Riding shotgun ’round the Sea of Galilee
On a recent trip to Israel, OOIDA Member Shalom Jacobs spent a day riding along with a local trucking company.

By Greg Grisolano, staff writer

Like many truckers, OOIDA Member Shalom Jacobs admits to being the sort of guy who “lives and breathes trucking.” Even on a recent vacation to Israel, Jacobs dedicated a day to spending time with a local trucking firm in the Golan Heights to get a feel for what his fellow truckers in another country experience in their day-to-day operations.

“I’m a workaholic, I’m a trucker, I live it every day,” he said. “I always wondered what it was like (to be a trucker in another country).”

“I was amazed at how open people were and how ready they were to share their experience. Not only the drivers, but the people in the office. They actually dropped everything they were doing to answer all my questions. I was expecting ‘Leave us all of your DNA and information,’ but the fact of the matter was, ‘OK, here’s your driver, enjoy your trip.’ The regulations were much more relaxed and the drivers weren’t facing the mountain of information we have here.”

Jacobs, an OOIDA member and owner-operator from Cottage Grove, Minn., has been a trucker for about 12 years. He said he goes to Israel for a month to six weeks every year, something his fellow Minnesotans call “snowbirding.” He even lived there for a time.

“I lived in an agriculture area, so I had a lot of experience working around trucks, but I never really drove those bigger, heavier trucks that they have there,” he said. “I thought I knew a lot about it, but apparently not.”

Making the grade
Jacobs said he spent a full day in mid-January riding along with a driver from Emek-Hayarden Ltd., a trucking company in the Golan Heights. The trucking company was located in a valley below the Sea of Galilee, and drivers face an uphill climb at a 12 percent grade just to get out.

Jacobs said steep grades like that are fairly common throughout the country.

“You start your day and you ask the driver where are we going? And he just looks up and says ‘That way,’” he said. “You don’t want to miss a gear, going up the hill there, and you don’t want to choose the wrong gear when you start going down a hill.”

Most of the power units in Israel are cabovers designed for heavy-hauling and maneuverability on narrower Old World style streets and highways.

“Both in Europe and Israel, the roads are not so big, the cities are not so big, and the space for (maneuvering) a vehicle is not as good as we have here,” he said. “The interstates are not as developed. All of the equipment is much, much smaller in size; however, it’s much heavier. In most cases the motors are much more powerful. It’s a different combination.”

Jacobs said the rig he rode along in was a 2013 DAF Model 105 tractor-trailer, with a 460 horsepower motor, 18-speed manual transmission and two steer axles. The gross vehicle weight is 65 metric tons. Standard safety features include an air disc brake system for everything but the drive axles, a retarder brake, an engine brake, anti-lock braking system and electronic stability control, as well as radar collision detection and “smart” cruise control that can slow the truck to a halt.

“It’s amazing the maneuverability and places those rigs can get into and out of,” he said. “It’s just outstanding. Even when it comes to taking a turn to the right or to the left, they see much better to the sides. The vehicle drives just next to the road without any problems. The trailer is following the steer axles almost to the point. So the maneuverability of those kinds of rigs is much better.”

Long-hauling? Eh, not so much . . .
One of the biggest differences between Israeli and American trucking is the basic geography of the two countries. Jacobs said the idea of “long hauling” is something of a misnomer, as most trips take three hours or less. Israel’s hours of service also require a 30-minute break every four hours.

“You never get to drive for four hours, so that’s never a problem. It’s never an issue,” he said. “It’s a very small country. Size-wise, you could easily fit it into New Jersey.”

Because of the relatively small size of the country, Jacobs said most routes could be defined as either local or regional.

He said it’s a common sight not only to see fully loaded tandem trailers going uphill at low speed, but also for other truckers and even passenger vehicles to slow down or give the right of way to the heavy-hauling behemoths.

“When driving up the hill very, very slow, you do not take the lane; you take the shoulder,” he said. “You make way for other traffic to share the road with you. We had a couple of incidents where we pulled all the way to the shoulder to make way for a heavier vehicle that had to overcome us or come in front of us. It’s challenging.”

At one point on a particularly skinny, curvy stretch of downhill, Jacobs said some of the wheels on his rig were actually off the ground.

Driver training makes a difference
Jacobs said what struck him as most different between the American trucking experience and the Israeli way was what he described as “relaxed regulations.”

“Drivers weren’t facing the mountain of information we have here,” he said.

Jacobs said he asked the driver he shadowed about drunk driving regulations and drug and alcohol testing.

“He looked at me like it (was surprising) you’re even asking me,” he said. “I said, ‘You’ve been a trucker for two decades. How often are you drug-tested?’ He said they did so in CDL school two decades ago. I said, ‘Isn’t that a problem?’

“He said somebody has to be extremely stupid to put themselves in a condition that he might be eligible for drug testing in an accident. When something goes wrong with this size of rig, they’re going to know everything that happened immediately. … This is not an issue on the radar screen for anybody in the industry.”

But relaxed regulations don’t necessarily mean lax safety compliance, at least not in his experience. There’s also an increased emphasis on driver training.

“Safety as far as I could tell is on a much higher level than what I experience here in America, and I think that much of it can be attributed to driver training,” he said.

The process of getting a commercial driver’s license definitely isn’t one of those areas where the regulations are “relaxed.” Those who seek a CDL in Israel must start with a license that authorizes transporting up to 15 tons and up to 11 passengers. That license must be kept in good standing for at least a year before the driver can apply for a CDL authorizing operation of a non-combination vehicle over 15 tons. Both licenses also require at least three months in driving school.

“You cannot obtain a CDL unless you go through the whole training process,” Jacobs said. “You cannot obtain any driver’s license for any size vehicle unless you go to a reputable driving school and pass a very strict training program.”

Once a driver receives a non-combination over-15-ton vehicle permit, it takes at least two years of experience before he or she is allowed into a combination vehicle. Combination vehicles also have their own certifications and licenses for additional onboard equipment like cranes, or for specialty hauling such as tankers or hazmat.

Overall, the combination of the geographic closeness of the country, the closeness of the trucking community, and an increased sense of personal responsibility is the biggest difference.

“The trucks are moving much slower, but are way heavier,” he said. “When there is a truck accident, everybody in the industry knows exactly what happened; the investigation takes place immediately. … On the one hand, there’s not much regulation. On the other hand, there is a lot of personal responsibility that is being expected from the professionals in that industry.” LL