Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Jason’s page now online

I’ve created a page to make it easier to for my readers to track developments in the story of Jason Rivenburg.  Click on the tab “Jason” at the top of the page to read all of my posts on the subject.  This page will be updated as there are further developments.

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Honey, does this truck make me look fat?

I think the State of Florida is just a little obsessed about weight.

I ran a load down there the other day, and after six scales (and two agricultural inspections), it turned out that I wasn’t overweight.  If my backhaul had been ready that day, I would have gotten up to eight (!) weigh stations (and a total of three ag inspections) for the day.

Are they afraid that I was going to stop and have a really big lunch?

C’mon Florida.  It wastes a lot of fuel to stop at a scale.  I can understand once, or maybe even twice (like most other states), but this is a little excessive.

It can take from one to three gallons of fuel to get a truck back up to highway speed, depending on the load and the road.

On a more positive note, with freight being so bad, I didn’t have any trouble at all finding a parking space.  In fact, the truckstop I was at was maybe only half full or so.  Quite different than usual.

Freight has been very erratic.  I had a good week a couple of weeks ago, but I’m thinking I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been getting some halfway decent loads, but I’ve also had sit and wait between every one for a day or so.  Well, that’s ok.  Gives me time to blog 🙂

I’ve also been writing a blog on InjuryBoard.com.  If you’re interested in truck safety, you can go to: http://voices.injuryboard.com/ and read my posts there.
Comments and questions welcome.

Miller Time

I had an interesting  conversation yesterday with Erik Given, Director of Logistics & Transportation at MillerCoors.  Here’s the story:

I picked up a load of beer from one of their breweries a few weeks ago.  This was not a pleasant experience.  The people I dealt with were ok — it was MillerCoors’  policies and procedures that I had a problem with.  I won’t bore you with the details, but after that experience, I put them on my personal “not gonna haul their freight” list.  After thinking about it a while, I decided to contact MillerCoors and complain about it.  I sent them an email, and expected either no reply, or a line of corporate blather.

Imagine my surprise when I get an email from Erik, who was not only interested, but asked me to call him.  He even gave me his office and cell phone numbers (!).  I called him, and we had an outstanding conversation.  Erik showed he has an excellent knowledge and understanding of the issues faced by the transportation industry, both by his statements of planned policy and procedure changes, and by his questions as well. The end result was MillerCoors getting put back on my “ok” list.

It was very refreshing to talk to someone like Erik.  I guess that’s why they call it “Miller Time”.

Comments and questions welcome.

Jason’s Law Moving Forward

May 5th, 2009 was a pretty good day for truck drivers.  A story here:

http://www.landlinemag.com/todays_news/Daily/2009/May09/050409/050709-01.htm

details how HR2156 and S971, aka “Jason’s Law” have been introduced in the House and Senate respectively.

(If you don’t know the story of Jason Rivenburg, you can go to my index page by clicking on the “index” tab above . Look near the bottom of the page for “Threads” and read the posts there.)

These bills are really important for highway safety.  For a long time, I’d refuse any freight that went east of I-75, simply because it was so difficult to find a parking space in that part of the country.  With the truck freight market pretty much down the tubes, I’ve had to again start accepting freight in that area.  Like they say, “If the wheels ain’t turning, you ain’t earning”.

In the years I’ve been running over the road, I’ve seen the parking situation go from bad to worse, to nearly impossible.  For example,  the Tri-State Tollway in Illinois has roughly 66 truck parking spaces in each direction.  This highway handles somewhere around 100,000 trucks a day.  Do the math.  They also haven’t added any truck parking since 1968.  If you get delayed, and run out of hours up there, you’re pretty much screwed. For more details on the Tri-State, you can read my blog post about it here:

The Tri-State Tollway

The Tri-State is only one example.  I picked it because I grew up in the area, and I run through there frequently, so I’m very familiar with the highway and it’s history.  Around any city (and even a lot of areas out in the boondocks) you’ll find a similar situation.  If you want to see for yourself, just head down to your local truckstop between 10pm and midnight, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Even though these bills have been introduced, there’s still a very long way to go before they’re enacted.  The vast majority of legislation dies quietly and largely unnoticed in committee. It’s up to us to prevent that from happening.  If our Senators and Representatives don’t hear from enough people, then that will also be the fate of these bills.  This cannot be allowed to happen.

This link gives my take on what needs to be done.

What we need, and how to pay for it

I’ve tried as best I can to be reasonable, and stick to things that can be done with limited resources.  There are other things that could, and eventually should be done, but at least this is a start.

Politicians don’t seem to much want to hear from anyone outside their district.  Naturally (since Murphy seems to be working overtime on me) I don’t live in the districts of any of them. So, if you happen to live in the district of one of the committee members, please send them an email or a letter supporting these bills. If you happen to know any of them, a phone call would be even better. The life you save might be your own.

Here are links to the bills, committees, and contact info for them:

HR 2156 page

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-2156

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/committee.xpd?id=HSPW

House contact info

https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

S971 page

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-971

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works: Transportation and Infrastructure

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/committee.xpd?id=SSEV8

Senate contact info

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Comments and questions welcome.

Investigating Truck Crashes

This is an echo of a post I made to:  http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/investigating-truck-crashes.aspx?googleid=262490

I’d like to thank everyone for their warm welcome to InjuryBoard. This might be even more fun than I thought.

Among the comments I received, one from Michael Phelan asking about investigating truck crashes stood out as the kind of question I absolutely love.

In part: “… truck companies or their insurers typically investigate crashes within hours of the crash. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regs require the companies to retain important evidence, such as the driver logs, for only six months. What advice can you give us concerning investigating the cause of truck crashes?”

The investigation of crashes is an extremely complex art. The discussion that follows is in no way complete, but is only a starting point.

Let’s set up a scenario to use as an example. We’ll assume that it was 1 car vs. a semi truck. The semi is owned by a large national interstate carrier. The truck driver received minor injuries, and the car driver is critical. There are no passengers.

First, don’t assume it was the truck driver’s fault. Before anyone accuses me of being prejudiced against car drivers, let me point out that the DOT’s own statistics show that about 75-80% of car vs. truck collisions are the fault of the car driver. Based on my experience, I suspect that percentage should be even higher. Since Americans love to litigate, and are encouraged by large damage awards, the first thing a wreck participant usually does is call an attorney. Probably a pretty good idea whoever’s fault it turns out to be. Rights need to be protected, and at-fault parties need representation too.

Determining who is at fault for causing a collision is a very tricky business. While car drivers cause more crashes, CDL drivers are held to a higher standard. Evidence can be ambiguous. Witnesses can be contradictory and unreliable. This is why we have so many trials. If it was always simple and obvious, there would be far more out of court settlements.

When looking at crash causation, it’s important to note that there is rarely a single cause. Most collisions are like a series of dominoes. Remove any one of the dominoes, and you have a near miss, instead of a crash. So, what we have to determine, is just who put which domino where.

In order to begin the process, evidence needs to be collected. With our scenario in mind, there are five main categories of evidence to collect. I’ve listed them in order of perishability. The discussion of each type is not intended to be exhaustive, but only an example.

  • Physiological
  • Observational
  • Electronic
  • Physical
  • Paper

Physiological evidence refers to things such as drug and alcohol test results. This is the most perishable type of evidence, since it must be collected within a very short time of a crash in order to be of any use. Some of this is automatic. A DOT reportable crash will (or at least should) automatically trigger a drug and alcohol test for the truck driver. Car drivers may or may not end up getting tested.

Observational evidence refers to police reports, witness statements and testimony. The quality of this type of evidence is highly variable, as I’m sure any of IB’s trial lawyer members can attest. The sooner it can be collected, the better.

Electronic evidence refers to such things as cell phone records, text messages, satellite messages, GPS tracking information, traffic cam video etc. Much of this type of evidence gets automatically erased, unless quick action is taken to save it.

Physical evidence refers to things such as the involved vehicles themselves, their contents, their surroundings, and fixed obstacles they may have contacted. Things such as road signs and pavement markings also fall in this category.

Paper refers to the paper trail left by vehicles and drivers. Particularly for trucks, the paper trail can stretch for miles (literally). Fuel receipts. Toll receipts. Bills of lading. Driver logs. The list goes on and on. Not to be neglected is the paper trail left by car drivers. Did the car driver use his credit card at the local restaurant and paid for six shots of scotch along with dinner?

With all of these categories, the sooner the evidence can be collected, the more useful it’s going to be. Fast action is essential.

Once all of this evidence has been collected, then the fun really begins — putting it all together like a jigsaw puzzle to make the best picture that you can. Almost invariably, there will be pieces missing. If the evidence was collected thoroughly and in a timely fashion, most of the missing pieces should be (at least relatively) unimportant.

With a reasonably clear picture of events, a settlement is much more likely without extensive litigation. Where no such clarity exists, well, that’s why they invented trials.

I hope this answers your question, Michael.

Comments and questions are welcome.

Hello InjuryBoard Readers

The following is a copy of a post I made at: http://voices.injuryboard.com/miscellaneous/hello-injuryboard-readers.aspx?googleid=262426

You might be wondering just what a fifty-something truck driver is doing writing a blog on a website run by attorneys. Good question. The answer is, there’s a lot of myths, misconceptions, just plain wrong information, and some outright lies circulating about trucks, truck drivers, and the trucking industry. I see the results of this everytime I read about some person or group wanting more truck regulations or restrictions or whatever. The general public, and many regulators, simply don’t have accurate information. My goal in blogging here is to educate and inform (and maybe occasionally amuse). The one thing that I’ll promise you, is that any information I give you is accurate to the best of my knowledge and resources, and free of “spin”. Ask me a question, and I’ll give you a straight answer — and I strongly encourage questions. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. My focus blogging here is going to be very oriented toward highway safety and related subjects. I also have a blog at https://truckied.wordpress.com where I rant about other things as well. Give it a look when you get the chance. My posts here aren’t going to follow anything resembling a regular schedule. As and when I get the urge, or when something particularly noteworthy happens that I think needs commenting on, I’ll write something and post it. If you have any suggestions for posts, those are also welcome. In honor of the fact that this website is run by attorneys, I thought I’d make the subject of this first post, “The Effect of Attorneys on Highway Safety”. There are a lot of people who love to rant about the deleterious effects that lawyers have on our (litigious) society in general. Whether those rants are true or not, lawsuits over crashes have had a profoundly positive effect on truck safety in general, and regulatory compliance in particular. (Please note that I do not refer to these things as “accidents”. There’s really no such thing. They may not be intentional, but they’re generally the result of choices that somebody made.) Trucking is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country. Many of these regulations were “written in blood”; that is, they came about as the result of somebody getting killed. As a result, there are lots of I’s to dot, and T’s to cross in order to be fully compliant. For many years, leaving out the occasional dot from an I or cross from a T had little effect. In recent years though, damage awards have climbed markedly, particularly when one or more regulations was (or at least appears to have been) violated. A recent case of a truck vs. car crash with a fatality netted the plaintiff a huge damage award, since the trucking company couldn’t produce copies of the driver’s logs, as required by the regulations. Every large damage award (and lots of small ones too) are carefully looked at by trucking companies and their insurance carriers. The end result of this is a great deal of attention being paid to the letter of the law, and much more scrutiny and training of drivers. Gone are the days where almost any non-fatal collision was treated more or less casually by trucking companies. Nowadays, even minor collisions frequently end up with the truck driver in the unemployment line. Truck insurance being very expensive, many companies opt for policies with relatively high deductibles. Thus, even a minor wreck can eat up all of the profit that driver would make the company – and then some. Overall, I’d have to say that the net effect on saving lives is a major positive, and the effect on trucking and insurance company bottom lines is a (relatively) minor negative. Comments and questions welcome.

Heavier trucks? Bad idea.

There’s been a push of late to increase the legal maximum gross weight for a truck from 80,000 lbs to 97,000 lbs.

Bad idea.

The ATA is pushing is adding an additional axle to semi-trailers, which would allow heavier loads.  At first glance, this would seem to be a reasonable thing to do.  There are already several states that allow this, and I haven’t heard of any safety problems resulting from this.  My opposition is based on what’s going to happen to our highway system.  If you want to see what heavy trucks will do to highways, take a trip to Michigan.

Michigan allows the operation of what are colloquially known as “Michigan Trains”.  These are 11 axle monsters, and are allowed a maximum gross weight of up to 164,000 lbs (depending on axle configuration).  The portions of the highway system where these are allowed to operate resemble the craters of the moon.  Granted, this is an extreme example.  Michigan also has lousy weather, and lousy highway maintenance, but it still serves to illustrate the problem.

You can go here: http://www.truckingsafety.org/PDF/Guidebook/GB11th.pdf    to see Michigan weight limits (on page 33).

There is also a push to increase trailer sizes and allow LCV’s (Long Combination Vehicles).  Larger trailers and LCV’s are currently allowed in some states, on certain designated routes (mostly toll roads).  While these are a little on the scary side for automobile drivers, their safety record is actually quite good.  I believe this is largely due to the fact that the drivers of these rigs tend to be much more experienced than the industry average.

I’d personally like to see the current freeze on vehicle size maintained.  It’s already hard enough dragging a 53 foot trailer around without making it any harder by making them bigger.  It’s not a problem on an interstate highway — it’s when you have to get onto local roads for pickups and deliveries that it gets exciting.

The justification for increasing weight limits  is that it will reduce the number of trucks on the road.  Will it?  It likely will, although probably not by all that much.  Certain categories of freight (such as steel) will benefit from increased weight limits.  Most other kinds of freight would only benefit from increased vehicle size.  On average, a 53 foot trailer load of freight is somewhere around 30,000 lbs, for a gross weight of around 65,000 lbs. Most commodities are light enough that a full load won’t even closely approach the legal limit.

These changes are being fought by “The Truck Safety Coalition”.  These people really annoy me. They always trot out some victims (or families of victims) of truck wrecks to make their point.  How is that at all relevant?   Guess what?  By the DOT’s own statistics, 75-80% of all car vs. truck collisions are the fault of the car driver. You can also read my post .Watchdogs and the HOS regulations.  for some comments about these people.

Let’s leave the weight and size limits as they are.

Comments and questions welcome.

The Tri-State Tollway

Here’s a story about a truck driver who fell asleep on the Tri-State tollway in Illinois:

http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/newssun/news/1549245,5_1_WA29_TRCKCRSH_S1.article

http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=289658&src=3

At first glance, this would seem to be an unexceptional story. A truck driver fell asleep, and went off the road. Only minor injuries were reported. So, what’s the big deal you ask?

When most truck drivers get tired, they’ll pull over in a rest area and at least take a short nap. In most places at night this can be difficult. On the Tri-State Tollway, at 3:26 am (when the wreck occurred) it’s pretty much impossible.

The Tri-State Tollway is 78 miles long. There are four oases. The list below gives the number of truck parking spaces at each oasis. The number of spaces is approximate. Spaces were counted by using aerial imagery from Google Maps.

Oasis………………..Northbound….Southbound

Lake Forest……………14…………………14

O’Hare ………………….14…………………14

Hinsdale……………….14………………….14

Chicago Southland….24………………….24

—————————————————————–

Total……………………66…………………..66

Lake Forest, O’Hare, and Hinsdale were opened in 1959. Chicago Southland (Lincoln) was opened in 1968.

Doesn’t sound too bad, until you look at truck traffic statistics.

The statistics I found are here: http://www.illinoistollway.com/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/TOLLWAY/ABOUTTOLLWAY/ABOUTTOLLWAY_REPORTS/ABOUTTOLLWAY_CAFR/CAFR_2007.PDF

I wasn’t able to find statistics broken out for the Tri-State by itself, but the whole system handled about 92 million trucks in 2007. That’s about 250,000 a day. I’m going to guestimate that around 100,000 used the Tri-State. We’ll further simplify and just deal with northbound trucks, or around 50,000 trucks. We can see from the table above that there are approximately 66 truck parking spaces on the northbound Tri-State. This means there are about 1,600 hours of truck parking available on the northbound Tri-State, or a little under 2 minutes per truck per day. Not a whole lot of time. This doesn’t tell the whole story though. DOT regulations require truck drivers to take a minimum 10 hour break every day. If all 66 parking spaces are filled every night (and they most certainly are), that means there are really only 924 parking hours available for 49,934 trucks, or about 66 seconds per truck. Now, let’s add in some mealtimes. We’ll be conservative and say that trucks will only stop for 30 minutes for a meal. That means a theoretical maximum of 1,848 truck drivers can stop to eat. That leaves 48,086 trucks who will never be able to stop at an oasis while transiting the Tri-State because there’s no place to park. That means no food, rest, or even bathroom breaks for those drivers. Is it any wonder then, that a truck driver would fall asleep on the Tri-State Tollway?

The implications of this run even deeper than lack of rest. Tired truck drivers will park and go to sleep wherever they can find a place to do so. You can read my posts about truck parking dangers by going to the “Index” tab and scrolling down to “Threads” and reading the posts under “Jason Rivenburg’s Story”.

Building truck parking spaces costs money. Using numbers from the statistics source previously given, trucks account for about 12% of the traffic volume, and 44% of the revenue. However you slice it, trucks are bearing a disproportionately large burden paying for the Illinois Tollway system, while getting a disproportionately small share of the resources. Isn’t it time that the Illinois Tollway start considering the safety of the traveling public in general, and truck drivers in particular?

Comments and questions welcome.