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Black Box Trucking Proposal & FMCSA Cracks Down On Wisconsin Trucking Company

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Two different news stories this week deal with the trucking industry and commercial trucking safety.

The first story comes from USA Today and has to do with onboard data recorders – black boxes similar to those found on aircraft.

The second story is from Transport Topics and describes the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's shut down of a Wisconsin trucking company deemed an "imminent safety hazard".

Black Box Proposal

USA Today reported that a proposal to require commercial truck drivers to install electronic on-board data recorders – similar to "black boxes" found on aircraft has divided two of the country's larges trucking organizations. These black boxes would (among other things) help to ensure that truck drivers do not exceed federal hours-of-service rules. Most truck drivers currently keep time sheets and hours worked in paper log books.

The proposal has pitted large trucking companies against smaller and independent operators.

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) opposes the black box requirement, suggesting the measure will not increase safety and will invade drivers' privacy and raise costs. The American Trucking Association (ATA), however, supports mandating the recorders.

"There are people who are driving illegally because of these paper logs," [ATA spokesperson Sean] McNally says. "Our fleet members who are using (recorders) tell us it cuts down on hours-of-service violations, makes it less burdensome to do paperwork, and they have fewer violations and comply with (federal) rules more effectively."

Todd Spencer at OOIDA disagrees:

"The big fleets… contend that a recorder is more reliable. But it's not. All it can tell is whether a vehicle is moving or not. It can't tell whether or not that driver is on duty or off duty…. The reason big (trucking firms) want real-time tracking of trucks is that for them it's a productivity device. They want to make sure trucks and drivers are moving every single minute… regardless of whether a driver is too tired or too fatigued."

Semi truck driver fatigue has become a serious safety issue. Studies show that nearly 1/3 of commercial truck drivers in the US suffer from obstructive sleep apnea that cause excessive drowsiness and fatigue and contribute to a large number of crashes, injuries, and deaths each year.

Semi Truck Accidents - Langdon & Emison

In addition, hours of service requirements and standard truck driver compensation programs increase the likelihood that a truck driver will drive too long for safe driving. In the name of equipment utilization, professional drivers are pushed by their companies to log more miles in less time over longer and longer stretches of highway. The system is stacked against truck drivers because the corporations that make millions off of the driver's hard work shifts all of the burdens and risks onto the driver. Drivers are most frequently paid by the mile, not the hour. Thus, when there is highway congestion, road construction, bad weather or other delay, it is the driver that is penalized. The driver must work longer hours for the same pay and is sometimes pressured to "make up time."

New federal hours of service rules fall short in protecting drivers and the rest of us driving on US highways.

Wisconsin Trucking Company Shut Down

In other news, Transport Topics, reported that a Wisconsin trucking company – WTSA US Express – was ordered to shut down by the FMCSA because the company was found to be an "imminent safety hazard".

The FMCSA found that WTSA US Express employed drivers without valid commercial driver's licenses and medical certificates. The company also permitted its drivers to operate with out records of duty status and failed to test its drivers for use of controlled substances.

"Commercial truck and bus companies that blatantly violate federal safety standards and jeopardize public safety will be shut down. Safety is always our top priority," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

I've had my share of disagreements with DOT policies and regulations (and I don't believe safety is always its top priority) – but I'm glad to see the FMCSA cracking down on companies who jeopardize safety.

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(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison

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