Archive for August, 2014

Accident at Turtle Creek

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It’s about time to shut her down, Joe thought as he leaned forward to peer through the rain.  The rhythm of the windshield wipers slapped the water away.  His crow’s feet became more pronounced as his green eyes stared into the night.  The storm intensified.  He knew after 3 million accident free miles, that sometimes it was just safer to get off the road.  He would be in a truck stop by now, but this gale came on so fast he was in a bad situation before he had time to realize it.

Suddenly, a four-wheeler came up on his blind side from the right on the on ramp, cut in front of him and started spinning out.  There was no time to react.  His horn blared through the dark as Joe slammed on his brakes.  He tried to veer to the right to miss the car, but the trailer was coming around on the left…faster than the truck.   All his skills from years of driving could not stop the trailer or miss the four-wheeler.  He desperately tried all the tricks he could summon but nothing could avert the pending disaster.  “Stop!” he screamed, but the wheel would not respond as the load of 40,000 pounds of lead shifted and the force of the careening trailer took over.  Headlights swirled in crazy directions making a light show in the driving rain.

As he accepted the grim fact that he was no longer was in control of his rig, time seemed to slow to a crawl.  “God, let this be a dream,” he prayed out loud as the semi skidded sideways down the interstate.  He could see the wide eyed look of the driver of the SUV out his left window as the rig unwillingly closed the small gap.  He thought of missed love, he thought about Lisa.  Then it happened. The side of the trailer slammed into the SUV, exploding it in a ball of fire.  The tractor detached, flew off a bridge and rolled down into Turtle creek below with a loud splash.  The tractor lay on its side in the creek, while smoke rose ominously from the hood and the wheels span slower and slower.

Then, all was quiet.  When Joe regained consciousness, all he heard was the trickle of the creek and the rain banging on the passenger side door of the broken truck.  Glass had shattered all around him and he felt a pain deep within the back of his neck.  He couldn’t move.  His legs were limp despite the commands his brain gave them.

The years of loneliness on the road engulfed him in the darkness as he lay bleeding in the cab of his broken truck.  Being alone was not new.  Thirty years on the road as a bachelor. No wife, no kids, no one to hold him at night or take care of him when he was sick.

It could have been different.  His mind drifted back to Lisa.  He thought about the long walk along the river that crisp fall day years ago.  Lisa was the love of his life.  He could picture her as if it was yesterday, her blonde hair, sky blue eyes and funny smile.  He knew from the minute he saw her, that he could never be in love with another woman.  Their conversations were so easy, so natural.  Time ceased when they were together.  She lit up his world when she would kiss him and laughingly say, “To the world you may be one person…but to one person you may be the world.”

Fate had dealt them a bad hand.  Joe ended up in the motor pool in the Army and Lisa ended up in a fancy house in Tampa.  He refused to think about the circumstances for years and wasn’t going to think about it now.  As the rain began to subside to a drizzle, he realized that he was given a second chance at life.  There was only one thing left to do.  He decided that come what may, he was getting off the road and was going to find Lisa.  Nothing else was important; nothing else was worth living for.  He suddenly felt very warm as the feeling slowly came back into his battered body.  He climbed out of the truck and stood up in the rain.    The sounds of sirens wailed.  The red lights from the ambulance lit up the night.  Yes, Joe was certain he and Lisa would be reunited again.  He smiled.  Joe couldn’t remember being this happy in years.

It was a closed casket funeral.  Only a few people from the truck line and an army honor guard were there.  The old preacher stood at the head of the flag draped casket.  “I didn’t know Joe.  But Joe was a humble man and few people knew him.  Joe spent his time on earth quietly helping others delivering goods throughout the country without ever seeking praise or thanks.  He did his job safely and professionally.  Joe never complained.  The accident was not his fault. I pray that people learn how to drive around trucks.  They just don’t stop like cars because they’re heavy. They have large blind spots.   In God’s kindness, Joe had died on impact.  He felt no pain.  He is now in a better place. The meek shall inherit the earth.  Amen.”

After the service, only the grave digger and a well dressed 50 year old lady with blonde hair and striking blue eyes remained.  The sad, quiet grave digger approached her by the grave and asked, “Did you know him?”  She looked up with moist eyes and a curious smile and replied softly, “My name is Lisa.  To the world Joe may have been one person…but to one person he was the world.”

Copyright 2011,  Happy Trucking! Tom Kretsinger, Jr.


The Changing Face of Trucking

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“Well I asked an old truck driver about life out on the road
If he does a lotta singing when he’s bringing in his load
If there’s a pretty waitress crying for him every hundred miles
If he gets a lotta loving if he has a lot of smiles
And i asked him if those trucking songs tell about a life like his
He said if you want to know the truth about it here’s the way it is

All I do is drive, drive, drive try to stay alive
And keep my mind on my load keep my eye upon the road…”

Johnny Cash

There are a lot of old songs and stories about the life of a truck driver.  These stories vividly describe freedom, loneliness on the road, hard work and outsmarting the law while just getting by.  There is a certain lure to a job that lets you see the country while not having a boss breathe down your neck.  However, most of them describe a life that has been undergoing rapid change.  Trucking today is about as similar to the legends as an old rotary dial payphone to an I-Phone.  Technology has brought satellite tracking, cameras in the cab, and methods of communication that allow a company to more closely monitor and manage that life on the road.  Government regulations, including CSA 2010, Electronic On Board Recorders, Hours of Service, no idle regulations and host of others ensure that the FMCSA, as well as the trucking company, will be riding team with the driver.

CSA 2010 is a significant change in safety regulation which will affect everyone in the trucking industry… and it will have real impact on compliance.  To truly understand CSA 2010, one needs to think in terms of ISO (International Standards of Organization).  Statistical data (crashes and roadside inspections) is collected and maintained in the FMCSA computer.  Exceptions to mistakes in the data are encouraged through the website.   It is available for auditors and carriers to see. The FMCSA uses the data to determine where additional training is needed for law enforcement personnel and to track carrier’s performance.  Carriers are rated according to their peer group under a point system.  Root cause analysis determines where a particular company’s compliance problems lay.  Audits are then targeted to the deficiencies in seven areas and “red flagged drivers.”

At first a carrier is notified by letter of the problem and required to file a corrective action report with the FMCSA addressing the carrier’s plan to fix the problem.  The FMCSA then determines if the plan is adequate, approves the plan and then continues to collect data.  Data is reviewed to determine if the problem has been fixed.  If the problem is resolved, scores are monitored to future deficiencies.  If the problem is not resolved, an on-site visit occurs where the specific problem is reviewed more extensively.  When the auditor arrives, he is armed with data on your problem drivers as well as your history.  If the carrier has taken the appropriate actions with its drivers and documented those efforts, the next review looks to see why the drivers have not complied.  This can result in fines being assessed against drivers.  If they change jobs to try to stay under the radar, their history follows them and prospective employers can see that data before making a hiring decision.  Drivers now have a real incentive to comply with the law.  Smart carriers will follow their own data monthly and look for emerging problem areas and fix them before intervention is necessary.

Many carriers I have talked to about CSA 2010 express fear.  This is a natural reaction to change.  They nitpick about the scoring system, the unfairness of having crash data collected on non-preventable accidents and their peer groups.  This misses the point.  For statistical analysis to work, it is not necessary that each particular item be 100% accurate.  What you are looking for are trends and exception reports.  Looking at each individual score is missing the forest for the trees.  The information and process taken as a whole is not perfect, but it is a far cry better than anything the industry has had before.  The program will change and improve as the FMCSA gets more experience with it.  This is a welcome change from the dreaded audit under Safestat every ten years where the FMCSA looks at everything, regardless of whether there is a problem.  That was a roll of the dice.  Under CSA 2010 you should never be surprised by an audit.  We were audited recently under CSA 2010 and I found it to be a short, helpful experience.  CSA 2010 will force compliance and change the manner in which the industry operates.  For those of us who try to do things “by the book,” the change is welcome and the government is actually helping us by leveling the playing field.  When was the last time the government actually did something helpful for business?

Happy Trucking, Tom


Testing Event Recorders

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Testing Event Recorders

 As I write this, it is the first week in August and we are in the process of installing 30 Event Recorders by Lytx for a 90 day test which starts September 1.  I thank the drivers who took time to understand what this product does and agreed to participate in our test.  You are truly “Raising the Standard.”  To learn more about what event recorders do (and also what they don’t do….much of the scuttlebutt in the driver web is just wrong), our Vertical Alliance Group Safety Training (VAGST) will be available soon for you to review.  If you don’t know how to access it, just contact our Safety department and someone there will help you.  I think you’ll be impressed with what technology can do today.

What are we hoping to accomplish?  Technology is coming quickly to safety in trucking.  The hard question for us is not whether to use it, but which one to choose.  There are so many safety and compliance products out on the market today; it takes careful testing to learn what new products can do for ACT and its drivers before we make large financial commitments.  We also learn things along the way.  We don’t know how much time it will take with event recorders to coach and review what is captured with our drivers.  For example, we are told that each event recorder only records certain types of events and that a typical driver will only generate around 3 minutes of video per month.  One of the benefits of event recorders we hope for is the opportunity for us and the drivers to see what types of events are recorded so we can all learn from them and get better.  That is really what this is all about…protecting ourselves and getting better.

One of the biggest benefits is protection, both for you and ACT.  We know that in all cases of a tie, the truck driver and company will lose in this litigious society.  We also know that there are many ambulance chasing lawyers, frivolous lawsuits and people don’t always tell the truth, especially when they can profit from lying.  But ferretting out the truth in the backdrop of a bad accident can be expensive and difficult as injuries can be severe and emotions high.  Remember recently that accident of a Walmart truck and the famous comedian?  The media immediately broadcast across the country with certainty that he was violating hours.  Prosecutors prepared indictments announced on television.  It wasn’t true.  In a bad accident it is often the case of “accuse first, get the facts later.”  With event recorders, what actually happened in an accident is recorded so the truth is undeniable. We think that is to our mutual advantage.  We want to focus on what caused the wreck instead of all the extemporaneous stuff lawyers like to use as red herrings to heat up and inflame emotions.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  I think in most cases, the truth is our friend.  We believe, based on our experience and industry information, that most wrecks are caused by the passenger vehicle, not our truck.  Being able to prove that and exonerate ourselves can save a lot of time, money and stress while protecting both of us.

You wouldn’t believe how much time we spend on the small fender benders, the truck stop wrecks.  With the hours of service restrictions and electronic logs, truck stops have become more and more congested and the odds of you getting hit in a truck stop are increased.  For company trucks, we need a way to find out who did it to get our money.  The video will save time spent arguing with adjusters.  Independent contractors, you have a $1000 deductible on your physical damage insurance which comes out of your pocket if we can’t find the person who hit you.  We try to help you collect it but often the person who hit you disappears or just denies it.  The event recorders we are testing hibernate when you are asleep, but wake up to record when someone hits you.  How much time and money would this save us?  A lot!

Some drivers prefer to purchase a camera in a truck stop.  I am against this and ask drivers not to use them.  In any accident we have a duty to preserve all evidence.  If we (or our driver) lose evidence, we run the risk of being accused of spoliation.  Under this doctrine lawyers can ask the jury to consider that the evidence lost would be against us, even if it wouldn’t have been.  Why?…because we lost the evidence.  This needlessly gives the plaintiff attorney something inflammatory to use against both of us before a jury rather than simply talking about what caused the wreck.  We haven’t tested them and I do not have a confidence of what these truck stop recorders do and how we could control the evidence they generate in a 300 truck fleet.  Heck, we don’t even know who has them and who doesn’t, if they are installed correctly and much about the brand.   I would much rather pay for the Lytx event recorders, provide them to drivers at no charge, and be able to control the device and preserve the evidence to protect us both in every case.

What do we expect to see?  I guess we’ll find out in the test, but I suspect some things which are captured on event recorders are, as we lawyers like to say, “res ipsa loquitor” a fancy Latin way of saying “The thing speaks for itself.”  We’re told that they are developing a phone app which would allow drivers to do self-review.  For example, if a driver runs a red light because the driver didn’t slow down enough to stop in time, I think we can all learn pretty quickly what we did wrong and what needs to be done in the future to fix it.

But some things may not be so obvious.  For example, let’s say you do not tailgate, but over the years you have developed a habit of following too closely.  You are unaware of this because you have had no way to measure the close rate between your truck and traffic ahead.  You could be endangering yourself and others, while not even knowing it.  This device could present an opportunity to learn and get better.  Wouldn’t you want to know this?  Any responsible person would.  We do know that too many of our accidents have been rear-ender’s.  These are often very bad accidents.  I would be thrilled to be able to fix our habits so they never happen.

Let’s say you are a great experienced driver with over 1 million accident free miles.  Does this mean you are never unsafe?  I don’t think so.  All drivers can be either safe or unsafe depending on the situation they are in at the time.  Many accidents today result from distractions.  We see it all around us with the four wheelers every day.  Distraction can be caused by stress.  Anything that takes your eye or mind off the business of driving is a distraction.  Event recorders will capture this.  Some distractions may not be obvious to you.  One that is not so obvious is when you have distraction which is caused by some stress in your life.  It is certainly possible that a very safe driver with a good history could have something on his or her life, with way too much time to think about it, and as the problem gets larger, they become distracted and are not the safe driver they have always been.  It could happen to anyone.  This gives us an opportunity to intervene.  If this happened to you, wouldn’t you want to be made aware of it, and perhaps shown a recording before you get into trouble and hurt yourself or someone else?  Of course you would…or you wouldn’t be the good driver that you are.

The small thinking is to say…”They’ll catch me doing something wrong and I’ll be in trouble so I don’t want them.”  Kind of sounds like your children, doesn’t it?  Really, that is not what this is about.  What it is about is protecting you and ACT, while finding ways to learn and improve.  Seems to me, if this works, that would be the RIGHT thing to do.  Think about it.

Safe Trucking, Tom

A Tale of Two Rivers

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Old John Joseph had been on the road over 40 years.  He liked the freedom of the road and like other truck drivers, felt the frustration of the job.  He had paid the tolls.  He missed his children’s baseball games, graduations and often holidays.  He waited for hours on end for shippers to load his truck on hot summer days, and, in time, he lost his wife.  Like many, she was too impatient to be the wife of a truck driver. Having a husband away for weeks at a time was always hard on her, but once the children left home, the quiet house was just too much.

He had moved on since the divorce ten years ago.  His children were grown and married.    Two sons were in the army, and his daughter finished college and became a grade school teacher.  His family would never understand his career choice.  Trucking was more like a lifestyle than a job.  John Joseph was a patient man with the unique ability to check his attitude through the hardships of the life, and keep a positive attitude.

John Joseph’s needs were simple.  He lived frugally out of his truck.  He still sent any extra money he had to his ex-wife.  When times were particularly hard, he learned that a prayer at night in the loneliness of his sleeper cab always helped him through the hardships.

John Joseph never said much but had lots of time to think during forty years on the road.  He learned a long time ago that if he dwelled on the negative aspects of the job, that those thoughts would eat him up.  So he focused on the positive. He took comfort in the fact that he delivered essential goods all over the country.  He had pride in his accident free 4 million miles of driving.  He always took the time to help a motorist in need.

As John Joseph drove his last 100 miles of the day, he became increasingly happy.  He was an expert at studying his surroundings.  The road was a river.  It had spots that were serene and quiet.  There were other places where it roared.  On the curves near a city the tempo and velocity increased.  He knew that unseen dangers lurked on every mile.  Something or someone could jump out unexpectedly.  A car might pull in front of his moving 80,000 pounds suddenly and then brake.  Dangers lurked in his large blind spots.  Black ice or rain on an oily road could lead to catastrophic slips.  He loved the sound of the wind and the drone of the engine.  As he approached his destination, he noticed the tall grass along the side of the road, all moving gracefully with the tempo of the wind.

John Joseph delivered his load.  At the dock the foreman asked, “Are you going home over Memorial Day weekend?”  “Yes,” John Joseph replied quietly and climbed back in his truck.  He fired up the engine and drove to the local Walmart.  He parked in a safe place and notified his fleet manager that he was off for 48 hours.  This worked perfectly for his restart.  Like all drivers, he liked floating the asphalt river, but was always edgy when parked.  Drivers like to drive.  He knew the solution and made his preparations.

John Joseph walked into the store, grabbed a cart, and went to the sporting goods section where he bought a one day fishing license.  From there he proceeded to the food section where he purchased two ears of corn, some Bisquick, some beef jerky, and a can of pork and beans.  He took his bag, climbed into the cab of his truck, started the engine and bobtailed towards the setting sun over the mountains to the west.

That night, lying in the quiet of his sleeper truck, he dreamed of his childhood on the Snake River in Wyoming where his father taught him to fly fish.  In his sleep he smiled as his father hooked a nice brown trout hiding under a fallen log in the river.  He woke at dawn, grabbed his backpack and rod tube and paused to look at the mountains.  They were awash with the morning sun.  He put on his hat which was adorned with flies hooked into the band, locked his truck and walked up the mountainside to the lush forest.  The bed of pine needles on the ground made him feel like he was walking on air.  He smelled the fresh air, laden with dew and the scent of pine.  It was going to take most of the day to get to his destination.

He knew a river was on his right as he proceeded up the mountain. At higher elevations, the river became increasingly narrower, more beautiful but more hazardous.  He could hear the roar.  He hurried his step, knowing the sun went down earlier in the mountains.  He walked to his right and reached a clearing on a high spot by a quiet pool in the river.  It was a perfect place to set up camp.

He looked down and gazed at a mayfly hatch in full bloom.  As if by magic, the pale duns emerged from the water by the hundreds.  The sunlight made a pleasing contrast on the dark green background as the mayflies danced above the water.  They were mating, only to fall spent into the blue green pool a few minutes later.  Below in the slow part of the current, near the bank, he watched dapples in the water as the lazy trout raised their heads slowly to slurp the unfortunate mayflies that were unable to get airborne immediately after the hatch.  The spinners floated aimlessly down the current to hungry mouths.  John Joseph sat down on the soft forest floor with his back against a fur tree and lit a cigar as he watched the ballet.  He took a puff as the patches of light filtering through the forest canopy made splotches beside him.  John Joseph finished his cigar and took a nap on a bed of moss and pine.

When he awoke the sun was low on the mountains.  He went to work setting up camp.  John Joseph pitched his tent, took out his hatchet and cut enough wood to keep a fire going throughout the night.  He soaked the ears of corn in the river, and mixed the Bisquick.  The rolls would make a nice accompaniment for dinner and snacks for tomorrow.  He set the wet ears still in their husks on in the coals to cook while the pork and beans bubbled in a small fry pan.

After dinner, he put his 9 foot, four piece rod together, carefully aligning each piece at the ferrule.  He attached the reel and threaded the line through the guides. He attached the leader and tied a tippet.  He would choose the fly tomorrow. He would be ready at first light.

John Joseph arose before dawn, put on his hat, grabbed his rod and creel and moved carefully toward the river.  He sat on a rock, lit another cigar and studied the scene.  Below the pool, water tumbled down the mountain creating numerous different currents and swirls.  There were boulders the size of Volkswagens interspersed leaving spots of calm water on the downstream side.  At a small ledge downstream of the pool, the water tumbled.  The pebbled bottom could be seen through clear water above the fall. Under the fall, turbulent foam churned, obfuscating the bottom.  The rocks in the pool contained slippery algae, while those below the foam were swept clean.  Downstream a bend in the river caused a riotous uproar which cut into the bank where a toppled tree lay prostrate across the stream.  There were so many places for big rainbow trout to hide and wait for their next meal with minimal effort.

John Joseph stepped in carefully holding his rod high and immediately felt the cold water rush around his knees.  He worked his way deliberately along the slippery granite rocks as he braced sideways against the current.  A smile slowly crept across his face after he chose a fly and spotted his target.  Line arched gracefully above his head.

After a glorious day of fishing, John Joseph emptied his creel with great satisfaction, cleaned his fish, and restarted the fire.  Later with his belly full, he went to sleep with a smile in the dark of his tent.

The next evening, as he was driving down the highway with his new load and the sun at his back, John thought about rivers and once again thanked the Lord.  “My life is a river,” he mused, “Sometimes I feel like I float down the current like my fly.  I’m not sure where it started or where it ends.  But I enjoy the ride.”

Copyright 2012

Happy Trucking!  Tom


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