I am and have been an over-the-road truck driver for the majority of the last 15 years. I have a Class 'A' Commercial Driver's License (CDL). I've seen many changes to my industry over these 15 years; some good, some bad.
Some quick stats:
I've driven somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million miles (I've lost count).
I've driven in all 48 contiguous United States and Canada.
I've pulled Dry Vans, Reefers (Refrigerated trailers), and Flatbeds. I also spent some time driving a school bus (God help me).
I've driven nearly every mile of every Interstate in America at least once.
I've driven in every conceiveable weather condition there is - ice, rain, snow, wind, even one tornado.
I've been involved in two on-highway accidents. The first in June 2001 where a woman, drunk and high on cocaine, pulled out in front of me and I hit her from behind. I was not cited or found to be at fault. The latter was in August of 2010 where a young man drove his car under my trailer on Oh-315 in Columbus, OH in a construction zone. It nearly ripped the roof off of his car. Again, I was not cited or found to be at fault.
I've not had a speeding ticket since February 1999.
I've never had a DOT Out-of-service order (these mainly come from exceeding Hours of Service or faulty equipment).
None of the trucks I've driven has ever failed a Level 3 DOT inspection.
By all accounts, I am and have been a "safe" driver.
CSA2010 is the Federal Government's latest attempt to "make the highways safer." My personal and professional opinion is that it is the biggest joke to some out of Washington since the New Deal. CSA2010 is basically a rating system for drivers and carriers. The one minor positive it has is that, for the first time, carriers are held to the same standards as drivers. In times past, the drivers took the brunt of the law enforcement. Drivers were generally the only ones held accountable for issues including those that were out of their control. But that is all the good this monster has to offer.
Each violation has a point value, then a multiplier is added based on severity and time. A driver can accrue points based on violations INCLUDING WARNINGS. I got a speed warning in Kentucky for going 60 in a 55. I received the SAME points for the warning that I would have had it been a citation.
The carrier has a score based on the average of all drivers under their DOT number. So, if you have a bunch of drivers receive violations, then the carrier's score goes up. Shippers have begun to use the scores to determine who get their freight. Now, I can't blame them for using a scoring system to know who is best to carry their loads, but when the system is rigged it works to no one's benefit.
A couple of months ago, the carrier I am leased to sent out a fleetwide message stating that a driver had been terminated because of a seatbelt violation. Yes, a SEATBELT violation. TERMINATED. Apparently there were a number of drivers that received seatbelt violations in a short period of time, and it drove the company's scores up costing all of us freight. At the time I thought it was ludicrous. They then stated that any driver that received a seatbelt violation would be terminated immediately. Not reckless driving. Not speeding. SEATBELT!
Yesterday, I delivered in Marianna, Florida. My next stop was in Greensboro, NC. I left Marianna and made my way north on US Highway 231 toward Eufala, Alabama. I turned onto US 431 in Eufala. This is not an area I am immediately familiar with. There are many stop lights on 431. At one red light, I reached over to the passenger seat to get my map, but it had fallen down onto the floor. I unhooked my seatbelt to reach for it and pick it up. As soon as I did that, the light turned green. I let out the clutch and begin to work through the gears. A minute or so later, I hear a siren and look in my mirror to find an Alabama State Trooper. I then noticed I didn't have me sealtbelt on. I secured it, turned off the radio, and made my way to the shoulder. The trooper came up and opened my door (a standard practice) and stepped up on my fuel tank. He said, "What kinda cell phone you got there?" "iPhone." I replied. "You know it's against the law to be texting while you're driving?" he said. "I wasn't." I replied. (My iPhone sits in a cradle on my dash with a suction cup mount to the windshield.) He then said, "Why did I see you like this? (hands together looking down) I said, "I don't know what you saw, but that phone has been there for at least an hour tethered to my stereo while I was listening to Rick and Bubba. I haven't sent or received a text message since yesterday." I showed him my text app. He relented on the texting. (Note: I discovered what he saw me doing. I use smokeless tobacco. I had just put in a 'dip' before he pulled me over. I used both hand to get it out. I explained that and he backed way off.) Then he pointed out my sealtbelt. "I'm guessing you're wearing the same white T-shirt you was when I saw you. So I know you didn't have it on." he said. I explained about the map, but I've learned that the best policy is to always be respectful to an officer, and he had backed off the texting which is now a $2,700 fine. He checked all my papers, and went back to his car to write me up for the seatbelt. He came back, gave me my citation and I was on my way. I wish to note that this particular trooper was very nice and very professional. He was not on a power trip, and he was not condescending or rude.
Today was the day I had to notify my carrier of the citation. The immediate response was, "This is an automatic termination of your lease. You know that right?" Then she went on to say that she (the person in charge of my division's safety department) knew I wasn't a problem for her, and that I wasn't "on her radar." I had to sweat it out for about 4 hours to find out my fate. The conclusion was that my fleet manager was, apparently, VERY vocal about my value to the company and saved me from termination.
That four hours was excruciating. For all intents and purposes, my driving career was over. Done. With a seatbelt violation and a lease termination, there is no way I'd get another driving job. I'm a planner, so I planned. Step one: Get a job. ANY job. Construction? Waiting tables? Delivering Pizza? All three? (Important note: Please notice that no where in there was 'Expect the government to help me?) Step two: Long term? Become a barber? I found out real quick that costs about $13,000 and takes a year of full time (40 hours) training. Real Estate agent? Dude, seriously, it was a rough 4 hours.
Now that I still have a business, and I've calmed down.....kinda.....let's have a look at this scenario. I would love to know - Is there one clear-thinking person reading this that thinks what I went through was in any way reasonable based on what you've learned about me? Speeding? I can understand. Reckless driving? Totally. Excessive or erratic lane change? Sure. Accident involving injury? No doubt. But a SEATBELT????? A seatbelt violation under CSA2010 is a HIGHER point value than any of those!
I have to ask the question - Who is harmed by my not wearing a seatbtelt? I can be harmed, but who else? I have heard the tired argument that "a driver could fall out of the seat and lose control causing injury." Ok, but have you seen many truck drivers? We're a hefty bunch. I can barely get my fat ass out of the seat on purpose sometimes! I've also had enough experience to know that if this truck is maneuvered in such a way that I am thrown from the driver's seat, I'm pretty much half turned over anyway and thus up a creek (or in one).
I was fortunate today. It wasn't luck though. I work very, very hard. I do not turn down loads. Ever. I go when they say "go." I'm not always happy about where I'm going, or how much it pays to go there, but I go nonetheless. There were a few people at my company that recognized my effort and were there to back me up. For that I am grateful.
But this experience has left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not upset with the company or the trooper. Most of my frustration is aimed at the incompetent morons in Washington D.C. The overwhelming majority of them has never seen the inside of a truck. Most have never even driven on an interstate. I'm reminded of a interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney where he said that he had not driven a car since 1994 (the year I graduated high school and three years before I got my commercial license.) So.....I've driven over a million miles, and he's been in the back of a limo....and HE is an expert on the highways? Nope, sorry, don't think so.
My plan has been to buy this truck out of the lease in January. That will cost $40,000. But as I sit here, I'm less than excited about staying in this industry. From these ridiculous and pointless CSA scores to the mindless EPA regulations that have rendered the new trucks coming out of the factory essentially useless, I don't know if I want any part of it anymore. Seriously, that's not melodrama, the new trucks are JUNK. The EPA restrictions have made them impossible to operate. My 2007 Freightliner with 550,000 miles is worth MORE right now than it was last year. Companies and operators are buying old trucks and refurbishing them because they are cheaper (and safer) to operate than brand new trucks. Add on top of that the anti-idling laws that have been passed in every state (5 minute idle times have been implemented everywhere some with $20,000 fines), and it's becoming impossible to operate a truck in America. I've got news for my 'friends' in State and local governments. If you think that I am going to shut my engine off when it is 90 degrees in Summer and 10 degrees in winter, you're an idiot. My response will be,"Screw you. Let's go turn off the heat and A/C at your house and see how long you last." But of course they're not going to turn off their heat. The elites get to do anything they d well please. Only us lowly slaves out here doing the work will be made to obey their decrees.
I welcome your comments on this issue. Especially if you're one these government-regulation-loving goons, I'll have you for lunch.