Monthly Archives: September 2015

But Is Your Cargo Safe?

The red zone report on trucking says it all: You’ve got to keep your cargo safe.

We’ve all heard the stories. You know, the ones like that one guy in Alabama who had his plain white tractor-trailer stolen from a rest area as the driver was away using the facilities. That one guy is in every state.

Even if you leave your rig for only ten or fifteen minutes, that’s long enough for a thief to do his or her work. Likely that white tractor-trailer was taken when the thieves broke the peep window on the passenger door.

Are you as a shipper thinking you needn’t worry about that since you don’t drive? Think again. You’ve got to remember that a truck and its trailer are not fixed objects on a closed circuit TV. These are moving warehouses and must be treated as such. So no matter what side of the supply chain you’re on, you’ve got a stake.

It’s All Up for Grabs

Think all the best hauls are high-value loads like electronics and pharmaceuticals? Think again.

Remember when the trucker disappeared with over $400,000 worth of Russian king crab on its way to Seattle from Los Angeles?  Apparently the trucking company documents were completely bogus.

Another outlandish example comes from Florida, where a gang of thieves managed to get away with six truckloads of tomatoes, cucumbers, and frozen meat. All told the value of the haul came to $300,000.

Even common items like toilet paper, diapers, and other home goods are becoming popular with thieves. The internet has opened up new ways of buying, selling, and trading goods, so offloading these materials has never been easier.

As freight theft increases, no industry is spared. If there is a full trailer, you’ve got to imagine there’s a thief out there ready to snatch it.

What’s in the Data?

In an annual organized crime survey, the National Retail Federation asked about thefts outside of store locations. An astonishing half of all respondents reported being a victim of cargo theft. The most common time was when the goods were en route from the distribution center to the store.

The FBI now also has uniform crime reporting codes that apply to cargo theft. Even so, some states only report on these codes in the general “theft” category. As a remedy, several private companies are attempting to efficiently and effectively collect cargo crime statistics.

As information has become available, the most obvious targets are revealed. Electronics and food, although lately pharmaceuticals have been surging. In 2010 food and beverages accounted for 21 percent of theft activity. As of 2014, that number had shrunk by more than half.

Why They Do It

Cargo theft is an attractive crime because the profits are high and the risk is low. Lets face it, how often do you hear of someone getting caught or severely punished for cargo theft? Although the freight is traveling on a vehicle, this is still considered a property crime, which generally don’t get much attention from law enforcement.

There is also great opportunity for organized crime. Many criminal groups operate out of cargo-theft hubs like Memphis, Tennessee or Miami, Florida. They run interstate rings that funnel back huge profits, which usually then get sent overseas to cartels and terrorism organizations.

Even city gangs are getting in on the action, happy to simply grab a pallet out of a trailer. Still other groups are even more insidious, staking out a warehouse for weeks at a time and targeting and tailing trailers. These groups have applied a specific business plan to cargo theft.

When it comes to staying safe, keep your cargo as safe as yourself. Next week we will cover in-depth cargo safety tips proven by the pros.

Don’t Be A Distracted Truck Driver

When you’re at the helm of an 80,000 pound Class 8 commercial vehicle, the last thing you want to be doing is succumbing to distractions, particularly self-made distractions. The fact is distracted driving is bad enough in a passenger car, let alone a large semi-truck.

As a professional truck driver, you are a steward of the road. It is your responsibility to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you to the utmost of your abilities. Texting someone while you are behind the wheel is no way to do that.

Also keep in mind that if you are caught driving while distracted, you are subject to penalties and fines from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). You can even be disqualified or put out of service.

What You Should Know

FMCSA regulations prohibit texting or using a hand-held mobile phone while operating a commercial vehicle used for interstate commerce. One exception here are devices used for dispatching, as long as it is being used as part of the company’s fleet management system.

The FMCSA has specific guidelines outlining what it considers ‘distracted driving.’ They are as follows:

  • Reaching
  • Dialing
  • Reading
  • Holding
  • Texting (outlined as “manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device.”)

They have also provided guidance on what type of mobile device usage is banned. Specifically, you are in non-compliance if you:

  • Use at least one hand to hold a mobile phone to initiate or take a call.
  • Dial a mobile phone by pressing multiple buttons in a sequence.
  • Reach for a mobile phone in a way that causes the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position..

It is important to note that FMCSA regulations don’t mention the use of camera phones while operating a commercial vehicle. That being said, not whipping out your camera phone to snap a picture of something on the side of the road should be a matter of common sense.

Go “Hands-Free”

With the exception of contacting law enforcement or emergency services, texting, dialing, or making phone calls must be done using a “hands-free” device. There are a countless number of Bluetooth headsets and other forms of hands-free software that assist in creating messages and making calls.

In these applications the truck driver will usually only need to press a single button to activate a mobile device. This way the operator can remain safely seated and restrained while still operating their device.

Many fleets are even moving towards hands-free dispatching devices. A good number of them come with combined GPS systems. They can be programmed to only display a short message until the driver stops the vehicle, then the rest can be loaded.

The Penalties

Getting caught driving-while-distracted is no small matter. The penalties can run steep and deep. Individually, truck drivers can be fined $2,750. Repeat offenses can result in a driver being disqualified or put out-of-service for up to four months.

Employers can be fined up to $11,000 if they knowingly allow or mandate that their truck drivers use hand-held devices while operating their vehicles. Unsurprisingly, these violations can negatively impact the carrier’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) rating.

In situations where the employer does not mandate the use of a hand-held device, but the truck driver is caught using one, consider the worst outcome: Termination. Operators who cause a wreck while being distracted could open the company up to significant lawsuits.

Why It’s Important

In the end, avoiding distracted driving isn’t just about whether you get fined or lose your job, it’s about life and death. It’s about safety.

Research has shown that drivers who text more while driving are a whopping 23 times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event than those who don’t text while driving.

Here’s the rest of some interesting statistics on how much more likely it is distracted drivers will cause an accident:

  • Dialing a cell phone: 5.9 times
  • Looking at a map: 7 times
  • Reaching for a device: 6.7 times
  • Talk on or listen to a hands-free phone: 0.4 times

You can see there the difference. The hands-free device is far safer than anything else.

So, next time you are climbing into the cab, remind yourself of one important thing: Distracted driving is dangerous driving.

Is The Manual Transmission On Its Way Out?

Ask anyone who knows how to drive a manual transmission – on any type of vehicle – and they will tell you operating a manual is much more fun and engaging than operating an automatic transmission. It might be for this reason that old-school drivers feel more complete with a manual gearbox.

Even so, driving a heavy-duty commercial vehicle with an unsynchronized heavy-duty manual transmission is both an art and a science. Any technician will tell you that on a good day, an extremely experienced and highly skilled driver operating a manual transmission can match the best an automatic has to offer.

Yet, even though these venerable pieces of equipment live on, might time be starting to catch up with them? As computers continue to cannibalize a number of products, we might soon see the manual transmission go the way of the dinosaurs?

The Automated-Manual Transmission

The pressure to maximize fuel economy has driven rampant innovation in truck manufacturing. Fleets need to integrate new drivers into their operations as quickly and seamlessly as possible. In most cases it’s easier to find someone who can drive an automated manual than an unsynchronized manual transmission.

As a result, OEMs like Freightliner and Peterbilt are now spec’ing more than half of their vehicles with automated manual transmissions (AMT). In 2014 alone, AMT adoption jumped 17 percent in new truck and bus production.

There are advantages to using AMT where the driveline, engine and braking systems are concerned. As heavy-duty vehicle manufacturing moves towards semi-autonomous vehicles and connected fleets, the AMT will see even more adoption.

While the benefits of AMTs are obvious from a long term and technological viewpoint, there still may be a place for manual transmissions. Specialized applications will require the truck drivers of tomorrow to still be knowledgeable of both transmission types.

The Case for Manual Transmissions

Indeed, many driving schools still train their students on manuals because it helps to give them a feel of the vehicle. Considering students will be operating large, heavy-duty vehicles, knowing the mechanics and physics of up- and down-shifting is very important.

Considering a new truck driver could end up working for a fleet that operates vehicles with manual transmissions, knowing the skill could be crucial to getting a job. Being able to operate any truck on the road today is a necessary skill.

In some cases, whether or not a fleet chooses a particular school or course depends on whether or not the material teaches manual transmission operation. The fact is, newer drivers may not be as desirable if they can only demonstrate one skill set.

Also consider reliability. As the means for manufacturing these advanced pieces of equipment evolves, reliability increases with each new variant. OEMs are merely refining an already solid technology in the effort to decrease weight while increasing overall durability.

Some fleets also have specialized applications that require the use of manual control over shifting and clutch engagement. These operations will make sure manual transmissions are still coming off of the assembly lines for the foreseeable future.

There’s Room for Two

Although AMTs are on the rise, manuals still hold the lion’s share of transmissions in the NAFTA marketplace. Generally smaller fleets with longstanding experienced drivers use manual transmissions.

In fact, some manufacturers are still innovating on manual transmission designs. One Mack variety offers a wide overall ratio with extra low gears for slow speed, but at the same time has more gear steps to keep the engine working in the optimum range.

Manual transmissions are still seen as a simple, cost-effective option, which makes them attractive to a wide range of buyers. For now, they still beat their AMT brothers on price point.

So the next time you hear someone crowing about the imminent demise of the good old-fashioned manual transmission, remind them that the swan song has not yet been sung. The days of classic up- and down-shifting are here to stay.

Hey Trucker, How Safe Are You?

Operating a commercial vehicle on heavily congested highways and narrow urban roads isn’t easy. These are large vehicles that require special care to get around. It isn’t a simple matter of just hopping in the cab and going

Whether you are behind the wheel of a box truck or an eighteen-wheeler, there’s no way your going to drive the many thousands of miles you will over your career, year in and year out, without incident, if you aren’t operating your rig in a safe manner.

Safely driving a big rig truck is about more than just reacting, it’s about thinking ahead. Today we will look at several aspects of safety-conscious driving, starting with everything it takes to get ready for the road.

Always Be Prepared

If you are at the controls of a commercial vehicle, safety-conscious driving isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. Truck drivers who practice safe and defensive driving techniques take the time to complete pre-trip checklists and perform inspections. They know how important it is to be familiarized with with the vehicle.

As our nation’s bridges and roads are crumble, Congress quibbles and nothing gets done. Truckers who have to drive in road conditions that are less than stellar have to function at a higher level of decision-making. They’ve got to have the skills and the knowledge to get the job done efficiently and safely.

But being prepared is also about more than just checklists and driving knowledge. Being prepared also includes being road-wise and safety-conscious.

Always be Safe

Always remember that safety-conscious and defensive driving are not mutually exclusive driving techniques. If you plan on getting behind the wheel, you need to know how to combine these two essential principles.

Safe truck drivers develop solid safe-driving habits and operate within their framework consistently, every time. They are both mentally and physically prepared to get behind the wheel, without fail.

Not only do safe truckers consistently obey all the traffic laws, but they operate in a professional and courteous manner at all times. They are also able to quickly adapt their driving style to match whatever the conditions are in the moment.

Safe drivers understand the importance of speed control and safe distance. The last thing they want to do is get too close without the ability to stop in time. They are aware of their vehicles limitations and know where and when to apply power.

Defensive Techniques

Defensive techniques differ from safety-conscious techniques in a few different ways. Being a safety-conscious driver is something you do in the moment. You are staying aware of conditions and making decisions instantly.

Anyone can have the good fortune to avoid accidents, but it takes true defensive skill to operate a large vehicle safely time and time again. A true defensive driver is someone who is actively scanning the road and looking for road hazards or mistakes of other drivers.

Defensive driving requires you to have the foresight to size up traffic situations on the road ahead, before you even get to them. Looking ahead allows you to start slowing down sooner and braking faster, the moment you see a hazard developing. Even so, apply the brakes gradually to avoid a spin or grind.

Being able to anticipate the actions of others on the road is a hallmark of defensive driving. Taking the appropriate action to prevent an accident is crucial in the initial moments of an adverse event. Defensive drivers know how to do this.

Be a Professional

Studious and safe truck drivers know how to maintain and operate their vehicle in a manner that avoids contributing to, or being involved in, an accident. In spite of the incorrect actions of other drivers, consummate professionals remain cool, calm, and collected.

After all, you must be able to anticipate hazards and know how to protect you and your vehicle from roadway dangers. Remaining alert and aware is crucial to maintaining the safety of yourself and those around you.

We mustn’t forget that safety is now part of our job description on a regulatory level. We know we are safe drivers, but we have to make sure the government knows as well. So the next time you get in your rig and turn the key, ask yourself: How safety-conscious am I?


Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Commercial trucks like big rigs and delivery trucks present unique dangers to smaller vehicles and their passengers. Not only do truck drivers need to be aware of the dangers presented by their large and unwieldy vehicles, but other drivers also need to use extra caution in their presence. Seemingly minor driving errors, like failing to signal before passing, can result in catastrophe when an eighteen-wheeler is involved, especially at high speeds.

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