By Nathan Barton
Business Insider’s recently discussed “Black Smoke Matters.” This brought to mind frequent sightings as my family and I traveled the roads this last year.
A Facebook group (with an 11-member board) is organizing truckers for a one-day strike on Friday, 12th April, three months from now. They already have 12,000 to 15,000 drivers signed up. (That sounds like a lot, but there are about 1.8 million over-the-road (OTR) truckers here in the Fifty States.)
Why strike? Back in December 2017, a new Federal rule mandated electronic logging devices (ELD) in virtually all OTR trucks. The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) rule implements a law (passed by Congress and pushed by the Obummer regime). Now, any cop or motor carrier inspector (as at one of those ubiquitous ports of entry which dot the Fifty States) can link to the ELD and see how many hours and miles that truck (and driver) have on them.
It is tied to the “Hours of Service” (HOS) regulations, which apply to drivers/truckers who have to have CDLs – Commercial Drivers Licenses. It is much easier to lose your CDL for violations or infractions, than for us to lose our regular drivers licenses. (Don’t you love all those acronyms?)
The HOS rules mandate that a driver cannot work more than 14 hours, of which only 11 can be spent driving. Including mandatory 30-minute breaks, waiting while cargo is being loaded, or while fueling or waiting for tires to be changed or other work. Even though drivers get paid by the mile, not the hour. Before the ELDs were mandated, paper, handwritten logs were used. Those could be fudged. And often were. (Anyone who has read Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein may recall the situation involving Max and an OTR driver on a guild-dominated future Earth.)
Now, when the time is up, it is up. After eleven hours of driving, or fourteen hours of “work,” the trucker has to have a continuous period of 10 hours in which she cannot drive. If the truck is equipped with a sleeper, he can stay in it (with the engine off). The argument for the Federal rule was safety. FMCSA and various groups claimed it would prevent 1,714 crashes, 522 injuries, and 24 deaths each year. (24 deaths out of about 4,000 fatalities per year involving heavy trucks.) The American Trucking Association (ATA), a trucking industry group (not a truckers’ group) and many other nanny-state organizations supported it.
What happens if they break the time limits, now tracked involuntarily by their ELD?
They get caught the next time they go through a weigh station (port of entry) or are stopped for a checkpoint/roadside inspection by some state’s motor carrier division. Guaranteed, because they self-incriminate themselves, providing the evidence to issue a citation, fine, and… revocation of their CDL. Instantly putting them out of work, and possibly incurring additional thousands of dollars of costs. If their CDL is revoked, they may not even be allowed to drive their rig to the next town, let alone hundreds of miles back to their hometown. And the fines can be in the thousands.
Which brings me back to my family and business travels.
As we travel (especially on major highways like Interstates 25, 70, 80, and 90 and US Highways 85, 385, 287, 160, and others) and at project sites, we saw the results of this rule. Thousands of trucks parked in the middle of nowhere, as well as at truck stops and rest areas. All times of day or night. Because their time had run out, and they had to stop for that mandatory 30-minute nap and especially for that 10-hour continuous mandated time off.
So when they have to, they stop. We’ve seen two or three trucks parked forty or fifty miles from the nearest town on dirt or grass. A dozen squeezed into a single rest area designed to park five or six. Outside our office/temporary lodging for a project on two major highways, we’ve seen 20-30 trucks parked in vacant blocks, with six-inch-deep mud and not even a portapotty. In a town with no fuel station for trucks and just a single cafe open barely 12 hours a day, thirty miles from the next nearest town (without much more). And we’ve seen a hundred or more trucks trying to find room at a truck stop with just fifty or sixty spaces.
I can’t imagine what it must be like in California or back East in the heavily populated areas.
As a result of this government action we find:
- Increasing transportation costs for hauling by truck (71% of cargo in the Fifty States) due to loss of efficiency and delays.
- Decreasing wages for truck drivers making it harder to make ends meet. (Truckers are paid by the mile: they get no pay while people are loading or unloading, or for their mandatory naptime, even though the feds still say they are “working.”)
- Fewer drivers (they are quitting to find better work)
- Drivers taking more risks to try and stay ahead and meet their contracts and make a living. (For example, sticking to legal speed limits despite icy roads or high winds; pushing yellow lights, delaying proper inspections and maintenance while on the road.)
So, once again, a government action has massive unintended consequences, some negating the very reason the law was passed and the regulation created.
These “Black Smoke Matters” people aren’t even trying to completely eliminate the new rule: they just want officials to listen to them more and let them participate in making rules. And to make the public more aware of the problems they face and how it impacts them. But I think they will just be ignored, strike or not.
Some blame the decline of unions for this getting by, but the Teamsters long demonstrated their concern is for dues, companies and government, not the truckers. Many of the truckers recognize this as just one more way in which their lives and daily activities are controlled more and more by government. I think that they have something.