer trucks are the answer, I think we will find that most of the responses to the questions surrounding this issue probably would conclude that the answer is “No!”

April 2019

By:  David Heller, CDS

ELDs are generating information that must be accessed now

The great thing about birthdays is the fact they are often referred to as your day—or so we think. Many celebrate with parties and gifts galore and take the time to pamper themselves. Now, this is not a solicitation for birthday gifts but rather an opportunity to highlight what our industry has collectively been doing since December 2017.

So, imagine that you have a huge gift placed in front of you—and the anticipation of opening it is driving you crazy—but you have been told you cannot open it. Rather, you can sit next to this gift, wait patiently while folks give you clues as to what this gift is, and maybe, eventually, you will be allowed to tear the wrapping paper off  so you can  see exactly what it is you have received.

Welcome to the world of electronic logging devices, or ELDs. Since late 2017, our industry has been generating millions of data points that highlight exactly what transpires on our nation’s roadways, parking lots, and even shipping facilities. This data should definitely be viewed as a gift, an opportunity and chance for our industry to tell our story better than ever before.

The problem is that our friends at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are a bit hamstrung if they want to view it. In other words, unless the data is gift-wrapped or presented to them, they must have congressional permission to actually view the copious amounts of data generated by every single truck operating under an ELD.

With that said, we should not be sitting idly by waiting for permission to share the data we are generating; we  should take advantage of any and every opportunity to tell our story.  Hours-of-service advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM)? Submit your data justifying the sleeper berth flexibility.   As an industry, we should provide the agency with a data tsunami.

How about this play on Sir Mix-a-Lot lyrics in a rare cross section of trucking and pop culture:  “I like big data and I cannot lie. Those in trucking cannot deny.”  If you haven’t had the opportunity to look at the data points that your fleet is generating, or view the picture these devices are painting, perhaps the time is now.

I have been privy to ELD demonstrations that show drivers operating in adverse weather, searching for parking facilities, and even denoting how far from the road drivers are parking. You want to see detention data? These devices can identify the most habitual violators of detention, right down to the dock door that may be causing some of the largest complaints. Never before in the history of our industry has a driver’s day been depicted in such an accurate and true manner.

I guess the birthday gift analogy is somewhat of a stretch; however, we cannot turn a blind eye to such consequential data. We are roughly six months into the ELD mandate, and our carriers are making decisions based on the accurate data that the driver’s workday is providing them.

At TCA’s recent Call on Washington, many meetings with congressional representatives and their staffs highlighted not only the benefits of big data but also showed how talks of ELD device exemptions could dramatically impact the positive outcomes that the mandate has created. After all, each device has a story to tell. Not only has this given us a greater understanding of driver experiences, it has created opportunities for FMCSA, e.g., producing guidance on personal conveyance and the recent ANPRM.

Our story should not end there. In this dramatic world of ELDs, a partnership has formed with our government regulators that helps formulate sound, data-based rules substantiated by the information created by these devices. In addition, when sharing the road with others, we have a moral obligation to our industry to actually use this data in a positive way and to our advantage.

In knowing this, in conjunction with the recent information request on sleeper berth flexibility, now is the time to foster a better relationship with our FMCSA brethren and provide them with a gift that they may be unable to ask for—big data.

“We should not be sitting idly by waiting for permission to share the data we are generating.”

November 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

We need to plan for today rather than dream of tomorrow

Have you ever noticed that movies that are depicted in the future often contain vehicles that are automated and maybe even fly? After all, it is the future and it is Hollywood, so we might as well start dreaming about pie-in-the-sky ideas that can be incorporated into what could one day be reality.  The truth is, these conversations are fun to talk about, almost giddy in nature to imagine, and always called futuristic, life changing, or even unrealistic to some degree.  Adding fuel to the fire is that, at some point, someone had to start talking about the light bulb or the telephone—and vehicle automation is just next in line of what is the pecking order for technology.

I attended a recent hearing on Capitol Hill about what I thought would pertain to infrastructure and its pay-fors, but the conversations shifted almost entirely to autonomous vehicles—sharing ideas and dramatically discussing the potential “what-ifs” for vehicles that can operate on their own.

Make no mistake. We are at the very beginning stages of a technological development that could one day lead to fully autonomous vehicles traversing our interstate—or possible skyways—at some point in our future; however, some of these conversations must change gears to the less sexy part of the dialog, i.e.,  the dangers, realities, and things that must happen prior to removing the driver’s seat from any truck or passenger vehicle.

Think about it. We are almost at the 2018 midterm elections, and one of the key platforms discussed during the last election in 2016 was infrastructure, the very issue upon which many of these futuristic, self-driving vehicles must operate.  For example, using technology to hone in on white and yellow lines on our roadways seems pretty cool, except in many cases, those lines aren’t there.  Worn away by usage, weather, wear and tear, or the crumbling infrastructure that is our nation’s road map, we need to fix these problems before any of these vehicles traverse our nation.

Even more problematic is the cost of such vehicles, which I would imagine to be somewhat prohibitive and which could make a huge dent in the repair of our nation’s infrastructure. Our nation has not yet decided, or even engaged in, active discussions to fix our highways and bridges, but conversations surrounding autonomous vehicles will be plentiful.

We speak of technology and autonomous vehicles as an end game, something exciting to look forward to, yet we ignore the very path that it will take to get there.  How sustainable would this equipment be if every pothole and bump that the car or truck encountered had the possibility of depreciating the vehicle that costs a small fortune to drive off the lot?

Every spring in Washington, D.C., we take part in Potholepalooza, a month-long campaign led by the District Dept. of Transportation (DDOT) to aggressively repair damaged roadways across the city.

Can you believe it? Our infrastructure has gotten so bad that we take part in this yearly marketing campaign to fix the roads and call it a catchy name to get people’s attention. Since the first Pothole­palooza in 2009, crews from DDOT have filled more than 381,000 potholes—a staggering number.

Without truly discussing matters in a manner that can really be put into action, we instead engage in talks that highlight the very thing Hollywood has glamorized about the future of transportation. And I haven’t even touched on the possibility of driver replacement or cybersecurity.

Like it or not, our industry is not ready to replace our nation’s army of drivers.  They are the backbone of a delivery mechanism that has hauled just about everything bought and sold in this country.  We actively partake in the exploration of new driver pools from which to recruit, and we openly engage in cybersecurity forums that acknowledge the need for a driver to be present if one of these technological marvels would ever be weaponized.

When it comes to autonomous vehicles and the meaningful discussions surrounding them, we avert from the topic that would have an impact in getting us to full adoption of this technology.  Now is the time to engage in blue-collar discussion instead of focusing on the end game.

We must plan for today rather than dream of tomorrow.

October 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

Allowing teens to drive trucks interstate can help ease driver shortage

The editorial staff at Fleet Owner consistently tells me how popular this column is; however, thanks to my parents, I am convinced my dedicated population of readers is equivalent to two. That being said, and taking my editor’s word for it, those of you who do read this column know that I am actively involved in my son’s youth baseball experience. And it’s definitely an experience now—I’ve been travel­ing to baseball tournaments up and down the East Coast this summer.

I have seemingly been everywhere and back again. No, this is not a Johnny Cash song but rather an observation about who I have shared these nearly 2,400 miles with, and the very fact that at 12 years old, these boys are closer in age to one of the big issues spoken about inside the beltway, i.e., younger drivers.

Recent discussions surrounding younger drivers on Capitol Hill center around three things: a pilot program to ascertain whether these younger drivers, ages 18-20, can operate at a level that is as safe or safer than their seasoned counter­parts; the DRIVE-Safe Act, a bill touting an apprenticeship of sorts that has already amassed 71 co-sponsors; and  the pure lack of data surrounding the safety performance of younger drivers in commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operations.

At first observation, the sole discussion points of my 12-year-old’s baseball team are Fortnite (a video game), YouTube videos (usually of people playing the aforementioned video game), and whether their friends are good or bad at this game. What makes this point of conversation so interesting is that these boys are only six years from being eligible to drive the very trucks we shared the roads with on our baseball journeys. It’s no wonder why many doubt the ability of this younger generation to operate in interstate commerce.

I write about this issue a lot, and that is because when it comes to younger drivers, the apparent lack of data continues to rear its ugly head. I can stand on top of TCA’s headquarters in Virginia and see the Washington Monument and then turn 90 deg. to my right and see Maryland. If I were a 19-year-old commercial driver, I wouldn’t be able to drive a truck to any of those locations, since I have been relegated to purely intrastate commerce.

Believe it or not, as a driver operating in intrastate commerce, I can leave TCA headquarters and drive 425 miles south to Big Stone Gap, VA, and back solely because I operate within the boundaries of the commonwealth, yet the 10-minute drive to D.C. or Maryland is totally out of the question.

Obviously, the length of haul should not matter nor should the driver’s age, since I have already highlighted that younger drivers can amass more miles within a state than crossing an imaginary boundary.

What does matter is the ability of a driver to operate the vehicle safely. There are excellent driver training schools across this great nation, many of which have achieved PTDI’s esteemed certification, and there are also some schools with the primary goal of collecting a check and getting prospective students to pass a test that can still clearly create safe drivers. In saying this, no two drivers are the same.

Can a younger driver operate a CMV in a manner that is equitable to a 50-year-old driver? Sure. Can the younger driver be in better health than the 50-year-old driver? Of course. Can the 50-year-old driver be in better health than the 18-year-old? Why not?

Our industry can and does train drivers to operate safely. In fact, we are operating under a new entry-level driver training rule that has holistically standardized the very rules and theories of which drivers must be trained. Younger drivers offer this industry a driver pool that it has truly never really been exposed to before, i.e., a high school-aged person with the ability to enter the workforce and earn a decent living.

Not a week goes by when we don’t see some form of wage increase being publicized to attract new drivers. Whether or not our industry gets exposed to a new pool of candidates by allowing younger drivers to operate on our roads, I can honestly say that the positive steps to attract them and keep them in the profession are falling into place.

“Essentially, what younger drivers offer this industry is a driver pool it has never been exposed to before.”

September 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

And that’s a good thing for the industry, regardless of complainers

The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate has finally begun spurring widespread compliance changes throughout our industry. We are in Phase 2 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) implementation of its final ELD rule. Until Dec. 16, 2019, carriers and drivers subject to the rule can only use automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) that were installed prior to Dec. 18, 2017 (or that were purchased before that date and are replacing older devices or being installed in new trucks) or ELDs that are self-certified and registered with FMCSA.

For motor carriers that did not purchase and/or install AOBRDs prior to the December 2017 date, only ELDs are permitted from April 1, 2018, onward. Additionally, a motor carrier that installed and required drivers to use an AOBRD before Dec. 18, 2017, may install and use new ELD-capable devices that run compliant AOBRD software until the end of the Phase 2 period. The software for all new devices must be upgraded from AOBRD to ELD by Dec. 16, 2019, to be mandate-compliant. According to FMCSA, the agency has already seen a decrease in hours-of-service (HOS) violations since full enforcement of the ELD mandate began in April.

All of this activity would make it seem that we are well on our way to full industry buy-in on these rules. The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and our members have been entirely on board. TCA’s policy position, developed by a TCA policy committee and approved by our board of directors in March 2011, affirms that we support federal regulations requiring ELDs to document compliance with HOS rules. ELDs are good for the truckload industry and for the driving public. Our members and most responsible truckload carriers understand this and have already gone above and beyond to comply with the rules far in advance of the FMCSA deadline.

Yet many industry responses to the ELD mandate have been what I predicted earlier in the year.  Groups of all sorts are advocating for exemptions to the rules, stating that the ELD mandate should be optional for them; for example, FMCSA recently rejected a request for small carriers to be carved out from the rule.

Two bills in Congress introduced by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN7) would permanently exempt small carriers and carriers engaged in agricultural business. But temporary exemptions have been granted, either by FMCSA or through legislation, to drivers for the Motion Picture Association of America as well as ag and livestock haulers.

It is important to note that requests for ELD exemptions are not the same as requests for hours-of-service flexibility. TCA supports more flexibility for HOS rules, especially when it comes to allowing split sleeper berths. There are several bills pending before Congress on the HOS issue—and most likely, there will be more to come. In our view, however, the use of ELDs is not negotiable, and any attempt to exempt groups from using these devices without firm proof of an extenuating circumstance is a nonstarter.

Recently, I was reminded of a memorable line from The Incredibles, a Disney movie: “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” This quote epitomizes the reason why exemptions to rules like the ELD mandate have the potential to be disastrous for our industry.

Many carriers—and most TCA members—have already paid the compliance costs to upgrade their systems to ELDs. But when groups come out of the woodwork to request to be set apart from the rest of the industry and the rules by which everyone must abide, it diminishes the investment proactive companies have already made. It also gets rid of the competitive advantage these carriers gain by undertaking that investment and disincentivizes them from making such investments in the future.

As more and more “super” exempted groups attempt to show the regulators of our industry and our nation that ELDs aren’t necessary, it not only increases the risk of noncompliance with HOS rules, but it also increases the reputational risk to the entire trucking industry. We must stand unified in support of ELDs or allow ourselves to be open to increased preventable accidents and additional unnecessary regulation further down the line.

“Requests for ELD exemptions are not the same as requests for hours-of-service flexibility.”

August 2018

By:  David Heller, CDS

Rising diesel prices make the right tire and retread choices important

With a promising economic outlook, the prospects for trucking and vehicle transportation in general are improving. Since 2015, the Federal Highway Administration has reported steady growth in vehicle miles traveled. Coincidently (or not), the average price of diesel fuel has increased from a 21-year low of $1.99/gal. in February of 2016 to $2.84/gal. on May 1 of this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA also predicts that the average price of diesel will remain around the $3/gal. mark through the end of next year.

Looking back, what started as a marketing program by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2004 when the average price of diesel was $1.80/gal. turned into serious business when prices doubled seven years later. Even the smallest improvements in fuel mileage translated into big savings when fuel prices were in the $4/gal. range, so it makes sense that the list of SmartWay-verified low rolling resistance (LRR) tires and retreads has grown every year since it was first released.

In 2004, that bar was pretty high. As a result, fleets had a limited number of options. Since then, the list has grown to thousands of models from hundreds of manufacturers, many of them unrecognizable and undistinguishable.

Fuel prices are climbing with no relief in sight, so fleets need to be more conscious than ever when selecting tires and retreads. The SmartWay verification has reached the point where differences between the mathematical bottom of the list and the top of the list are significant.

At the bottom, there are a lot of no-name offshore brands that claim to meet LRR requirements. Since there is no policing mechanism, these tires may or may not deliver the type of fuel savings that carriers need to move the needle on fuel mileage. On the other end of the spectrum, the differences between the first generation of LRR tires that populated the list in 2004 and the best of the current makes/models on the market today cannot be understated.

Like all of the conditions that determine truck tire and retread cost per mile, SmartWay verification is simply an indicator—not the indicator of performance. There is no way to look at a list of more than a thousand tires and say model “X” will save “Y” dollars for fleet “Z”. Math sells truck tires, and over the next year and a half at a minimum, that will be even more important than ever.

Calculating tire and retread cost per mile only by the price of the rubber without considering mileage can lead to unrecognized savings. When fuel is $3/gal. or more and the long-term outlook is for steady or climbing prices, every penny not saved is a penny or two lost. The best advice for carriers that want to receive the maximum benefits of the most fuel-efficient tires and retreads is to test, retest, and then test the tests.

Fuel efficiency and low tire costs are affected by more than just the tire itself. Without a quality inflation pressure maintenance program, all the technology on the planet will never translate into any noticeable savings. Underinflation negates the gains from LRR compounds and tread designs. Ignoring tire pressure in the cost-per-mile game is like taking expensive medicine to combat high cholesterol while maintaining a constant diet of bacon cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes.

Other factors like vehicle alignment, routes, and even more important, the driver, have an effect on total cost per mile. Tire tests must be structured so the same basic vehicles on the same basic routes are compared. Drivers should have similar driving styles so the ones that ease into acceleration and deceleration are not tested against the lead foots and hard brakes. While the dollars and cents ultimately represent undebatable math, tests can still be manipulated to tilt the scale in favor of one tire or against another.

Fuel economy will continue to be a hot topic. Maintenance departments are going to start feeling more pressure to improve mileage using every available technology. If fleets want to see the savings associated with LRR tires and retreads, it’s going to take a lot more work than just relying on the SmartWay list. The returns are there when the math adds up, but it’s important to understand that data cannot be trusted when all of the factors are not considered in the same equation.

“Math sells tire trucks, and over the next year and a half, that will be more important than ever.”

June 2018