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Mark learns the SmartWay: Part Two

The story so far…

Bud is off for a couple of days so Mark gets a load from his replacement. It’s a sweet load of cowhide into California. Mark is concerned that the trailer he’s given to use is not compliant with the SmartWay program that is mandatory in California, but the shipper convinces Mark that the trailer is compliant and everything will be alright…

Mark drove through British Columbia without incident and found himself at the Pacific Highway Crossing that linked Surrey, B.C. to Blaine, Wash. The wait was about half an hour, which was average for this time of year, and when his turn came he kept to the right and pulled up for primary

Fortunately, all of Mark’s paperwork had been processed ahead of time so this was likely going to be his only stop at the border. Still, the US Customs officer seemed to take an extra long look at the
papers in front of him, then took a leisurely glance at the trailer behind Mother Load.

“Load’s going to California, huh?”

“That’s right. Is all the paperwork in order?”

“Paper’s all okay,” the officer said. “You planning on driving all the way there?”

It was an odd question, but Mark knew better than to be smart or act like a know-it-all. One time crossing the border in Niagara Falls, he made the mistake of being a smartass and the Customs officer pulled him over for secondary inspection and basically tore his rig apart piece by piece looking for who-knows-what. From that experience, Mark knew it was best just to answer the questions that were posed to him.

“Yes, sir,” he nodded. “That is my intention.”

“You know there are a lot of new regulations for long haulers operating in California… and not just for companies in California. They apply to anybody who is hauling loads in the state.”

“I’m aware of that, sir.”

“Your trailer doesn’t have any skirts on it. That’s a dead giveaway. State trooper will be able to spot you a mile away.”

“I don’t expect to avoid the keen eye of law enforcement, sir,” Mark said, laying it on a little thick, but if it saved him further investigation or hassle, it was worth it. “Besides, the company I’m hauling for ships to California all the time and they’ve assured me
that their retrofit schedule complies with the

The officer smiled at that, a smirky sort of smile that left Mark feeling uneasy.

“Do you have any paperwork that says the com-
pany is complying with the SmartWay regulations, or did you just take someone’s word for it?”

 Now Mark was genuinely worried. Judging by the way this border officer was talking, he’d seen his fair share of truckers entering the US absolutely unaware and unprepared for what was waiting for them in California. One thing was for certain, Mark was not going to admit that he had simply taken the shipper’s word. He flicked his head toward Mother Load, “The trailer’s got a SmartWay thing stuck to the front of it.”

The smirk on the man’s face grew wider. “Stickers are nice,” he said, “but a Large Fleet Compliance Plan would be way, way better.”

Mark’s worry landed in his gut like a boulder. What the hell was a Large Fleet Compliance Plan, and why didn’t he have one? Still, he wasn’t going to let this man see him sweat. Instead of commenting on the compliance plan, or a lack of one, Mark pressed on.

“Does this mean you’re not going to let me into the country?”

He shook his head. “No, ’course not. All that California stuff is state law. You’re still welcome in the United States, but there could be a roadside check at the California border.”


“Oh, yeah. They’re gettin’ real strict on all that environmental stuff down there. More and bigger fines all the time.”

“That’s good to know, thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Have a nice day.”

Later in the day, at a truck stop in northern Oregon, Mark took the time to look up the California Air Resource Board regulations regarding SmartWay-compliant long-haul trucks. But no matter which article Mark read, or from what source, it appeared that everything the shipper had told him about being SmartWay compliant was true.

As far as he could discern, SmartWay regulations required 53-foot or longer dry van and refrigerated trailers, as well as the tractors pulling these trailers to be outfitted with Environment Protection Agency SmartWay approved technologies.

A SmartWay-certified trailer is one that’s equipped with  low rolling resistance (LRR) tires, side skirts and front or rear fairings. Refrigerated vans needed side skirts and LRR tires, with all the other fuel-saving devices recommended but not required. The idea behind all of this was to reduce fuel consumption through efficiency (namely, less aerodynamic drag and rolling friction) with the ultimate goal being a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from all heavy-duty vehicles. 

It was an honourable goal and if anyone was going to get the ball rolling by forcing the trucking industry to get more efficient
it would have to be an industrial and economic powerhouse state like California. Sure, it would all pay off in the long run, but in the short-term these regulations put the screws to small operators using older equipment, who had to retrofit their fleets, and thereby adding expense and shaving revenue off already slim profit margins.

The regulations also applied to all tractors and trailers travelling in California regardless of where their home base may be. That meant every truck coming into California from Mexico, Canada, and every other state in the union, must also comply with the California law. The net effect was that either everyone would become compliant, or carriers might opt out of California routes because they just couldn’t afford to get their fleets into compliance.

Mark found himself somewhere in the middle of all of it. Mother Load didn’t have a SmartWay birth certificate, but she’d been retrofitted with the required items, as well as a few that were nice-to-have but not a requirement, like fuel-tank fairings and aerodynamic bumpers and mirrors.

Past that, as long as 75% of this guy’s trailer fleet complied with the regulations he should be all right. If he had 46 trailers like he said he did, then only about 36 or so needed to be SmartWay compliant in 2014. That meant that he could have ten trailers yet to be retrofitted and still be all right. If he had just three yet to do, he was probably around 90 or 92% compliant which was way ahead of the game.

Then why was it that each mile closer to California, Mark became more and more unsure of himself?

As he crossed the California border and got onto US Interstate 5 there was no roadblock and no California Highway Patrol waiting for him. Past the border, at the first weigh station he drove through, he got nothing more than a friendly wave from the officer in the coup.

That had to be good, right?

Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 3 of Learning the SmartWay.

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