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U.S. states’ drones inspect bridges, help predict avalanches

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U.s. states’ drones inspect bridges, help predict avalanches
This Jan. 16, 2019 photo taken by a Utah Highway Patrol drone shows a big rig that has crashed into a restaurant in Wellington, Utah. In Utah, drones are hovering near avalanches to measure roaring snow. In North Carolina, they're combing the skies for the nests of endangered birds. In Kansas, meanwhile, they could soon be identifying sick cows through heat signatures. A survey released Monday, May 20, 2019 shows transportation agencies are using drones in nearly every U.S. state. (Utah Highway Patrol via AP, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — In Utah, drones are hovering near avalanches to watch roaring snow. In North Carolina, they’re searching for the nests of endangered birds. In Kansas, they could soon be identifying sick cows through heat signatures.
Public transportation agencies are using drones in nearly every state, according to a survey obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its release Monday. The report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials shows a sharp increase in their use over the last few years, reflecting the rapid adoption of the technology by governments as well as hobbyists.
In 2016, the nonprofit group found no state transportation agency was using drones on a daily basis. Now, 36 states have certified drone pilots on staff. When the survey was done this month, all but one state was using drones in some way. Since then, the lone holdout — Rhode Island — has bought a drone, said Tony Dorsey, a spokesman for the group.
The small, unmanned aircraft are often used for mundane tasks, like inspecting bridges and roads. With sophisticated cameras and thermal technology, they can detect tiny cracks and identify potential potholes before they’re visible to the human eye.
Drones have caused their share of headaches for officials over the years as personal devices forced the grounding of planes at airports or those fighting wildfires.
But they also can be useful for work that’s dangerous for people. In Utah, drones record from the air as state workers set off planned avalanches, allowing them to watch the slides close up in real time, said Jared Esselman, director of aeronautics at the state Department of Transportation.
Drones also can measure snow and other elements of the state’s rugged terrain to keep them from blocking roads or other infrastructure.
“We can predict not only snow slides, but mudslides and water runoff as the snow melts,” Esselman said. “Drones are a perfect tool for any job that is dangerous or dirty.”
Utah is getting 40 new drones to take photos at traffic wrecks for the investigation.
In North Carolina, drones are finding the nests of endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker, said Basil Yap, unmanned aerial systems program manager at the state’s transportation department.
People used to fan out in helicopters or all-terrain vehicles to check for evidence of the protected birds before building new projects, but the drones can do the job quicker with less disruption, Yap said.
They’re also used to check for protected bats nesting under bridges and to spray herbicide on invasive plants near shorelines.
North Carolina is one of three states working with the Federal Aviation Administration to test drones beyond the operator’s line of sight, at night and over people. The FAA does not usually allow those uses without a special waiver.
Also part of the program is Kansas, where workers are using drones to create sophisticated farming programs and monitor cattle heat signatures to prevent any illnesses from spreading.
A number of states are beginning to explore how to regulate a flood of private drone traffic expected in the future. In Ohio, the state is working on an air-traffic control system called SkyVision, which would allow drones to detect and avoid other aircraft in flight.

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The Nation

House endorses adopting California AB5 provisions at federal level

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U.s. house of representatives passes pro act; endorses adopting california ab5 law at federal level
Owner-operators and carriers are weary of California's AB5 morphing into federal law. Introduced as the PRO Act, the proposed legislation will have far-reaching impacts on all sectors of the trucking industry.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation similar to California’s AB5 law in that it requires employers to prove that independent contractors used in conducting business should not be classified as employees. The controversial California law, as applied to the trucking industry, is currently under an injunction imposed by a U.S. District Court judge that prohibits its enforcement. California-based carriers, the California Trucking Association (CTA) and owner-operators doing business in the state, as well as trucking organizations on national and state levels, have all publicly opposed AB5. The Trucker previously reported that industry leaders feared a law like AB5 would spread beyond California’s borders. With Congress considering the “Protecting the Right to Organize” (PRO) Act (HR 2474), those fears appear credible.

As widely discussed in trucking-industry circles, AB5 places the burden upon employers when classifying workers as employees or independent contractors. If a worker’s circumstances do not pass all components of a three-prong test, the individual is deemed an employee, a classification impacting company operations and the individual’s ability to choose working status. For this reason, many owner-operators who entered the business for its self-employment opportunities oppose AB5.

The federal PRO legislation incorporates the same tests imposed under AB5 and applies them nationwide. CTA contends that AB5 is prohibited under federal law, an argument with which the judge ruling in favor of the request for an injunction was noted as appearing to agree. With the injunction in place, the PRO Act could be considered a case of amending federal law for the purpose of allowing a state law to be enforceable.

The language in the federal act as included in Section 2(a)(2) defines an employee under the same terms as discussed in AB5. As with the California law, the sticking point relates to the (B) prong of the test. Under the (B) prong, a company cannot hire an independent contractor to perform tasks, inherent to the company’s business, which other employees already perform. A carrier in the business of moving freight and employing individuals who move freight could not hire an independent contractor to perform similar tasks.

Should PRO receive U.S. Senate approval, something political pundits doubt is possible, it would be passed to President Donald Trump to either sign into law or veto. Of the two, a veto seems most likely, as the administration has stated PRO “appears to cut and paste the core provisions of California’s controversial AB5, which severely restricts self-employment. AB5 is actively threatening the existence of both the franchise business sector and the gig economy in California. It would be a serious mistake for Congress to impose this flawed job-killing policy on the entire country.”

Truckers nationwide should remain in tune with further action on PRO. It may impact many careers.

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OKC police confirm security guard who shot truck driver at TA has died by suicide

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police lights stock photo
A security guard who discharged his weapon, shooting a truck driver during an altercation at an Oklahoma City TA Travel Center, has taken his own life.

OKLAHOMA CITY — A security guard who shot a truck driver earlier this month during an altercation with a truck driver in Oklahoma City has died by suicide.

Sgt. Brad Gilmore, assistant public-information officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department, confirmed that 45-year-old George Bischoff went to a local shooting range, Big Boys Guns, Ammo & Range, on Feb. 20 around 1:35 p.m. and took his own life with a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Bischoff had been questioned twice regarding an altercation that took place Feb. 14 around 4:30 a.m. in which he confronted a truck driver, 42-year-old Paul Sisk, at a TA Travel Center in Oklahoma City regarding a reserved parking space.

“Somewhere during that altercation, it became physical and the security guard fired one shot, hitting the truck driver,” Gilmore said. “The truck driver was transported to a local hospital, where he was treated and has since been released.”

Gilmore said the security guard was initially questioned following the incident but at that time, Gilmore said, police had not yet had a chance to talk to the truck driver.

“The security guard was brought back in and questioned again, and we were in the process of discussing the case with the district attorney’s office; and on our end, charges had not been filed,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore could not confirm whether the gun used at the range was rented or owned by Bischoff, but he said local news outlets have reported that the gun was rented.  Gilmore said the incident remains under investigation.

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The Nation

Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse identifies nearly 8,000 substance-abuse violations

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Fmcsa’s drug and alcohol clearinghouse identifies nearly 8,000 substance-abuse violations in first weeks of operation
FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program is designed to improve road safety by identifying drivers who are barred from driving commercial vehicles due to drug violations. (iStock photo)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released data on Feb. 21 following the first weeks of operation of its Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. The information released showed the clearinghouse has detected and identified nearly 8,000 positive substance-abuse tests of commercial drivers since Jan. 6. The clearinghouse now has more than 650,000 registrants.

“We’ve seen encouraging results from the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, but there’s still work to do to ensure we identify more drivers who should not be behind the wheel. The clearinghouse is a positive step, and the Agency continues to work closely with industry, law enforcement, and our state partners to ensure its implementation is effective,” said Jim Mullen, FMCSA acting administrator.

The clearinghouse is aimed at improving road safety by providing FMCSA and employers with the necessary tools to identify drivers who have violated federal drug and alcohol testing program requirements and are prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle. The goal of the clearinghouse is to ensure that such drivers receive the required evaluation and treatment before they have the opportunity to resume driving.

Those required to register for the clearinghouse include:

  • Employers of commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders, or their designated service agents, and medical review officers who report drug and alcohol program violations that occurred on or after Jan. 6, 2020;
  • Employers or their designated service agents who conduct required queries that inform them whether prospective or current employees have drug and alcohol program violations in their clearinghouse records. Employers must purchase a query plan before conducting queries in the clearinghouse – query plans must be purchased from the FMCSA clearinghouse website only;
  • Drivers who respond to employer consent requests or would like to view their clearinghouse record when applying for a job; and
  • Substance abuse professionals who report on the completion of driver initial assessments and driver eligibility for return-to-duty testing for violations committed on or after Jan. 6, 2020.

There is no cost for registration. Commercial drivers are not required to immediately register for the clearinghouse but will need to register to respond to an employer’s request for consent prior to a pre-employment query or other full query being conducted. In addition, employers must be registered during the first year of implementation to ensure they are able to conduct the required annual query on all employed drivers.

Combatting drug abuse has been a top priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Trump Administration. President Trump has brought attention to the nation’s opioid crisis by declaring it a nationwide public health emergency and has implemented critical federal initiatives to help reduce opioid abuse.

For information about FMCSA’s clearinghouse program, including user brochures and instructional aids with step-by-step registration instructions, visit clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov.

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