It is a privilege to be able to speak out on issues that affect the transportation industry each month from the perspective of a long-haul driver.
One of the temptations I face is whether or not to climb on my soapbox and rant about the erosion of the independent trucking lifestyle. With each passing month, “safety” is used as the overriding issue to push forward a broad agenda by a variety of transportation lobby groups that have little to do with the actual human safety issues we face each day.
This fact hit home with me yet again as I was driving along westbound I-294 in Chicago late one evening this past December. I had that “let’s get it done” trucker feeling, that energy that fills you up and has you feeling like you could drive forever.
You’re just cruising. The iPod is on shuffle and each successive tune builds on the last. It’s just trucking and it feels great.
But you know there is a time each day when that feeling will end. For me it’s three or four in the morning and three or four in the afternoon. That’s when I need to be in the bunk and I know it. You, fellow driver, know when your downtime is.
The MTO doesn’t know, the DoT doesn’t know, the FMCSA doesn’t know, the CTA doesn’t know, and the ATA doesn’t know. There isn’t a lobby group or safety organization out there that can raise the level of public safety better than a driver with a passion for trucking and the experience that has taught them to recognize when they are in that trucking groove and when they are not.
Yet, on that December night when I was in peak performance mode, I had to shut it down thanks to the hours-of-service regulations. Earlier in the day I had to work through one of the downtimes in my circadian rhythm, thanks to the hours-of-service regulations. When I found my groove I had to park and sleep. When I would have been better off in the bunk, I was on the road. Rules and regulations aimed at building a safety culture often tear it down by ignoring the human condition.
The industry as a whole has to face up to this issue. The reason there continues to be such opposition to electronic logging devices is the fact that they eliminate the flexibility for drivers to operate at the time of day that best suits the driver’s individual needs. This issue is so obvious when you compare drivers that have a fixed daily routine to drivers operating in the “open board” arena that has many variables throughout the day.
Drivers with daily dedicated runs rarely have an issue with ELDs. The ELD eliminates paperwork and saves time. But for the long-haul driver it eliminates much of the flexibility provided by paper logs.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t about working more hours but about flexibility within the 24-hour day. We need that flexibility to rest when we need it. Flexibility allows us to find our trucking groove each day and when we are in that groove we are awake, alert, aware, motivated and happy.
So there you have my rant from my soapbox, yet again. But the question is, what can we do as a group to affect positive change? What actions can we take? How do we come together around this basic issue that affects public safety and our personal health and wellbeing?
The fact is, we do not have a voice at the table. When drivers do participate in the management of the industry by participating in safety groups, industry think tanks or panel discussions, it is on terms dictated by the transportation lobbyists, regulators, and enforcement agencies.
These large lobby groups focus on logistics, costs, corporate strategy and positioning, politics and of course, the bottom line. Drivers focus on the individual human condition. Directors and managers practice trucking from the boardroom and profit from it. Drivers live trucking from the driver’s seat and suffer from it. The inability of the industry to recruit and retain drivers along with the health issues drivers face supports my position.
Drivers will never gain a voice at the table through divisive actions such as rolling blockades or withdrawal of labour. Those actions will not affect long-term positive change.
We need to start holding the trucking lobby groups to account by bringing our individual stories to the attention of our fellow citizens.
Every driver now has the tools to be able to tell their individual story to the world. That is how we can make our voices heard. “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” was Howard Beale’s mantra in the movie Network. In 2016, it’s time individual drivers made that mantra their own.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.