An Ode to the Truck Driver

Look around right now. What do you see? A phone, computer, lights maybe a chair. What do all these things have in common? They were all delivered by a truck. Every product in the world at some point spent time on a truck. Those trucks were driven by talented men and women, who for one week every year get recognized. That week in 2017 was September 10th through the 16th. This may be a couple weeks late, but the ITEA would like recognize all the hard-working drivers out there.

The history of trucking in the United States started around 1910. In 1913, the first state weight limits for trucks were introduced, with the highest being 28,000 pounds. The weight limits were due to the tires being solid rubber which caused extensive damage to early gravel and dirt roads.

During World War I, the military began using trucks to move equipment and soldiers more efficiently. Due to railroad capacity maxed out for the war, trucks became another way to move goods across the land. The pneumatic tire was soon created and cross-country travel with heavier loads became a common use for the truck.

After World War I, trucks became commonplace with more than one million vehicles operating nationwide by 1920. The invention of the diesel engine made truck transportation more efficient, along with advancements in steering and brakes. Soon came the birth of the fifth wheel as well as standards for truck sizes. By 1933 all states had begun to regulate truck weight.

During the 1930s, the federal government began to regulate the industry, including hours of service rules. As trucking progressed, trucking business exploded as a means to get goods anywhere in the nation quickly and safely. In 1935, the Motor Carrier Act was signed into law which created rules for the trucking industry to follow.

By 1956, the interstate highway system was created and a national, uniform gross weight limit was enacted: 73,280 pounds. Intermodal shipping was created the same year to move goods from ships to trains to trucks. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) was initiated and studies on the impact weight were conducted for pavement and bridges. This study led to the creation of the federal bridge formula based on axle spacings.

Fast forward to 1974 and the 73,280 gross weight limit was increased to 80,000 pounds. Citizen’s Band, or “CB” radios were all the rage. The truck driver anthem “Convoy” was released in 1976. Truck driving was in its heyday in the 70’s with the movie “Smokie and the Bandit” released in 1977 and the movie “Convoy” released in 1978.

The trucking industry lost some of its glamour when the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 partially deregulated the industry. This led to a disruptive increase in the number of trucking companies. By 2006, over twenty-six million trucks hauled approximately nine billion tons of freight across the United States.

So, there it is, a brief history of some of the most important cogs in the machine that is American business. Without trucks and truck drivers, Americans would be sitting on earth, in the dark, with no way of reading the weekly blog from the ITEA.

The ITEA salutes you Mr. Truck Driver and all you do to support the economy. And we will continue to assist you in understanding the complex truck laws so that you can stay safe and operate more efficiently.

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Gadgets & Gizmos

In 1977, a forgettable film titled Gizmo! was released. The movie unearthed reel footage from the previous thirty years of outlandish inventions which never came to be. Humorous in hindsight, but technology today which impacts the future is bittersweet. Forty years has passed since this quirky movie was released, but 2017 is a battleground featuring two significant pieces of real technology. Electronic Logging Devices and Speed Limiters are their names, however their fates are still in question.

The debate surrounding Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) and Speed Limiters (SLs) is far from over. In fact, with the impending change of political administrations in Washington DC, these mandates may become nothing but mere suggestions or best practices.

Where do these regulations come from? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) who answers to the Secretary of Transportation, who is appointed by the President of the United States.

To think the political will of the seated POTUS will not decide the outcome of gadgets and gizmos is foolishness. One administrative stroke of the pen is all it takes to bury the regulation.

As it stands today, the ELD mandate will go into effect in December 2017, barring a judicial order to cease (there are several lawsuits pending against FMCSA) or a POTUS executive order. The FMCSA is expected to release its final rule regarding speed limiters early in 2017, as the comment period ended in December 2016.

The pros and cons of ELDs and SLs have been argued ad nausea by both sides who oppose or favor ELDs and SLs. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has long clamored for government mandates to require these devices. Why? Because their membership consists of the largest trucking fleets in America.

The Owner Operator Independent Driver’s Association (OOIDA) has adamantly opposed these same regulations as their 158,000 members represent the one-man shops who haul freight as sole proprietors. Make no mistake, both of these organizations represent trucking, but there is little common ground (and no love lost) as to how the industry should be regulated.

What’s good for the big guys hurts the little guys. Big carriers with deep pockets can afford these devices. They will receive bulk discounts for purchase and installation of the gadgets. When a carrier has 5,000 trucks traveling hundreds of millions of miles each year, limiting speed will save fuel. Even a ½ mile savings per gallon, per mile, per truck, will quickly make up the initial cost outlay.

When a carrier has thousands of drivers keeping daily hours-of-service logs, there is no doubt ELDs streamline the paperwork. More trucks equal more opportunities for inspections and fines. ELDs help mitigate the damages.

Local government has long clamored against unfunded mandates from “higher” levels of government. Unfunded mandates designed to solve the problems of a small batch of communities create a taxpayer burden on communities not suffering from the same issues.

In comparison, ELDs and SLs are unfunded mandates for the owner-operators. Could the gizmos make their operations safer? Maybe, but is it a level economic playing field? No.

The trucker with one truck making $60,000 year can’t afford a $4,000 ELD purchase and installation. How long will it take him to recoup a 6% investment to his bottom line?

The profit margins are tight enough as it is and these mandates will force many experienced, safe drivers out of the business. That’s not good for America or the American dream.

Don’t forget who is truly driving the changes: lobbyists. The gadget and gizmo industry has spent big dollars leveraging “safety” under the guise of their products. The technology is impressive, and the option to use these tools should be allowed.

The role of government should be limited to setting up boundaries. Drivers have posted minimum and maximum speed limits. Drivers can only operate this many hours. Allow elected leadership to debate these parameters as to what is best for the country.

The government should not be in the business of regulating how compliance with their regulations is achieved. This abrogates a pure, free-market economy.

The taxpayers have already paid for the how anyways. The police, and all their gadgets and gizmos, are the proven method to generate compliance. Love or hate law enforcement, the average motorist will be glad to see them when two trucks, side-by-side for 10 miles on a two-lane interstate, are proving whose speed limiter is calibrated correctly.

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Regarding Murdered Police Officers

This week, the ITEA breaks from it’s normally scheduled programming of truck enforcement warblings. Instead, the article this week is the reproduced text of a letter, written by the President of the Illinois Association of Chief’s of Police, to it’s membership on November 22, 2016. These words reflect the growing anger and outrage all law enforcement has been experiencing the last couple of years as brothers and sisters in blue have been cut down during a season of political indifference in Washington DC. Thank you ILACP and Chief Steven Casstevens for being valued partners of the ITEA, and for allowing this letter to be posted on our blog.

*****

Detective Benjamin Marconi of the San Antonio, TX Police Department was assassinated in front of his own police station on Sunday, November 20th. Less than a week before the majority of Americans will gather together to celebrate and give thanks for life, love and family, the Marconi family is forced to turn their attention to burying Benjamin: a son, brother, husband, father and grandfather.

I begin this statement talking about Detective Marconi, as opposed to issuing a standard press release “on behalf of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police” or “as a police chief,” because the dreadful issue of overt, concerted and directed violence against law enforcement officers across the United States of America is personal. And it must stop.

I am compelled to speak. I am compelled to demand outrage from the American public. I am compelled to demand that the media gives this issue the attention it deserves – because the righteous indignation that has been afforded to countless other incidents of tragedy has not been bestowed on the law enforcement officers of this nation who have fallen at the hands of hatred, depravity and wanton explicit acts of anti‐police sentiment and murder. Detective Marconi was murdered. He did not die in a heroic act of lifesaving. He was writing a traffic ticket and someone shot him in the head…twice.

Despite my visceral urge not to, I had to turn on the news and tune into what passes for news these days – social media. Imagine my horror when I came across a video on Facebook of a group of young people in Austin, Texas over this past weekend chanting, “**** the police. What’s better than nine dead cops? Ten dead cops! What’s better than ten dead cops? Eleven dead cops!”

Those are vile, vitriolic, violent words. I want the media to print them, to show them, to showcase them and to broadcast them from the rooftops. Because this is the society we live in right now. Chanting for the outright murder of police officers is not protesting, it’s riot‐inciting and absolute terrorism. There is a peaceful process for speaking your mind. This is not it.

Don’t bleep out the expletives, Mr. and Mrs. Media, fearing the safe space of our country’s fragile young ears. These are the mouths, lungs and hearts connected to many ears. If the nature of this message is palatable to you and the sentiment appeals to your exploitation, let the freedom of the press and the expression of the American public cry forth in its purest and most uncensored form.

Americans are screaming, “**** the police” in the middle of the day, the same weekend that an honorable man was ferociously slaughtered in what should have been the most reasonable boundaries of safety – behind a badge, in a police car, in front of a police station, in the United States of America.

Does human decency remain anywhere? Have we watched the last thinning shreds of civility fall to the winds of indulgent, selfish, capricious cowards who do not speak for social justice but rather act brutally and sadistically for their own petty, indulgent crusades? Is there no safe quarter for the guardians and protectors, who at times are also forced to be warriors, who stand sentinel over our homes every day, night, weekend, and holiday, through onslaughts of weather, at the cost of personal and family time?

I am outraged. Yes, as a police chief and as a representative leader of my state, but also because I am a human being who is watching other human beings being targeted, assaulted, maimed, disabled and killed because they wear a badge that pledges their dedication to keeping communities across this great nation safe.

At this time in our country, more than ever, we must stop talking about theoretical common ground and find it…and stand on it…with each other and against the rage, wrath, and perceived vengeance of a vocal group who seek to bring great harm to our American way of life.

I am tired of grieving. I am weary of sending condolences. I am physically sickened at the thought of where our nation stands as a people in the face of a social contract between citizens and policing that has stood, perhaps imperfectly, for hundreds of years.

I refuse to accept the normalization of violence against police. Targeting, harming and killing law enforcement officers is a vicious, calculated act of domestic terrorism. It is not to be entertained, much less tolerated, by a nation that lives, breathes and thrives on liberty and freedom from tyranny. Every decent citizen of this country should demand that this stop.

Where is your voice? Where are your letters to the editor? Where are the media that so quickly plaster stories over and over about questionable officer‐involved shootings before all the facts are confirmed? Are you not outraged? Will you not give equal time to senseless killings of police officers and chantings for the killing of more?

  • Detective Benjamin Marconi, San Antonio, TX Police – murdered while sitting in his police car – 11‐20‐16.
  • Deputy Commander Patrick Carothers, United States Marshal – shot and killed while serving a warrant – 11‐18‐16.
  • Deputy Sheriff Dennis Wallace, Stanislaus County, CA – shot and killed investigating a suspicious person – 11‐13‐16.
  • Officer Darrin Reed, Show Low, AZ Police – shot and killed investigating a suspicious person – 11‐08‐16.
  • Deputy Daryl Smallwood, Peach County, GA – shot and killed investigating a neighbor dispute – 11‐06‐16.
  • Sergeant Patrick Sondron, Peach County, GA – shot and killed investigating a neighbor dispute – 11‐06‐16.\
  • Officer Cody Brotherson, West Valley, UT Police – struck and killed by criminals fleeing in a stolen car – 11‐06‐16.
  • Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo, New York City Police – shot and killed responding to a robbery call – 11‐04‐16.
  • Sergeant Anthony Beminio, Des Moines, IA Police – shot and killed in an ambush attack – 11‐02‐16.
  • Officer Justin Martin, Urbandale, IA Police – shot and killed in an ambush attack – 11‐02‐ 16.

The officers listed above, sons, brothers, fathers and grandfathers, were murdered in the line of duty just this month. This reflects a rate of one officer murdered every two days in this country. This should shock the conscience of every American.

Again, I ask you, where is your outrage? I ask you to grieve for the families of these officers. I also ask you to grieve for all families of the 128 police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty so far this year. I ask you to reflect upon the 20,789 police officers, whose names are etched in granite at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, who gave their lives to protect this country. They did it for you. It has to stop.

That’s what the American public, community after community, leader after leader, elected official after elected official and person after person must say about attacks on law enforcement. It has to stop.

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Dirty Lyle, Revisited

Five years ago today, the ITEA published its first blog article, titled Dirty Lyle. Since this time, more than 250 articles have been published on current events which intersect the trucking and law enforcement professions. Some articles have been written to clarify confusing issues. Some have been to end ridiculous rumors. Some have been critical of truckers and some of been critical of police officers. Has this blog served its purpose for the last half-decade? Read on to judge for yourself.

Truck law is a massively confusing quagmire of legalese for both professions. Even those who study the statutes and practice them each day find new places where legislation does not meet reality and those on the street, the police officers and truckers, are left trying to sort it all out.

The tragedy is violations of truck laws carry significant fines, fines not seen in any other aspect of law enforcement. While the vast majority of truck officers have enormous respect for the industry, and use compassion when levying these fines, there are still those out there who exploit the system.

In the five years since this blog was launched, the ITEA has seen a drastic improvement in these situations. Unfortunately there are still some officers out there doing the opposite.

They don’t follow a code. They don’t want to be accountable. They can’t listen to constructive criticism from peers. Nor do they really want to because they have a heart problem.

Please read (or re-read) the text of the inaugural Dirty Lyle blog post. Ask yourself if you know a police officer who acts like this, and then go watch Convoy, one of the great trucking movies of all time.

*******************

Emerging from the CB radio heyday of the mid-1970’s came the rather forgettable cult classic movie Convoy starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, and Ernest Borgnine. The movie, and it’s theme song by C.W. McCall, accidentally became a rally cry for the owner-operator truckers of this nation on the cusp of deregulation.

Borgnine played a cop named Dirty Lyle, aka “Cottonmouth” on the short wave. He lived up to the name “Dirty” for sure – setting truckers up to break the law and busting them when they did….and finally soliciting a bribe to forget the whole thing.

There is no doubt Lyle and his nemesis, the “Rubber Duck” (played by Kristofferson), were caricatures of their respective occupations. But in all things Hollywood, there is always some truth that inspires the storyline.

Lyle hated truckers and abused his authority. Let there be no suggestion truck cops in Illinois today are engaged in the corrupt agenda of Dirty Lyle, but should they not challenge themselves to rise above the anti-trucker mentality that Dirty Lyle represented?

Here are some questions professional truck cops should be asking themselves:

Am I doing truck enforcement to provide a maintenance function of public safety, or am I doing it to be a revenue generating machine?
Do I generalize all truck drivers as criminal, or do I treat each driver as an individual worthy of respect?
Do I find myself using petty violations or questionable interpretations of the law to increase productivity?
Have I sought out authoritative resources to make an informed decision before making a wrong one?
Am I humble enough to ask for help when I don’t understand something?
If I make a mistake, will I be open for correction, or will I get defensive?

Police Officers: Judge yourselves honestly and look for ways to improve. There is a job that needs to be done but it needs to be done with excellence.

Truckers: Don’t be the Rubber Duck. Play by the rules. Be respectful.

A cooperative spirit between both industries will do more to balance the vital needs of commerce and public safety than rogue personalities.

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Dumb Laws: Covered Heavy Duty Tows

Welcome to the third installment of the dumb laws trilogy involving the federal FAST Act implementation in Illinois. To review, the FAST Act in and of itself is not dumb. The intentions are good. What is dumb is the how it was interpreted by Illinois lawmakers and squeezed into Illinois statute. The article week will discuss the term “covered heavy duty tow and recovery vehicles” and the quagmire of unnecessary contextual non-sense.

To begin, the towing and recovery profession enjoys an exceptional history of working with law enforcement. Police agencies around the nation contract with towing companies for crash, criminal and safety towing. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is proud of the outstanding relationship it has with the Professional Towing and Recovery Operators of Illinois.

It’s right the towing industry has exceptions to size and weight law. If they did not, how would large vehicles ever be removed from the highways of this state?

Prior to the FAST Act, Illinois law provided extra size and weight provisions for certain tow trucks. This does not mean the law was perfect and could not use some revision and clarification. However, Illinois was not one of the states which had no exceptions for towing which initiated the FAST Act provisions.

As mentioned in the previous articles, the FAST Act only required the states to adopt the language on federal highways, which are primarily the interstates and tollways in Illinois. The well-intentioned idea to make it uniform across all Illinois highways is where the mass confusion comes into play.

With the FAST Act language now in place, once again police officers are left to creatively interpret the law and its application. If anyone thinks this is a good idea and will help the towing industry, please speak up.

Where the authors went wrong was their failure to seek counsel from multiple stakeholders in the enforcement and interpretation of proposed language. If they would have reached out and asked, they would have learned it might be a good idea to amend the current law and blend the two. Alas, this never happened.

So now the police come to a fork in the enforcement road when they have a wrecker stopped they believe to be overweight. Is it a “covered tow” under the FAST Act, or is it a tow which receives the benefits of the old law?

To be considered a “covered tow”, three criteria must be met.

First, the tow has to be from the initial point of disablement. That’s easy enough and mirrors the old state law prohibiting secondary tows from receiving higher weights.

Second, the towing vehicle must be equal or greater in weight than the vehicle it is towing. So here is a practical example: an 80,000 pound semi breaks down and the 4-axle, 52,000 pound rotator comes to remove it. Does the towing vehicle weigh more than the towed vehicle? No. Therefore, it is NOT a covered tow under the FAST Act law. Yes, the police will be weighing each vehicle to prove the operation is not a covered tow.

Third, the tow must be destined to the “nearest repair facility”. Does this mean the nearest repair facility which the towing company or the driver/company of the disabled vehicle chooses? It’s a  great unknown.

This means the police officer can stand at roadside, scan the horizon for the nearest repair facility and opine the supposed “covered tow” has traveled too far. This is a terrible plan, but within the officer’s right. Don’t blame him.

Based on these criteria, and without much effort at all, law enforcement can easily make the case that no tow operations are covered tows under the FAST Act. In the event the tow is not a covered tow, then the operation defaults back to old state law, which is no simple piece of legislation either.

What if the police officer considers the operation to be a covered tow? What benefit does it provide?

If it’s a covered tow under this new law, then it has no weight limitations, except for registered weight. It’s exempt from everything else. No axle, gross or bridge formula weight limits. It can cross over posted weight limit structures.

Why? Because the language written by those who did not seek counsel said if it is a covered heavy-duty tow, then the vehicle is exempt from the weight limits of “this section”, meaning 625 ILCS 5/15-111(a).

They got a better deal than the fire trucks, who ironically had weight limits imposed upon their industry through the same legislative effort. A+ governance. Solid.

Now there is the primary problem of a bad law, the secondary problem of its interpretation and the tertiary problem of who is going to fix it. Will the owner of this law please rise and make this right? The ITEA will be glad to help.

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Give Them an Inch…

Give them and inch and they’ll take a mile, is how the old saying goes. Police officers see this in action every day. The speed limit is 30 mph but the motorists push the limit to see how much faster they can go before they get pulled over. A car pulls up to the white stripe at an intersection, how far over the line until the officer decides the motorist disobeyed the stop sign? Same goes for oversize/overweight permit moves, which are set with very little margin of error. So what are the common errors made by the trucking industry and how many inches do officers give for those mistakes? Read on to find out!

Axle Spacings

With the implementation of automated permits by the Illinois Department of Transportation, it’s more important than ever the trucking industry know the correct axle spacings when requesting a permit. IDOT regulations say the axle minimum axle spacing must be correct or the permit is deemed fraudulent, and the officer can knock the weights back to 80,000 pounds.

What’s important to remember is the greater the axle spacing, the less weight is compressed in one area. In other words, exceeding the minimum axle spacings would not constitute a fraudulent permit. Officers should also be aware the tool they use for measuring axle spacings will have a margin of error. In this instance, the officer should give the trucking industry the inch.

Divisibility

IDOT regulations, the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Federal Motor Carrier Regulations explain what is considered a non-divisible load. Compromising the intended use of the load, destroying the value of the load, or taking more than eight hours to dismantle would render a load non-divisible. As such, many companies who regularly participate in permit moves know what can and can’t be transported on the trailer.

IDOT clearly states that tie downs, brooms, shovels, rigging and other dunnage can be carried on the trailer. In other words, minor things that help the workers get the equipment on and off the trailer, and secure it are perfectly legal to have on the trailer. Once again, the officer can give the inch to the trucking industry.

Number of Axles on the Ground

When applying for a permit, the company must state how many axles will be on the ground. So when the huge permit load drives by with five axles on the ground and the permit requires six, one would think this voids the permit. According to IDOT’s permit manual, not enough axles on the ground is a violation punishable by a regular traffic citation for a “Violation of Permit”, not an overweight ticket. When there is not enough axles on the ground, the officer should give the inch.

Off the Assigned Permit Route

The police officer hears it all the time, “I can leave my permitted route for 1-mile for the purposes of loading, unloading, food, fuel rest, or repairs”. Well, not exactly. IDOT regulations state a permitted load can go from one state highway to another state highway for food, fuel, rest, repairs, to return to permitted route after mistakenly getting off route or to comply with regulatory signs to weigh. Often times, the trucking industry believes they can utilize non-state roads for these reasons. They cannot. So in the instance a permitted moves turns onto a local road, the officer gets the inch.

Police officers have great discretion in deciding what the letter of the law is. In some instances, the officer should use their best judgement in deciding when a mistake is a clear violation of the law, or simply a subjective view. Sometimes the trucking company deserves the mile, but sometimes they don’t even get the inch.

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The Fatal Five

The commercial transportation industry has been struggling for over a decade to backfill the exodus of qualified drivers from its ranks.  A study commissioned by The American Truck Association reported in 2005 a driver shortage of around 20,000.  A great-recession and 11 years later, the number has nearly doubled to 38,000.  Many factors compound to create a complex national problem.  Could you be at risk of joining those numbers and not even know it?

Throughout the great-recession there was no doubt owner-operators felt the squeeze and may have exited the industry all together, never to return.  Once gainful employment was found in another industry, it was hard to break back into what seemed like a financially treacherous trucking industry.

Baby boomers are also exiting the industry to the detriment of the profession.  An entire generation of skilled workers who spent decades with their noses to the grindstone is passing the torch to a generation who expects shorter hours, higher pay and employers who cater to an their needs.

Regardless of the generational divide, long hours and time away from home, trucking wears on driver’s ability to maintain longevity.  Commercial driving is still thankfully one of the remaining industries which can provide a decent wage to a dedicated and skilled driver.

The climate within the commercial transportation industry has undoubtedly changed as well.  Companies must be able to sufficiently navigate the regulation and red-tape associated with local, state and federal regulations in order to ensure compliance.

The quickest way for drivers to get bounced from the industry is failure to comply with the most critical regulations effecting a commercial driver: safe driving.

Commercial motor vehicle drivers are held to a higher standard when it comes to the “Fatal 5 Violations”.  One or multiple of these violations have been found to be present in nearly every serious injury and fatal traffic crash.  The troubling fact is that every one of these violations are completely preventable.

Driving Under the Influence
This is a no-brainer.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200… in fact, pay a few thousand dollars, then find yourself disqualified.
Since the advent of the ‘hardship license’ which gives a DUI suspended driver a license to operate for work related purposes, there’s a common misunderstanding how the licenses can be used.  Simply put, the ‘hardship license’ cannot be issued to operate a commercial motor vehicle which requires a CDL to operate.

Improper lane use
Improper lane usage by commercial vehicles is often a complaint of the motoring public.  Most officers understand keeping an 8-foot 6-inch wide truck within a 10-12 foot wide lane can be difficult at times, but meandering too far from your lane or unsafely passing is inexcusable unless in an emergency situation.

Following too closely
This is risky business.  Undoubtedly, those pesky four-wheelers will pull out in front of a commercial vehicle. If given even the smallest gap, and factoring in brake lag on air braking systems and reduced stopping ability, following too closely is asking for trouble.

Speed
Speed kills. Enough said.  Seen those billboards lately?  Commercial motor vehicle drivers convicted of two speeding violations within a three-year period have their CDL disqualified and justifiably so.  Speeding increases stopping distance and potential damage in a crash, because the faster one drives the further he is going to travel during the same time.

Cell phone use
Mobile phones have been unlawful at both the state and federal level for years.  Unless being used hands free, drivers are committing a serious traffic violation when they choose to text or talk on a hand-held phone while driving.  Some debate the merits of these laws, but study after study shows distracted drivers are more prone to traffic crashes.

The trucking industry suffers enough from the exodus of skilled retiring drivers, regulation compliance and retention of Gen-Y drivers. Don’t allow your commercial driver’s license to be the next preventable factor in the growing shortage of experienced drivers.

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1+1=Combination of Vehicles

Its simple math: 1+1=2. Or isn’t it? When a person has a locker which needs to be secured, he employs a lock which is opened with a key, or a combination. Why is it called a combination lock? Because there is more than one number needed to open the device. When multiple objects are together, the singular is lost and the plural is found. This is no different in truck world, but for some reason the difference between a single vehicle and a combination of vehicles eludes both police officers and truckers alike.

First, for purposes of this conversation, the word “vehicle” is very generic. A vehicle is not defined as to whether or not the vehicle is used for commercial purposes. It’s not defined by the requirement for registration. It’s not defined by needing a certain class or endorsement of a driver’s license. It’s defined by whether or not it moves on its own power.

Now stretch and free your mind. Take a single vehicle (represented by the integer “1”) and add it to another single vehicle (also represented by the integer “1”). The sum total of 1+1=2. When this equation is deployed in the vehicle world, there is no longer a single vehicle, but a combination of vehicles. It could be a truck and a trailer, or conversely a trailer and a truck. Either way it is two vehicles.

Interestingly, folk superstars Peter, Paul & Mary had something to say about this in their blockbuster 1969 single, There is Love: “A truck will leave its mother, and a trailer leave its home, and they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.”

Since the confusion is now clear, here are some practical truck/trailer configuration examples, from easy to hard:

A pickup truck towing a tag trailer
PUTTThis is a combination of vehicles. The pickup truck (1) is towing a trailer (1). Therefore, sum total of vehicles = 2.

 

A semi-tractor towing a semi-trailer

semi-truckThis situation is very similar to #1 above, but there is a twist. What confuses some people is the fact a portion of the load of the semi-trailer (1) is being carried upon the semi-tractor (1). Regardless of the weight distribution, the sum total of 1+1 in this configuration equals 2. This is a combination of vehicles.

 

An all-terrain crane towing a dolly

craneNow things are starting to get interesting. Imagine a massive all-terrain crane with a total of nine axles. Due to bridge load ratings on the crumbling infrastructure of Illinois, these 175,000 pound (or more) behemoths cannot safely operate on the six axles native to the power unit portion of the crane.

To compensate, the carrier will spin the boom backwards and put a three-axle dolly under the boom to spread the weight of load. So there is a power unit (1) and a dolly (1), bringing the sum total of vehicles to 2. This is a combination of vehicles.

“Whoa” says the naysayer. Since the boom is connected to the power unit and now the dolly, this is a single vehicle. Incorrect. These are two separate vehicles. Isn’t this just the reverse of a semi-tractor, semi-trailer combination? In the case of the semi’s, a portion of the weight of the trailer is being carried on the tractor. In the case of the crane, a portion of the weight of the power unit is being carried on the dolly. Combination.


An articulated bus

ctaThese are the accordion buses commonly operated in big cities. The trailer portion of the bus is coupled by a stinger under the rear of the power unit. Then they add this funky accordion curtain to allow passengers to move freely between both vehicles. Do the math: bus (1) + trailer (1) = 2. Very good!

For the legalists though, it must be made clear an articulated bus, while undeniably a combination of vehicles, is considered a single vehicle in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for the purpose of driver’s licensing. This means an operator only has to have a Class-B CDL with a passenger endorsement.

Never let your schooling interfere with your education.

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We’re Not So Different

In light of recent tragic events which have unfolded in our country, it seems appropriate to take a step back from normal topics covered in this blog. In the spirit of the ITEA, parallels can be drawn between the two main groups likely to read this blog, police officers and truckers. While at first it may seem the two professions have very little in common, nothing could be further from the truth. The slogan of the ITEA is “Exceptional Authority Demands Exceptional Accountability”. Were you aware this tag line is not exclusive to law enforcement, but also calls for the accountability of those in the trucking industry? The fact is, both professions carry a great burden when it comes to the prosperity of this great country.

While both jobs couldn’t be more different on their faces, they do share some very distinct commonalities.

1) Both professions are regularly demonized by both news media and those on social media.

Both the police and those in the trucking industry are deprived of the luxury of complete, thorough and accurate details of specific incidents being reported to the general public. The media is quick to get their cameras on the scene of a tragic event and immediately spew tainted, one sided stories of what unfolded. They do so with a complete lack of accountability or responsibility for what happens to those involved in the incident. In the law enforcement profession, this comes in the form of officer involved shootings and other incidents in which there is any application of force. In the trucking industry this is evident whenever a crash occurs where a commercial vehicle is involved and another party is seriously injured or killed as a result.

The problem is headlines which immediately fault the truck driver or the police officer will always outsell the headline which blames the driver of the other vehicle or the suspect who was hurt or killed by the police. The truth is generally not important to those reporting the incident.

What takes precedence is reporting the possibility some sort of injustice took place. This type of story is what will pay the bills, meanwhile the true reality often becomes an inessential burden which might be covered on the last page of a newspaper six months after the event took place.

These types of news stories undoubtedly invoke emotional responses from a wide variety of individuals. While some people in the general public will immediately jump on the anger bandwagon and blame the truck driver or the police officer, others will attempt to defend those in either profession. The will say things like “every profession has its bad apples.”

2) The bad apple argument is sometimes as destructive as reckless media reports.

Saying that every profession has bad apples is doing nothing more than justifying the portrait the media has painted of that individual. This bad apple they are referring to, may actually be the farthest thing from a negative example of the profession.

In recent news reports, officers have been accused of being unreasonable, murderous thugs by those in the media. These same officers were later found to be completely lawful and justified in their actions by authorities who conducted a complete and thorough investigation of the incident. The problem is that once that stigma has been placed on the officers, they may never recover from the initial accusations.

This is very similar to incidents when commercial vehicles are involved in serious traffic crashes. The first thing running through the minds of the public, and what is often eluded to by the media, is the truck driver was most likely at fault. Assumptions are made that the driver of the truck must have been violating some state or federal statue, or driving negligently.

News broadcasts will plaster the worst Facebook photo they can dig up of the driver, while they simultaneously display a picture of the “victim” from the other vehicle, wearing their Sunday best. When the facts later come out proving the truck driver was not at fault (and the supposed “victim” was actually under the influence or driving recklessly) the media will be nowhere to be found. Why is this you ask? Because unlike the police and trucking professions, media accountability not only lacks, but is relatively non-existent.

This author would not be fulfilling his responsibility if he didn’t discuss the incidents where people in each profession step outside of their authority and act in a negligent, reckless or unlawful manner and actually cause injury, death or injustice to an innocent party.

These particular individuals not only disgust those outside of the profession, but anger and disgrace those who proudly perform their jobs honorably on a day to day basis. Nobody wants the true bad apples to be eliminated more than those who take pride in their profession and regularly perform their duties flawlessly.

3) True bad apples, as in those who enter the profession or perform their duties with malice, are hard to come by.

While these true bad apples are few and far between in both professions, the mainstream media would have you believe they are the majority and not the extreme minority. While having even one bad police officer or truck driver is unacceptable, it is simply unreasonable to weed out every single problem child before they put their black mark on the profession. As hard as employers may try, it is an impossibility.

Unfortunately, humans are imperfect beings and always will be. This is why accountability is important in both professions. True accountability can only be enforced by those who do each respective job well. These subject matter experts are the only ones who best know how to perform their duties. They can recognize the signs of those who are not conducting themselves in accordance with the law and professional standards. It falls solely on their shoulders, not the shoulders of those who have never strapped on a badge, gun and vest or sat behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle.

The only thing to do is stay the course, take care of each other and constantly strive to be better.

For those of you in the trucking industry, keep doing your thing. Know that a vast majority of the population appreciates and respects what you do. This includes those in law enforcement. You provide a valuable service to this country which is often overlooked and thankless, another commonality between police officers and truckers.

For those in law enforcement, it is important for to remain strong and have faith. Recent tragedies will haunt every one for years to come. We cannot allow those who try to dishearten, demoralize or even kill police officers to succeed. They cannot break your will, and you must continue to hold the line. The very line which protects the good from evil. Continue to hold your head high and provide your communities with the very best possible service, but watch your back for those who would do you ill.

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