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After 31 years on the road, driver sees more is lost than gained through ELD oversight

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Thomas Bast has made a good living for more than three decades hauling high-priced automobiles. He thinks ELDS have done little more than add to an industry that is “choking” in over-regulation. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

Standing at the grill counter, picking out the side dishes to his early afternoon meal, Thomas Bast seemed to be in no particular hurry. Or at least he didn’t seem like a man who felt rushed. He chatted a bit with the woman who was putting together his meal, and once he had his Styrofoam container in hand, he turned casually, in no great rush to get back to his truck.

Did he have time to talk? Yeah, sure, he could spare a few minutes. After 31 years behind the wheel, he wears his experience. You can see it in how he carries himself, taking his days in stride.

Just don’t get him going about ELDs.

Bast has seen a lot of changes to the business, and for his money there has been a decided turn for the worse in the last few years, and the reason? “This,” he said, tapping his finger on a picture of an ELD.

“These ELDs are a joke,” he said, “and they’re here to stay.”

Of course, the popular argument is that it’s not the ELDs, it’s the rules they are designed to monitor. But it’s the technology, Bast argues, that brings out the rigidity in those rules.

“The trucking industry is the most regulated industry in the country,” Bast said. “You have to be safe, that’s understood. But the more you regulate, it’s like choking” drivers who are trying to do their jobs.

“You can’t control what goes on outside your windshield,” he said. “You got roads, traffic, weather conditions. You’ve got four clocks to follow that don’t abide by any of those conditions at all.”

A prime example, he says, is the premise that he must take a 30-minute break “not before five hours and not after eight.”

“Listen, you got to be safe, right? We all know when to stop. Eleven hours is enough, a 14-hour day is long.”

Drivers know what they’re doing, Bast said, but the world doesn’t always cooperate with your schedule, and with paper logs, a driver could stretch the truth sometimes. Now, he said, the ELDs and other technology track drivers so closely it feels like a game of “Gotcha!” — a big money grab.

“They can fine you for talking to a dispatcher when you’re off duty, and they do,” he said.

“Now, what’s happening is you got truck stops filled up at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. You got guys sleeping on the side of the road. You’ve got troopers knocking on the window in the middle of the night who don’t care if they’re going to put them into violation; they got to get them off the side of the road.”

You didn’t see so much of that two years ago, Bast said. As he sees it, the emphasis on safety has actually cut into efficiency in the industry. Eventually, he said, we’ll all see the effects in higher prices for, well, everything.

“You got to be safe,” he said, “but you got to get out of the way more.” He even questions whether we’re really getting safety.

“You think this is going to slow them down?” he said. “It’s going to speed them up, because they got to get to the truck stop, got to get to that break, got to pull over.”

Bast, 52, became an over-the-road trucker at 21. He came to trucking by horse, racehorses, to be exact.

“My family was in the equine business,” Bast said. When he was young, he shoed horses. From there, he progressed to transporting them. When the family business folded, he moved from horses to horsepower, moving racecars.

Throughout his career, Bast has specialized in enclosed car transport, moving racecars, antiques and exotic cars. “Lambos, Ferraris, Bugattis … ,” he said. He’s a private contractor currently with United Routes Transport.

“I never did general freight,” Bast said. “I never ran by the mile. I always specialized, because that’s where you make good money.”

Still, the time restrictions matter. His contracts call for a percentage of the gross receipts of the truck. “When you broker a deal it’s three to five days, five to seven, or seven to 10 days. And when you don’t hit those deadlines, it comes off your gross receipts,” he said.

Being out on the road five or six weeks at a time, Bast said he’s pulling in about $90,000 a year, and he pretty much gets to call his own shots, professionally speaking, which goes a long way in offsetting his frustrations.

He’s also a little concerned about the driver shortage, or rather the reaction to it. “They’re spitting guys out of those schools that don’t know a steering wheel from a fifth wheel,” he said.

“A lot of these guys are because they were middle management, they lost their job in ’08, and this was the easiest thing to jump into. When I started, you were there because you wanted to be there.”

He still does, but after more than three decades doing it, he’d be a lot happier if there was a little more trust that he knows what he’s doing.

And with that, he excused himself. He had to get going.

 

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House panel targets design changes to improve road safety

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House T and I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio says the U.S. has failed to invest in lowering deaths on the nation's highways. (Courtesy: HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES)

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit delved into ways to improve roadway safety during a recent hearing and roadway design changes were targeted by members of Congress as well as witnesses as one of several ways to achieve that goal.

Yet the need to increase transportation funding loomed over that discussion, according to an article prepared by the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“We need to look at safety from all angles – not just promoting more responsible behavior by road users, but by ensuring that roadway design takes into account all users through smart policies, such as complete streets,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House T&I Committee, in his written remarks.

“Addressing the unique elements of each community, such as pedestrian accessibility, street crossings, and bus and bike lanes, rather than a cookie-cutter approach can have a profound impact on reducing traffic accidents and fatalities,” he said.

But DeFazio also stressed that “while we invest billions of dollars in research for cancer and other diseases and allocate new resources to combatting the opioid crisis, we have failed to seriously invest in lowering deaths on our nation’s roadways.”

“I am anxious to learn from today’s witnesses … what we can do about reducing roadway fatalities,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D, the at-large-representative for Washington D.C. and chair of the highways and transit subcommittee.

“I would very much like this re-authorization [of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act] to transform our approach to roadway safety,” she said. “To get anywhere close to zero deaths, we need to improve how we design our transportation networks, educate the users of those transportation networks, and improve how as how to enforce the proven strategies that aim to save lives but are not doing so.”

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., provided additional opening remarks, noting in his written testimony that many of those “proven strategies” are safety programs administered by the Federal Highway Administration and the Newsal Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“These programs require states to have a data-driven, performance-based approach to address their unique highway safety challenges,” he said. “The FAST Act expires on September 30, 2020, and as we continue with our re-authorization process, it is important that we gather feedback on how well these programs are working and what other policy and programmatic changes the committee should consider.”

Jennifer Homendy, a member of the Newsal Transportation Safety Board, noted in her written remarks that changing the speed limit guidance within the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices or MUTCD is one potential performance-based safety tactic.

“Speed limits are a critical component of speed management [and the MUTCD] emphasizes that states and localities set speed limits within 5 miles per hour of which 85 percent of vehicles are traveling,” she said. “The focus on the 85th percentile has led to increasing speed limits across the United States. For example, in 2012, 35 states had maximum speed limits at or above 70 mph; that increased to 41 states by 2016, with seven of those states at or above 80 mph.”

She said the NTSB recommends de-emphasizing the 85th percentile approach and instead require consideration of factors which are currently only optional, such as crash history, roadway characteristics, and roadway conditions. The agency also recommends incorporating a “safe systems approach” for urban roads by evaluating pedestrian and bicycle traffic alongside motor vehicle needs.

Jay Bruemmer, vice president of Missouri-based roadway contractor K & G Striping Inc. and chairman of the government relations committee for the American Traffic Safety Services Association, noted in his testimony that while “mitigating driver behavior is a perennial challenge for transportation leaders,” several “cost-effective” roadway infrastructure countermeasures – such as wrong-way driver detection systems, high friction surface treatments, new work zone management tools, and highway cable barriers – are being successfully deployed by state departments of transportation and others in order to combat “negative driver behavior.”

In written testimony submitted for the hearing record, the AASHTO emphasized that the design guides they produce provide planners, engineers, and designers with significant flexibility in how they ultimately design a transportation project while taking into account the overall safety and operations of the facility.

Further, AASHTO stated in its remarks that those guides “do not establish mandatory requirements for how a project should be designed; rather, they emphasize flexibility and encourage planners, engineers, and designers to take into account the unique aspects of each individual project.”

AASHTO’s testimony also addressed three safety priorities identified by its Transportation Policy Forum for upcoming federal surface transportation bill re-authorization efforts. Those priorities include:

  • A continued focus on implementation of performance management regulations;
  • The need to add flexibility for the use of Highway Safety Improvement Program funding to include activities that address behavioral issues; and
  • The need to add eligibility and increased federal share for railway-highway grade crossing projects.

However, ATSSA’s Bruemmer stressed in his remarks that “none of these safety priorities can be achieved without a solvent, robustly funded Highway Trust Fund.”

AASHTO agreed with that position, emphasizing in its written testimony that “an important aspect to programming funding is flexibility both in how funds can be used among engineering, education, enforcement and emergency services efforts as well as within the engineering domain where state DOTs have the most control to identify which engineering solution may be most appropriate to improve safety.”

ATSSA’s Bruemmer further added during the hearing that continuing to spend more from the Highway Trust Fund than is collected through taxes and fees “is not a long-term solution. We need to address these deficiencies. In that regard, we strongly support an increase to user fees to address the long-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund, which include increasing and indexing the motor fuels user fees, an eventual move towards a vehicle miles traveled user fee system, and where it makes sense, the use of public private partnerships.”

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Reluctantly, we’ll bid adieu, but we’ll do it with a song in our hearts

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By this time next month, trucking will have just lost a good friend.

No, no, Mr. Deejay, hold up on the somber string quartet. That’s not the mood we want. Quite the contrary. This is about somebody who has decided to step on life’s gas pedal.

Dorothy Cox, whose thoughts and talents have been gracing the pages of The Trucker for the past 20 years, took a little time off around this past Thanksgiving. Her birthday is in that neighborhood, too, so it made for a nice personal festival for her.

You know that feeling we all get when a vacation is ending, that, “No! I’m never going back to that rat race!” feeling? Well, Dorothy got that feeling during that personal pit stop, only this time she took it seriously.

She’d been a journalist long before she came to The Trucker, and she’d been toying with the idea of retiring for a while. During this extended time away from it all, she came to the conclusion, “You know what? Life’s too short, what am I waiting for?” and announced it was time call it a career as of April 1.

As the day got near, and we found ourselves approaching a Spaghetti Junction of overlapping deadlines, Dorothy agreed to give us one more month and help see us through it.

Even with the delay, her departure will leave a sizable hole here. Whenever an organization loses someone with 20 years of accumulated knowledge and memories and insights, it’s hard to quantify how much of an asset is walking out the door. It’s way more than, “Oh, we’re one short.”

It’s incalculable on a personal level, too. Dorothy’s down-to-earth sensibilities have been an important element of this newsroom. If this were an episode of “Seinfeld,” Jerry and George would label her an “easy laugher.” She looks for the humor in things, and nine times out of 10 she finds it, and enjoys it for all it’s worth.

Next to all that truck industry knowledge, there’s a designated little corner of her brain that is like a candy jar filled with sourballs, only these sourballs are a collection of some of the corniest puns the English language has ever produced. Just like sourballs they make you wince, but you can’t wait for another.

And there isn’t an off-color joke in the batch, I should add. She’s the kind of person who’s been around the block but hasn’t become jaded by it. There are no sharp edges in her personality. It’s very easy to feel comfortable around Dorothy. That’s a valuable talent in today’s high-strung world, and she’s one of the best at it.

I’ve watched her approach truckers at the truck stop and I’ve heard her with them on the phone. They don’t just let down their defenses with her, it’s like they don’t even have any. They instantly, instinctively recognize, “Hmm, she may not have a CDL, but she’s one of us.”

When I go to trucking events, I lose count how many people want to know, “How’s Dorothy?” and want me to tell her they said hi, even if they haven’t seen her in years.

That affection is both for Dorothy the person and Dorothy the journalist. Through her writing and reporting she’s proven time and again that she has drivers’ best interests at heart. Like an old friend, she isn’t shy about acknowledging drivers’ shortcomings, especially when they are self-defeating. But she’s also always been a champion for drivers.

In the two years I’ve been going to the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, several people have confided that it was her prodding on drivers’ behalf that sparked the momentum that has made the health and wellness pavilion such a prominent feature of that show.

In recent years, she has been a stalwart supporter of making the industry more welcoming to women. And she’s been deeply passionate in her coverage of the human trafficking problem in this country, and in setting the record straight that truckers are among the front-line heroes in that fight.

And while it isn’t as heavy a subject, she’s always been keen on promoting drivers’ creative endeavors. She especially seems to have a soft spot for musicians, probably because she is one herself. Her Arkansas twang puts her somewhere (geographically and vocally) between Loretta Lynn and Reba McEntire. I’ve heard her, and she’s good, and she’s retiring so I don’t even have to say that.

She has some friends who’s she played with for years, with whom she does a gig every now and then. In the couple months since she announced her plan to retire, whenever anyone’s asked what she plans to do with all the free time she’s going to have, the only specific thing she comes up with is maybe she’ll get more into her music.

As I try to think of a lyric that would make a fitting sendoff, I have to admit I’m not much into country music, but I grew up on all that baby boomer oldies stuff. So as a formal adieu to my friend and colleague Dorothy Cox – Mr. Deejay, if you would, cue up a little Supertramp:

Goodbye, stranger. It’s been nice. Hope you find your paradise.

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Health caution urged for truckers who ate at Kentucky Popeyes’ TA location March 17-April 5

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Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, light colored stools and diarrhea. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

FLORENCE, Ky. — A case of hepatitis A has been diagnosed in an employee who handled food at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen located at 7777 Burlington Pike, Florence, Kentucky, within the TravelCenters of America facility.  An ongoing investigation of the facility found that this employee worked during a period of time when ill or infectious, which included the dates of March 17 through April 5.

While it is relatively uncommon for restaurant patrons to become infected with the hepatitis A virus because of an infected food handler, anyone who consumed food or drink at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen during the dates listed is recommended to receive a vaccination if it is within two weeks of exposure as protection from becoming ill, which would include some of the time frame listed by the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

If it was during the dates listed but it has been longer than two weeks since the specific time a person ate there, it is recommended that they still get the vaccination although it will be outside the window to protect you from contracting the illness if you were exposed at this establishment.

Anyone who consumed food or drink at this Popeyes during the stated time period should monitor their health for symptoms of hepatitis A infection up to 50 days after exposure; wash their hands with soap and warm water frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing food; and stay at home and contact their healthcare provider immediately if symptoms of hepatitis A infection develop.

The establishment’s management is cooperating with the investigation and response activities.  It has implemented enhanced disinfection steps to address surfaces that may have been contaminated.  Employees who worked with the involved employee have been informed to get hepatitis A vaccination to protect against the virus.  Co-workers have a greater risk of exposure due to prolonged close contact with the case.  Vaccination of associated food service workers helps to protect them against infection, which further protects the public.  Handwashing and related hygienic practices have been reinforced with the restaurant management and employees.  Additionally, the Health Department has directed restaurant employees to self-monitor for any symptoms of Hepatitis A that may develop over the next 50 days.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, light colored stools and diarrhea.  Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice) may also appear.  People may have some or none of these symptoms.  It could take up to 7 weeks after being exposed to the virus for someone to become ill.  Children often do not exhibit symptoms.  Any person who believes they may have symptoms of hepatitis A should contact their healthcare provider.  Additional information regarding Hepatitis A can be found at nkyhealth.org.

Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. The virus spreads when an infected person does not wash his/her hands adequately after using the toilet or engages in behaviors that increase risk of infection.  Careful hand washing, including under the fingernails, with soap and water, along with vaccination of anyone at risk of infection, will help prevent the spread of this disease.

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