Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Cell phones and driving

I’ve been working on one of my pet projects lately — writing a guide to sharing the road with trucks.  In my million+ safe  OTR miles, I’ve seen a lot of drivers do some really dangerous things around trucks.  I don’t think there are that many suicidal people on the roads (although the economy might be increasing those numbers), so I’m operating on the theory that they’re simply uninformed.  While there are a number of sites with some information on sharing the road, I’m going to take a slightly different approach.  My plan is to tell you not just that some particular behaviour is dangerous, but also why it’s dangerous.  So far, I have a list of about 28(!) common dangerous behaviours gleaned from experience and other sources.

Since it’s taking so long to get it all written up, I thought I’d post something about one of the things on my list on an occasional basis until I get enough time to get the whole thing done.

I’d initially like to discuss cell phones and driving.  While it’s not #1 on the hit parade (pun intended), it is #2, and a particular pet peeve of mine.  First, I’d like to explain that it’s not the act of holding a cell phone while driving — it’s the cognitive workload.  This means that hands-free headsets, speakerphones, and the like don’t help.  In fact, studies have shown that using a cell phone impairs driving performance to the point where it’s roughly the same as driving while legally intoxicated.  In an ideal world, all cell phone use by drivers would be banned, the same way we have laws against drinking and driving.  Everybody has become so addicted to their phones (including and maybe especially those who make the laws) that I think it’s unlikely to happen.  I think the best that is likely to happen would be the exercise of some common sense in using phones while on the road.

If you just HAVE to be on that cell phone while you’re driving, at least try to follow some of these rules.  Following them will NOT make it safe to use a cell phone, but maybe at least cut the collision rate and the severity of those that do happen.

  • Don’t text while driving.  Ever.

Both the cognitive and physical workload involved in texting is simply too high to allow anything even resembling safe operation of a vehicle.  So, you should never do it, for any reason.  Pull off in a safe and legal parking space and do your texting from there.

  • In construction zones, and around pedestrians (particularly children) hang up, and call back later.

Construction zones are far more dangerous than most drivers realize. Lanes end suddenly, or are shifted with little warning.  Pedestrians, and especially children are often unpredictable, and can appear suddenly.  Hang up.  No call is worth killing someone.

  • If possible, let your voicemail get the call.

A quick glance at your caller ID can usually tell you if it’s urgent or not.  If it’s really important, they’ll try calling you again anyway.

  • When you’re merging into traffic, either end the call, or at least say “hold on a minute” and stop talking.

Merging into traffic, particularly onto a high speed highway, requires your FULL attention. You need to be off that call as soon as you get onto the ramp, so you can get the full picture of surrounding traffic and merge safely.

  • If you’re in heavy traffic, don’t try to dial a call.

Dialing a call markedly increases the workload, and usually requires you to take your eyes off the road for a significant period of time.  Even in slow, backed up rush hour traffic, a moment’s inattention can end up with you rear-ending the vehicle in front of you.  This goes double around on-ramps.

  • When on the phone, increase your following distance.

The usual rule of thumb for following distance for cars is a minimum of two seconds from the vehicle ahead.  When you’re on a call, you should increase this to a minimum of four seconds, and six to eight would be even better.  While you’re talking, it’s going to take more time to react to any sudden situation.  Let me get all Einsteinian on you here — space is equivalent to time. The more space you have, the more time you have to react.

  • If you have to dial a call while driving, don’t do it on a curve. Do it in the right lane, on a straight section, away from on-ramps

Even if the curve is some distance ahead, you’ll be in that curve shortly.  You’re much more likely to drift out of your lane then.  On-ramps are a particular problem. A car can easily get in front of you between glances — and is likely to be going slower than you are.  On a straight section, if you drift out of your lane, there’s a 50% chance that you’ll drift right — and then (hopefully) the rumble strips will alert you to the fact.

The above rules are primarily oriented to highway driving.  If you’re on a city street, pull off into a safe and legal parking space and do your talking there.  There are generally so many possible places for a car to park (even in a city) that there’s no excuse for not doing it.  Better yet, wait until you get to your destination.

Above all, exercise common sense and restraint when it comes to cell phones and driving.  The life you save may be your own.

Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome.

Take your shoes off, it’s time to count parking spaces

Ok, here’s the deal.  I’ve been saying for a long time that there’s a serious lack of parking spaces across the country.  Ask any truck driver, and they’ll tell you the same thing.  However, knowing it or  saying it just doesn’t carry much weight.  What we need is a national census of public truck parking spaces.

Since nobody (particularly in government) seems to care at all, we (truck drivers, their loved ones, and other interested parties) are going to have to take it upon ourselves to do it.

Here’s what we generally need to do:

First, we need to divide the country up.  Division by counties would probably be the simplest way.

Second, a list of public truck parking areas needs to be compiled, and extracted by counties.  This list would include truckstops, rest areas, restaurants with truck parking, picnic areas with truck parking, etc.

Third, we need volunteers to go out and physically verify the number of available spaces in each area.

Fourth, we need people to extract truck traffic figures for the highways in each county.

Fifth, the truck traffic figures need to be correlated with the number of available spaces, and the whole thing compiled into a report, showing where the shortages are worst, which can then be provided to the relevant local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as to other interested parties.

This would be a great project for an entire university statistics department that had a huge budget, and nothing else to spend it on.  Since that’s unlikely to happen, it’s going to have to be done by volunteers.  It would be nice if one or more of the trucking organizations would volunteer to run the project.  Since I have to work for a living, I just don’t have the time to do it, but I’d be willing to bet that someone else (a retired driver maybe?) does.

Interested?  Post a comment and let me know.  You don’t need to post your email address — WordPress captures that in comments.  I can see it, but nobody else can.

So, how about it?

What we need, and how to pay for it

The following is a comment from:

http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-229510

posted in response to a post of mine on that site, followed by my reply.

Jayberdz writes:

Truckie D, like everything else we need to find a way to “pay” for this security. How we do that I don’t know. I do the government can not do all things all folks want them to do. To do so will have them taxing us where we have nothing left to live on.

This is a valid concern that Jayberdz raises, since “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.

Before we decide how to pay for something, we first need to decide exactly what it is we need.

As I see it, the bottom line is an adequate number of safe and legal parking spaces for trucks.

My definition of “adequate number”, is that any truck driver needing a parking space to take a DOT mandated break, is readily able to find one, without charge, permits, or fees.

My definition of “legal parking space” is one where any truck driver can park for a DOT mandated break without getting ticketed, forced to move,  or towed.

My definition of “safe parking space” is one where the threat level is low enough for a reasonable expectation of safety, either by virtue of being in a low threat area, or one where there is sufficient human, physical, and/or electronic security to provide such reasonable expectation.

Next, we need to figure out where to put these spaces.

Ideally, parking should be located as close as possible to places providing food, fuel, rest, repairs, and to points of loading and unloading.

If we look at those first four things, that pretty much defines what a truckstop is; a place that provides food, fuel, rest, and maybe repairs.  So, there’s one batch of parking spaces already.  However, in many areas of the country, particularly around larger cities, truckstops don’t meet my definition of “adequate”. Many charge for parking (and some are quite expensive), and *very* few have space sufficient for every truck driver who wants to park there.  If you’d like to see for yourself, just go to any truckstop in or near a major city on a weeknight between 9 pm and midnight, and you’ll see what I mean.

When truckstops are built, the amount of parking spaces that are provided depend on what the owner thinks will provide maximum profitability.  There’s probably a formula that they use based on expected traffic count, gallons of diesel sold, and revenue. Between land and construction costs, a truck lot isn’t cheap to build.

This leads us to my first method of increasing truck parking:

  • Provide very low (or even zero)  interest loans to places providing food, fuel, rest, or repairs to purchase land and build truck parking.

As a condition of obtaining these loans, they would be prohibited from requiring purchases, or charging for parking.  These loans could be administered through the Small Business Administration’s existing loan programs, eliminating the need to create another bureaucracy to handle it.  This would go a long way toward adding enough spaces.  There would also be the benefit of stimulating local economies, first through the construction, and then through the added business these places would get from the increased number of truckers able to stop.  New or existing truckstops, restaurants, motels, or repair shops would be able to benefit.

Next up, are places close to points of loading and unloading.

In this category, we’ll first look at industrial parks.  Most relatively modern industrial parks have roads of adequate width to safely allow on-street parking.  Many, however, are posted “NO TRUCK PARKING”, which to me doesn’t make much sense, since they were DESIGNED to have truck parking.  Why is this?  It’s due to the unfortunate fact that some truck drivers are pigs.  They throw trash, drain oil, and worse, wherever they are.  To my mind, even though these are problems, they are not sufficient reasons to prohibit truck parking.  If there are problems, the locality can put up cameras and catch and fine the offenders.  (They were going to put up cameras for safety and security reasons in this area anyway, right?  Offender fines should eventually cover the costs.)  So, this gives us our second method of increasing truck parking:

  • Localities must allow truck parking for DOT mandated breaks, and for waiting to load or unload on roads in industrial areas. Where curb to curb widths are over 38 feet, parking must be allowed on one side; where curb to curb widths are over 48 feet, parking must be allowed on both sides.

This would actually be pretty cheap to implement; all they have to do is take down the signs.

The next place we can cheaply add parking, is at places shipping or receiving truckload freight. If you read my post “Parking in Brundidge, AL”, it goes into quite a bit of detail about the whys and wherefores of this particular issue.  To keep it short:

  • Facilities shipping or receiving truckload freight must provide a minimum of one parking space per facility dock door for drivers to take DOT mandated breaks, and to wait for loading or unloading.  Drivers shall be allowed to park for up to 36 hours before loading or unloading, and for up to 36 hours afterward.  Drivers shall be permitted to drop trailers, leave, and return without restriction, in order to obtain food etc.  Restroom facilities must also be provided.

Right now, some warehouse manager reading this is screaming about the impossibility of this.  Granted, in many city facilities, they simply don’t have the room to do this.  Facilities with no space, and unable to obtain it, would be able to apply for exemption from this requirement. Facilities with limited space would be able to apply for a partial exemption. Where additional space exists or is available, such facilities would also qualify for the low/no interest loans from the SBA in the same manner as truckstops etc. if necessary to meet the requirement. Exemption certificates would be granted by the state’s division responsible for regulating/inspecting Motor Carriers (usually the state police).  Exemption certificates would be required to be clearly posted to be visible to drivers entering the facility.

This now brings us to parking spaces along the nation’s highways.  Specifically, rest areas, picnic areas, parking areas, ramps, and weigh stations.  When it comes to these items, some states are quite good, and others are terrible.  Kentucky gets a gold star — weigh stations with parking available are signposted letting drivers know they  can park there.  They’ve also added truck parking at some of their interstate rest areas.  Arkansas gets a red x. Their weigh stations are posted prohibiting truck parking.   They also (along with a number of other states) now prohibit parking on ramps, and there are insufficient rest areas with inadequate numbers of parking spaces.  The Tri-State Tollway in Illinois gets a double red x and a rasberry. In 40 years, they haven’t added ANY truck parking, and have subjected trucks to HUGE toll increases.  If you’re going through there in a truck, you’d better not need a bathroom.  Here’s what we need:

  • On all interstate and federal aid routes, adequate truck parking must be provided at maximum 30 mile intervals.  Where terrain prohibits this (such as mountains or swamps), intervals may be larger, but an overall adequate number of parking spaces must be maintained.  The number of spaces shall be deemed adequate if average weeknight occupancy by trucks is 80% or less.  Where average weeknight occupancy is over 80%, additional spaces must be provided until the occupancy rate drops to 80% or less.

  • Weigh stations with over 5 truck parking spaces must permit truck drivers to park for DOT mandated breaks up to 36 hours.

  • States are prohibited from permanent closure of all existing rest areas

Funding would come from the economic stimulus dollars that are already earmarked for infrastructure improvements, and from fuel taxes later on.

The above will begin to address needed parkingon the highways, but there remains the question of security.  For example, Florida began providing security at rest areas following the robbery of a number of tourists.  I guess truck drivers getting robbed or hijacked  aren’t as important as tourists, so the provision of security in truck parking areas seems pretty unlikely.  State Police posts and even local police stations could be located within truck parking areas, but that still leaves a pretty big gap to be filled.  It would appear then, that the only practical solution would be to permit truck drivers to be armed.  I can already hear the anti-gun lobby screaming about this.  There are pros and cons on both sides of the argument. If someone has a better and workable idea, I’d be more than willing to endorse it.  My post “Same Story, Different Outcome” shows that an armed driver is capable of self-defense.  My post “No Parking = Violent Death” shows the results of unarmed drivers.  All things considered, it would probably take a terrorist hijacking a hazmat load and using it for nefarious purposes to allow truck drivers to be armed, and maybe not even then.  Whatever solution is finally implemented, it’s essential that something gets done.

The implementation of these items also has other benefits.  With adequate truck parking everywhere, it should increase compliance with the HOS regulations.  Also, the availability of parking should encourage tired drivers to stop for a nap, if needed, thereby improving safety.

All of the suggestions I’ve written about in this post are not the be all and end all of the subject, but are only a starting point.  Some of these things can be done pretty cheaply, so there’s no reason why, even in these dire economic times, that something shouldn’t be done due to lack of funding.

Comments and questions welcome.

Same Story, Different Outcome

Here we have a story:

http://www.volunteertv.com/news/headlines/41080147.html

about another truck driver — this one much more fortunate than Jason.

According to the news story, he was parked at a warehouse.  In this case, however, the truck driver was armed, and it was the criminal who died.

HOW MANY MORE OF THESE INCIDENTS MUST HAPPEN BEFORE  SOMETHING IS DONE?????

Is Anybody Listening?

Commenter Amy had a good point — this story *really* needs national news coverage. So, I emailed ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC. You could email them too. If they get enough emails, maybe they’ll do the story.

Update:

I’ve also emailed The New York Times, USA Today,  the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Barron’s, Forbes, US News and World Report, United Press International,  and Reuters.

So far, I’ve gotten back some very nicely worded automated replies, but still no signs of interest from anybody.

I guess a murdered truck driver isn’t nearly as newsworthy as an arrest warrant being issued for Lindsay Lohan.

Please sign this petition

Please go to:

http://www.jhlrivenburg.com/

and click the link to sign the petition.
Please pass it along to everyone you know — truck drivers mostly get ignored, so we need the general public to speak with us, in an effort to prevent further tragedies.

Please leave a comment here if you sign the petition.  Just the word “signed” is enough; more is welcome.

55 mph

This is a copy of a post I made to:
http://www.galesburg.com/news/news_state/x1331523453/New-Statehouse-push-would-raise-some-truck-speed-limits

In response to a story about the possibility of Illinois raising it’s truck speed limit to 65 mph.

When the national speed limit of 55 mph was removed, there were many dire predictions of “carnage on the highways” and “the gutters would run red with blood”. Guess what? Didn’t happen. In fact, in a number of states, accident rates DECLINED! Out west, speed limits on interstates are 75 mph – for cars and trucks. Funny, then, that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of carnage on the highways out there. Indiana recently raised their truck speed limit to 65. No carnage or blood running in the gutters there either.

As a trucker with well over 1 million consecutive safe miles, I’ve seen drivers in automobiles doing all kinds of stuff while driving. One of the worst, is the person in such a huge hurry that they have to weave in and out of traffic. Throw in a bunch of semis that are moving 10 mph slower than the flow of cars, and you have a recipe for disaster.

There are lots of other things that could be done to improve safety on the highways. Since those things are not particularly on point for this story, please visit my blog at:
https://truckied.wordpress.com
and read the post “Watchdogs and the HOS regulations” for a few ideas on things that would help.

No Parking = Violent Death

The violent death of 35-year-old truck driver Jason Rivenburg of Fultonham, NY underscores the dangers of the lack of truck parking spaces on our nation’s highways. Why was Jason parked there? Because there wasn’t anyplace else to park. The news stories didn’t say exactly where the incident took place, but I know from experience that I-26 has very little available truck parking everywhere along it’s length. When a driver’s available hours of service are running out, it becomes essential to find a place to park in order to not get fined, or take the liability risk. The closer you get to the legal limit, the less selective you can be. I prefer parking in truckstops – they’re generally (but not always) safer, and have at least some basic services available. Second on my priority list are highway rest areas. They usually have restrooms, and maybe some vending machines. Third choice, is anyplace I won’t get ticketed or towed, which seems to be where Jason ended up. The following are excerpts of posts that I’ve made regarding truck parking. The violent death of Jason Rivenburg makes them worth repeating. Without some kind of action by the government, the declining state of the economy means this is going to be repeated ever more frequently. Let’s use some of all those economic stimulus dollars, and build some more truck parking spaces.

This is an excerpt of a post I made on January 13, 2009 to: http://jacksonville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/trucking-regulations-will-keep-drivers-on-the-road-longer.aspx

Build more truck parking spaces.

Over the last few years, states have become more restrictive about where/when trucks can park to take their HOS mandated 10 hour break. States are closing rest areas (as in Indiana), prohibiting parking on highway on/off ramps (a number of states), removing existing pulloffs (California), and other localities are restricting truck parking in various fashions. (Mokena, IL prohibits parking over 4 hours IN A TRUCKSTOP!). Throw in truckstops closing down, and others charging for parking, (without adding more parking spaces) and it is obvious to anyone that the parking situation is getting really bad. The general idea is to make it as easy as possible for truck drivers to comply with the regulations – which is pretty tough to do if they can’t find a parking space. Anymore, I won’t haul any freight east of I-75 because of the extreme difficulty in finding a safe and legal parking space for my 10 hour break.

There are a number of enlightened shippers and consignees who do allow drivers to park for their mandated breaks, but the majority do not. Where space is limited, this is understandable, but most large companies, with plenty of space, won’t allow trucks to park – even though a driver may be out of hours, and it’s illegal for the driver to go back out on the road. Frequently, it’s their fault you’re out of hours, since they take inordinate amounts of time to load or unload. A quick, although only partial, solution is to require these companies to allow parking. They’ve got the room, but they just can’t be bothered.

Another solution is to utilize the unused areas available at many highway interchanges. Not on the ramps, but the area between the highway and the ramps, or small lots at the ends of the ramps. They don’t have to be huge — Three to ten spaces each — just build lots of them. Drivers like to park close to their morning delivery, to maximize efficiency.

Areas around large cities need much more parking. For anyone who doesn’t think there’s a problem, just go to any truckstop around a major metropolitan area on a weeknight between 10 pm and midnight, and you’ll see what I mean.

This is an excerpt of a post on February 10, 2009

I was recently in Brundidge, Alabama, which is a texbook example. Brundidge is a nice little southern town — that is, if you don’t drive a truck.

Open the following link in another tab or window — you’ll have to cut and paste it into your browser: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&q=31.720000,+-85.829167&jsv=145d&sll=31.719634,-85.828328&sspn=0.006653,0.00957&ie=UTF8&geocode=FUAC5AEd0Vni-g&split=0

Make sure you’re looking at the aerial view. Click the satellite button if not. If you’ll zoom in a bit, you’ll see an intersection with a few buildings to the right. The building at the northeast corner is a truckstop. The one in the southeast corner is a fast food chain. The one immediately south of that is another truckstop. Both truckstops and the fast food are posted “No Truck Parking – Violators Will Be Towed”. Just to the east of the fast food is a small lot with room for maybe 8-10 trucks. Are you with me so far?

Now, zoom out a bit. You’ll see to the southwest of the intersection a very large warehouse complex, owned by “a large national retailer” . This facility likely gets at least a hundred trucks a day – probably more.

Let me pause here a moment and explain about the types and timing of deliveries. There are two basic types of unloading — “live unloads”, and “drops” (aka “drop & hook”). Live unloads can be further broken down into customer unloads, and driver hand unloads. I’ll discuss loading and unloading trucks in a future post. There are three basic types of timing. Deliveries can either be a “by”, “window” or “appointment”.

“By” deliveries are what the name implies: have the freight there by a specific date and time.

Windows are similar, except there will be a “not earlier than” time and a “not later than” time. Some places are *very* particular about not wanting their freight early.

The final basic type is the appointment. Most places give a 30 minute window around the appointment time, although some are more, and a few are less. Missing a delivery appointment is one sure way for any driver to end up deep in the (insert noxious substance here). For busy warehouses, it might take 3 days or more to get another delivery appointment. (Unless they really want whatever it is, in which case they’ll work you in). For some manufacturers, missing a delivery appointment that causes their production line to shut down can result in chargebacks to the carrier that can be enormous. (I’ve heard of one auto manufacturer that charges back $6000 a minute – that’s $100 a second).

Even if a customer doesn’t charge back for late or missed deliveries, most still track on-time service. Particularly in these bad economic conditions, competition in truckload freight is cutthroat. As customers scale back shipments, a carrier with a higher percentage of late or missed deliveries is at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

Now, throw into this mix, the federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations. These regs are very specific about when and how long a driver can drive. Violations can result in anything from fines on up. I’ll explain these regs in detail in a future post.

As we can see from this discussion, there are many constraints on truck drivers delivering freight. Drivers also have to allow extra time for traffic, scales, fueling, etc. Ideally, for a morning delivery, drivers like to arrive (or at least get close) the night before. This gives you the maximum available hours to run after making your delivery. The problem is then, finding a place to park near your delivery.

In the case of Brundidge, Alabama, parking is effectively non-existent. The “large national retailer” won’t let drivers park there. At all. Ever. Doesn’t matter if you’re out of hours and can’t legally drive out on the road. Still can’t park there. Don’t even bother asking.

If you’ll look back on the map window you have open, you’ll see that the warehouse of that “large national retailer” has lots and lots of space. They could let all the trucks that go in and out of there on a daily basis park there, and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to them — except they just don’t want to do it.

Now, open another browser window and cut and paste the following link in:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&q=42.698611,+-84.641667&jsv=145d&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=48.374125,78.398437&ie=UTF8&geocode=FXOHiwIdfXj0-g&split=0

This link takes you to the Lansing, Michigan distribution center of a large regional retailer — Meijer, based in Michigan. At all of their warehouses (at least the ones I’ve been to) they have what is known as a “bullpen lot”; in other words, a place for trucks to park, so drivers can take their mandated 10 hour breaks. If you zoom in a bit, you can see it’s quite a large lot that they provide to drivers delivering to their warehouse.

Kudos to Meijer for being good corporate citizens, and being more truck-friendly than most. If they can do it, why doesn’t the “large national retailer” (with probably 100 times their profits) do it? Personally, I think it’s because they just don’t care. It wouldn’t cost them much to do it, it would improve their delivery service levels, as well as make it easier for drivers to comply with the HOS regulations. Then, instead of saying “*&^* large national retailer”, drivers would just say “large national retailer”. I could understand it if they just didn’t have the room, but they do, and they still won’t. Even their security guards on the gates have told me they wish they would. This is why there needs to be some regulatory relief put into place that would mandate companies with adequate space to allow truck parking.

If you’re a regulator, or safety lobbyist and you’re reading this post, how about making something happen?

Update:

There has been a memorial fund set up for Jason’s wife Hope and their two year old son and unborn twins. If you would like to donate to the fund any Trustco will take donations or you can mail a donation: Thank You.
Memorial Fund For The Family of Jason Rivenburg
Trustco Bank
1900 Altamont Avenue
Rotterdam, NY 12303

http://www.wspa.com/spa/news/local/article/truck_driver_found_dead_in_truck_in_calhoun_county/15345/

The above link is announcing an arrest has been made for this heinous crime.

Update 2

http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2009/mar/10/0310_murder/

The above link has details about the 3 men arrested.

Comments and questions welcome.

Mexican Cross-Border Trucking

This is a duplicate of a post I made to:

http://blog.heritage.org/2009/02/27/teamsters-and-congress-deliver-costly-protectionism/

It’s obvious to me that neither the author or those commenting know much about the trucking industry, or the way cross-border operations are handled. So, here’s a little education for you.

First, let me start by saying that cross-border trade is essential to our economy, and those of our neighbors.

Trucked freight across our southern border takes one of three paths:

1. Freight is loaded on a trailer in Mexico, brought across the border by a Mexican driver, and unloaded at a warehouse for transshipment north.

2. Freight is loaded on a trailer in Mexico, brought across the border by a Mexican driver, and the trailer is picked up by a US driver for final delivery.

3. Freight is loaded on a trailer in Mexico, put on a train, and is transported by rail to a point north of the border, usually within a reasonable distance of it’s final destination, where it’s then picked up by a US driver for delivery.

The type of commodity transported, delivery time requirements, and it’s final destination largely determine which method is used.

Now, let’s examine each type in a little more detail.

Our first method requires transloading of freight. This is not necessarily a bad or inefficient thing to do. Often a load of freight needs to be broken down and sent to multiple destinations — and to do this, it has to be transloaded somewhere along the line.

Our second method is the one most commonly in use today. It’s particularly used where loads cross the border in-bond; that is, they don’t actually clear customs at the border — customs clearance is done somewhere further on down the road. Depending on the commodity, it can take days to get customs clearance. (Note: when I say the load doesn’t “clear customs” at the border, it *doesn’t* mean that loads don’t get inspected; just that the required customs paperwork hasn’t been completed and processed through the system). This is actually a fairly efficient way of handling cross border whole truckload freight. Long delays at truck border crossings are common, and it’s far cheaper to pay a Mexican driver to sit and wait than a US driver. Also, since the delays for border crossing and customs clearance can be quite variable, doing a “drop and swap” helps drivers manage their allowable hours of service. A high percentage of cross-border freight uses this method.

Our third method is similar in most respects to the second, with the addition of a rail journey thrown in. The conditions are similar; however, while rail transport is somewhat cheaper than all-truck movement of freight, it’s also slower. The considerations of the second method as regards in-bond movement also apply. The percentage of freight handled this way is less than the first two methods, but is growing.

While I don’t have exact figures as to the percentages of each type of move, in my experience most cross-border freight uses the second and third methods. Shippers and their customers want their freight to move as cheaply and efficiently as possible, and they’ll choose whatever method is most cost-effective for their particular operations.

Now, let’s move on to the big issue that’s always raised by the groups challenging cross-border trucking — safety.

This is probably the only area that I’m in total agreement with these groups. The ultimate motive of these groups may actually be protecting US jobs, or whatever, but about safety they’re correct. Someone not intimately familiar with truck safety as I am, probably wouldn’t recognize most truck safety problems until they got run over. Let’s look at some of the reasons:

A. Mexican drivers are generally poorly (if at all) trained. Those I’ve spoken to have little or no grasp of many of the areas of knowledge needed for safe operation of a truck. I don’t regard even the existing US requirements for licensing as adequate, much less the informal methods practiced in Mexico.

B. Mexican trucks are largely poorly maintained. To the untrained eye, a truck might look ok, but in reality be a wreck waiting to happen. Even so, I invite you to go down to Laredo, Texas and see for yourself. Pick a good spot where you can observe truck traffic, and you’ll see for yourself.

C. Knowledge of the English language by Mexican drivers is often inadequate or non-existent, but is absolutely essential. (I once had a student from an East European country, who spoke fluent English. However, he had about a two second translation lag, which caused him to have a number of relatively minor collisions (mainly with fixed objects) because he’d miss turns. He ended up getting fired because of that.) Total lack of knowledge is downright dangerous.

D. Mexican drivers are poorly paid as compared to their US and Canadian counterparts. This provides an incentive for Mexican drivers to augment their income by operating outside the safety regulations, or by other than legal means — in other words, smuggling. Whether it’s illegal immigrants, drugs, or whatever, there’s a much larger financial pressure. Gangs operating south of the border are also known to take hostages to force such things, even if the driver doesn’t want to.

While congress and many of these other groups may be pro-teamster, the fact is that most cross-border traffic is handled by non-union drivers. NONE of the large truckload carriers, and very few of the small ones are unionized, and they haul the bulk of the freight moving over our southern border.

I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the whole issue of cross-border trucking.

Comments and questions are welcome.

Update 1:  March 24, 2009

From : http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123790519596325581.html

“…Independent reviews of the program reported no major safety concerns over Mexican truckers in the program, but they also concluded that the pilot project was too small to draw any definitive conclusions.” (italics mine).

Sounds like we need a bigger pilot program to resolve the safety and security issues.  Such solution needs to be generally accepted as accurate, to eliminate the controversy surrounding the whole issue.