Truckers speak out
Truckers respond to Johnston's "Big Brother" column

Since OOIDA President Jim Johnston took umbrage against Freightliner's decision to include black boxes as standard equipment in their trucks

("Of Big Brother, black boxes, and bad business," November, 1999), OOIDA has been flooded with comments from members and readers alike. The association received an overwhelming amount of support for Johnston's column.

The lone dissenter was James Hebe, president of Freightliner Corporation. He voiced his disagreement with Johnston's column via a four-page letter. Land Line was encouraged to print the letter, provided it was printed in its entirety. Unfortunately, the editorial department was unable to allocate adequate space to include refutation in its entirety. If you would like to read Jim Hebe's letter in its entirety, go to www.ooida.com.

"Freightliner has no business introducing black box technology as standard equipment without knowing what information can be used and for what purpose."

Bill Harris of Dawsonville, GA, has specific concerns with data recorders. "The issue of the "black box" scares the hell out of me," he says. "Recently I changed leases due to the carrier demanding Qualcomm, at my expense. Qualcomm is a clear violation of privacy in the workplace. What other occupation requires an employee to be tracked every minute of the day? Are drivers too ignorant to realize Qualcomm has many dangerous possibilities in the very near future?"

Lou Steadman, vice president of Kismet Enterprises, Inc. says Freightliner is moving too fast in the direction of this new technology.

"I spec'd a Freightliner Classic XL and was ready to order it as our first Freightliner," he says. "But now (Freightliner) can keep it. (They) have no business introducing black box technology as standard equipment without knowing what information can be used and for what purpose. This will set up liabilities without limit on companies and drivers. This industry has enough "Big Brothers" already. There are many issues that need to be addressed before deciding on the black box. (We are) ceasing all business with Freightliner and any of its involvements, and will encourage every carrier, owner-operator and fleet owner possible to do likewise. As OOIDA members we stand committed to fight this with every resource available."

Carla Evans of Anderson, CA, says she and her husband have been Freightliner customers for the past five years. They took offense with the manner in which one Freightliner customer service representative responded to a customer who voiced his displeasure with the new technology ("Advice from Freightliner's customer help department," November 1999).

"We find Freightliner's response to Mr. Daniel Karr to be not only offensive, but true to form where Freightliner's Customer Service is concerned," she says. "In fact, we wish to inform (Freightliner) that this manner of dealing with your customers is exactly why we are former owner-operators of a Freightliner. We have taken our hard-earned dollars elsewhere. The very idea that Mr. Karr will be looking for a new line of work if he isn't operating a Freightliner is just a bit too godlike of an opinion on your part. I must admit when we read Jim (Johnston's) editorial we were stunned. We got on the CB every opportunity to inform anyone who had not heard of this decision. The response was unanimously against Mr. Hebe."

Bryan Oberholtzer of Big-O Trucking was also upset by the response Mr. Karr received in return for his opinion on crash data recorders.

"I was sorry to read the article in Land Line," he says. "I too own a Freightliner and am sorry to say I will never buy one with a black box."

One particularly potent piece of feedback we received was in the form of a letter sent by Michael Nichols of Janesville, WI. It was addressed to James Hebe:

"I have enclosed copies of three articles, which appeared in the November and December 1999 issues of Land Line Magazine. If you have not read them, I urge you to do so. Then you might at least understand why I will never again give Freightliner Corporation or its dealers any of my business! Furthermore, I pledge to devote a considerable amount of time and resources in educating potential and current Freightliner customers of your anti owner-operator positions. I will encourage them to visit their local Freightliner dealer and explain to the salesmen why they are taking their business elsewhere.

"Long before you announced your position of data recorders and other devices designed to take away control from the driver (lane guidance, roll adviser, etc.), it has been clear that Freightliner is really only concentrating on marketing to the truckload carriers. They believe they need this technology because they cannot seem to hire or train drivers with the required skill needed to safely operate a tractor-trailer.

"You have forgotten about us safe and professional veterans of this industry who have supported your company in the past. My freedom and privacy are some of the few remaining redeeming qualities I can enjoy from a business, which has declined in the way the trucking industry has. I can tell you that it is certainly not the rates that keep us professionals trucking.

"I cannot finish this letter without expressing my disgust with the comments of your customer service representative David Markham. It is clear that your anti-privacy, anti owner-operator attitudes run deep within the company. Is he the guy that is supposed to help when someone calls your help department? What kind of idiot would respond to customer feedback like that? He's the guy that should be enjoying a new line of work!"

-by Jason Cisper