Letters: Distractions Revisited, ‘Old’ Truck Ban

These Letters to the Editor appear in the Oct. 26 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Distractions Revisited

This is in response to the letter titled “Distracted Driving” in the Oct. 12 issue (click here for previous letter). It seems everyone with a dog in this fight is cherry-picking the latest data regarding the texting issue. If one reads the actual study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting does appear to be a huge safety issue among commercial drivers. But it’s questionable how many commercial drivers actually text while driving; I suspect the number is not large.

However, throwing the entire cell-phone usage issue into the same bucket does not make the issue the same as texting by a long shot.

A careful look at the VTTI study indicates there is only one group for which talking on a cell phone has absolutely no negative effect — and that group is commercial drivers.

The issue breaks down thusly:

Dialing a cell phone has negative consequences; therefore, VTTI’s researchers recommend voice-activated dialing.

Fumbling around to grab the cell phone has negative consequences. VTTI didn’t recommend any solution, but the obvious one is to have a cell-phone holder dash-mounted near eye level.

VTTI recommended a visor-mounted microphone device for talking.

Visor-mounted mikes usually don’t work worth a hoot in a truck because of engine and road noise, but most drivers use a Bluetooth headset nowadays with great success.

VTTI admitted its study did not focus solely on commercial vehicles and a great many more personal vehicles than commercial vehicles were involved. It would seem that a stronger study completed with a larger number of commercial drivers might give better data — although I think the texting issue would remain

as a dangerous activity. Only a larger sample would answer those questions.

The issue is related to drivers taking their eyes off the road and the length of time they are inattentive. Voice-activated dialing and talking on a cell phone do not require much inattention to the road. They are also tools that make a driver’s job much easier and much more tolerable.

I suspect that if psychological studies were performed, they would show that such tools allowing close communication with dispatch, shippers and loved ones at home likely reduces driver turnover more than a penny or two per mile added to the paycheck.

So don’t be too quick to attempt to influence the use of cell phones by commercial drivers — you’re obviously barking up the wrong tree. And, incidentally, the VTTI study found that eating while driving had, again, no negative effect on driver safety.

If we’re focusing on safety, let’s use all of the data, not just the parts that suit the carrier or the tractor manager. There is little point in paying the costs of research when we are not willing to actually give up our pet peeves when faced with the truth.

And, according to VTTI’s data, what was the second-most dangerous activity after texting? It was interacting with an in-cab communications device. Perhaps those messages might better be delivered via cell phone.

Linda Pierucki
Carls Kitchen LLC
Norvell, Mich.

There’s no doubt in my mind that if texting/cell phone use is to be banned, it should apply to everyone, not just truck drivers. That much seems obvious. I would venture to say that if any statistics are available, they would show that an overwhelming majority of texting/cell phone-related crashes are by auto drivers, not truckers.

Why then, are truckers being singled out? The answer becomes clear when viewed in terms of political reality. I recall the story of a politician being asked why truckers are dumped on. The answer? “It’s simple. We [politicians] only worry about those who can hurt us. The ones who can hurt us are the people who vote. Truck drivers don’t vote. So we don’t worry about them.”

The response then should be — as it should have been all along — for American Trucking Associations and its members to aggressively promote “Get Out the Vote” campaigns among its drivers, all employees and their families. This doesn’t have to be expensive or operationally disruptive.

Actively encourage voting.

If it’s possible to work a driver into his voting district on Election Day without undue ill effect on operations, do so. Otherwise, encourage drivers to take advantage of absentee ballots.

Absentee voting is much simpler than ever before. Almost anyone can qualify. I recall my days in the Navy, when every ship had a voting officer. At least one officer was assigned the duty to assist every crew member in voting in every election. An investment in a similar position could pay big dividends for the industry.

Samuel Yardumian
Member, American Trucking Associations Technology & Maintenance Council
Chief Engineer
Bryn Athyn Fire Dept.
Huntingdon Valley, Pa.

‘Old’ Truck Ban

Now the Port of Oakland is getting into the idea of banning old trucks and requiring expensive retrofitting of those slightly newer than “old,” except they’re getting fancy and referring to “drayage” trucks.

What are they referring to? A search of Internet dictionaries finds no definition of “drayage trucks” but fairly standard definitions of “dray,” which:

Merriam-Webster identifies as a vehicle used to haul goods, especially a strong cart or wagon without sides.

Encarta defines as a cart without sides; a large, low, horse-drawn cart with no fixed sides, designed for heavy loads.

American Heritage Dictionary says it is a low, heavy cart without sides, used for haulage.

The definition of “drayage” is just as simple: “Transport by dray, a charge for transport by dray.”

Using the above definitions, I envision a modern “dray” as one of those large, low trailers that haul heavy equipment, usually oversized loads. Do they get so many of that type of vehicle that they feel the need to regulate the age of the truck? Or are they in an obscure manner referring to all trucks that transport cargo? Or are they just limiting their oversight to trucks that haul containers?

Any way you look at it, the commissioners of the Port of Oakland are deciding with less than three months left in the year to ban by the first of the year trucks older than 1994 and require expensive retrofitting of trucks made between 1994 and 2003.

The commissioners admit that their ban goes “well beyond the requirements” of the California Air Resources Board. They must be tired of their jobs and wish to close down their port. After all, what good is it to bring ships into port if there are no trucks to haul away their cargo?

Shippers, come to Seattle. Oops, I forgot; the Port of Seattle is looking enthusiastically at the CARB requirements. In that case, shippers, come to Tacoma!

The Port of Tacoma is in Pierce County, which is traditionally a more conservative area — meaning they’re usually smart enough not to cut off their nose to spite their face.

Judy LaFleur
Selland Auto Transport Inc.


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