Letters: 85 mph Road, Driver Shortage, Biofuels vs. Food
This is in reference to your Sept. 17 issue story about the proposed 85 mph speed limit for 41 miles of State Highway 130 in Texas (p. 3).
I agree that “Reckless Texas” should abandon and undo that proposal. None of the highways in this country can safely accommodate such speeds.
Having lived in New Jersey, I remember driving the New Jersey Turnpike when required. Even though posted at 65 mph, none of the 12 lanes (six each way) on the turnpike is driven at that speed, and they need to be capable of at least 78 to 79 mph in the right lane. It’s a rough road to drive. I always drove it mostly one-way to New Bruns-wick and came back north via U.S. Route 1.
Besides Texas wanting to increase the highway speed limit, Amtrak is dreaming of 220-mph trains in 2040 to and from Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., through a tunnel under Long Island Sound from Milford, Conn., into Ronkonkoma and west through Long Island into New York City.
There have been high-speed trains since the 1960s in Japan, Korea, France and China, but these are all brand-new dedicated lines, whereas the first inch has not yet been started here. They should have been running high-speed trains here decades ago — not trying to build one now.
Trucks and other motor vehicles were not designed to travel 85 mph. This is why rail has used trailer on flatcar (TOFC), container on flatcar (COFC) and double-stack trains for decades. These are much faster, congestion-free and free of highway accidents that may cause delay.
The Driver Shortage
We hear constantly of the trucking industry’s need for experienced, safe, reliable drivers. But there is a whole pool of drivers out there who are practically locked out of the industry.
Let me explain.
I have seven years of over-the-road driving experience in the eastern third of the United States. I have driven in and made deliveries in all the big East Coast cities, including New York and Boston. During my seven years I had zero accidents and zero moving violations. (OK, I got a parking ticket in New Jersey once.) I have never had a driving-under-the-influence charge or positive drug test in my life.
After a year of driving, I became our company’s trainer, taking new, inexperienced hires out on the road for two weeks of hands-on training. I am clean, reliable and articulate, so I am excellent at customer relations. Sounds like the kind of driver any company would jump to hire, right?
Here’s the thing — 10 years ago my wife and I went overseas to do mission work for our church. Wouldn’t the fact that I am a pastor and missionary make me even more attractive as an employee? Forget it. Trucking companies now will look only at the past three years of driving experience. If you haven’t driven in the past three years, you start over. That means (1) go to a big trucking company’s driving school for several weeks, (2) go out on the road as a trainee with minimal pay for a few more weeks, (3) then go OTR and stay out for three to four weeks at a time. This is absurd.
After you have driven safely for seven years you do not forget everything you ever knew about driving. Of course, there are new hours-of-service rules and other new regulations you need to know. Maybe my backing is a little rusty. But that can be handled by going back to school for a two-week refresher course.
Anyone who knows anything about driving knows that safety is only partly about driving skills and the rest is about your attitude and mentality. If I was an ultra-safe driver for seven years, would I have turned into a careless, reckless driver in the intervening 10 years?
To add insult to injury, I recently saw an ad from a major carrier that under “driver qualifications” said, “No more than two preventable accidents in the last year.” That means they are willing to hire someone who has had two preventables in the past year, but not someone who drove seven years without even a traffic ticket. Go figure.
If the trucking industry wants to find more safe, experienced drivers, it should look at each driver applying for a job on a case-by-case basis and eliminate arbitrary rules about how recently you have to have had that experience.
Currently Unemployed Driver
I would like to address the driver-shortage issue — and perhaps offer some out-of-the-box thinking: If someone 16 years old can get a pilot’s license and fly a plane, why can’t we find a way with the proper curriculum in our high schools and vocational schools to train young men and women to be truck drivers?
I know that it would take some legislative action to review the commercial driver license age. It also would require insurance companies to reevaluate their thinking.
The curriculum could require training not only in basic driving, but also driving in various weather conditions and road conditions, driving in the mountains or in congested traffic, proper loading and securing of loads, map reading, vehicle maintenance, safety inspections and defensive driving. After graduating from high school — also required — the student could go into some type of truck driver apprenticeship program. Or maybe the apprenticeship could be done during the senior year in high school.
I get irritated when I see so many drivers coming out of truck driving schools but still not prepared to be professional drivers. Simply because they have passed the test and are age-qualified at 21, 22, 23 or older, they now can be a truck driver. I strongly believe that by working with high school students we could provide better, more qualified drivers than many of the truck driving schools.
These young people would be trained and available for jobs in our industry at 19 to 20 years old if the age requirement was eased. But because of that requirement, we are losing them to other jobs before a career in truck driving has a chance.
Thanks for reading my letter. Perhaps this concept would be a good one for the American Transportation Research Institute to consider as a project. I believe that in some European countries an idea similar to this already is being used.
Mathis Moving & Storage Co.
Interstate Agent for Allied Van Lines
Biofuels vs. Food
The increased use of soybean biofuels may sound great as it applies to energy dependence, but a very important point has been left out. The increased use of soybean-based biofuels has decreased the amount of the food crops many farmers used to grow, reducing the supply of many of these food crops.
This is now showing up in agricultural studies, and the amount of soybeans grown for biofuel production may need to be reduced to keep up with the demand for food. Both population and consumption are growing as crops are decreasing. Under the supply-and-demand rule, this will increase the cost of food.
There needs to be a balance here because overall fuel savings will be lost at the supermarket.
Retired Over-the-Road Driver