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For truck drivers, the grass should always remain greener on the other side of the fence



Covering the trucking industry is like doing the color commentary on an endless, slow-motion game of Whac-A-Mole. There’s a set of issues, and they take turns popping up and vying for attention.

One small difference is, this game is usually manipulated by outside forces. Such was the case in the latter months of 2018, when elections in Canada and in Michigan legalized recreational marijuana use in those places.

This mellow, glassy-eyed mole pops up every time recreational cannabis use gets the green light somewhere, which is now 10 states plus all of Canada, re-raising the question whether professional truck drivers should be allowed to partake in cannabis when they are in one of those places and are off-duty.

This issue may not exactly be up there with, say, reworking the Hours of Service regulations or addressing the parking shortage, but it does briefly fire up passions from time to time.

As a journalist, it is my job to observe and report as a neutral third party. But that doesn’t mean I don’t privately form opinions about the issues and of the arguments being made for or against a given issue.

With almost every issue, both sides tend to go overboard. Those in the anti-marijuana camp (i.e., the entire trucking establishment) are quick to jump on any reasoning they can they can find to stem the spread of cannabis with a zealotry that’s only about a step shy of “Reefer Madness.”

“Just say no” rhetoric aside, when I put myself in a carrier’s shoes, I think they have legitimate reasons for being against cannabis, it’s just that some of those reasons would come off as a bit self-serving. From a practical business standpoint, I can’t see how marijuana legalization has an upside for the industry.

Currently, marijuana cannot be transported over state lines, even where both states allow its use. The way the marijuana industry is shaping up, the product is grown, processed and distributed in short proximity. But even if (and presumably when) interstate shipping is ever legal, I can’t see how cannabis will ever be a big-ticket item for trucking. On a retail basis, marijuana is sold in tiny quantities, fractions of an ounce at a time. America would collectively pass out on the sofa before it could create enough of a market that we would ever see rigs filled to the brim with cannabis products, even in short-haul.

That’s in contrast to all those big, heavy, easy-to-stack cases of booze and beer that are run all over the country. And there is the longstanding fear that legalized weed could cut into the alcohol market. There hasn’t been a ton of research or even anecdotal evidence to support this fear, but why court trouble?

What’s undeniable is it’s hard enough getting qualified truck drivers, and substance abuse is one of the leading disqualifiers among blue-collar employers, even with most of the drugs in question being used in an illegal manner.

Before working at The Trucker, between journalism gigs, I worked for a few months at a major home improvement chain. One of the managers there told me it took them 32 applications for every employee they hire who actually shows up for more than a shift or two. The biggest disqualifier, he said, was the drug screen.

Those who favor allowing drivers to partake (mostly drivers who wish to partake) suggest it’s a matter of personal liberty, that being denied the right to smoke dope is an assault on their dignity and their civil rights.

Somehow, I don’t foresee throngs singing “We Shall Overcome” in front of the Lincoln Memorial over it.

Some may say it isn’t fair to place a restriction like that on people in a given profession. I have two words for your consideration – Ricky Williams.

Remember him? He was one of the top running backs in the National Football League in the early 2000s, but he was also a world-class pot smoker. At the height of his career, facing a third drug suspension, he walked away from the league.

If you read up on him, you’ll see there was more to the story than that, but that’s the popular short version – he chose weed over NFL stardom.

He returned to the NFL a couple years later, but by his own estimation, his self-banishment cost him about $10 million. Now, that’s a man who likes his ganja. Since then, the NFL has eased up a bit on its stance on marijuana, but a positive test is still a punishable offense.

With the Super Bowl in recent memory, it may be hard to believe, but there are few professions of less real value to society than being a pro football player, and certainly they don’t hold the safety of thousands in their hands every time they do their job, like truck drivers do.

Safety is one of the strongest arguments the carriers make, although they often screw it up by overplaying their hand. Meanwhile, those who argue for pot smokers’ rights fail to acknowledge one thing they have in common with drinkers. For a certain percentage, that off-duty vice slowly creeps closer and closer to their on-duty hours, because they don’t or won’t recognize when they’re mildly under the influence.

I don’t want to share the road with someone who is even a little bit buzzed and operating an 18-wheeler, I don’t care what it’s on.

You want a closer comparison? How about pilots? Professional pilots can be drug-tested at any time, and if they test positive for marijuana, they are grounded and could even lose their license.

Being a truck driver may not have the glamour or the paycheck of being a star athlete or even a commercial pilot, but the job bears a tremendous amount of responsibility, and it is perfectly reasonable that the rules of the job are stricter than in other professions.

There are other jobs where they might not be so particular about your lifestyle habits – well, not professional pilot or hardware store clerk, we know that. It’s really a question of what you value most. Heck, Ricky Williams walked away from millions to toke in peace.

Of course, before anyone decides to follow in his footsteps, remember he already had millions, and he wound up making millions more. There is that to consider.

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The Nation

NTSB provides update on 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of improvements



Of the eight closed safety recommendations, four were closed with acceptable action taken, one was closed with acceptable alternate action taken, one was closed with a status of exceeds recommended action, and one safety recommendation was closed with unacceptable action taken. (Courtesy: NTSB)

WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board has published an updated list of the safety recommendations associated with the agency’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements following the recent closure of eight safety recommendations.

Of the eight closed safety recommendations, four were closed with acceptable action taken, one was closed with acceptable alternate action taken, one was closed with a status of exceeds recommended action, and one safety recommendation was closed with unacceptable action taken.

One recommendation was closed because it was superseded by a subsequently issued safety recommendation which remains open.

The NTSB announced the 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements February 4, in which the agency detailed 267 open safety recommendations that if implemented, the panel said could help prevent accidents and the injuries and fatalities caused by those accidents.

The agency went a step further and created what it calls the “Focused 46,” a list of 46 safety recommendations taken from the 267 addressed by the Most Wanted List,  that the agency said it believes can and should be implemented during the two-year Most Wanted List cycle.

“Closing safety recommendations with acceptable action taken, resulting in improved transportation safety, is the goal of issuing and advocating for a safety recommendation,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Our safety recommendations are founded in the science of our accident investigations and are designed to prevent similar future accidents. Transportation safety is improved when recipients of our safety recommendations take acceptable action. While I’m pleased to highlight this success, I also have to highlight how much more work remains to be done, and, the lost opportunity to improve transportation safety with the unacceptable action taken on safety recommendation H-12-029.”

H-12-029 called for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to establish an ongoing program to monitor, evaluate, report on, and continuously improve fatigue management programs implemented by motor carriers to identify, mitigate, and continuously reduce fatigue-related risks for drivers.

In its latest correspondence to NTSB dated January 18, 2019, FMCSA wrote that it “… plans no action to establish the program ‘at the motor carrier level’ [emphasis added] as recommended by NTSB. Fatigue management information continues to be accessed via the North American Fatigue Management Program website ( The NAFMP website remains active and guidance concerning fatigue management continues to be accessed and used by motor carriers.  FMCSA will continue to support both fatigue-related research and the NAFMP, which includes the maintenance, improvement, and promotion of the NAFMP to encourage the voluntary implementation of fatigue management practices by motor carriers.”

The NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, now in its 30th year, identifies safety improvements that can be made across all modes of transportation to prevent accidents, minimize injuries and save lives.

Since the NTSB’s inception more than 52 years ago, the agency has issued more than 14,900 safety recommendations, and on average, more than 80 percent of them are favorably acted upon. At any given moment, the NTSB’s Safety Recommendations Division is managing the correspondence regarding an average of 1,200 open safety recommendations.

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The Nation

Tyson Foods earns James Prout/Wreaths Across America Spirit of Giving Award



Representatives of Wreaths Across America and Tyson Foods pose with the James Prout/WAA Spirit of Giving Award presented to Tyson Foods. Left to right are WAA Founder Morrill Worcester; Tyson Operations Manager Mike Blessing, James Shaw, Ryder Chambers, Kenny Elbe and Tyson Chaplain Karen Diefendorf; and Rob Worcester, who helps coordinate transportation and logistics. In front is Kenny Elbe Jr. Elbe, Shaw and Chambers are all drivers for Tyson. (Courtesy: WREATHS ACROSS AMERICA)

SPRINGDALE, Ark. and COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine— Wreaths Across America has recognized Tyson Foods as the fifth recipient of the organization’s annual James Prout/WAA Spirit of Giving Award.

WAA Founder Morrill Worcester and his son Rob – a volunteer who helps coordinate transportation and logistics for the nonprofit – presented the Tyson Foods’ team with the award on July 12 at the 6th Annual Stem to Stone event held in Downeast, Maine, where the nonprofit is headquartered.

It is also where the balsam is grown to make the veterans’ wreaths sponsored by the public and placed by volunteers each December as part of the WAA’s mission to Remember, Honor and Teach.

The James Prout/WAA Spirit of Giving Award is named in memory of James Prout, owner of Blue Bird Ranch Trucking of Jonesboro, Maine.

Prout was the first person to volunteer to haul wreaths for WAA when the program was in its infancy. The award is given annually to a deserving professional truck driver, company or organization that has supported charitable causes in a way that will affect generations to come.

Operations Manager Michael Blessing accepted the award on behalf of Tyson Foods.

“I think I speak for the entire team when I say what an honor it is to be a part of the Wreaths Across America family,” he said. “The mission is impacting lives across the country and we are humbled to play a small part to ensure the wreaths are safely delivered and volunteers are well fed and cared for each season.”

Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale and the 11th largest private carrier in the United States, started hauling veterans’ wreaths for WAA seven years ago with only two trucks.

In 2012, after waiting in line with many others to be loaded, they came up with an idea and made WAA an offer to help create a truckers’ lounge to accommodate waiting drivers. This commitment to the mission has continued and only increased since then.

In 2018, in addition to hauling 18 loads of veterans’ wreaths, they fed all 500-plus volunteer truck drivers that came to Maine to load wreaths, as well as all the loading crews, WAA staff and volunteers, and visiting Gold Star families. They also provided the food for the escort to Arlington send-off dinner.

“By having the Wreaths Across America logo on my truck I am a better driver,” said James Shaw, a long-time Wreaths Across America volunteer and professional truck driver for Tyson Foods. “I have an obligation to drive the best I can to represent our veterans and the work of this honorable organization that does so much good for our country.”

The Worcesters said the trucking industry is vital in helping WAA achieve its goal of honoring fallen soldiers each year.

In addition to transporting wreaths, Tyson Foods supports the organization through fundraising efforts for Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas and other local veterans’ and non-veterans’ nonprofit organizations. Their WAA Fundraising Group is called Transportation Warriors – you can sponsor a wreath through their page here.

“Without the trucking community and their generous donations of time and services, our mission simply would not be possible,” Rob Worcester said. “The work Tyson has done continues to inspire the WAA team to improve the truckers’ lounge and overall experience for volunteer drivers coming to Maine to load wreaths. They are an amazing partner and true friends of the organization, for which we are grateful.”

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The Nation

Bills would up insurance minimum to $4.9M, require automatic emergency brakes



The “Improving National Safety by Updating the Required Amount of Insurance Needed by Commercial Motor Vehicles per Event (INSURANCE) Act of 2019” would raise the minimum liability insurance for commercial motor vehicles from $750,000 to $4.9 million. (Associated Press: CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/Erie Times-News)

WASHINGTON — Three Democratic representatives have introduced two pieces of legislation they say are critical to road safety.

Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García of Illinois, Hank Johnson of Georgia and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania joined the Truck Safety Coalition and truck crash victims at a press conference Wednesday to place in the hopper bills related to liability insurance minimums and braking equipment requirements on commercial motor vehicles.

García and Cartwright introduced the “Improving National Safety by Updating the Required Amount of Insurance Needed by Commercial Motor Vehicles per Event (INSURANCE) Act of 2019” which the two said would ensure minimum insurance requirements for motor carriers are periodically adjusted to the inflation rate of medical costs, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Minimum insurance requirement currently is $750,000 for most carriers. Others may face higher minimum based on the type of cargo carried.

The INSURANCE Act says according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the amount of $750,000, set in 1980 would have the same purchasing power as $4,923,153.29 in 2019, if the amount was raised to account for medical-cost inflation.

Therefore, the INSURANCE Act would set the minimum at $4,923,154 and require the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to adjust the minimum every five years for inflation relating to medical care.

Most carriers purchase the $750,000 per event minimum, some carry $1 million.

A previous proposal to raise the minimum did not materialize.

On its November 28, 2014, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) concerning financial responsibility (translated liability insurance minimums) for motor carriers, freight forwarders, and brokers.

FMCSA sought public comment on whether to exercise its discretion to increase the minimum levels of financial responsibility, and, if so, to what levels. After reviewing all public comments to the ANPRM, FMCSA determined that it has insufficient data or information to support moving forward with a rulemaking proposal, at this time and on June 5, 2017, withdrew the proposal.

Sources tell The Trucker the INSURANCE Act will never make it out of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit to which it was referred.

“Thousands of families are suffering in silence, saddled with crippling medical care costs resulting from catastrophic crashes,” García said. “The inadequacy of the current minimum insurance requirement, left unchanged for 40 years, only further prolongs the suffering and financial strain on families that have already lost so much. The INSURANCE Act ensures that families are adequately compensated to cope with their losses and prevents taxpayers from footing the bill for negligent trucking businesses and drivers.”

Cartwright said with trucks getting bigger and highways becoming more crowded, the country has experienced too many horrific truck accidents that change Americans’ lives forever.

“And since the minimum liability insurance for trucks hasn’t changed in nearly four decades, we’ve seen how victims, their families, hospitals, and our strained social safety net are forced to foot the bill for irresponsible driving,” he said. “This bill will raise that minimum, providing necessary relief to surviving victims and to the families whose lives are shattered by a truck accident.”

García and Johnson also introduced the Safe Roads Act, which would require automatic emergency braking (AEB) technology to become standard features commercial motor vehicles.

“Automatic braking systems are a simple, common-sense solution to deploy proven crash-avoidance technologies,” Garcia said. “Rep. Johnson and I agree that we should always operate on a safety-first basis. Any further delays to implement this important, life-saving technology will only result in more preventable, tragic deaths and catastrophic injuries. We shouldn’t be in the business of putting a price tag on life – passing the Safe Roads Act is simply the right thing to do.”

“Tragically, the simple installation of automatic braking systems on all commercial motor vehicles – a $500 safety feature – might have prevented these deaths and countless others across the country,” Johnson said. “America’s roads and highways should be safe for all drivers.  Taking full advantage of technologies that are available and proven to anticipate and prevent crashes will save lives.”

The bill was also referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

Both the Safe Roads Act and the INSURANCE Act are endorsed by the Truck Safety Coalition and the INSURANCE Act has the additional endorsement from the American Association for Justice, the bills’ sponsors said.



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