Line One
Truckers Speak Out
Highway safety

Reckless in Knoxville

By Ralph Chappell, Winston Salem, NC

While patiently working my way through a two-mile backup of I-640 construction in Knoxville, TN, I overheard a Mattingly Transport driver report being ticketed for "impeding traffic" by a city police officer. As I approached the lane closure, a pickup truck moved into the left lane to block the steady flow of cars ignoring the two-mile opportunity to merge, and was immediately pounced upon by the KPD officer. When the traffic forced me to stop beside the officer and violator, I held out a business card and offered to testify (for the violator) and was summoned to join the officer at the roadside.

After threatening me with arrest for "interfering with a police officer" and "reckless driving" he ultimately released the two of us with a verbal warning not to "impede" traffic again. He stated that there was nothing he could do about the motorists that refused to merge. He then drove two miles past hundreds of law abiding, courteous citizens only to dive into the open lane at the very end of the lanes, citing that his tickets to "lane blockers" was an effort to minimize the traffic backup caused by that practice. This seems to ignore the major cause for backups - the inability of drivers to merge in a timely, safe, courteous manner, and targets well- meaning, frustrated motorists who are more victims than villains. I suggested verbal warnings to "blockers" were in order, and tickets for the others a more appropriate approach to the problem.

Two stories, one point

by Dannie Stover, New Albany, OH

I saw an accident early one morning on I-70 eastbound, involving two semis. One driver apparently fell asleep and rear-ended another truck-tanker, which caused the tanker to catch fire, burning both to the ground and causing a fatality, reports said.

On my way back on I-70 eastbound in Indiana, at milepost #144 at a rest area (and I emphasize rest area) at about 6:30 a.m. there was an Indiana DOT man in the rest area waking up truckers and asking them for their logbooks, etc. He was apparently writing tickets before telling them to move on. This practice by reports happens all the time at this particular rest area, as well as rest areas in Ohio and Michigan. I have witnessed that with my own eyes.

The reason I am mentioning these two incidents together is that a driver in a rest area, trying to run legal and taking a break, should not be afraid to do so for fear of being wakened and harassed by DOT or state police. Maybe the same trucker who fell asleep 100 miles east of this rest area was wakened by this same DOT cop that morning.

This practice should not be tolerated. We should demand some action on this possible dangerous situation. I don't see the state police or DOT waking up people in big fancy motorhomes parked in truck lanes or these rest areas and giving them tickets or telling them to move on.

The company store

by Harry Ingholt, Hi-way Partners LLC,
Litchfield Park, AZ

I've just finished reading "Sweatshops on Wheels" by Dr. Mike Belzer and found it an excellent description of the losses suffered by drivers and trucking companies since the 1970s. It's one thing to say "things are tough," and it's another to say exactly how tough they are, to suggest why, and to offer solutions. Dr. Belzer combines disciplined research with the insight of an experienced over-the-road truckdriver.

Based on his findings, Dr. Belzer argues that the loss of earnings stems from "excessive competition," and can be fixed by new forms of regulation and a stronger unionization. Sharp competition doesn't always produce the "race to the bottom" that he describes in trucking; could it be that competition in trucking is being interfered with in a way Dr. Belzer hasn't considered?

There are two sides to any industry: operations and capital. In trucking, competition continues to squeeze operators, but what's happening on the capital side? Who keeps buying new trucks while dealers' lots fill up with paid-off 5- to 10-year-old Freightliners?

Railroad engineers don't purchase their locomotives; airline pilots don't buy their 747s and ship captains don't pay for their vessels. But truckdrivers buy their trucks, and the lease or purchase payment comes off the top of their settlement income, often before they even see the check.

Three features of this situation undermine free competition:

  • When the driver buys through his company, he has to accept the stated sale price, which may be substantially higher than a realistic "market" rate.

  • The trucker's freedom to seek the best rates is restricted, in the case of company drivers or leased-on independents, to accepting or rejecting the loads offered.

  • The lender can make money even when the driver fails.

In effect, the people who supply the capital have found ways to control the workplace. Today's trucking industry resembles a "sweatshop," but the underlying evils are those of the 19th century company store. Too many drivers on the road today face unworkable terms of payment for their equipment. New regulations, revised hours of service, "black boxes" or a rebirth of the Teamsters won't be enough until something is done to level the playing field on the financing side.

Do yourself a favor, lose the paunch

Douglas Dear, Dhanis, TX

I am 29 and a bodybuilder and have driven for eight years. I know how hard it is not only to lose weight, but to keep it off. It is even harder in a truck. I have a gym at my house and I am home every day so I work out and watch my diet like a hawk. Tuesday I met this driver who not only is lean, but big as well. Twenty-two-inch arms, 55-inch chest, 32-inch waist and on and on. On average, he can get to a gym two times a week. He said it just cost five to seven bucks and then he showed me what he does in the truck with dumbbells and believe it or not - bungee cords (like flatbed bungee cords for tarping). He would place them around the clutch pedal and do arm curls, hook them overhead for his triceps. He would hook them to the steps to work his back. He could nearly do a full-body workout just on the truck. Except for his legs and chest and that's why he goes to the gym.

Like me, his supplements and diet are very lean. A high-protein diet which is a lot of chicken, fish and lean cuts of red meat. And protein shakes when you're under bodybuilding workouts. Now it's amazing to me that he maintains this lifestyle while driving over the road. He said he's gone 10 to 14 days. He is 50 years old. He said he started when he was 41. My point is if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle while on the road you have no excuse, it can be done.

One more thing, he tries to stay out of the diners and take his own food, stops at the grocery store and grills his chicken at rest areas; carries his own charcoal. I just think the road drivers should know it can be done.

I had to lose 35 pounds for my blood pressure, got the weight off and feel great.

How the government can improve safety

Roger Bence, San Bernardino, CA

Instead of going after the HOS proposal itself, it is high time we in the business start going after those who want to control our industry and our lives. Interstate ground transportation is the most regulated and interfered with business in the world. I thought deregulation was enacted in 1979. No other industry or group or class is subjected to such scrutiny, when it is actually in the name of revenue and controlled by incompetent appointees. Let's do something about getting people in the system who truly are qualified, with a college degree or the equivalent and not less than 10 years experience as a driver if not an owner-operator.

And of course you can. The larger companies who came out in support of the initial proposal who'd like to gobble up the little guys, then try to blame all truck accidents on smaller companies and independents. As I have said before and repeat now, if the government wants to improve safety on the highways then do the following:

1) Improve the neglected highways, increase funds for maintenance, and don't accept the low or mid-range contractor bid for highway work, you get what you pay for.

2) Crackdown on the private vehicle driver who thinks he is A. J. Foyt, doing 20 to 50 miles over the speed limit, and lane jumping.

3) Initiate a 50-state mandatory requirement for all through traffic, especially trucks to be confined to two lanes far left, and all commuter and four-wheel vehicles prohibited with a severe fine for violation ($1000) this would eliminate cars cutting across in front of trucks entering and exiting the freeways at the last second.

4) Mandatory uniform speed limits in all states for all vehicles, preferably 70 on the open highway, 60 within city commuter influence.

5) Automatic $1,000 minimum fine and up to six months jail for any driver who refuses to merge or accelerates to pass others in a construction zone, or within the zone after the first warning signs, and prior to an actual lane closure

6) Initiate the same kind of training and testing for a class B license as a class A and a psychological screening for attitude.

7) Stop states from closing existing rest areas and build more, these are federal highways; it should not be possible for a state to close or destroy a rest area. Prohibit motor homes from using them for free campgrounds; allow up to 12 hours parking for trucks without police harassment.

8) Certainly do not allow 18-year-olds right out of high school to drive a truck. The highest incident of accidents is among 18 to 26 year olds. We must ensure all drivers can read and write English, and understand the meanings of all road signs and traffic advisory devices no bilingual driving test period.

9) Prohibit under existing laws the practice of shipper/receiver requiring already tired drivers to load or unload their truck. And enforce it. It's illegal and has been since 1977. The receiver unloads his own product, this is already the case with flatbed freight and most government loads

10) Since only 12 to 26 percent of all truck accidents can actually be charged to the trucker depending on whose research you believe, that means 76 to 88 percent is the fault of the four-wheeled commuter driver, stressed out from work, sleepy or drunk, or overly aggressive. Let's go after the real problem, the nonprofessional.

11) I know when I am tired and need to rest or actually sleep and it is not when the government tells me I must sleep and it is the quality of sleep the really matters.