TRUCKING HOLIDAY THOUGHTS

In the forty years I have been involved in the trucking industry (30 at Mercer), there has never been a time when so many different aspects of the business are changing. It is important that everyone is aware of these changes but more importantly that everyone has an action plan to deal with the changes. Here are some things that everyone needs to be thinking about, planning for and taking the appropriate action:

  • CDL/Medical Card. It is a federal requirement that your state have a copy of your current medical card on file before your CDL can be renewed. Beginning last January, many states (but not all) sent drivers questionnaire letters and requested copies of their medical cards. If you have not complied with this, you could risk having your CDL suspended on January 1. If you haven't received a letter, you need to contact your home state DMV (not Mercer) and find out where to send your medical card copy. This is serious business. If you get stopped with a suspended CDL, you are dead in the water until it is cleared, plus you are awarded 30 CSA points. This needs to be a priority of yours before the end of the year;
  • CSA. Speaking of CSA, we are now two years into it. Frankly, there are a bunch of drivers at Mercer and other places that couldn't adapt to the tighter standards and are no longer in the industry. For the past two years, I have told everyone that to survive CSA it is important to take care of four things: Do not exceed the posted speed limit at any time for any reason, log legal and keep your log book current (including matching ALL receipts), secure cargo properly (use more than enough chains or straps and check often), and keep tires and brake adjustments within FMCSA requirements. Drivers who pay attention to that have no problems. Ignoring even one of those can put a driver's career in jeopardy. The FMCSA has indicated that it is moving in the direction of tying the motor carrier's safety rating to its CSA BASIC scores. We expect to see a notice of proposed rulemaking out on this in mid-2013. You can expect all motor carriers, including Mercer, to be much tougher on drivers with DOT write ups in 2013, particularly for Unsafe Driving and Hours of Service Violations. Read my lips;
  • BMI. Body mass index (BMI)/obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been on the FMCSA back burner for a year or so but expect to see it in 2013. It is important that every driver is aware of their BMI and embraces a healthier diet and lifestyle. It appears that at some point in the future, BMIs of 35 or above will require a sleep study and possible treatment for OSA  to remain qualified. If your BMI is 35 or above, the time to take action is now. There is time to get your health under control. Take advantage of it, lose weight and exercise;
  • EPA/CARB. If you are going to stay in this business over the long term, you need to have a business plan in place to upgrade your tractor. Anyone with a 96-06 engine without a particulate matter filter retrofit will be out of California by January 2014. You need to be working towards a 2007 engine or newer. It's no longer a matter of simply not going to California. Last Friday the EPA , in the first major regulation since the election, imposed a new air quality standard that reduces by 20 percent the maximum amount of soot (particulate matter) released into the air from diesel trucks, smokestacks and other sources of pollution. The EPA monitors motor carriers, including Mercer, through their SmartWay program. Pollution formula numbers from older trucks, as well as excessive fuel consumption compared to miles travelled because of speeding or idling skews Mercer's score. We expect to see the EPA continue to get tougher on this in the next four years. Many observers see the CARB stuff in California as the model of where the EPA is headed nationally. Drivers should be closely following new technologies, especially diesel electric hybrids and CNG (compressed natural gas) powered engines. Several manufacturers are working on combination diesel/CNG units. Cummins is pretty far along on this technology. As the EPA toughens these standards, expect all motor carriers, including Mercer, to have tighter maximum age requirements on tractors. We are monitoring these developments closely;
  • Electronic On Board Recorders. Everyone asks about EOBRs. Congress made it law and FMCSA is working on the standards. They are coming. The exact timing is still uncertain, but we expect to be testing them in 2013. My advice on EOBRs is the same as on BMIs: You have time now to get ready for it, use that time wisely. I would get on Eclipse Logs now and be sure you are logging legal and current at all times. If you can't do it, you will not survive under EOBRs. Electronic logs require more trip planning on your part. You need to get used to this environment to continue in this industry;
  • Physician Registry. Soon, you may not be able to use any old doctor to get your DOT physical. The FMCSA will have standards and a registry for medical professionals who are approved to do DOT physicals. If your doctor is not approved, your physical won't be valid. Mercer applauds that rule because there are too many physicals now that are submitted with missing or incorrect items by medical staff that are not fully aware of DOT requirements. Mercer verifies all physicals and will not update a driver unless the physical is complete. The new registry will make this process much easier for everyone.

Like I said at the beginning, there is a lot going on and many changes in the works. The coming year will be a challenging one for this industry, particularly for owner-operators. The time to plan your strategy is now. Be safe and have a joyous and blessed holiday season.


CARB COMPLIANCE DATES FOR 2000-2004 ENGINES

As most readers already know, the California Air Resources Board has set deadlines for the use of various years of on-road diesel engines in the state of California. The dates we are discussing here are ENGINE YEAR, not truck model year, which may or may not be the same. Yesterday, the Air Resources Board issued an enforcement reminder for the 2000-2004 engine year groups. This group had until January 1, 2013 to be retrofitted with an approved particulate filter or be banned from operating in the state of California. However, as they did last year with the 1996-1999 engines, they are allowing small fleet owners to register their 2000-2004 engined trucks and receive a one-year extension which is good until January 1, 2014.

To register your truck with ARB you can go to their website at www.arb.ca.gov/truckstop , or by calling 1-866-6DIESEL (866-634-3735) or via email at 8666DIESEL@arb.ca.gov . Mercer's Contractor Relations Department can also assist you. Jason, Eric and Gerald have a lot of experience with this since the 1996-1999 folks had to do it last year.

If you have a 1996-1999 engine, do not go into California unless you have had it retrofitted with an approved particulate filter or it has been registered. If you have a 2000-2004 engine, do not go into California after December 31, 2012 unless you have had it retrofitted with an approved particulate filter or it has been registered.

Remember, this is a serious deal in California. The fines are steep: $1,000 per month for the first violation and increasing over time. In the first nine months of 2012, CARB collected nearly $2,000,000 in penalties. If you have a 1996-2004 engine, you will be checked for compliance at some point in California. There is no fee to register your engine. Mercer will not pay fines for contractor non-compliance with CARB requirements. We will not encourage nor condone non-compliance with these requirements by any contractor.

If you truck in California, I urge you to spend some quality time with your engine. If it is electronic, be sure it has an Emission Control Label (ECL) that is legible. Be sure you know what YEAR the engine is. If you have problems or questions about either of these, contact your dealer. You can also obtain a missing ECL from your dealer, probably not for free however.

I am expecting to see more emissions compliance requirements in more locations in the coming years. My advice to all owner-operators who plan on being in this business for the long haul is to have a definite plan and timetable in place to update your equipment. I would suggest looking for a 2007 or newer engine. Trucking until you are forced to quit is simply not good business. I hear a lot of folks say that, but very few actually mean it. The time to plan is now. Don't kill the messenger: I just call 'em like I see 'em.  You guys with the 2000-2004 engines need to act now if you want to continue to operate in California. Be safe.


FINAL 2012 FIELD LKY INSPECTION NEXT WEEK

On Monday 11/12 and Tuesday 11/13 I will be doing LKY inspections in Brandon (Tampa) Florida from 7:30 am until 5:00 pm both days. The TPA office moved from Plant City to Brandon so we have a new location for inspections. Jonathan has located a suitable lot  in Brandon near Falkenberg and Causeway for me to do the honors. Call the TPA office for specific directions. The Tampa inspection trip is my last scheduled field inspection stop for 2012. If you need an LKY inspection this year and you can't get to Louisville, this is your last chance.

Most of the trucks I've looked at this year have been in pretty good shape. Most guys have figured out CSA and are not having problems with it. ABS on some models continues to be a problem. What I see more than anything is folks trying to push their tires too far, particularly trailer tires. Tire violations are big points under CSA (24, or 30 if OOS). It doesn't take many of those to point a driver out on our scoring system. Don't risk it. I'd pull steer tires off at no less than 6/32 and everything else at 4/32 max. Remember, under inflated tires, chunked or cut tires also score on CSA. This stuff has got to be right.

This just off the press: State and Federal inspectors will be doing an inspection extravaganza in Selma , AL today and tomorrow. If you are in the area, you will probably be invited to that party.

Do your best today to avoid an accident. Be safe.


LKY FIELD INSPECTIONS

WOW! 51 trucks in Sunbury and Youngwood! You guys are killing me! Seriously, I enjoyed spending time with all of you. Most of you had no problems, the ones I found were easily corrected that day. Nice job, ladies and gentlemen. Keep up the good work. We had some great discussions about CSA and EOBRs, with a little bit of CARB thrown in for good measure. I think some of us might have even discussed hot rods and Harleys. Mercer has absolutely great people and I had a great time underneath all the trucks. Well, not as much in the rain at Youngwood. Whatever.

This Sunday, October 7, I will be at the HIA office in Arkadelphia, AR from 3-8 doing LKY inspections. I will do any that I don't get to on Monday, October 8 at the office from 7:30-noon. If you know you are going to be there, be sure that you or your coordinator calls my Administrative Assistant, Maria Lafavers, and get on my list.

CHANGE IN DATE FOR NEWBERRY, SC! Due to a scheduling conflict, I have to back my Newberry trip up one week. NEW DATES ARE Tuesday 10/23 and Wednesday 10/24, 7:30-5:00 both days at Dowd's Diesel. If you are on the list already, you do not have to call again. If you are not on my Newberry list, and plan on being there, be sure you or your coordinator lets Maria know.

Tampa Inspection dates are still Monday, November 12 and Tuesday, November 13. New inspection location will be announced later this month. If you will be at Tampa, be sure Maria has you on that list.

I look forward to spending time with as many of you as possible at these locations. Be safe.


COLORADO CHAIN LAW NOW IN EFFECT

Well, boys and girls, it's time to put the chains back on the truck if you are travelling out west. Colorado's chain law went into effect September 1 and will continue until May 31. Remember, nearly all of Colorado is chain up (or park it) when the signs are lit EXCEPT I-70 west of Denver, specifically between mm 133 (Dotsero) and mm 259 (Morrison). That is a MANDANTORY carry area.  Colorado requires four drive wheels to be chained.  Trailers have no requirement. Cables may be used if the cross member steel rollers are high strength with diameters of 0.415" or greater.

There is only one other state with a mandantory carry requirement. The Washington chain law goes into effect November 1 and continues until April 1. Washington requires seven chains: four drives, one trailer, two spares. A chain diagram is on their website, www.wsdot.wa.gov/commercialvehicle/chain_req.htm .

How many chains should you carry? I tell everyone seven singles, since that is the most anyone requires. Remember, the rest of the states out west have " chain up when signs are lit" laws and those numbers of required chains vary. Nearly all require four drives, either one complete axle or four outside. Some may require one trailer drag chain, some may require two. Some require one or two spares. You need to check if you run in an area with the chain signs lit. Or even better, get off the road and wait for it to be cleared. The best reference is generally that state's DOT website.

Remember, fines for chain law violations are high. So are wrecker bills. If you run through Colorado on I-70, hang the chains on your truck now. Be safe.


CVSA BRAKE SAFETY WEEK

The annual CVSA Brake Safety Week is scheduled to begin this Sunday, September 9 and run through Saturday, September 15. Drivers should expect to get at least one, possibly multiple Level 1 inspections next week. If you don't know how to adjust your brakes, I strongly suggest that you get by a qualified shop before Sunday and have them checked.

It is important that all Mercer units get clean inspections, particularly on Vehicle Maintenance (Brakes, etc) and on Fatigued Driving (Logs). CSA is eliminating folks who can't get this right, not from just Mercer, but from the industry. This stuff is not going away. This is the environment in which we have to conduct our business.

For almost two years, I have told everyone that successful operation in the CSA world requires four simple things: 1) Log legal, keep your logbook current. No exceptions, no excuses; 2) Don't speed, ever. Run at or below the posted speed limit. No excuses about "running with traffic" or " I had my cruise set" ; 3) Use more than enough securement, don't be lazy about securing cargo; 4) Do thorough pre-trip and post-trip inspections and fix problems immediately. Four things. If you resist or refuse to do any one of these, you will have problems with CSA. I see it every day. It's not rocket science.

I urge everyone to prepare now for Brake Safety Week. One of the requirements of being the best is to show the best effort. Next week requires each of you to prove it. Be safe.


REMAINING 2012 LKY FIELD INSPECTION DATES SET

If you need an LKY inspection before the end of 2012 and have difficulty getting through Louisville, here is my inspection travel schedule for the rest of 2012:

Sunbury, PA (MSU) office: Monday 9/24 and Tuesday 9/25 7:30 am until 5:00 pm;

Youngwood, PA Firestone Plant lot: Wednesday 9/26 3:00 pm until 8:00 pm;

Arkadelphia, AR (HIA) office: Sunday 10/7 3:00 pm until 8:00 pm, Monday 10/8 7:30 am until 11:30 am;

Newberry, SC (Dowd's Diesel): Tuesday 10/16 and Wednesday 10/17 7:30 am until 5:00 pm both days;

Tampa, FL (TPA): Monday 11/12 and Tuesday 11/13 7:30 am until 5:00 pm both days.

I will be doing Hazmat Recertifications on those who need them as well as log and securement orientations if required.

If you are planning on meeting me at one of these locations, call my Administrative Assistant, Maria Lafavers at ext 3375 and be sure you are on my list for that location. Note that Maria has replaced Michelle. Michelle left Mercer to pursue another opportunity. We wish her the best.

The TPA office has moved and we are in the process of finding a lot for those inspections. We will advise the drivers on the TPA list where that will be prior to the inspection dates.

I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible. If you are planning on seeing me, be sure your unit # is on my list as soon as possible. Be safe.

 


HAZMAT LOAD? CALL CLAIMS

Many of you may be aware of the FMCSA plans on changing the CSA BASICs to include a Hazmat BASIC. Although Mercer hauls only limited quantities of Hazmat, we are still classified by FMCSA as a Hazmat carrier and are graded as such.  Our drivers do an excellent job in transporting Hazmat from a non-spill, non-accident perspective. However, as in everything else associated with CSA, the devil is in the details. Missing placards, torn placards, improper placards, paperwork not properly completed or properly placed in the cab have all been problematic.

All drivers loading Hazmat are required to call the Claims Department before leaving the shipper's facility. This is a 24/7/365 requirement. Claims personnel are trained in Hazmat and have a checklist that they are required to go over with the driver. Drivers who do not report Hazmat loads prior to departure will be banned from future Hazmat offerings.

Drivers who receive DOT hazmat violations at roadside will be required to come to Louisville for additional Hazmat training.  The Mercer standard for Hazmat is zero violations. Everyone needs to work together to make this happen. Be safe.


LKY WICHITA AND STOCKTON INSPECTION DATES SET

June begins my annual LKY field inspection trips. Besides inspecting trucks, I will be doing safety briefings (primarily on CSA) and Hazmat recertifications. On Monday, June 25 and Tuesday, June 26 I will be conducting inspections at the WKS office in Wichita, KS. I start at 7:30 and work until the last truck is done.

On Monday, July 16 and Tuesday, July 17 I will be in Stockton, CA doing LKY inspections. These will be conducted in the Carl's Restaurant parking lot on Cherokee, just west of Highway 99. Same hours.

If you are planning on being at either location, it is important that you or your coordinator call my Administrative Assistant, Michelle Scott, and have your name placed on my list for those locations. I like to get 20-30 trucks per trip. Keeps me in shape.

With CSA it has never been more important to not let things go. Do your pre trip and post trip inspections. Do not procrastinate on repairs. Keep your log book current. Good habits are important. Be safe.


ROADCHECK DAY 2

The annual CVSA Roadcheck continues today and tomorrow. Be prepared. Are you doing pretrips and post trips? Is your log book current? Are your tires and brakes in good shape? Lights? Is your cargo properly secured? Are you checking it and flagging the load checks? Do all receipts in the truck match your log book? Are you driving at or below the posted speed limit at all times? Are you wearing your seatbelt?

Roadcheck is all about attention to detail. It requires everyone's best effort. We believe that Mercer drivers are the best of the best. Roadcheck is when we have the opportunity to prove it. Do us proud. Be safe.