MORE ON ROADCHECK

As has already been mentioned, the annual 72 hour CVSA Roadcheck is June 5-June 7. It is important that ALL Mercer units get clean inspections during Roadcheck. No exceptions, no excuses, especially not for logs.  Let me repeat that: ESPECIALLY NOT FOR LOGS. Carriers get many inspections during Roadcheck so there is a tremendous opportunity to substantially improve CSA scores. Or not. Everyone at Mercer is in this together and everyone needs to be committed to getting clean inspections. Statistically, 92% of our drivers have bought into CSA and have few, if any, problems with inspections. Unfortunately, about 8% of our drivers don't get it (yet) and are causing most of our problems with CSA. That makes it hard on everybody who tries to do a great job.

We've been dealing with CSA for a year and a half now. If anyone is still speeding (even 1 mph over), following too closely, not running a current and legal log, not keeping brakes properly adjusted, and/or running tires below allowable tread depths, they just don't get it about CSA, and probably will not survive in our industry. That's how it is. If this does not apply to you, great. If it does, you need to fix it.

Here's a quick fix: As we did last year, clean inspections during Roadcheck earn drivers double the normal credit points. No inspection limit. Mercer needs 100% clean inspections during Roadcheck and we have the folks who can do it. I urge everyone to encourage each other and make this happen. Good luck. Be safe.

 

 


TRUCKSTOP ACCIDENTS

My friend Joe West and I have lunch together several days a week. As most of you know, Joe is Mercer's Claims and Insurance Manager. He and his staff settle the accidents and the cargo claims. To hear Joe tell it, he cleans up what I can't prevent. That's a pretty accurate assessment, but then Joe's a pretty smart guy.

Invariably, our lunchtime conversation starts with family stuff, but nearly always ends with a discussion of accidents. Fortunately, Mercer is blessed with a bunch of great drivers. We don't have many preventable accidents and even more fortunately, not too many folks get hurt. That is a credit to everyone's commitment to driving safely and defensively. Most of our accidents involve animal strikes and truck stop parking lot crashes. It seems like it is open season on Mercer trucks at truckstops. We particularly seem to be most vulnerable to the "six week wonders" that several large motor carriers employ and train.  No, no names will be mentioned here.

At any rate, Joe says that this problem is reaching epidemic proportions. He wants to remind everyone that the only means you have to prevent being hit when sitting still is to be choosy about where to park. Joe is a common sense type of guy and he offers the following three common sense suggestions:

1. Try to park in a well-lit area, but in an area a little farther away from the restaurant, fuel pumps, etc. If you avoid the "prime" parking spots, there are fewer opportunities for getting backed into. You probably need the exercise from the extra walk anyway;

2. Do not park on the end of a row. This is where accidents causing the most damage occur. You can get into much more than a little fender bender when some clown turns across your hood because he or she forgot they were pulling a trailer. Being disabled in the middle of nowhere is your worst nightmare;

3. If you can park in between two trucks already parked for the night you have much less chance of being hit.  the open spot next to you may be taken later by a guy who is tired, trying to back in the dark who more than likely is unfamiliar with that truckstop layout. You can take these kind of drivers out of play around your truck if the spaces next to you are occupied. Your fate is more in your own hands that way.

Smart guy, that Joe West. Great advice. Remember, if something does happen, call the Claims Department immediately, 24-7-365 and report the accident at 1-800-626-5375 or through your coordinator. Be smart. Be safe.


DASH VIDEO CAMERAS

For the past several months the Claims Department has been evaluating video cameras in trucks. We had a recent lane change accident event in which our driver had a dash camera and it clearly indicated the driver was not at fault. Not only did the video prove he was not at fault, the video record enabled the driver to be compensated for the damages to his truck, as well. The camera acts as an always alert independent witness to any accident or event involving the truck.

Mercer now has in stock in the Company Store a Dash Video Camera with an 8GB video card. The camera has night vision capability and an option for motion detection when the truck is parked. The camera is equipped with a cell phone type battery and has a cigarette lighter type charger with an extra-long cord. Technical help and questions will be handled through our supplier, dieselboss.com. Mercer is selling these units for $80.

We recommend this purchase. A unit is on display in the Company Store and a video clip is available for review. Contact Libby Netherton to answer any questions about purchasing one of these units.


CSA: CRASH

This is our last BASIC in the CSA series. The CSA Crash BASIC is all about accidents. The score is based upon motor carrier accident "involvement", not whose fault it was. Hopefully the FMCSA will spend more time looking at fault in the future, but for now motor carriers are stuck with it the way it is. It is important to understand that for an accident to show on CSA it must be a "recordable" accident per 390.5. It must result in a fatality; bodily injury to a person who, as a result of the injury, immediately receives medical treatment away from the scene of the accident; or one more motor vehicles incurring disabling damage as a result of the accident, requring the motor vehicles to be transported away from the scene by a tow truck or other motor vehicle.

Fortunately, we don't have many accidents at Mercer, compared to our size and the number of miles we run. Most of the accidents at Mercer involve animal strikes or someone else hitting us at a truckstop. Nearly three-fourths of our accidents are non-preventable. That is a credit to all of our drivers' commitment to keeping the highways safe. Most of these accidents to not meet the "recordable" standard of the FMCSA.

When our drivers do make mistakes and have preventable accidents, they generally fall into two categories: Improper lane change or following too closely. Both usually cause extensive property damage and injury to other motorists. They are difficult and expensive to settle. They can be career-ending for a driver. It is imperative that every driver drives defensively at all times. Don't speed, don't tailgate. When a lane change must be made, signal and use extreme caution. Check mirrors often and have enough mirrors to give multiple views down both sides of the truck. Get into the practice of backing off and don't get caught up in other folk's driving mistakes. Be patient.

CSA is all about reducing highway injuries and fatalities. In my opinion, at the end of the day, the most important BASIC on CSA is this one. Unsafe motor carriers have large numbers of accidents. Safe motor carriers do not. Mercer drivers are the best and everyone works hard to reduce the number of accidents our company has. I am proud of all of you for the great job you do. Keep up the good work. Be safe.


CSA: CARGO BASIC

Mercer folks, I apologize for not being able to write every day and to respond to some of the great comments and thoughts I've seen on the various posts. I appreciate everyone's input and do read them all. We've got folks that really think things out and I value that. My schedule does get kind of crazy sometimes and I can't talk to everyone. Fortunately, the Mercer Family is a large one. Unfortunately, that means that there is always a lot going on and there aren't enough hours in the day. It is important, however, that everybody understand CSA and keep it in mind every trip. It is a game changer and it requires greater attention to detail from everyone. As you know, everything counts: tickets, warnings, out of service violations and non-out of service violations. Everything.

By the way, I don't think I mentioned what BASIC stands for. Here it is, "Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Category." Wow, can't government come up with some catchy names? That's your tax dollars at work. Let's talk about cargo.

Cargo includes the securement of items being transported. Simple stuff. It includes having the correct paperwork for the load. Hazardous material placarding, paperwork and placement is also included in the Cargo BASIC. If you operate an open deck trailer, you are expected to master cargo securement. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations have specific rules concerning cargo securement. There are no shortcuts. You've got to read, and know, the regulations. They start at 393.100 and go through 393.136. Be sure you read the definitions in 393.5, as well. Van people also need to know this stuff.

Usually, when violations occur, it is due to laziness on the part of the driver. Let me repeat that, boys and girls: Usually, when violations occur, it is due to laziness on the part of the driver. I call 'em like I see 'em, guys and that is what I see most of the time. There are things like cut straps, not enough securement for the cargo length, putting one strap on pallets that need two straps, not checking load securement and letting chains or straps get loose, not putting edge protection on straps, using straps instead of chains or chains instead of straps, not having enough working load limit securement for the weight of the cargo. Observable defects. If the officer sees it, it goes on the report and scores the driver, and Mercer, 27-30 points. Improper cargo securement is a big deal under CSA, and it should be. If the load falls off, bad things happen.

The same thing is true about Hazmat. Most of our problems come from having torn placards or having a placard blow off. Are you kidding me? Who lets that happen? I saw one writeup where the driver was being inspected with a hazmat load and was written up for smoking. Really? This is the stuff that isn't about how evil CSA is. It is just dumb (that's a trucking term, it means, "DUMB"). I hear a lot of comments about CSA putting people out of business. And yes, I think everyone will tell you that there are problems with CSA, including the FMCSA. But proper cargo securement has been a requirement in this industry long before CSA. If you do not secure cargo properly, you'll put yourself out of business. CSA just makes it happen quicker.

Good cargo securement is one part knowledge of the regulations, one part experience, and a big dose of common sense. But you've got to have all three to get it right. There are no shortcuts in securing your freight. Take the time to do it right. Ask if you're not sure. This is important stuff. Be safe.


CSA: VEHICLE MAINTENANCE BASIC

As everyone has already figured out, vehicle maintenance refers to the condition and upkeep of the tractor and trailer. It covers all items covered in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Nothing to it, right? Sure, except under the old SafeStat system, folks were more concerned about out of service violations as opposed to ALL violations. Under CSA EVERYTHING counts, and some count quite a few points.

For example, a tire under 2/32's is 24 points. If it's under 50% inflated, 24 points, 30 points if it's out of service. A headlight? Glad you asked.....18 points, thank you very much. Brake out of adjustment, 12 points, plus another 12 points in most states for a defective slack adjuster. There are points charged for defective or unmounted fire extinguishers, no windshield washer fluid, no warning triangles, inoperative ABS check light on trailer, chaffed air lines (particularly on a back deck of the tractor), no tractor backup light(s), no city horn, missing retroreflective tape on rear of cab or top of tractor mudflaps or on trailer, any air leak, frayed fan belts, tinted windows, straight pipes, cracked windshield, exhaust leak, mismatched brake chambers, cracked brake shoes, extended cab visors, non-functioning lights, non-functioning low air warning devices(must have both if originally equipped), no spare fuses, on and on and on and on. Remember, CSA not only includes out of service items but also OBSERVABLE DEFECTS. That means that if the officer sees it, he or she writes it. This pretty much eliminates their ability to give "breaks" even if they might be so inclined.

Most Mercer violations in this BASIC are brakes out of adjustment, tires under 2/32" and defective lights. Lights are either marker lights out, a burned out headlight, or an unplugged pigtail which leaves the trailer dark. The majority of these violations are written during daylight hours.

Many carriers have discovered that the easy fix for light violations is to run their lights during the daylight hours as well as at night. This is true for three reasons: First, most bulbs burn out, especially headlamps, at the time they are turned on. If you turn them on when you start your day, you'll catch burned out ones during your pre-trip inspection. Secondly, as you stop for fuel or to do a load check, you will also notice any defective lighting and can make repairs at that point. Finally, if you drop a pigtail for some reason, you'll notice your trailer lights out before someone with blue lights notices them for you and starts writing a book about it. Chapter one is no taillights, chapter two is no turn signals and chapter three is no brake lights. Three separate sets of CSA points. Running lights during daylight hours also helps to prevent accidents, especially on two-lane roadway. I urge everyone to do that, no matter what type of vehicle they drive.

Brakes need to be checked daily. Not weekly or monthly. Tire air pressure should also be checked daily, as well. Spray off any excess grease and oil from underneath the tractor and trailer. If you have an oil leak, fix it. Leaks score on CSA.

The best thing about being an owner-operator is that you own your own truck. The worst thing about being an owner-operator is that you own your own truck. With freedom comes responsibility. You are in most cases the shop, the shop foreman and the mechanic. Remember that you are held to the same standard as company fleets which are maintained by company or dealer shops and company or dealer mechanics. CSA knows no difference and there are no excuses. The vehicle maintenance BASIC is tough and demands constant attention. If you are not willing to do this, you might be better off in a company fleet as a pumpkin pilot. Owner-operators must walk the talk on vehicle maintenance.

Mercer drivers who get it right get credit for clean inspections. Those who get it wrong eat the points and are required to come to Louisville for reinspection. Folks, this is important stuff. Everyone has to get it right. I can't stress this enough. Be safe.


CSA: DRUGS AND ALCOHOL BASIC

In case there is any doubt, the use or possession of illegal or unauthorized drugs by those in safety sensitive functions is prohibited by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Likewise, the use or possession of alcohol by those in safety sensitive functions is prohibited by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Here's another: Mercer has a zero tolerance policy for drug and alcohol violations. All of these were in effect long before anyone thought about CSA. I don't know what else to say.

Under CSA, where all previous carriers' driver inspections can be accessed by potential future employers, drug and alcohol violations can for all intents and purposes end a driver's career. Most carriers, including Mercer, will not consider an applicant who has a drug or alcohol violation.

Remember, it is a violation to have alcohol on the truck unless it is cargo run under a bill of lading. It cannot be in cabinets, refrigerators, headache racks or even in tool boxes on the trailer. If a truck is parked for the weekend and the driver is off duty, he is allowed to have alcohol in the berth, but not in the driving compartment. He must be off duty for at least four hours after drinking before driving and all alcohol must be removed from the truck before it moves (49CFR392.5(a)(1)). Alcohol is prohibited on Mercer property at all times for both employees and drivers.

The Drugs and Alcohol BASIC is simple and summed up in one word: Don't.


CSA: DRIVER FITNESS BASIC

Well, it seems like I woke everyone up with the log thing. Drivers who have known me for many years know that I'm not particularly politically correct.....I call 'em like I see 'em. It is the same for 3, 4, or 5 digit trucks. Law enforcement takes a pretty hard look at paper logs. Computerized logs keep everyone out of log trouble. Mercer has had trouble with that CSA BASIC threshold because we get too many "logs not current" write ups. Anything that eliminates those will help. I absolutely hate terminating good drivers for log problems.

One more thought before we go to driver fitness: Boys and girls, Big Brother is already here in the trucking business, and the bully for sure has already gotten your lunch money, and probably your gym shorts, too. Understand that this is the environment in which we compete. I don't waste time analyzing it or crying about it. I spend time thinking about how to master it and how our Mercer family is going to do it better than anybody else. Log legal, no excuses.

Now, moving on.....Driver fitness means that the driver has the correct CDL for the equipment he or she is operating and the correct endorsements for the type of cargo being transported. It also means he or she has a current DOT physical and medical card. The CDL cannot be under suspension for any reason. If eye glasses or hearing aids are required, they must be worn by the driver. If the driver has a medical waiver from the FMCSA, it must be current and available at the time of inspection.

While most drivers have no problems in this area, violations due occur when drivers are not wearing required glasses or hearing aids at the time of a DOT inspection. Although Mercer verifies and monitors driver physicals and their expiration dates closely, problems occur when a driver has lost the medical card and cannot produce it at the time of inspection. Other problems include having a CDL suspended for back/late child support or unpaid tickets. It is vital that every driver has someone who monitors their home mail and advises them immediately if they receive correspondence from their state DMV. Not knowing that a CDL has been suspended is no excuse. If your medical card has expired or your CDL is suspended, you cannot drive. It is a 30 point CSA violation for driving while disqualified. You must keep your professional qualifications to drive in order at all times.

While we're on this, I should mention the move by FMCSA to merge the medical card with the CDL. Many of you have received letters from your license state requesting a copy of your current medical card. The FMCSA is requiring all states to have a current copy of the driver's medical card before issuing or renewing his or her CDL. Once the system is implemented nationwide it will mean that carrying a medical card will no longer be required, since having the CDL will also show medical qualification.

If you get a letter from your state requesting a copy of your medical card, respond to it immediately. Failure to do so could result in the suspension of your CDL. And remember, the system has not been fully implemented, so keep carrying your medical card anyway.

Driver fitness is not rocket science: Keep your physical current, stay within your restrictions and endorsements, monitor the DMV status of your CDL on a regular basis (which means pay tickets on time and keep child support current). Be safe.


CSA: FATIGUED DRIVING BASIC

Fatigued driving consists of hours of service violations. These include driving more than eleven hours a day, being on duty more than fourteen hours a day, being on duty more than seventy hours in eight days, providing an officer with false logs, providing the officer with no logs, providing the officer with a log that is not current to the last change of duty status, having incomplete log entries, and/or a driver appearing ill or fatigued to the officer. Some violations result in the driver being placed out of service, generally for ten hours. Others merely require a correction to the log book. All of these burn both Mercer and the driver pretty significantly on CSA. Mercer's BASIC threshold is 60. When we are over it, everyone gets their log book looked at closely by law enforcement. Under CSA, the actions of a very few drivers can really screw up the monthly score. It is easy to raise it but hard to get it back down.

Mercer is serious about hours of service violations. Drivers with log violations are assessed significant points above the CSA levels and are required to come to Louisville for reorientation. If you have Mercer signs on your truck, you are expected to uphold Mercer standards. Log legal. Period. That's what CSA is about and that is what is required.

After trucking in the new CSA environment for the past year, it is good to see that most of our folks have figured that out. A few still don't get it and still think "just a warning" or "he didn't put me out of service" is OK. It's not. Life at Mercer is about to get even more difficult for those drivers. Their actions are burning everybody else. That's not fair to those who try their best to do things right.

We have expanded our log auditing staff and beginning in February, drivers with log violations, as well as Category 3 and 4 drivers will find themselves assigned to a dedicated log audit team. Their logs will be manually audited instead of scanned. Every mileage will be verified, receipts will be reviewed and they will be required to run 10 mph under the posted speed limits. If they don't get it right, they will be gone. The requirement is to log legal, log current. No excuses, no exceptions.

We believe that Electronic On Board Recorders (EBORs) are coming, either through regulation or customer requirements. We believe that the time to prepare for that reality is now. It is imperative that everyone, not just for CSA, but for every driver's long-term future, make logging legal become second nature. We have found that drivers who have gone to computerized logs have taken a significant step in that direction. We want to encourage all Mercer drivers to do that. And we want to reward drivers that do. They help everyone. We appreciate their initiative. While not actually an EBOR, the compliance result is the same.

Effective immediately, any Mercer driver who is running either Eclipse Logs or Drivers Daily Log on a computer will receive a 20 point credit on their score. Don't call Michelle or me and tell us; your log person must advise us in writing for the credit to be applied. Be sure they do that. If you have a log violation when running computerized logs, shame on you. You'll lose the credit plus get the violation points. And yes, you'll also become a member of the dedicated log audit group.

Hours of service compliance is huge under CSA. It is everyone's responsibility to get it right. Mercer is about getting it right and doing things right. We appreciate all of you who are dedicated to that. Be safe.


CSA: UNSAFE DRIVING BASIC

Unsafe driving consists of such violations as speeding, improper lane changes, following too closely, running red lights, lane restriction violations, reckless driving and improper driving in construction zones. Seat belt violations and radar detector violations are also included under the Unsafe Driving BASIC. The overwhelming majority of these are issued to Mercer drivers as warnings, rather than citations, which cannot be disputed in court. Texting, failure to use turn signals, changing lanes before signalling, and drifting over onto the shoulder are other examples of unsafe driving. Having an unauthorized passenger, using a hand-held cell phone and disregarding traffic control signs are also Unsafe Driving violations.

CSA points assessed for these violations run between three and thirty. They get charged each month to Mercer's Unsafe Driving BASIC score. As a Hazmat carrier, Mercer is required to stay under the threshold of 60 in the Unsafe Driving BASIC. When we go above that number, our units are subjected to more frequent inspections by law enforcement.

The old excuses are not valid in the CSA environment. Things like, "I was running with traffic", or "I had my cruise set", or "It was just a warning" will not cut it. In CSA, the only thing that works is to stay under the posted speed limit at all times, period. Remember, some states write speeding warnings for as little as 3 mph over. They write it and you are stuck with it.

CSA scoring is based upon any "defect" an officer "observes." If he or she sees it, they write it and both the driver and Mercer bear the consequences. It is absolutely imperative that all drivers understand this and fully comply with all traffic regulations at all times. Drivers who fail to understand this will simply not survive in the world of CSA. Everything counts. Drive safely.....and carefully.