Monthly Archives: August 2016

The New Speed Limiter Rule Has Arrived

Some may say that no one really asked the truck drivers themselves, but it appears their industry association and the Department of Transportation (DOT) agree on one thing: it’s time for heavy-duty commercial trucks and buses to slow it down.

It ‘s something we’ve been talking about for some time, but now it’s come to fruition. Federal safety regulators finally released their joint lovemaking proposal mandating that heavy-duty vehicles be equipped with speed-limiting devices.

How it all Started

The new rule is the direct result of a 10-year long push by both trucking and safety groups – unlikely partners on this issue.  The DOT and NHTSA stated that they feel the change will save lives, reduce emissions and increase energy conservation.

The specific verbiage of the proposal requires that all new trucks, buses or passenger vehicles that have a gross vehicle weight in excess of 26,000 pounds must have speed limiters built into them. The limiters should be designed to keep the vehicles within the range of 60 to 68 mph. Specifically, a speed has not been set up yet because the agencies want to get public input before making the final decision.

The rule would also require vehicles – at the point of manufacturing or sale – to have the speed limiter device pre-installed and set to the specified speed. The devices should also have a way to read the vehicle’s current, and two previous, speed settings.

Furthermore, the FMCSA has proposed that motor carriers operating vehicles with speed limiting devices keep the devices installed for the vehicle’s entire service life, at least if they are participating in interstate commerce.

This means the proposal would likely impact long-hail trucks, buses, garbage trucks and other forms of refuse and construction haulers. What this doesn’t mean is that your oversize diesel Chevy Suburban or large conversion van won’t be impacted.

The Industry Weighs In

Although the trucking industry used to be resistant to implementing speed limiting devices, some have now gotten on board with the government’s decision. Specifically, trucking groups want the speed to limited to 65 mph.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) put out a statement saying, “We know the cliche’ ‘speed kills’ is true when it comes to driving.”

Their statement then went on to point out that a full third of all vehicle crashes and a fourth of all truck crashes have speed as a major factor. Thus, keeping large trucks limited in their speed could have a lot of safety benefits. The fact is, even small increases in a heavy truck’s speed can exponentially increase the damage at force of impact in the case of an accident.

As the DOT put it, after reviewing the data, they concluded that reducing a heavy duty vehicle’s speed would decrease crash severity, injuries and fatalities. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx also pointed out that the limit would reduce fuel emissions and up to $1 billion a year in fuel costs.

Historical Context

The genesis of this debate can be traced way back to 2006, when the ATA petitioned the federal government to mandate speed limiters on all large commercial vehicles. They asked at that time the limit be set to 65 mph as well.

Then, by May of 2014, the NPRM was created, with the ATA hailing it as a “potential step forward for safety.” They did, however, through a slight jab out there when they stated how pleased they were that the agencies set up the rule a mere 10 years after the trucking industry asked for it.

The ATA also pointed out that many fleets are already using speed limiters voluntarily. Not only are they finding safety, fuel efficiency and lifespan benefits, adding the devices is of negligible cost.

Meanwhile, the Owner-Operator Independant Drivers Association calls this idea a “dangerous mandate.” They contend that there are plenty of situations in which a truck driver might need to accelerate in order to avoid danger.

With the DOT seeking public comment, we’ll see how people weigh in. If you want to add your voice, you have up to 60 days after the rule has been published. Comments can be addressed using specific DOT docket numbers. They are NHTSA-2016-0087 and FMCSA 2014-008. You can find the Federal eRulemaking Portal by clicking or tapping here.


Are Regulations Helping Or Holding Back Advanced New Safety Technologies?

As technology continues to change the trucking industry, there’s new promise on the horizon for everything from safety to productivity. But speed bumps remain. Do regulations help or hurt?

The fact is, things like automated vehicle technology shows great promise in reducing highway fatalities and delivering cost and fuel savings to fleets, yet in this case state driving laws are standing in the way.

State Regulations

Did you know that trucks move over $12 trillion worth of freight every year in the United States? While automated technology holds promise, without movement from state lawmakers, current driving regulations are standing in the way of things like platooning.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has put out a state guide that offers specific state-by-state recommendations on amending state statutes. Specifically, laws regarding following too closely will need to be amended to account for how truck platooning works.

While Utah and Florida have approved somewhat limited platooning pilot programs together, more states need to jump on the bandwagon. In states like Missouri, however, the programs are taking a step backward.

Regulating Uber’s Entry

The next step in understanding how regulations and technological advancement may affect trucking safety is to look at Uber’s recent purchase of Otto, a self-driving truck startup.

With Uber is getting ready to test self-driving cars, what do they have planned where large commercial vehicles are concerned? Just ask former Google executive Anthony Levandowski. “Together with Uber,” he says, “we will create the future of commercial transportation.”

This is a tall order, no doubt. Also consider that Uber is still trying to make its way in city and state jurisdictions who are still fighting it. Considering safety regulations are not yet even in place, one can only wonder how they will manage their autonomous truck program.

The Wild, Wild West

It is extraordinarily difficult to write an authoritative article regarding how automated technologies, safety and regulations are all playing out in the trucking realm.

Things are moving so quickly that everyone from city councils to truck manufacturers to federal officials are running at a brisk jog just trying to keep up.  While freight orientated interests are deep in the minds of the industry, everything will be drastically affected by this push towards greater operation and advanced trucking technologies.

Still, regulators and industry insiders are tossing arguments back and forth for and against the various technologies involved. Are we seeing a different kind of “VHS vs Betamax” battle, but this time in the trucking sector?

What Kind of Radar?

The new stage for debate lies in the types of radar used in platooning and semi-autonomous technologies. On one side you have proponents of lidar (light detection and ranging) and conventional camera and radar combination systems.

The main difference between the two is that lidar uses lasers as the radar agent. This system is also more expensive than the conventional camera/radar combo.

Still, advances are being made. Ford and Chinese search engine company Baidu have joined their efforts to improve lidar technology. They are putting their money behind a Silicon Valley startup who is focusing on enhanced 3D surveillance, response and mapping options. Their goal is to mass produce high performance, but inexpensive lidar systems.

The Federal Vacuum

There are currently no federal rules aimed specifically at autonomous vehicles or the safety issues surrounding them. This lack of federal control leaves the states to create their own patchwork of rules and regulations.

In what is no surprise to anyone, California is already forging ahead with its own rules – how all of these state’s moves will mesh once the Feds set in is anybody’s guess.

However this all turns out, the technological innovations taking place in trucking aren’t appearing to be letting up anytime soon. How will safety regulations and truck platooning pan out over time? We’ll be right back here reporting on it once we have that answer for you.

How To Maintain Safe And Effective Basic Control

The most important part of being a professional truck driver revolves around the safe operation of the vehicle under their control. The fact is, operating a heavy tractor-trailer is a big responsibility and differs greatly from operating a passenger car or pick up.

Everything about operating a heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle, from cranking up the engine to backing up and turning, requires an entirely different skill set and specific knowledge. After all, you want to be a safe truck driver.

This is why it is so important for truck drivers to have a good understanding of the basic control issues they will run into while out on the job.

Engine Warm-Ups

There are specific procedures that truck drivers must take when first starting up or shutting down the engine. Although new transmission variants are changing the way some engines crank, for most four-cycle diesels, there’s a specific procedure that includes:

  • Applying the parking brake
  • Pushing in the clutch while the vehicle is in neutral
  • Start the vehicle
  • Upon the engine starting, ease of the clutch.
  • Check your gauges

When your engine is warming up, expect it to generally be done at a low revolutions per minute, generally around 8,000-1,000 rpms. This gives the oil time to warm up and circulate, and for the oil pressure to rise.

Usually, a short period of idle time is recommended, but as always, you’ll want to check the operator’s manual for your particular vehicle. When you do need to drive during a warm-up, make sure you keep your RPMs low and don’t rev too high in first gear.  When your engine reaches 170 – 195 degrees Fahrenheit, engine warm-up is complete.

Excessive Idling

When you are operating your vehicle, make sure to avoid excessive idling. New, recently manufactured engines usually don’t need to idle for more than four minutes. Unnecessary idling can increase fuel consumption and engine wear.

Also consider that some states even have specific regulations limiting the amount of time you can let your engine idle. Always make sure you are cognizant of local or federal regulations governing how much idle time your engine can have.

Putting the Vehicle Into Motion

Putting a large commercial vehicle into motion takes a specific set of skills. You will need to test the tractor-trailer hook-up, put the tractor-trailer in motion and then stop it.

Always remember to test your coupling every time you are about to hit the road. When you are steering the vehicle, make sure you are holding the wheel firmly in both hands. Your hands should be positioned on opposite sides of the wheel. Remember, if you don’t have a firm handle on the wheel, the vehicle could pull away from you if you loose control.

Straight Line Backing

Although backing up is considered a basic tractor-trailer maneuver, it is one of the most difficult to master. When you execute a straight line backing maneuver, you must keep the following in mind.

  • Vehicle position: Put your vehicle into position by moving forward until the tractor and the trailer are straight in front of one another.
  • Clear the area: Is the area behind your vehicle clear of other vehicles or obstructions? You may need to get out of your vehicle and do a visual inspection.
  • Watch your speed: First, turn on your four-way flashers, then put your vehicle into reverse. Back up as slowly as possible and make sure you don’t ride your clutch or your brake.
  • Always check behind you: Make sure you are constantly checking behind yourself. Make sure all doors are closed and be constantly checking your mirrors.
  • Maintain proper steering: Always keep the vehicle on path and make sure you don’t over steer.

If you are discovering that the trailer is getting bigger in your mirror, make sure to compensate a little. You only need to move slightly for the trailer to begin drifting.

When it comes to driving a large commercial vehicle, you’ve got to know the basics. With those down, you’ll be ready to proceed on to the more advanced controls and techniques.

How To Recover From A Skid

Put simply, a skidding vehicle is out of control, and when you are operating a Class 8 heavy-duty commercial tractor with a trailer or two behind you, a skid could be deadly.

It is much easier to prevent a skid than to correct one. Once you are already skidding, the danger to you and those around you increases exponentially. Let’s take a deeper look at what causes a vehicle to skid, the types of vehicle skids, and what you should do if you find yourself in a skid.

The Dynamics of a Skid

The fact is, a skid happens when a vehicle’s tires lose their grip on the road. This could mean two or more tires entering a hydroplaning situation.

There are a number of factors that contribute to wheel skid. They include traction, wheel load, and the force of the vehicle’s motion. If any of these forces are imbalanced, a skid may occur.

Let’s take a look at each one individually:

  • Traction: Traction is represented by the grip your tires have on the road. Of course, traction is one of the most important aspects of how much control your vehicle has over the road. If your traction is poor, your vehicle control will be poor, you may find yourself in a skid.
  • Wheel load: Wheel load represents the downward force put on the wheel. The weight of the vehicle and the distribution of the load determine your final wheel load number. Although wheel load can increase downward force, this may not always improve traction.
  • Force of motion: Force of motion is determined solely by the weight and speed of the vehicle. When the vehicle and its cargo are heavier, their proper motion is faster. Speeding up, braking suddenly or quickly changing direction can impact the vehicle’s force of motion.

What Causes a Skid?

There are a few major causes of a skid, outside of inclement weather – though even in inclement weather a capable, professional truck driver should be able to keep themselves from entering into a skid.

  • Overbraking: If you brake too hard, your wheels will lock up.
  • Oversteering: If you turn your wheels more sharply than the vehicle can actually make the turn, you may lose traction.
  • Overacceleration: When you are applying too much power to the drive wheels, you could cause them to loose traction.

Above all, never drive too fast for the conditions. If you are on a wet or snowy road, you must always exercise extra caution to avoid loosing control of the vehicle.

Preventing Skids

If you overbrake or oversteer you can cause your trailer to jackknife. When this happens, the trailer tires lock, causing it to enter into a skid.

When you overbrake, you cause the trailer to move forward at a higher speed than the tractor. When you take a curve too fast, the rear of the trailer may continue on in the same direction as it was originally heading, even as the tractor in front enters into a turn.

To prevent this:

  • Make sure your air system and brakes are in top working order
  • Adjust your speed to suit the driving conditions
  • Make sure you are reading the road ahead
  • Try not to brake in curves
  • Avoid hard braking

If your tractor is jackknifing, caused when the drive wheels loose traction, the drive wheels will attempt to overtake the steer wheels, while the trailer follows a path of least resistance. As the trailer pivots, the rear of the tractor is pushed outward.

To prevent a tractor jackknife, you must:

  • Not overbrake, overaccelerate or downshift in a sudden manner
  • Make sure your cargo is properly loaded and secured
  • When conducting your pre-trip inspection, carefully examine your brake system and tire treads.

Skid control and recovery is not an easy task to perform. Learning to follow skid recovery steps takes a lot of practice. In the end, the best way to recover from a skid is to ensure you never enter into one in the first place.


The Importance Of A Visual Search – Part II

Considering you are operating a huge commercial motor vehicle, having a good spacial awareness in and around it is hugely important to keeping yourself and those around you safe. In our last look at a visual search, we examined the front and the sides of the vehicle.

This week we are going to take a deeper look at how you use your mirrors when conducting a visual search. The fact is, mirrors provide your only view of the rear of the vehicle.

You must always check your mirrors before you change speed or position in traffic. Get into the habit of glancing in your mirrors every 4 – 6 seconds. Most tractor-trailers are equipped with two types of mirrors, plane or west coast and convex.

Plane or West Coast Mirrors

A plane or west coast mirror serves to help you see down the sides and towards the rear of your vehicle. It doesn’t provide as wide a view to the sides as a convex mirror does, but it does provide better visibility down the length of the trailer.

Since the left mirror is closer and reflects a larger image, you should have a greater field of view out of that mirror. Still, remember that a mirror doesn’t reveal everything. You still have blind spots on both sides of your vehicle.

When using plane mirrors, you must make sure to adjust your speed to compensate for distance of overtaking vehicles and other objects. This is mainly because images in your side mirror will appear to be similar to those when you are in a passenger vehicle.

Convex Mirrors

Convex mirrors are designed with an outward curvature that provides a significant wide-angle view of everything outside the vehicle. These mirrors generally give a much broader view and, when adjusted properly, can eliminate blind spots created from plane mirrors.

These mirrors provide the best close-up view of each side of your vehicle. While plane mirrors provide good insight height-wise, convex mirrors have depth covered.

That doesn’t mean convex mirrors have no negatives. They do show a distorted image. Overtaking vehicles also appear to be smaller and farther away than they actually are.

The best idea is to use a combination of plane and convex mirrors. This way you have maximum side, rear and height coverage. While the combination can be a bit confusing at first, practice makes perfect.

Some vehicles also make use of fender mirrors, which you can find mounted on the right and left corners of the front fenders. Today, even cameras and sensors are combining with advanced telematics to create a picture around a vehicle that truck drivers could only dream of a decade ago.

Mirror Adjustment

When it comes to using your mirrors correctly, they need to be properly adjusted. On your left plane or convex mirrors, make sure the trailer body is clearly in view. Your point of view should rest around 35 feet away and along the bottom of your field of view.

For right side plane and convex mirrors, you should be able to see the top horizontal edge of your field of view all the way to 60 feet out. Don’t hesitate to make adjustments if you are having problems with your field of view.

Seeing to the Rear

Always make sure you are continually using your mirrors to monitor the rear and sides of your vehicle. Check your load and make sure your cargo is secure.

Use your mirrors at all times to check for vehicles beside your tractor or trailer. Use spacial awareness techniques to have a full picture of what is always going on. Use your mirrors before you change lanes, after you signal, before you begin a lane change and after you complete it. You need to know what is going on around you throughout the entire process.

When you approach alleys and intersections, the use of mirrors is quite important. When there are traffic problems or if you are traversing unfamiliar road, using your mirrors and watching to the rear and sides can be the key to keeping you safe.