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Transportation News Bulletins - LTL and TL

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ATA Truck Tonnage Index rose 2.1% in August
Friday, 25 September 2009 00:00

The American Trucking Associations announced today, Sept. 25 that its advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 2.1 percent in August, matching July’s increase of the same magnitude. The latest gain raised the SA index to 104.1, which was the best reading since February 2009.

The non-seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 105.8 in August, down 0.5 percent from July. Compared with August 2008, SA tonnage fell 7.5 percent, which was the best year-over-year showing since November 2008.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello says the latest increase was another positive sign for the industry. “The gains in tonnage during July and August reflect a growing economy and less of an overhang in inventories,” says Costello, who is hopeful that the overall trend in truck tonnage during the months ahead will be upward.

Costello acknowledged, however, that the pace of increase likely will moderate from the cumulative 4.3 percent gain over the last two months. “While I am optimistic that the worst is behind us, most economic indicators, including industrial output and household spending, suggest freight tonnage will exhibit moderate, and probably inconsistent, growth in the months ahead,” he says.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership. The report includes month-tomonth and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons and key financial indicators. The baseline year is 2000.

Commercial Carrier Journal, 9/25/2009

 
Interest Group Seeks National Cell Phone Ban for Truckers
Friday, 25 September 2009 00:00

WASHINGTON—A U.S. advocacy group has filed a petition with the DOT, calling on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to implement a rule to restrict the use of "unsafe electronic devices" by commercial truck drivers, regardless of whether they're needed for the job.

Henry Jasny, the general counsel of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told reporters that focusing on truck drivers was the most direct and fast approach to address the safety issue since the FMCSA directly controls the regulations affecting of commercial driver behavior. When it comes to banning device use by passenger vehicle drivers, the issue is in the hands of the states or Congress, Jasny said.

The petition calls for regulators to evaluate all wireless electronic devices used for telecommunications, telematics, entertainment and driver assistance (regardless of whether they are mobile or installed into the vehicle electronics platform) that can be used by drivers while operating a truck.

"Driver distraction is a serious and growing safety problem," said "If safety is indeed our nation's number one transportation priority, now is the time for FMCSA to act to stem the rising tide of distracted driving crashes, deaths and injuries."

Gillan, Advocates vice president, says her group is against the use of electronic devices—both handheld and hands free—while driving for talking, texting and other purposes.

The petition asks the FMCSA to determine which devices are unsafe.

During the conference call, the group, which is funded by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, referred to several studies that point to the dangers of cell phone use and distracted driving, including the Virginia Tech study, which found that 58.8 percent of the critical events in large truck fatal crashes resulted from the action of another vehicle, while 20.9 percent resulted from the action of the truck driver.

According to the Associated Press, the American Trucking Association has a neutral stance on a ban on cell phone use by truck drivers until the language of a rule is revealed. ATA's safety agenda explains that some forms of electronic communication devices hinder driver performance by taking the driver's eyes off the road.

Like most other special interest groups, Advocates cites the oft-repeated stat that nearly 5,000 people are killed and 100,000 injured each year in crashes involving large trucks, without acknowledging that the vast majority are the fault of passenger car drivers or are not attributed to truck driver error, specifically.

When that was brought up reporters, Jerry Donaldson, senior research director for Advocates, responded by saying that studies that support that argument weren't legitimate.

TodaysTrucking.com, 9/25/2009

 
Stop, rest and eat? Commercialization of rest stops debated
Thursday, 24 September 2009 00:00

He’s baaaaaack….

Well, he really didn’t go anywhere, but Rep. James Oberstar is being mentioned in the debate over commercialization of rest areas along the nation’s interstate highways.

The issue has gone all the way to the Los Angeles Times, which ran an article Aug. 31 headlined “Ban on interstate business may be relaxed.”

Now as headline writers sometimes do, the headline is a bit of a stretch on the actual story, which reports on the closure or pending closure of 42 rest areas in Virginia and the push by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to commercialize the rest stops.

The article notes that whether the law is changed could depend on which side has more political horsepower.

Duh? Isn’t that the case with any attempt to write a new law or change existing law?

Reporter Richard Simon ended the article this way: “Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, an advocate of the commercialization of rest stops, is chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Against the idea is Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), the influential chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”

The Partnership to Save Highway Communities, whose members include the Association of Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchises, the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers and McDonald’s Corp., has opposed the effort. We thought those would be the very ones that would benefit from commercialization at rest stops but presumably they feel it would compete with their current business.

We even ran a recent poll that asked: “Do you favor commercialization of federal/state rest areas, i.e., allowing vendors such as McDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s, etc., to have locations there?”

Almost 78 percent of the truckers who responded said “yes.”

“They already have them in travel plazas on turnpikes. Why not have them in rest areas so it’s easier for truckers to get to,” wrote one reader.

“This will create a more secure rest area. I use truck stops because there’s plenty of activity at the location. Rest stops are so isolated,” wrote another.

Notice the issues expressed: convenience (time) and safety.

However, it’s not a given what type of commercial ventures would be allowed, according to Gordon Hickey, Gov. Kaine’s press secretary.

Hickey told The Trucker that if commercialization was allowed, it would be “modest” commercialization and that the governor didn’t want to do anything to put current commercial operations out of business.

He reiterated the state was seeking revenue through commercialization to help fund keeping the rest areas open.

To give credit where it’s due, Virginia implemented changes to its rest area truck parking restrictions July 21.

The agency will remove a number of no parking signs in the remaining rest areas and welcome centers to provide more than 225 legal truck parking spaces.

This will offset the total number of truck parking spaces lost at the closed facilities. VDOT will also remove signs that had restricted vehicles to two-hour parking limits.

We are not taking sides in this issue, other than we want the federal government to pass laws that will ensure adequate and safe parking with convenient access where good nourishment is available at a nominal cost.

One reader to our poll who is against commercialization wrote: “I enjoy the different state ‘flavors’ of rest areas and being commercial would ruin that and make them trashy and more like truck stops.”

It brought to our attention efforts by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to open more truck parking in our home state.

Interstate 40 is one of the most heavily-traveled east-west corridors in the country, and as such, there has always been a premium on truck parking along that route.

We noticed the other day that the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department has erected truck parking allowed signs at the entrances to at least one former weigh station on I-40 just west of Little Rock.

We passed there one morning about 7:30, and on both sides of the interstate, the parking areas were still pretty much full.

We also noticed one other thing, and we know for a fact that it is a concern of the department: trash on the ground.

Truckers have long begged for more parking areas other than at truck stops and travel centers.

Let’s not abuse what we’ve been given.

Put trash in the receptacles provided.

The parking space you save may be your own.

Speaking of polls, we recently asked readers how long they have driven for their present company.

The largest group (25 percent) had been with their company six to 10 years and another 19 percent for 11 or more years.

Another large group (23 percent) had been with their current company one year or less.

TheTrucker.com, 9/24/2009

 
FMCSA Is Increasing Use of GPS Logs for HOS Audits, Qualcomm Exec Says
Monday, 21 September 2009 00:00

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is increasing its use of Global Positioning System history logs as supporting evidence in driver hours-of-service audits, an executive with Qualcomm Inc. said last week.

Norm Ellis, Qualcomm’s vice president and general manager for transportation and logistics, said the company had “seen an uptick” in FMCSA’s use of electronic data in enforcement actions.

Electronic data, such as the position logs generated by GPS-based tracking systems and electronic onboard recorders, have been used by FMCSA since December, when it lifted a more than decade-old moratorium on using electronic data to verify hours. The agency now requires carriers using GPS tracking and EOBRs to retain data generated by these systems for six months.

FMCSA did not return calls to Transport Topics last week seeking comment. However, Ellis said the agency has increased its reliance on electronic records because carriers have had time since the policy change to accrue and store the electronic data.

Ellis spoke during a Sept. 16 webinar. Attendees included Qualcomm’s trucking customers, who were allowed to ask questions about their systems and record retention policies without disclosing their affiliation to other participants.

Ellis said the majority of Qualcomm’s customers had 14-day data retention periods—prior to the FMCSA policy change—because it was the factory default setting.

To help subscribers comply with FMCSA policy, the San Diego telematics provider said it is allowing carriers to extend the period for which Qualcomm retains backup data to six months at no additional cost.

Carriers using Qualcomm’s newer hours-of-service software, designed to comply with the new FMCSA mandate, need not make any changes to the data retention policies, Ellis said.

Also during the webinar, Ellis said many questions remain about electronic record retention, including the kinds of data that might be considered “electronic records” under current FMCSA policy.

Through a Qualcomm mediator, one carrier asked whether trucking companies are now required to retain records of so-called critical events, such as speeding and hard-braking, that are captured through Qualcomm’s onboard systems and reported to driver managers.

“That’s a very good question,” Ellis said. “I guess we don’t know.” He added that Qualcomm still was investigating the precise definition of an electronic record.

American Trucking Associations has criticized FMCSA for failing to create an explicit definition of HOS supporting documents.

“We have had two meetings with FMCSA about the need for a rulemaking,” said ATA spokesman Clayton Boyce. “We are considering several options to compel the agency to meet the statutory mandate.”

ATA met with FMCSA officials twice this year to discuss HOS supporting documents. The most recent meeting was held this month, Boyce said.

“We have asked FMCSA for guidance on what their policy covers,” Boyce said. “Thus far, FMCSA has chosen not to issue any.”

“The agency has identified the need for guidance for enforcement staff and will continue to work to address the concerns of the industry,” FMCSA told Qualcomm in a June letter that the company subsequently posted on a Web site dedicated to the records retention policy.

In the same letter, the agency shot down Qualcomm’s recommendation for a grace period to allow carriers to set up six-month record-retention systems.

“The agency does not believe it is necessary to give motor carriers a grace period . . . since the use of GPS has not been mandated,” FMCSA wrote.

FMCSA added that even carriers that do not use GPS data “specifically for hours of service” still could be required to furnish the agency with such data because the information is acquired “during the course of normal business.”

Meanwhile at PeopleNet, a Chaska, Minn., provider of EOBR and other systems, Chief Operating Officer Brian McLaughlin said that because of the FMCSA rule change, “we have had several customers call with concerns, but overall, the reaction has been tempered.”

A PeopleNet spokeswoman said the company has had a six-month data retention policy since “well before December 2008.”

As with competitor Qualcomm, PeopleNet stores copies of electronic data generated by its truck-based systems at company data centers as a fail-safe for its subscribers.

Transport Topics, 9/21/2009

 
States send mixed message on texting and driving
Monday, 21 September 2009 00:00

Fiddling with your iPhone behind the wheel can get you fined across much of the nation. But many states are more than happy to tweet you with up-to-the-minute directions on how to steer clear of a traffic jam.

It is a mixed signal that some safety experts and politicians say could be dangerous.

At least 22 states that ban texting while driving offer some type of service that allows motorists to get information about traffic tie-ups, road conditions or emergencies via Twitter.

"You shouldn't be fiddling around with any kind of electronic gadget in your car while driving," said Minnesota State Rep. Frank Hornstein, who helped write his state's no-texting-while-driving law.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have banned all texting while driving, and eight others prohibit texting by younger drivers only, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Many of these laws essentially bar people from fooling with their smart phones in any way behind the wheel; in some cases, just reading from a mobile device is against the law.

Some supporters of text-messaging bans say that states that provide traffic information via Twitter are undermining these laws.

"I would guess that the states wouldn't intend to be sending a mixed message, but it sounds like it could be a mixed message," said Judie Stone, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

State transportation officials say they are not encouraging people to get online behind the wheel. They say drivers should read their tweets before hitting the road.

In Washington state, for example, where citizens and transportation officials can exchange messages about the latest traffic, the feed includes regular reminders not to use the service while driving. "Know before you go," said one feed this week.

Drivers should "check our Web site before leaving. If you're at your office, before you leave and there's an issue on the roadway, it might alter your travel plans home," said Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

The Arkansas ban on texting while driving goes into effect Oct. 1; this week, the state became the latest to provide road conditions via Twitter, the microblogging service that lets people read and send messages of 140 characters or fewer.

Other places offering traffic information via Twitter include: California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

The apparent conflict results from two arms of government with seemingly good intentions: transportation departments that want to help motorists cope with traffic, and legislatures that are worried about the deadly consequences of distracted driving.

While Washington state lets motorists tweet about traffic conditions, in most states the flow of information is one-way—from state officials to drivers. Some states, such as New York and Indiana, send lots of upto- the-minute information. Others just tweet intermittently, or reserve Twitter for emergencies. Mississippi, for example, intends to use its service during hurricane evacuations.

Maine has employed Twitter only to update drivers on an interstate highway project in the Portland area. Nebraska plans to use Twitter during winter weather emergencies. Oregon officials notify drivers about emergency road closings only.

"We don't want people reading their tweets while they're driving," said Sally Ridenour, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

In Washington state, the 6,200 users can also request estimated travel times, mountain pass reports and waiting times at the Canadian border. Some users apparently just want to chat.

"Got home, got changed, now heading back to Seattle for the Mariners game. Keep the roads clear for me on I90 (at)WSDOT :-)," one user posted in late August. The reply from transit officials? "No promises, but we will do our best :) Enjoy the game!"

Others want to know why traffic isn't moving. "wsdot any idea what's going on westbound on 520? it's worse than rush hour…" a user posted. Within a few minutes, officials responded: "Yes! There is a disabled vehicle just east of Lk Wash Blvd blocking right lane."

That kind of exchange, if conducted by drivers behind the wheel, troubles some safety experts.

"If you're sitting there and trying to update the world on the congestion you're in, you could be part of a collision," said Fairley Mahlum, spokeswoman for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Did it really matter that you needed to tell everyone and their brother what the situation is? It's just not really not worth it."

The dangers of texting and driving are well documented. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found in July that when truck drivers texted, their risk of a collision was 23 times greater. Dialing a cell phone and using or reaching for an electronic device raised the risk of collision about six times in cars and trucks.

A 17-year-old Eureka, Ill., high school student was killed in June when she drove off the road while sending a message to friends. A train wreck in California last year left 25 people dead, including the train operator, who was texting at the time.

Seattle resident Aaron Woo often checks traffic conditions on his phone using the Twitter feed from the state's transportation department—sometimes, he said, while driving.

"I try not to use my phone at certain miles per hour," the 25-year-old said. "I try to be smart when I'm using my phone when I'm driving."

Washington resident Eric Zinn said he, too, checks the Twitter traffic updates on his phone, though usually not when he is driving.

Does he worry other people will be doing it behind the wheel?

"They're too busy eating doughnuts and shaving their eyebrows and screaming at their kids," he said. "There's plenty of things to keep you distracted."

TheTrucker.com, 9/21/2009

 
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