Thursday, June 18, 2015

140 Characters Just Doesn't Cut It

I came across a video yesterday that was making the rounds on Facebook. As I was watching it, the very first thought that came to mind - after the incredulous "Whaaatttt???" that came out of my mouth - was, "At least he has a licensed CDL holder in the seat next to him."

That thought stemmed from the recent ruling the FMCSA made regarding Utah-based carrier C.R. England, exempting them from federal rules that require a commercial driver's license holder to be seated next to a driver holding only a commercial learner's permit, while the CLP holder is operating a commercial vehicle.

For those of you who don't understand what this means, it's similar to not letting your 15-year-old with a learner's permit, out of your sight while they're driving.  The regs state, "The CDL holder must at all times be physically present in the front seat of the vehicle next to the CLP (commercial learner's permit) holder, and must have the CLP holder under observation and direct supervision."

The reason for this is so the CLP holder doesn't meet his friends at the Dairy Queen and do smokey burnouts in the parking lot.  Wait, that's your 15-year-old.  Seriously though, the reason for this should be so obvious that if you don't see it, you really need to consider having your head examined.

I'll be the first one to tell you that driving a truck is like driving a big car, but I'll also tell you that driving a car for 23 years before I drove a truck, didn't fully prepare me for operating an 18-wheeler. And I'm an awesome driver.

I learned how to drive in New York and was tackling New York City and the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT) before I was out of my teens.  I drove in snow and ice. I snaked through country back roads to escape the traffic caused by Sullivan County bungalow dwellers. I traveled I-95 just to go to a concert out of state. Ask any trucker what I-95 is like in that area - many of them refuse to even service the Northeast.  They're that scared of the traffic. And the congestion. And hell, maybe even the people.

I frequently traveled almost two hours from the Catskill Mountains to visit my family in Westchester County, Yonkers, Long Island, and The Bronx. I traversed the George Washington Bridge (both levels!) and maneuvered along the Major Deegan with the precision of a synchronized swimmer. I drove people to the airport, for Chrissake! Newark, La Guardia, and JFK. I was good.  Yet with all the spectacular driving I did, I still needed Ed in the seat next to me when I left trucking school and got behind the wheel of our rig.    

So upon hearing of the ridiculous decision the FMCSA made (WTF were they thinking?) because C.R. England asked nicely (pretty please, with a cherry on top?), I did what any annoyed social media participant would do.

I tweeted.

I should have included the FMCSA in this first tweet, but I didn't.  Because duh, I was making fun of C.R. England and the drivers they were planning to cut loose on the highways.  The fetuses of trucking.

This was their response to that tweet.

So I gave them a link to refresh their memory.

And in their smug "there's always 2 sides and I'm including a smiley face" response, they linked to this.  
An article which includes a paragraph pointing to exactly where their request stems from. Their bank accounts.

It stated, "The carrier complained that it was too expensive to get new drivers back to their local DMVs to pick up their CDLs, impairing their ability to train and hire new drivers.  This despite the fact that Google Finance reports C.R. England's revenues for 2014 as just shy of $3 Billion with after-tax earning of over $200 million."

Too expensive?  You did see the $3 BILLION dollar part, right?  You think in the $200 MILLION they get to keep out of that $3 BILLION, they can find money for a round-trip plane ticket for the driver who's going to help them make their next $200 million?

Their petition read, "Either we send the driver to their home state by bus or airplane, at C.R. England's expense, and hope that the CLP holder obtains the final CDL and returns to C.R. England, or C.R. England must incur double the cost for about half of the production by sending them to their home state on one of our trucks."  

What bullshit.  So because it's going to cut into their millions and billions, they're willing to let an inexperienced driver - granted, with a licensed CDL holder somewhere in the truck with them - take a trip back to their home state without adequate supervision while they're behind the wheel?

Remember up there when I said I needed Ed sitting next to me?  That's because stuff happens.  And sometimes you don't even have a chance to yell, "Wake up! I have a question."  You need a second set of eyes.  Because you honestly don't know what the hell you're doing.  You just took a test a 5th grader can pass, and have maybe driven around a parking lot for a few weeks.  Or taken the big journey a few miles on an interstate.  Or, learned how not to run over a sign when your trailer is tracking behind you around a turn.

It's a weird experience because in your mind you're saying, "What the hell?  I know how to drive.  Why is this so hard?"  Your shoulders and arms hurt from gripping the wheel. Your foot may or may not be able to press the clutch all the way to the floor. You forget what all the buttons on the dash do. Or even where they are. You can have 10 or 13 or 18 gears.  With a splitter.

I'm a badass.  Cool as a cucumber.  I learned how to parallel park a 1970 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in New York before I got out of high school.  But when I first started driving a truck, there were definitely times I felt flustered.  Even after trucking school and 180 plus hours of training.

But these folks want to send their students home to get their CDLs. That's nice. They want to both save money and give their students a chance to see what it feels like to "earn money" on a run. Buh. Hull. Shit. All they want is for that driver to start making money for them as soon as they can. They aren't really concerned about what might happen in between.

Really, the trainer is a babysitter of sorts.  A chaperone, a guard.  They're there to make sure the student doesn't get away before the company can get their money's worth. The company is afraid the student will change their mind, or go work for another company back home, and they'll have lost money on their training.  So the trainer provides insurance that the student comes back.

They want to send a team (student and trainer) on the road to the home state of the new driver to pick up their official state-issued CDL. I don't have a problem with that.  I do have a problem with the fact that they're going to let a brand new driver, with 17 days of training, onto the highways of America, by themselves, with essentially a learner's permit, and no one in the seat next to them for any immediate questions that may come up.

But they had an answer for that, too.

Of course there's no data.  Because they don't COLLECT that kind of data.  Maybe they should.  Maybe, at each crash site, they should note how much experience the driver - the gal with three months, the team with 10 years, the six-month-hey!-I-was-just-made-a-driver-trainer! guy, the 35-year veteran, the multi-million-miler - had with their trainer when they got out of trucking school.  Then we'd be able to more accurately pinpoint whether or not a present and readily available trainer, watching their every move, matters in those crucial first weeks.  Veteran drivers will tell you right off the bat that more and better training does matter.

You know, if these people - the ones who run companies like C.R. England, the lawmakers, the FMCSA in this horrible judgement call they made - had to choose a doctor to do well, anything on them, I'm willing to bet they'd want the guy who's been doing triple bypass surgeries for 10 years and not the guy with three months experience.  And I'm sure saying, "Don't worry, the lead surgeon will be in the building while your surgery is being performed." would offer little comfort.

I looked up C.R. England's crash stats, and with my untrained eye decided that they should probably think twice before sending inexperienced drivers out on the road without supervision.  And I told them so.

I knew what their response was going to be, and I wish I could have included in my 140-character tweet, "I know what you're going to say next...they're not unqualified."  Because bam! There it was.  So predictable.

They've proven they don't need any more training??

It's interesting that C.R. England thinks their students don't need more training. After 17 days, they think their students are ready to hit the road.  By themselves, in the front seat, operating an 80,000 pound vehicle, while their co-driver/trainer/voice-of-reason takes a nap in the sleeper.

It's interesting because in 2011, when Dan England, the chairman & president of C.R. England, was the vice chairman of the ATA (American Trucking Associations), he thought Congress needed to "raise the bar" for new companies entering the industry by requiring them to successfully complete training and an examination  (whatever that means) before being permitted to operate. And they should also be subject to a safety audit six months in, not the 18 months later that was standard at that time.
Grammatically incorrect photo courtesy of
Waaiiiittt a minute.  So new "companies" should undergo extensive training before they're allowed to operate, but students can just drive willy-nilly to go pick up their laminated CDL?

Look, I don't have time to read all this crap and comb through the double-speak deciding the safest way to operate a truck, but it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that 17 days isn't enough time to prepare anyone to drive an 18-wheeler five miles, let alone 500 miles.

And a monkey could pass the written exams.  Hell, you can study for the exam and take practice tests ONLINE.  They're almost identical to the state exams at your home DMV, multiple choice.  And depending which state you're in, the number of answers you're allowed to miss and still get your CDL varies.

So, anyway, after this last tweet I had to remind them that all the other drivers they trained - who presumably passed both the written and practical portions of their exams, and had proven they didn't need any more training - were the very same drivers involved in the 707 crashes their company self-reported to the FMCSA.

Of those 707 crashes, 22 people died.  Meaning, they're dead.  No life left.

The report covers 24 months.  The 24 months prior to today's date.  So in 24 months, they had 707 crashes.  Of those crashes, 503 resulted in a tow, 182 resulted in injury, and 22 resulted in death.

Do you know how many crashes that is, per week, for that two year period?  Lemme tell you.

6.79 crashes per week.

That's almost ONE PER DAY.

So you could say, if you wanted to spread that out over the past two years, that a C.R. England driver has crashed EVERY SINGLE DAY.

They're smart people.  They know where to find this information.  Fortunately, some of this data is also available to the public, so I dug up the info and sent them a link.  Totally sweet of me, right?

I obviously wasn't making a clear point. 

I beg to differ.  The report has everything to do with the topic.  Because the topic is SAFETY.  And it's not safe if people are dying.

This was their next comment.

Ooooooh, burn.  They used the note "from the report itself" to prove their drivers are blameless.  Clever.

You can't have 707 crashes in two years - one per day - with 22 fatalities, and not think your drivers may have contributed in some manner.  I know the media, and the public, often get it wrong when it comes to placing blame for who is at fault in collisions between trucks and passenger vehicles.  I've written about that, too.  But have a little common sense.

Not that they'll give a hoot, but I didn't really appreciate the fact that they were implying that their drivers - you know, the ones involved in the 707 crashes that were reported in "the report" that has nothing to do with the topic - weren't in part, responsible for some of those crashes.

Then they used a word I suppose they thought a truck driver might not know - turbid.  It's not a word commonly used, but I do read a lot and I play Scrabble.

I initially replied to the tweet but when I re-read my response, my sarcasm didn't come across exactly as I had intended, and it didn't make sense because they sent a two-part tweet and I had sent my response before the second half of their sentence came in, so I deleted it.

But I do like their very sincere "Sorry you feel other wise."

The thing about this exemption decision is that it sets a ball in motion.  If C.R. England got the exemption, why not every other carrier?  I'm sure all the big carriers can write their own driver-shortage, potential-revenue-busting letters, crying poverty with a million dollar chicken under each arm.

The fact that the FMCSA was bamboozled by C.R. England's request - even though they received strong opposition - is beyond comprehension.  This is the same FMCSA that's always touting safety, right? Well, 92% of people responding to England's request thought it was a bad idea.  Apparently that didn't matter.

C.R. England is older than dirt. They've been around for a looong time.  And they've got their fingers in a lot of trucking pies. They got what they wanted.  For now.  There are still people working to reverse this decision, and I certainly hope it gains momentum.

And if truckers could get their heads out of their asses for one minute, they'd realize that these giant trucking companies amass huge profits on the backs of their labor, and then turn around and try to make the industry less safe with the power they've gained, which in turn hurts all of us.  

It puts us and the industry into a perpetual downward spiral, eroding its core, and causing many of us - who love what we do - to reconsider being on the roads in a country we help run, because you never know who might be driving next to you.

Just remember, there are people like this and this and this and this and this, and even this asshole, being turned out of these schools everyday and then set loose on the road.

C.R. England's exemption may be the cause of your next run being your last one.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

2014: Wyoming In June
2013: I Will Not Be Decaffeinated
2012: Sweeeeeeet
2011: Summer On The Farm
2010: This Should Be The Next “New Parent” Handbook
2009: Would You Like A Little Screech To Go With Your Whine?
2008: Jane’s Anatomy
2007: Plus People Are Here To Stay
2006: Baiting The Hook
2005: Purgatory


Anonymous said...

This blog seems to be primarily about the exemption rule, so I will simply touch on that here. The rule only applies to drivers who go to school out of their home state. It has no impact on training whatsoever. If these same permit holders were from the state which they went to school, they would be CDL holders and free to drive solo runs without a CDL holder in the cab at all. Read this article in CCJ to better understand what you are arguing:

Your point about a 15 year old permit holder driving around town holds no ground. This exemption is like a 16 year old license holder being required to drive with their guardian in the back seat. Seems pretty unnecessary, right? Take care and driver safe out there.

The Daily Rant said...

DEAR "ANONYMOUS" C.R. ENGLAND EMPLOYEE: I'm going to assume you popped over here from C.R. England since immediately after you tweeted the very same article, tagging me in tweet, I got this comment.

I do understand the exemption.

And it is EXACTLY like a 15-year old permit holder. Because your students doing this are still permit holders, right? And a permit holder isn't allowed to drive a CMV, are they? If I remember back to when I got my driving permit - which was at 15.5 years old - for that first six months until I turned 16, I had to drive with a licensed driver in the car with me. Didn't matter if I was going a half-mile to the 7-11 for a Slurpee, or 10 miles to my after-school job. A person with a license had to be in the car with me. Didn't matter how capable I was, how well I did in my Driver's Ed class, or how many hours my family spent teaching me what to do behind the wheel.

And since you don't give your students six months with a driver trainer sitting next to them - like I had with a guardian in the car with me at 15.5 years old - I wouldn't say it's unnecessary.

That said, maybe the problem here isn't the licensed CDL holder sitting next to the student - because we all know how drivers with less than a year experience can become driver trainers. Maybe the problem is the 17-day school and the fact that as soon as a driver has their CDL in hand, companies cut them loose to drive alone.

Training standards for the entire industry - not just C.R. England - need to be revised. Thankfully, that's being considered.

Belledog said...

Proud of you, Salena. Safety is paramount.

In trucking school, we were warned away from CR England, because they were known at the time to be stranding students who had reported for trucking school and acting in other unethical ways (this was 2009), and they are not a top of the drawer carrier. Perhaps they have cleaned up their act, perhaps they have not.

Do other trucking companies take advantage of this FMCSA ruling? Is CR England doing it because they are desperate for drivers?

I'm impressed they have a lawyer or PR maven using "turbid" in their responses to you. How many Scrabble points is that?

The Daily Rant said...

BELLEDOG: You know how safe Ed and I are - we drive like grandparents, Ed takes ZERO chances, and I learned everything from him. He's got 2.8 million miles under his belt, so I feel I couldn't have had a better trainer.

I have been reading a lot of negative stuff about CRE, many saying the same thing you are. For the stories to have so many similarities seems to be more than a coincidence. No, they're not a top of the line carrier, but they obviously have friends in high places.

It seems CRE is the first company to request this exemption, which was granted, and many think it opens the door for other carriers to do the same thing. It's still facing opposition and people are hoping it gets another look.

As far as being desperate for drivers - all the trucking companies complain about driver shortages. It really has more to do with them getting that student in a truck, under a load, and making money for them. Otherwise, they have two drivers (student and trainer) in a truck, paying both of them but really only having one person who can drive unaccompanied. That chips away at their billions.

Who knows who is behind the tweets. And "turbid" isn't really used correctly in their sentence. I mean, you could *argue* that it can be used the way it was, but it really has a more specific meaning. I let 'em slide. And, it's 9 points. :)

Heather said...

All I can say is wow. But you're preaching to the choir here. I'm sure they're pushing this because of the "driver shortage". I hope they reverse this before too many big carriers jump on the same bandwagon. The only reason there's a shortage is because of how drivers get paid. If it was an hourly rate and fair, there would be no shortage. I said that when I drove and it's even worse today.

Unknown said...

Did I perhaps miss something?? There was no mention of CSA scores anywhere. With that thought and the so called "CSA", 700 ACCIDENTS, how can they even be a company anymore?? Just a thought from me.

dlg said...

what happened to the "minimum 21"rule?

Belledog said...

Terrific LA Times article that Heather posted: Why paying truckers by the mile is unfair and dangerous

"Paying by the mile is both unsafe and unfair. It encourages truckers to speed in order to make money. Getting paid by the mile, moreover, means truckers never know how much they will make for any given week (they can't predict breakdowns, traffic, weather or man-made delays at warehouses). Drivers report that inconsistent pay is even more of a drawback than low pay.

While the simple answer is to pay drivers by the hour instead of by the distance traveled, carriers are reluctant to do so because it would mean a dislocation of their business model, which dates to the 1930s when the trucking industry looked very different than it does today. President Franklin D. Roosevelt exempted trucking from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandated a minimum wage."

The carriers' business model is toxic. When "[y]oung people are not signing on to replace the folks who are leaving" and you have an industry where company driver turnover of "more than 90% is common", you have a real problem. Technology is changing, yes, but not fast enough to allow the compensation issue to fester for another decade or so.

What do you guys think?

Ed said...


If the driver is paid by the hour, the way that carriers operate will change. The ideal situation for the driver is to be paid by the hour for every hour the driver is on-duty. So if the driver is on-duty at a shipper (waiting in the dock), the driver makes money while sitting there. Then he or she would be paid to drive and then paid to sit while the unloading process is completed.

It seems as if the reference to paying drivers by the hour implies that they would be paid for "x" amount of hours regardless of how many they actually work. Whereas what drivers want is to be paid for all the time they are working. Since drivers routinely work far more hours than they are paid for, paying by the hour would increase a driver's wages greatly.

In fact it has become standard for shippers and receivers to waste driver's time because the driver has no recourse. This is causing drivers to sit unpaid and without sleep in docks across the country only to then be forced to drive tired and the only person who is actually paying anything is the driver, sometimes with their life.

Even with EOBRs, drivers are still going off the clock when they are working so as to save as much time as they can to make the delivery. If they were paid by the hour, they would log all the time they are working because they would be getting paid for it.

Also, this would cause the trucking companies to get involved when truckers are stuck in docks waiting because the carriers would be eating the cost. The thing to figure out is: How much per hour would the driver get paid?

That would depend on what the driver is doing. Regional, local, drop and hook, unloading, loading, OTR, etc., etc.

The people who don't want drivers to be paid by the hour are the ones who will be doing the paying.