Dashboard confidential
I don't scare easy, but...

By Dave Sweetman, columnist

I don't scare very easily. Having spent three years in the Army in some ugly places and witnessing some pretty awful things, I admit I really wasn't scared. Aware, but not really scared.

With nearly 5 million miles behind the wheel of a big rig with no crashes, in all sorts of weather, I've never really been scared. You adjust your speed, increase your following distance or if it gets too bad, park and wait it out. Again, it's about awareness of your surroundings. I have never needed a dash full of gizmos or an office nanny to tell me when it's safe to go (or not).

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not against progress or technology to make our highways safer. Quite the opposite. Safety is No. 1, as I am entrusted with many millions of dollars of precious cargo. I am, as are all commercial drivers, entrusted with the safety of the other motorists around me. I take that very seriously. Always have, always will.

In fact, I call myself an "offensive" driver. Not that I am a bully, rather that I am always on the offensive looking for and anticipating others' bad or dangerous driving behavior before they cause a crash.

What I have seen in the past several years is an increase in bad behavior by steering wheel holders as well as car drivers. It's bad enough that many are on the phone, texting, reading or even watching TV going down the road.

Admit it. You all see it. Everyone thinks they are a better driver than the other guy, until they drift into the other lane, or come dangerously close to rear-ending slowing or stopped traffic. It scares you. You promise you'll never do it again. Until your phone rings. You see it every day.

And with an ever more intrusive, overregulating bunch of D.C. rule makers, we are getting more and more restrictive mandates, laws and rules that, in my opinion, are hurting the trucking industry. And it will become even more so. In turn, it not only will hurt our economy and the food distribution network, but will cost the consumer, as well as the trucking companies and owner-operators dearly. The safety factor is being overregulated, so that we will be less safe.

Proposed speed limiters on trucks that will impose a lower limit and create a difference between car and truck speeds will cause more rear-end crashes.

Look at California, for one. There it is 70 mph for cars, 55 mph for trucks. Perhaps they could take a cue from Ohio and Illinois, which found that uniform speeds actually increased safety and reduced accidents.

Onboard recorders to monitor log hours may seem like a good idea to the Beltway insiders, but common sense is missing here.

Personally, I don't need a box or monitor to tell me when I need to sleep. I run safe and compliant and have never had a logbook ticket in 43 years of trucking. A regulator who has never been in a truck is telling me to stop in downtown Dallas because the clock says so?

I saw a perfect example last week in Harrisburg, Pa. Traffic was rolling slowly at the I-81/I-83 junction and a C.R. England truck pulled to the shoulder and stopped. I asked if he was OK, and surprisingly he answered and said he was. The trouble was, he was out of driving hours due to a 20-minute traffic delay and his onboard recorder would flag him as a violator. Less than 4 miles from a major network of truck stops and safe parking, the poor driver was parked on the roadside for his 10-hour break with no food or facilities because he was terrified of getting a reprimand. Where is the common sense here?

If this is the future of trucking, we are in big trouble. The system is not broken, but we are being overregulated until it is broken. We will get more regulations to fix what the nannies broke. I hear many drivers say they are giving it up and coming off the road. Safe, experienced drivers who are tired of the nannies, overzealous enforcement money grabbers, and shrinking profit margins.

And I have to admit, although I don't scare easily, this scares me. It should scare America as well. LL