USE PROTECTION

No, boys and girls, we are not going to have 9th grade health class today. What we are going to talk about is protecting yourself, and Mercer, or any other motor carrier, when stopped on the roadway or the shoulder. All commercial motor vehicles are required to carry warning devices for stopped vehicles. The requirement can be found in 49CFR393.95(f). Units must carry either 3 bidirectional emergency reflective triangles, 6 fusees or 3 liquid-burning flares. Most hazmat carriers, including Mercer, require the triangles because of prohibitions in the use of fusees or flares with certain types of hazmat cargo.

When should triangles be placed? That is covered by 49CFR392.22(b)(1) which reads, ....."whenever a commercial motor vehicle is stopped upon the travelled portion or the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than necessary traffic stops, the driver shall, as soon as possible, but in any event within 10 minutes, place the warning devices required by 393.95..........." Specific placement depending upon specific circumstances is included in the parts immediately following the requirement.

It is important for all drivers to understand that triangles are not just required for accident scenes. If the truck is stopped on the roadway, or the shoulder, due to a flat tire, mechanical breakdown, being lost, nap, or whatever, the triangles must be placed within 10 minutes. It is important that the driver places the triangles immediately, even before he or she raises the hood, gets on the cell phone, or opens a map.

If another vehicle rear-ends the stopped unit, and the triangles are not out, the waters of liability for the accident are muddied considerably. The time period that the unit was stopped, if under ten minutes, is often difficult, if not impossible, to prove. What will be factual is that the triangles were not out in an apparent violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Usually serious or fatal injuries are involved, and the plaintiff demands are enormous. Even a successful legal defense is incredibly expensive.

The way to avoid these unwanted or unintended consequences is to use protection. Have your triangles in an easy to reach location and put them out immediately when required. Be safe.


FMCSA MAKES CHANGES IN CSA 2010 METHODOLOGY

As has been anticipated since late spring, the FMCSA has made a number of changes in what violations are scored and how violations are scored. This is the result of listening to drivers, trucking companies, trade organizations and other industry stakeholders. Specifically, these methodology changes by the FMCSA include 31 new violation codes not in the previous methodology, 300 violations removed, 260 weight severity changes, 88 violation description changes and 335 violation code changes.

Some of these changes will make it better for drivers. Some, frankly, will be tougher. In cargo securement, for example, former 1 point violations now carry 5 points. Speeding violations, however, are now tiered based upon the number of miles over the limit, instead of everything being 5 points. Under the new methodology, it is 1 point for 1-5 miles over, 4 points for 6-10 over, 7 points for 11-14 over, 10 points for 15 or more miles over, and 10 points for any speeding in a construction zone. In addition, 18 of the possible 21 intervention thresholds, depending on carrier type, have been modified. It is important to note that any point violation is x3 for the first six months, x2 for the next six months, and x1 for the remainder of the three years it stays on a drivers record. Motor carriers have these points for two years.

These new items just showed up on my Vigillo program the first of the week and I am in the process of digesting all of the changes. My gut feeling, based upon my road surveys, is that the speeding point changes will be beneficial, since most of our drivers tend to run about 2-3 mph under or over the posted speed limit, generally under. It will also require the officer to write the actual speed on the report, so drivers will no longer get burned for 15 points (5x3) on a speeding warning with no speed indicated. That's the good part.

The bad part is that any speeding in a construction zone could end up being a deal breaker here. Construction zone accidents are a major problem in this country and excessive speed in posted zones is one of the main contributing factors. The new methodology reflects that. Cargo securement changes also appear to be tougher. The bar for flatbed carriers is pretty high. It just got higher.

Next week, the FMCSA will release individual CSA 2010 carrier scores to motor carriers. This is a significant piece of the CSA 2010 puzzle. Using the private Vigillo program, since December I have been able to see where Mercer drivers ranked in relation to each other. We have not been able to apply that to the overall industry picture, however. Once we can do that, it will be clearer as to how many total points a Mercer driver can accumulate before he or she is no longer a Mercer driver. I am currently in the process of revising Mercer's Safety Policy to reflect that, in addition to our PSP (pre-employment screening) standards for the Recruiting Department.

We can go on and on about this, but I know that a number of our drivers are feeling totally overwhelmed by the whole process. Basically, to survive in Mercer's fleet remember four things: 1) Tire and brake condition must be legal, including adjustment, at all times; 2) Log legal, no excuses; 3) Don't speed, ever; 4) Secure the load properly with more than enough securement and protection. No straps with cuts, no missing the extra strap or chain in front, lever binders wired closed. These are the things, as a fleet, we have problems with more than anything else.

If you get those four things right every day, CSA 2010 will not be a problem for you. The laws they are enforcing have always been there. Total, absolute compliance has not. CSA 2010 is designed to shine the spotlight on non-compliant motor carriers and drivers more than ever before. The game has changed.


INDIANA MOVE OVER, SLOW DOWN LAW UPDATED

Effective July 1, there are two important changes to Indiana's Move Over Law. First, motorists must reduce their vehicle's speed to at least 10 mph under the posted speed limit if they are unable to move safely to an adjacent lane. Secondly, the updated law now also includes utility service vehicles. Under the updated law, Indiana emergency vehicles include:
Police vehicles
Ambulances
Fire trucks and rescue equipment
Highway incident-response vehicles
Highway maintenance vehicles
Utility service vehicles
Vehicle recovery equipment, including tow trucks.

Violations result in fines and suspension of license for up to two years if you cause damage to emergency equipment, injury or death to an emergency worker.

Look for other states to enact similar laws. It is important that all drivers exercise extreme caution when passing any vehicle stopped on the shoulder for any reason. Move over if possible. If not, slow it down.
Drive smart, be safe.


CSA 2010 THOUGHTS

Here we go again, more CSA 2010! As most of you know, the FMCSA has pushed back the launch date (when CSA actually replaces SafeStat) until late November or early December. As most of you also know, it really doesn't matter because everything is still counting. They are tweeking it somewhat as the result of feedback from drivers, carriers and industry groups. This is an enormous undertaking. From the interaction I've had with many of the FMCSA folks involved in this over the past several years, I know that they want to get it right. They are charged with keeping commercial vehicles safe and they take that mission very seriously. CSA has its drawbacks, they are aware of them, and some changes will be made.

One big change is that it appears that the points for speeding will be revised. Warnings will still count, but the officer may have to note the speed (many don't currently) and the severity points may vary, say from 1-4 mph over, 5-9 mph over, 10-14 mph over and 15+ over, or something like that. It isn't out yet, but that appears to be where they are headed. There is one caveat, however. Even if these revisions go into effect, they will not be retroactive. Warnings for speeding currently cost you and Mercer 15 points (5x3). We are stuck with what we have now. Don't speed, 15 points is a big hit which cannot be successfully protested.

Here are some facts about Mercer's fleet. Of our DOT writeups, 42% are driver controllable. Of these, 12% are speeding and 30% are observable defects. Basically, that means that an officer either saw the truck speeding, or saw something wrong with the truck and/or driver. An observable defect on our fleet is generally a driver not wearing a seatbelt, a light (generally a headlight) not working, a 4"strap with cuts in it, not enough straps or chains (particularly missing the extra one on the front bundle or within the first five feet), and/or dark window tint. These things, more than anything else, get us pulled over on the roadside.

Now, here's what that means: When you look at the above, and apply CSA points to them, a whopping 82% of the CSA points assessed are driver controllable. Of these points, 15% are speeding, and 68% are observable defects. Observable defects are a big deal and are almost always preventable by the driver. I understand that headlights and other lights burn out, but the other things require drivers to simply get them right. That is the CSA standard carriers and drivers are all required to meet.

As far as where Mercer units get inspected, here are the top six, in most to least order: California, Texas, New Mexico, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina. The two states most likely to issue warnings for speeding are Indiana and Tennessee. If you are trucking in these states, be prepared. We don't need excuses, we need clean inspections. We don't need speeding violations or log problems.

CSA 2010 requires absolute obedience to speed limits. It requires absolute attention to detail. We can't just say we are the best........CSA 2010 requires us to prove it day after day, every driver, every trip. Be smart. Be safe.


ODDS AND ENDS

There are several loose ends that I wanted to mention before the long holiday weekend. These are in no particular order, but each is worth mentioning here:

IMTA Safety Award. Yesterday it was my honor to receive on our drivers' behalf the Indiana Motor Truck Association Fleet Safety Award. We won the truckload 5-10 million mile category for the best accident record in Indiana in 2009. Mercer also won that award in 2007. Our drivers are the best. Each of you should be proud of a job well done.

Novita Side Eyes blind spot detector. I am looking for a couple more volunteers to test this device. It consists of  sensors mounted on each side of the cab below the doors and small LED lights mounted on the mirrors which illuminate when something is in the blind spot. Mercer has purchased five of these systems for testing. One is already mounted on #7098, Matt Stone. We have three more commitments, but one may not be available and one spot is still open. For now, we prefer Volvos, and also will limit it to folks that have been here more than a year. The only model we cannot do it on at this time is Internationals. It must be installed at the Novita facility in Brentwood (Nashville),TN. It takes about a half day.  They can handle the truck and trailer. Give me a call if you have some interest. Other than the time for installation, it costs the driver nothing. And yes, you can keep it.

Speedco Inspections. Effective immediately Speedco facilities are no longer Mercer inspection stations. As soon as we got them going, they decided that they wanted to only use their inspection forms/stickers. Great folks, but that was not the deal going in and simply doesn't work for Uncle Lennie. We use our forms and our stickers. Those locations are in the process of being replaced.

CVSA inspection blitz. Don't forget that the annual 72-hour inspection marathon is Tuesday, June 8 through Thursday, June 10. WE NEED CLEAN INSPECTIONS.  If you are going to truck during that period I STRONGLY SUGGEST that you have a shop check your rig out in advance, particularly the brakes and all air lines. ABS lights need to work. Don't forget to have washer fluid in the windshield washer tank. I'm not likely to listen to excuses for log or load securement problems during those three days. It is not in any driver's best interest to exceed any posted speed limit by any amount for any reason.

Finally, it's important that we all take time this weekend to remember what Memorial Day is all about. It's not about the sale at Best Buy, or buying a new mattress or a new car.  It's about honoring those who served and sacrificed so we can  continue to have the rights we enjoy.  Please take time to remember that. To all of our drivers, employees and anyone else reading this.......if you served in the Armed Forces, thankyou, thankyou and thankyou.  America on a bad day is head and shoulders above anyplace else.


SLEEP APNEA / BMI

I want to try to clear up a lot of rumors that I continue to hear about Body Mass Index (BMI). Uncle Lennie and I have discussed BMI, and its direct correlation with Sleep Apnea a couple of times on the blog.  The most widespread rumor I continue to hear is that truck drivers continue to believe that they will eventually lose their CDL because they are too fat!  This is absolutely false!

Just because your BMI may be considered high, doesn't mean you will lose your job.  It may just mean that eventually, the FMCSA will require you to be tested for Sleep Apnea.  If you are diagnosed with Sleep Apnea you will not lose your CDL!  You will just be required at that point to carry a CPAP machine in the truck.

The FMCSA says that nearly one-third of drivers of Commercial Motor Vehicles suffer from mild to severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  Most of those drivers suffer from sleep apnea, because they are considered to be overweight, based on their BMI.  They are concerned about this because they believe that Sleep Apnea leads to fatigued drivers, which leads to increased risk of accidents.

There is some discussion on what is considered a high BMI.  Some say that drivers should be tested for sleep apnea if they have a BMI that is higher than 30.  Some say testing should occur when a drivers BMI reaches 33.  To put this in perspective for you, I am about 6 feet tall, and 218 pounds.  If you have ever met me, you would probably consider me average size.  My BMI is on the borderline (between 29 and 30) of overweight and obese.  That was a big surprise to me.  So if you think that it won't apply to you, guess again.

Testing for Sleep Apnea is not mandatory yet.  But I would bet that soon it will be.  The FMCSA is really pushing this issue.  Like I said, fatigued driving leads to more accidents.  But let me make it clear that just because you have a high BMI, doesn't mean you will lose your CDL!  Have a great day, and GO MERCER!


ATA VOICES OPINIONS ABOUT CSA 2010

Since the release of the Safety Measurement System (SMS) for CSA 2010, drivers and carriers have voiced many concerns.  You have seen our previous posts about these concerns.  Mercer's safety director, Len Dunman, has been very vocal about several keys issues with CSA 2010.  It looks as if progress has been made, as a letter was released today, from Anne Ferro, administrator of the FMCSA.  She wrote the letter to American Truck Assosiation Senior Vice President for Policy and Regulatory Affairs, David Osiecki, responding to his concerns about some important details of CSA2010.

The letter highlights three key sections of CSA 2010.  The first refers to Crash Accountability.  With the current format of CSA2010, if you are involved in a reportable accident, you will get hit with points if the crash involves any vehicle getting towed, injuries, and/or fatalities.  The flaw is that the driver, and carrier will receive points regardless of fault.  The FMCSA is going to consider making some adjustments to this part of the CSA 2010 Safety Measurement System (SMS).  But judging by Ferro's response in her letter, they are not committing to making a change.

The second issues that was raised by the ATA,  related to the FMCSA's use of a carriers number of power units as a measure of exposure.  Under CSA 2010, carriers will be placed in "Peer Groups", based on the total number of power units that carrier has.  Since Mercer has 1700 units leased on, we will be grouped with carriers of similar size.  Our CSA scores will be compared to those other carriers in the group.  The carriers in those groups with the highest scores will obviously have to assume the most punishment.  The biggest problem that most carriers have with this, is that just because a carrier has X number of power units, doesn't mean that all of those power units are actively working.  A company could have 1400 power units, but only 1000 of them are working consistently.  In our case, most of our 1700 units are active and working.  So we would have more of a risk for crashes, and inspections, than a company that only has 50-75% of its units active.

The consensus between most carriers, including us, is that the FMCSA should group carriers based on miles driven.  When you think about it, your crash risk is directly related to how many miles you drive.  In Ferro's letter she states "As suggested by the ATA, FMCSA will make the vehicle mileage field of the MCS-150 a mandatory field for updates."  She doesn't really state that the FMCSA will use that data to accurately group carriers, but it does sound like they are going to consider using it along with the number of power units a carrier has.  Maybe a step in the right direction for us!

The third issue presented by the ATA, is maybe the biggest.  The way CASA 2010 uses all recorded moving violations from roadside inspections, without considering if a citation was issued.  For example, you could be pulled over for speeding by an officer.  He writes speeding on your inspection report, and uses that as probable cause for stopping the truck, and performing the inspection.  He lets you go without a ticket, and thinks that he is doing you a favor by not citing you for speeding.  However the "speeding" that is on your inspection report just got you point under CSA 2010, even though the officer did not indicate how fast you were going.  In the letter, Ferro admits that the roadside inspection software should be modified so officers will have to indicate how fast over the speed limit the truck was going.  The officer will be able to document if the truck was traveling 1-5 mph over, 6-10 mph over, and so on.  That means that each will have a different severity rating.  That is big news for us, since it was one of our main concerns.  If a officer pulls you over for speeding he/she should have proof of how fast you were going, right?

Looks like this may be a step in the right direction.  Now that CSA 2010 is being pushed back to 2011, the FMCSA will have more time to address some of these issues.  Below is the link to Anne Ferro's letter.  Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

http://csa2010.fmcsa.dot.gov/documents/ATAletter-4-16-10.pdf


WE WANT YOUR OLD STRAPS

As most of you know, under both SafeStat and CSA 2010, cargo securement is a major deal.  It is important that every driver uses the correct number and type of cargo securement devices and that they are not defective. Many of our write ups for securement violations come from defective 4" straps. Drivers tend to hang onto 4" straps longer than they should, often citing cost as the reason.  We want that to change.

Effective immediately, the Mercer Company Store will sell 4"x30' straps for $10.00. No limit. But it gets better: If you turn in a used 4" strap, the new one will cost you $8.00.  Again, no limit.  We want defective straps off of all Mercer units. This is open to Mercer drivers and contractors only.  This is your chance eliminate defective strap write ups in a pretty cost effective way. Go for it.


GETTING A HANDLE ON CSA 2010

Our MATS contractor session at Mercer was well-attended and a bunch of you asked some great questions. I think nearly everyone walked out with a better understanding of what this CSA 2010 animal is and how to deal with it. A special thanks goes out to Jerry Kiefer of the Federal DOT for making himself available for questions during the session and later during the Wednesday evening festivities. CSA 2010 is industry-changing and the future of every driver depends on how sucessfully he or she can adapt to it. Remember, the bar is high. The same is true for motor carriers.

Hopefully, a number of you were able to attend the CSA 2010 seminars at MATS which were put on by the FMCSA. The seminar leader, Steve Piwowarski, is the point man on CSA 2010 and was very informative. I have heard him over the years at other meetings and know that he is committed to getting this thing right. I was fortunate to be able to spend a little time with him prior to the first session to voice some of our concerns about the program. They are listening to motor carriers, drivers, and other interested parties as they continue to develop the finished product. It is important to understand, however, that CSA 2010 demands absolute compliance with FMCSA regs and that won't change. I expect to see perhaps some point value adjustments, but I don't expect to see any gray area whatsoever on compliance with speed limits, cargo securement or hours of service.  People who can't figure that out, or refuse to, will no longer be a part of trucking, at Mercer or anyplace else.

Many of you have dropped by my office (some by "special invitation") to see the CSA 2010 format and to see where you stack up. It's funny how those folks that have the least problems with this are the ones that worry about it the most. That's probably why they have the least problems (as well as no accidents and clean MVR's). Go figure.

Motor carriers are beginning to apply CSA 2010 to their respective safety policies. Some are pretty harsh. We are seeing several who are terminating drivers for anything but a clean inspection. Hopefully it won't come to that at Mercer, but I can't guarantee it at this point.  I am in the draft phase of the CSA 2010 changes to Mercer's safety policy and we are currently looking at what effect these proposed changes will have on the size of our fleet.  Write ups will cost drivers and motor carriers CSA 2010 points. The reality is that it won't take very many before there is a problem.  Particularly if the write up is for speeding, load securement or a log violation. 

Remember, the time to get clean inspections is now. Speed limits mean what they say, there is no allowance for a couple of mph over. It is not about not getting a ticket, you cannot get a write up. They count. Warnings count. Everything counts.  The bar is high.