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Selling Snake Oil

Many of you may recall a movie that came out back in the '60s or early '70s, I believe it was called 1984. It was based on a novel by George Orwell. The plot of the story was a futuristic society (the future being 1984) where Big Brother government was able to completely dominate and control the citizens through elaborate systems of electronic surveillance. Everywhere the people went, Big Brother was watching and listening. Anyone who stepped "out of line" or indicated they might, was quickly and efficiently taken care of. Big Brother controlled everything and the people had no choice but to go along.

The story seemed pretty far-fetched at the time. Maybe it could happen in the Soviet Union we thought, but not here in the United States of America. First, because our government would never think of doing such a thing. And second, if they did, we would never stand for it. We would fight back as we have in the past to protect our freedom.

But what if some of your fellow citizens were willing to give away some of your rights? Maybe because of a misguided belief that a majority of the people would benefit from limiting the rights and freedoms of a small minority, or even worse, maybe they are willing to do it for personal or corporate gain. Maybe they would try to convince you that you weren't really losing any freedom, and if there is a downside, it's outweighed by the benefits. Or maybe they would take the position that this is inevitable. It's going to happen anyway, so we're going to be the first in line.

Sound far-fetched? Well, welcome to the future. James L. Hebe, President of Freightliner Corporation, recently announced that Freightliner would be including "black boxes" capable of recording, storing, and downloading safety-related information (including hours of service), as standard equipment on its newest products. Hebe said that Freightliner's decision is in recognition of the inevitable. He stated, "I will tell you it is not if and when anymore, it's only a question of when (data recorders) become mandated . I don't care what the industry thinks about our position on data recorders - the ballgame is over." Hebe said it is clear that the regulators at the Department of Transportation and National Transportation Safety Board are moving to mandate "black boxes" on all heavy trucks to record safety related information.

Well, maybe Mr. Hebe should care what truckers think - after all, who is it that buys his trucks? Think about it. If you went to the store to buy a television and were told by the sales clerk that among all of the other outstanding features on his TVs, while you were watching them, his TVs will be watching you. In fact, they'll be watching you even when you're not watching them. Not only that, they will be reporting what they see to government enforcement agencies just to make sure your activities are legal and don't cause harm to yourself or anyone else. I suspect it wouldn't take you long to tell the clerk what to do with his television set.

I agree with Hebe on one point. That is, the U.S. DOT and the National Transportation Safety Board do very much want to require electronic surveillance equipment (black boxes) on all commercial trucks; they may even accomplish this objective at some time in the future. Their task will certainly be made easier because of the advanced work of Freightliner in developing and adapting this technology to its trucks, and even easier yet, if the equipment is already installed, then all that has to be done is gain access to the information being stored.

I strongly disagree with Hebe on the important point of simply accepting this mandate as inevitable. If such a mandate is attempted, we at OOIDA are committed to fighting against it with all the resources we have available. Private citizens should not be subjected to electronic surveillance by the government just because they happen to drive a truck for a living. If truckers are subjected to it, then who will be next? As Todd Spencer states in his comments on page 16 on a related subject, no other citizen has the authority to give away someone else's individual rights. It's up to everyone to say no when the government tries to overstep its bounds.

Unfortunately, this isn't Mr. Hebe's first excursion into attempting to force his notion of what's best for the trucking industry down our throats. For the past couple of years, he has been aggressively lobbying for increased truck size and weight limits. He suggests this increase in "productivity" should be granted in exchange for adoption of some very expensive (and unproven) safety technologies, that just happen to be built into a new cabover truck Freightliner designed, called the Odyssey or Argosy, or something like that. The increase in productivity was to come in the form of a specially designed 58 ft., 3-axle trailer, and 90,000 lbs. gross weight.

Mr. Hebe brags about Freightliner being the largest truck manufacturer in the United States, and he's probably right. According to our figures, approximately 27 percent of independent truckers drive Freightliner trucks. That's a pretty good percentage of the market, but it doesn't give Hebe or Freightliner the right to start dictating policy to truckers, or to pretend to speak for them on important issues. Mr. Hebe should focus on building affordable, quality trucks and leave the representation of trucker's interests to those who hold that huge responsibility as a first priority. If he can't do that, then truckers should tell him to park his trucks in the same place we would tell that TV salesman to put his two-way television.

March/April
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