Having been a professional truck driver and trainer for more than 30 years, I find that you never, ever know it all. There are always new things to learn. My primary goal with this blog is to help other drivers (especially newer ones) with pertinent information and tips to enable them to work happier and more safely.
June 20, 2018 If you think car enthusiasts are a dying breed, you should take a look at motorcyclists. The two-wheeled industry is in serious trouble. A total failure in marketing occurred over the past decade. New riders aren’t coming in fast enough to replace the glut of Baby Boomers rapidly aging out of the market, and there’s a looming paranoia that self-driving vehicles could push bikes off the road entirely.
In 2017, U.S. motorcycle sales were down 11 percent, and no company was hit harder than Harley-Davidson. The brand has the oldest consumer base and has repeatedly failed at recruiting younger riders. While it builds a fine product, it’s not one that appeals to millennials. This generational cohort proved hesitant to engage in motorcycling as a pastime — a situation not helped by having less disposable income than Generation X or the Boomers did at the same stage in their lives. Young women are also poised to start out-earning young men, and few brands have successfully tapped into the female demographic.
Harley attempted to solve this problem by offering some of the least expensive models in decades, but it wasn’t enough. Millennials just aren’t as interested in motorcycles, especially not high-end examples. So the company reverted to its roots and began building bicycles again.
While the brand has always emphasized its engines, there was a period shortly after World War I when the company also manufactured pedal-powered two-wheelers. However, the era wasn’t long or illustrious enough to make it an ardent part of its heritage. In fact, those bicycles only existed as a way to introduce new riders to the brand.
It was a marketing tactic, and it’s easy to see the new bikes as following a similar strategy. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the brand has begun producing hand-built tribute bicycles that match the Model 7-17 Standard manufactured in 1917. Displayed and sold at the Harley-Davidson Museum, they’ll run for roughly $4,200 apiece.
As a company, Harley remains largely obsessed with its past. The replica bicycles are no different in that respect, though they do offer an opportunity for Harley to reach out to the younger demographic the company needs to solidify its future. The first bicycle goes on display at the museum this Thursday and the Wisconsin Bike Fed has scheduled a group ride that afternoon. Anyone who shows up on the museum under pedal power will receive a discount on the museum entrance fee.
Harley-Davidson cut 800 jobs earlier this year and suffered a 12 percent sales loss in the first quarter of 2018, so this isn’t going to turn the tide. Still, it’s a start. Motorcycle manufacturers focused on their existing consumer base for far too long. They need fresh blood and oversized, expensive models aren’t going to bring those buyers in. Nobody starts riding at 40 and few adults under 23 can rationalize the purchase of a $9,000 (or higher) motorcycle anymore.
Japanese companies seem to understand this, and it’s reflected in the small, easily accessible models pouring out of that country. A decade ago, most companies had just one bike under 250cc for novice riders. The next step up was a big one and usually represented something that was twice the size and power — and a quite a bit more expensive.
Things are different now. Suzuki, for example, offers several models at or below 250cc and $4,500. They come in wide away of styles, too. There’s the retro-inspired TU250X, sporting GSX250R, dirt-friendly VanVan 200, and well-rounded GW250. Honda did the same by offering North America even smaller/cheaper models like the funky little Monkey, historic Super Cub, and microscopic Grom. But it has also added a few 300cc units to round out its new-rider program.
Yamaha and Kawasaki followed suit to varying degrees — and so has Harley-Davidson, only to a much lesser extent. HD’s smallest offering is a 500cc standard with an MSRP of $6,899.
However, a lot of the damage has been done. Motorcycle manufacturers spent over a decade chasing bigger bikes and older, more affluent customers. They aren’t going to be able to recoup the older millennials they lost along the way. This is a cautionary tale for automakers that are doing the same thing.
The average new car transaction price in the United States was above $35,000 last year. If you take the average price from 1970 and adjust for inflation, that number should be around $23,500. If you’re curious, the ATP of a new vehicle in 1980 would be about $22,800 in today’s dollars. But things start to get expensive after that, so why does it seem like we’re only feeling the pinch now?
Baby Boomers could more easily afford elevated auto prices because they earned so much. Millennials cannot. The median household incomes for the latter generation are 20 percent lower than Boomers at the same stages in life. It’s definitely a contributing factor to the industry’s current sales slump, and could be a sign of dire times ahead.
That is, of course, unless autonomous vehicles totally reshape the market. Automakers seem poised to dive into big data and self-driving taxi services as a replacement to traditional ownership. If that goes to plan, they’ll earn a sizable chunk of change from selling your personal information, advertising, and charging you per-trip transaction fees. You’ll be their slave, but at least they won’t have to account for selling cars young people couldn’t afford.
If the brave new world they’re promising takes longer than expected or doesn’t pan out, we just might see the industry kicking itself for alienating an entire generation of consumers — just like the motorcycle business is now.
June 1, 2018 For the first time in more than 20 years, the federal agency responsible for motor carrier regulation has issued official guidance on personal conveyance. That's where a commercial truck or bus driver can operate the vehicle while off duty and isn't subject to on-duty hours restrictions.
It's also been a focal point of confusion for fleets and drivers regarding the federal Hours of Service (HOS) rules since the onset of electronic logging devices (ELDs), which require that all movement of the commercial vehicle be precisely accounted for. Prior to that in the predominantly paper log era, documenting personal conveyance was more relaxed, so essentially, it was no big deal.
It's a good idea to read carefully through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) new guidance on personal conveyance, which is expected to be published in the Federal Register next week.
But here are the essentials to know:
1. This is not a requirement — it's up to the carrier whether to allow personal conveyance of the commercial motor vehicle (CMV).
"Just because something is allowed by the law doesn't necessarily mean it has to be allowed by the carrier," noted Joe DeLorenzo, head of FMCSA's Office of Compliance and Enforcement, on a call with media yesterday afternoon.
2. If the carrier does allow personal conveyance, there are no limits that must be placed on it.
The federal government has no mileage restrictions like 30 miles, 50 miles, etc. or specific times of day for what's allowable. However, again, the carrier can set limits like that, if it so chooses.
"The carrier has the right to put limits on it or not put limits on it — do whatever they want," DeLorenzo said.
3. Carriers should be clear on their personal conveyance policy.
As complex an issue as personal conveyance can become, it's a good idea for carriers to spell out their position on it clearly with their drivers. FMCSA recommends that carriers have a policy in place on what they do or do not allow regarding personal conveyance, including any limits.
4. The driver must be off duty for it to be personal conveyance.
While there are many specific instances to consider whether they can legitimately count as personal conveyance, "first of all, it's an off-duty status," DeLorenzo stressed. "In order to be off duty, the guidance is clear that you have to be relieved from work and from responsibility by the employer."
5. The purpose of a personal conveyance move has to be, after all, personal.
In addition to taking place while off duty, a personal conveyance of the CMV cannot advance a load being carried or the driver's job in some way. If it does, that's on-duty driving time, not personal conveyance. FMCSA also referred to this point in the guidance as whether a move "enhances operational readiness."
Details are very important here. DeLorenzo gave an example where a driver is delivering or picking up a load at a shipper or carrier and it takes longer than planned, using up the driver's available hours of service, and then is told to leave the property.
That's a scenario drivers cite very frequently. If the driver at that point goes off duty and moves the CMV under personal conveyance to the nearest safe parking spot to continue required off-duty time, YES, that's a legitimate use of personal conveyance.
But if the driver were to pass the nearest safe parking spot in order to get to another location that's closer to their next delivery or pickup, that's advancing the load/job and is NOT personal conveyance. DeLorenzo emphasized "safe, reasonable" parking for the truck several times, urging drivers and carriers to use good judgment.
The goal of the federal Hours of Service rules is safety — not to make life difficult for drivers. FMCSA has been clear to acknowledge that in the real world of trucking today, things happen. This guidance on personal conveyance isn't just for carriers and drivers, the agency noted, it's just as much for law enforcement to be clear on what's allowed and foster "reasonable" conversations at the roadside, when it comes to that.
"FMCSA recognizes that much of the pressure on drivers . . . results from delays during the loading or unloading process, causing a driver to run out of hours," the agency stated. "This guidance will have a positive impact . . . by giving drivers the flexibility to locate and obtain adequate rest, as this would be off-duty time in personal conveyance status."
6. The CMV can be loaded or empty during personal conveyance.
In a key change under this new guidance, a commercial motor vehicle can be laden or unladen during personal conveyance. It now means that straight trucks can be part of this as well; before, since those can't unhitch from their trailer and cargo, straight trucks weren't allowed to be used for personal conveyance.
"The revised guidance allows these vehicles, under the circumstances described in the guidance, to be driven as a personal conveyance," FMCSA noted. Similarly, a semi-truck doesn't need to be unhitched from its trailer or be pulling an empty trailer for a personal conveyance, as would be the case in the scenario discussed in No. 5 above.
Putting it succinctly, FMCSA stated, "This guidance now applies regardless of whether the vehicle is laden. However, the requirement for the driver to be off duty still exists."
7. Personal conveyance does not affect the driver's on-duty time.
It should go without saying, but personal conveyance is an off-duty drive status and therefore has no effect on the driver's available hours of service, or on-duty time.
"There are no impacts [from personal conveyance] to the 11- or 14-hour limitations for truck drivers, the 10- or 15-hour limitations for bus drivers, the 60/70-hour limitations, the 34-hour restart provisions, or any other on-duty status," FMCSA pointed out in the guidance.
8. A move when the driver is parked and off duty can be personal conveyance.
Going to a restaurant, pursuing a personal activity, going to find a safe bathroom, or moving the CMV in response to a law enforcement request while the driver is off duty — these would all be moves permissible as personal conveyance.
Caveats there, once again, are that the move must be personal in nature. It cannot advance the load, "enhance operational readiness" or be "for the commercial benefit of the carrier," and the personal conveyance (personal use) of whatever kind must be allowed by the carrier.
9. The driver does not have to return to the last on-duty location after a personal conveyance.
FMCSA clarified in the guidance that there is no requirement that the driver return to his or her last on-duty location after a personal conveyance move.
"A driver may resume on-duty status immediately after an off-duty status, regardless of the location of the CMV," the agency stated.
10. A commute with the truck to and from the terminal or similar location, if allowed by the carrier/ employer, can be personal conveyance.
A commercial driver taking the CMV to and from home was a scenario a number of carriers apparently asked about as this guidance was being finalized.
"Commuting time from work comes up a lot," DeLorenzo noted on the call. "If you truly are going from home to work — to the yard to pick up a trailer or to somewhere like that — that personal time driving to work is considered to be personal conveyance, and the same thing on the opposite end."
Also in that regard, once again, there is no mileage limit that a carrier would need to place on such a legitimate commute.
Updated 7/14/2018: See bottom of post:We would substitute the bands "Barry's Truckers" or "Peace With Grease" in the advertisements placed in the local newspapers."Madman Moser and Dangerous Dan present................................................."
Peace with Grease
My best friend Bob, (for over 40 years and still counting) and I used to have some pretty wild times back in the day. We also got ourselves into some occasional trouble! Not only with the law, but on a few occasions with Bob's wife, Mary, who has somehow put up with us all these years. In the 1970's we both were franchised gasoline station dealers in Milwaukee and on week-ends started becoming fans of a couple of local rock and roll bands that were playing in various bars and night clubs in the area. Our two favorite bands were "Barry's Truckers" and "Peace with Grease".
Paul Barry formed his band Barry's Trucker's after leaving college about 1971 and for close to 40 years was one of Milwaukee's most well known local bands with a large following. They played at Summerfest annually for well over 20 years! Within the last year or two, Paul finally dissolved the band and retired to Florida. The last I heard, the remaining members of the band in Milwaukee continued on, using the name "Six Pack". Click the links to see his bio and website.
Peace with Grease was formed about the same time by a group of college students in the Milwaukee area. They were a very good band with a lot of brass instruments. They played in clubs throughout the city for several years, but unfortunately, after college had to disband as career paths and relocation made it necessary. Bob and I are still friends with one of the band members, Robert (Bob), who moved to Crivitz after college and became a high school teacher and now a superintendent. After the move, Robert joined several bands through the years, one of them named American Express and another, Daze Review. They were also very good bands and we hired them a couple times in Crivitz. There's a reunion coming up June, 2013 for Peace with Grease in Milwaukee. See the bottom of this post for details.
While still living in Milwaukee, we started thinking of how great it would be to have a "private" party, rent a hall, inviting all our friends, with everyone chipping in to cover the cost of hiring a band. After a lot of planning, we thought the best option would be to provide free beer at the party, requesting a $5.00 "donation" per person. For their $5.00, patrons would receive a glass and a stamp on their hand and could drink all the beer they wanted. One thing to note, our intent in all of this was not to make money, but to cover our costs in providing the entertainment. Any left over money to come from one party would go towards the next.
Our first party was on a Sunday afternoon in 1973 at the Tyrolean Town House in Milwaukee. In order to attract enough people, we ran a small ad in the paper. The party started at 1 PM and unfortunately, we neglected to take into account that the Green Bay Packers were playing a football game at that time! We thought the party was going to be an enormous flop at first because so few people were coming! But as soon as the game ended, they started streaming in and we ended up having a fun time.
Peace with Grease on stage (Madman in mickey mouse shirt) I'm standing in the hallway
So began a series of great parties, starting in Milwaukee and carrying on in Crivitz, Wi after Bob & Mary moved there about 1979. The biggest and best party we had was at the Marc Plaza hotel in downtown Milwaukee. We rented the "Grand Ballroom" of one of Milwaukee's finest and fanciest hotels for the evening! The band was Barry's Trucker's and Paul Barry and the boys were totally pumped up and ready! They put on a truly fantastic and energetic show (changing clothes after each set!). If you can believe it, we had about 1000 people come and that was really about the only party that we had cash left over after expenses. We hired my most trusted gas station attendant, Charlie, to help collect the money for us at the door. We were actually attracting people from the hotel's bars, restaurant and receptions. With the loss of customers, the hotel management was not at all happy with us. It probably didn't help that we had so much cash on us from door sales that Bob and I were using the hotel's safe to hold it for us, as we were concerned about getting robbed. A few months later we tried to book another party, and were refused and banned! We called their sister property, the equally fancy Pfister Hotel, and the word was out on us there also!
About 1979, Bob and Mary bought a house in Crivitz that had 5 acres with a barn and made the move "up north". My goal at that time was to get out of Milwaukee and move up there also, but that didn't happen until 1981. I spent most weekends in Crivitz and it wasn't long before we started planning another party! We didn't need a hall as Bob and Mary had all that property and a barn for shelter, I had a huge cooler from my ice business to store the beer in and all we needed were porta-potties and a band. The band was American Express, a local band that Robert played in and that first party in Crivitz was a great one! After thinking about how well it went, we planned to do one annual event per year in the future.
As these were outdoor parties, we had to schedule them in summer only, so we started making plans for the third annual Crivitz event in July of 1982. As the time got closer, we put a huge quarter or half page (I don't remember) ad in the local paper "Madman Moser and Dangerous Dan present American Express", listed the time and date and made our preparations. My mother was visiting from Florida and she came also. Previously, I think it was the first Crivitz party, we had checked with the sheriff's department and were told that as long as we kept people from parking on the highway, we shouldn't have any problems with them.
I remember it was a pretty chilly night for a July evening but the people were streaming in. We had a parking area for cars on the lawn and Bob and I were so busy directing traffic and getting the band set up and going that I enlisted my mother at the driveway to help collect money, stamp, and give out cups. The party started, the band was great ( I think they were into their second set) and all were having a fantastic time. Suddenly a bunch of police vehicles with red lights flashing came into the driveway! I was parking cars, saw the lights flashing and ran over thinking that someone had a health emergency. What I found was a sheriff's officer wanting to know who was in charge and who owned the house. Bob and I told him it was our party and he promptly informed us that we were under arrest for selling alcohol without a license!
We were stunned, to put it mildly. The police had a van with them and told us they were going to confiscate the beer and issue citations for us to appear in court. While all this was going on, the band had stopped playing and there were several hundred people getting extremely frustrated and angry at the police. Bob ran over to the band and ordered them to start playing and I tried to clear a path so the van could drive up to the beer cooler while trying to calm people down. It got pretty intense for a bit and I think someone ended up ripping a side mirror off the police van! There were a couple of guy's smart enough to realize what was going on and they ran ahead to the beer cooler, removed a couple half barrels and rolled them off into the field. Thankfully the sheriff's department didn't try to break up the party and let everyone stay as long as we agreed to not take any more money. And we had some beer still hidden in the field! Bob and a couple of us went to TJ's up the road and bought 10 or 15 cases of beer to bring back and settle everyone down. With that and the couple half barrels our buddies sneaked out, we had enough, thankfully. Most everyone that came actually ended up having a good time, no one asked for their money back, but that was the last of some great parties!
After a few days we were able to piece together what happened. We really thought we were covering ourselves legally by requesting "donations" in our ads. In our minds, we weren't selling beer, we were providing it without charge. We were concentrating on trying to keep under-age people away from the beer. Of course if anyone refused to "donate" we would not have let them in, but like I said, profit was not our motive. Word got out that we ticked off a bar owner in Crivitz who believed we were hurting his business (remember, it was only one party per year!) and that was the reason a complaint was made about us to the sheriff's department. They actually sent in an undercover deputy in his personal vehicle who paid $5.00 for his cup, went up and sampled the beer to make sure it contained alcohol and then called in the troops! Our arrest was published in the newspaper, I think we hired a lawyer and ended up paying a fine of $250.00 each and a stern warning not to do it again.
Here's a couple interesting facts: The Marinette County Sheriff at the time was married to Bob's cousin. And I had dated her a couple times before she married the Sheriff! You think that would have gotten us any special treatment? Notta! A while later Bob asked Sheriff Joe why he didn't just tell us to stop when he got the complaint, as we really didn't know we could get in trouble for it. His response was that he was bound by law to investigate any complaint they received and there could be serious consequences if he were to tip anyone off. I guess we couldn't blame him for doing his job! Oh well, live and learn, those were the days, and we sure had our share of good times and fun.
7/14/2018 Update: Great News! Expect a "Peace With Grease" reunion in the Crivitz, Wisconsin area sometime in the summer of 2019. Plans and details being worked out now. Updates will be posted.
June 11, 2018 Jim Onley logged more than a million miles behind the wheel during his more than three-decade career as a truck driver, but a letter delivered to his New Milford, Ill., home in April stopped him in his tracks.
The letter said his $2,100-a-month pension will be gone by 2025 and maybe sooner.
Onley retired in 2002 when his employer, Consolidated Freightways, went bankrupt and closed its doors. The company was a member of the Central States Pension Fund, the nation’s fourth largest multiemployer pension fund, which told its nearly 400,000 pensioners in April that it will run out of cash by 2025, and possibly sooner.
There are more than 1,000 multiemployer pension funds in the U.S., and about 100 of them — of which Central States is the largest — are projected to run out of money within 20 years. The magnitude of these failing private sector pensions is far smaller than the looming catastrophes facing thousands of underfunded local and state government pensions across the country. Nevertheless, if all endangered multiemployer pension funds were to go under, some 1.2 million active and retired workers in the U.S. would be left with a fraction of the pension benefits they were promised.
In many cases, endangered multiemployer pension funds haven’t fully recovered from downturns in financial markets during the last decade. Another reason the funds are collapsing: Many companies that used to pay into the pension funds have either left or gone out of business, such as Consolidated Freightways, the company Onley once worked for. Trucking companies and factory workers — two industries that have shrunk considerably in recent decades — have traditionally made up the bulk of Central States members.
“There’s fewer people paying into the fund and there’s still all these people like me collecting a pension,” said Onley, 78. “I’m just worried about my pension drying up because I think I’m probably going to live to be 100.”
Economic pain would ripple through Rockford and other northern Illinois communities if Central States were to fail. Collectively, there are more than 5,800 Central States participants who live in Congressional districts represented by Cheri Bustos, (D-Moline), and Adam Kinzinger, (R-Channahon), according to the pension fund. Central States pays more than $20.5 million a year in benefits to retirees who live in Bustos’ district and $25.4 million a year to those living in Kinzinger’s district.
“If those pensions fail, the economic impact in the Rockford area and nationwide would be just devastating,” said Eric Calvert, secretary and treasurer of Teamsters Local 325 in Rockford.
Calvert estimates that 80% of the local’s 1,300 members in the Rockford area are affected by the looming collapse of Central States. He’s urging his members who are affected to contact their representatives in Congress and demand a solution to the problem. A bipartisan 16-member Congressional committee is tasked with crafting legislation by the end of November to do just that.
If Central States were to fail, it would spell doom for more than just its 397,492 participants. Experts say a Central States collapse could push several national trucking companies into bankruptcy because they’d be responsible for making up some of the fund’s liability. UPS, which employs more than 2,000 people at its Rockford Air Hub, could be on the hook for $4 billion in pension payments if Central States were to fail.
UPS ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest North American for-hire carriers.
That’s not all. A Central States collapse would also push the government’s pension insurance program into insolvency sooner than projected. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation multiemployer program funnels cash to pensions that run out of money so they can pay benefits to retired workers. The program is expected to run out of money within 10 years.
It’s not yet clear what type of solution Congress will settle on. Possibilities include raising employer contributions, reducing pension benefits or some form of what amounts to a government bailout of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation so it can prop up failing pensions.
UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have pitched similar proposals that would effectively have the federal government sell bonds and use the proceeds to provide low-interest loans to failing multiemployer pension plans. Pension funds would be required to invest the proceeds into safe investments such as annuities, and the money would be repaid within 30 years.
Bustos is among Democratic leaders in Congress who endorsed this concept last fall as a means to prevent any cuts to retirees’ benefits. Members of failing multiemployer plans “did the right thing every step along the way, but they’ve gotten a raw deal,” Bustos said when Democrats unveiled their plan in November. Democrats acknowledge, however, that the loans wouldn’t be enough to cover shortfalls of all failing multiemployer plans and that Congress would need to appropriate more money to bolster the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. That would be cheaper, they say, than reviving the pension insurance program should it fail — a scenario that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost $101 billion over 20 years.
“There are many ways to skin the cat,” said J.P. Aubry, director of research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “But there’s really just three parties that are involved in this problem: the employers, the employees and the government, which is the taxpayer.”
Active and retired employees in many multiemployer pension plans have already been subject to benefit cuts over the past decade, Aubry said, and many employers have scaled up their contributions, too.
“There’s no free lunch in my mind,” Aubry said. “Whether you’re talking about selling bonds or higher employer contributions or benefit reductions — you’ve made a promise of $76 billion over what you have. That’s the pain that needs to be spread in some way.”
Onley said the pain shouldn’t fall entirely on the shoulders of retirees.
“It’s not our fault that Central States made some bad decisions,” Onley said. “I just want some answers. I want someone to tell me what they’re going to do to fix this.”
May 28, 2018 America has a massive shortage of truck drivers. Joyce Brenny, head of Brenny Transportation in Minnesota, increased driver pay 15 percent this year to try to attract more drivers. Many of her drivers now earn $80,000, she says, yet she still can't find enough people for the job.
About 51,000 more drivers are needed to meet the demand from companies such as Amazon and Walmart that are shipping more goods across the country, according to the American Trucking Associations. The driver shortage is already leading to delayed deliveries and higher prices for goods that Americans buy. The ATA predicts that it's likely to get worse in the coming years.
Many trucking companies are so desperate for drivers that they are offering signing bonuses and pay raises. So why don't more Americans want this job? We asked truck drivers who have been doing the job anywhere from four months to 40 years for their views.
Most said the answer is simple: The lifestyle is rough. You barely see your family, you rarely shower, and you get little respect from car drivers, police or major retailers. Michael Dow said he has been divorced twice because of trucking. Donna Penland said she gained 60 pounds her first year from sitting all day and a lack of healthful food on the road.
A few drivers told The Washington Post that they earn $100,000, but many said their annual pay is less than $50,000 (government statistics say median pay for the industry is $42,000). As for the bonuses, driver Daniel Gollnick said they are a “complete joke” because of all the strings attached.
Despite the hardships, half said they would recommend the job to friends and family, chiefly because, as Gollnick said, “it's the easiest money you can get without a college degree.” Here are the drivers' perspectives on America's trucking crisis.
Michael Dow of Dallas has been a truck driver for more than two decades. He and his brother started a company, Dow Brothers Transportation, this year. They hope it will more than double their pay from prior years.
Yearly income: $45,000
Why don't people want this job? “The pay is so far behind the curve. I make less money now than I did 20 years ago if you adjust for inflation and cost of living. I figured it out once, and I was making $14 or $15 an hour driving for the big carriers. People flipping hamburgers are demanding $15 an hour.”
Have you gotten a raise? “I have, because I went out and started my own company this year. The rates have never been this good in over 20 years. I hope the driver shortage continues. Skilled drivers like me aren't cheap right now. I'm anticipating I'll make $85,000 to $120,000 this year.”
Would you recommend this job? “I have a 21-year-old son in the military who is about ready to come out. In all honesty, I do not wish him to get into this industry because it's a hard life. I don't recommend it to anyone who has a family. My kids are in their 20s now. I missed most of their lives growing up. They tell me they wish I would have been home more. I have been divorced two times because of truck driving. For a real perspective, talk to a trucker's wife.”
Daniel Gollnick of Melrose, Wis., drives for a company that has him home each night. He used to drive a flatbed truck across the country, but his girlfriend didn't like him being away so much.
Yearly income: $45,000
Did you get a raise lately? “We got a $1 raise this year. We were at $17.50 an hour for most drivers. Now we're at $18.50. That barely covers inflation or anything. I see those ads for big driver bonuses, but it's a complete joke. I've worked for a couple of major trucking companies: Roehl Transport and Melton Truck Lines. Both offered sign-on bonuses, but what they don't tell you is what it's dependent upon to get that $1,000. Sometimes you needed to have certifications to deal with hazmat or be qualified to drive on military bases or ports. And you need to meet fuel-usage requirements, but they usually give you the oldest trucks that are least likely to get the sign-on bonuses because they use more fuel.”
Would you recommend this job? “I do. I tell friends who are working minimum-wage or factory jobs to go get their CDL [Commercial Driver's License, which takes a few weeks]. It's the easiest money you can get without a college degree, but it's a hard industry. You're going to be alone a lot.”
Is the industry in a crisis? “There are not enough truckers. I've been running around doing extra runs, because we are shorthanded. But I've noticed I'm not truly picking up more physical freight. I'm just picking up at more places.”
“I gained 60 pounds because it's a sedentary life.” — Donna Penland
Donna Penland of Houston decided to get her CDL 18 months ago after her boyfriend was laid off from his job and wanted to try trucking. The duo “team-drove” a truck, meaning they would trade off driving so the vehicle would be on the road almost 24 hours a day. They eventually broke up, but Penland continued driving on her own.
Yearly income: "$50,000 is where you’re going to be when you work for a big company. If you want to make more money than that, you have to find an independent person with two or three trucks that really does appreciate you as a driver and they share profits with you.”
Have you received a raise? “I work for Marten Transport now. They don't offer signing bonuses, but I work on a Coca-Cola dedicated route, and Coke is putting up bonuses because they need drivers. So I got a $3,500 signing bonus. But they don't just give you $3,500. I received $500 after 30 days and another $1,000 after 60 days. They spread it out.”
Would you recommend this job? “No. Not to most of my friends. It takes a special kind of person, because you basically give up your life for the job. You are dedicated to that truck. Most people are 'over the road' drivers, because that is where you make the most money. It means you go coast to coast and border to border. You are supposed to get a day off after every seven days of driving, but companies prefer that you stay out 60 days and then take just a few days off. I gained 60 pounds because it's a sedentary life. You just drive, sleep, drive, sleep. Companies don't treat you like a human. You are a just a machine that makes money for them.”
Is this a good job for women? “I think it is a good profession for women, but there are a lot of doors to break down. The guys treat you like you're stupid and don't know anything. And companies are almost always asking you to do stuff that's illegal — to work extra hours or to dump trash illegally.”
“I wouldn't let my kids even think about doing this.” — Boris Strbac
Boris Strbac of Milwaukee is the manager of Star Trucking. He employs 35 drivers and is a former driver who has worked for other companies and on his own.
Would you recommend this job? “Never. I wouldn't let my kids even think about doing this. This is a really, really hard job. On top of that, people don't respect truck drivers. We are treated as the bad guys on the road by other drivers and the police. The majority of police treat drivers like criminals. We get pulled over for stupid stuff. One of my drivers got a violation because he didn't have enough windshield fluid. That violation stays on the driver's record and my company's record for three years.”
Is the industry in a crisis? “We are seeing record bookings this year and record pay per mile. The reason is there aren't enough drivers. The whole industry is a mess. And it's going to get a hell of a lot more interesting soon. No one knows what to do about the driver shortage. People are banking on driverless trucks, but those are not coming anytime soon.”
Lee Klass of Portland, Ore., has been driving for four decades. He owns his truck now and does the jobs he wants. He says the real problem isn't the shortage of drivers — it's all the experienced drivers leaving.
Yearly income: Just less than $50,000
How can companies attract more drivers? “Less rules, more money.”
What has changed about truck driving in 40 years? “There's massive turnover in truck driving. People are leaving by the tens of thousands. It's a tough life, and there are too many regulations now. There's a ton more electronic monitoring than when I started. For people who have issues with authority, and I was certainly one of those, this was a good job. You were left on your own. As long as you got your loads delivered, nobody bothered you. Now you're monitored. As soon as you stop, you get a message from the company asking, 'Why have you stopped?' And the government is tracking you with the electronic logging device.”
[In December, the U.S. government required all truck drivers to switch to electronic logging devices that track their hours and ensure they don't drive more than 11 hours during a 14-hour period. Then drivers are required to take a 10-hour break.]
Would you recommend this job? “You can kiss your social life goodbye.”
Ryan Kitchel of Greensboro, N.C., has been a flatbed truck driver for two years. He used to work in emergency services but wanted a change. He is home most weekends, but during the week he drives all over the East Coast with “open trailers” that carry steel, roofs, FEMA trailers and more.
Yearly income: $100,000
Have you gotten a raise lately? “I make decent money. I get paid a percentage [of my load cost]. But I make about the same that my dad made in the 1970s.”
What's frustrating about being a truck driver? “My dad was a truck driver. There was a different level of respect for truck drivers then and more camaraderie. Car drivers today have no understanding of what we do. They cut us off all of the time. Car drivers see a space between trucks, and they jump in. They don't realize that's our stopping lane. We need that space.”
Why aren't more people becoming truckers? “I used to train drivers. A lot of guys don't realize everything that is involved in trucking. It's more than getting behind a steering wheel and driving. You got to be able to do your paperwork. You got to watch your surroundings. You have to keep the truck and trailer in line. You have to watch everyone around you, because cars aren't watching.”
Would you recommend this job? “Yeah. What other job are you going to do minimum training for and jump out of the box making $50,000?”
Donald Rich of Yountville, Calif.,spent 20 years as a cook in the Army. After retiring from the military, he began working at restaurants, but the pay was so lousy that his wife encouraged him to become a truck driver. He got his license in February and was hired immediately.
Yearly income: $60,000 (expected)
What do you like so far about trucking? “It pays twice as much as the restaurant business. And the potential is there to make a lot more. The first year is supposed to be the hardest. A lot of trucking companies don't want to hire you until you have at least six months of experience.”
Have other companies tried to lure you away? “Yes. Other companies have already tried to lure me away. I've had calls from eight or nine companies already. Some tell me to stay where I am and get more experience.”
Why is the industry in a crisis? “There's a lot of wasted time in trucking. The industry could be a lot more efficient. You end up sitting outside a business for six or eight hours waiting for someone to unload your truck. Businesses don't care, but you are losing hundreds or thousands of dollars of potential pay because you have to just wait.”
Would you recommend this job? “Yes. It will give you a survival income. But it might not be for you if you don't like small enclosed spaces and you want to bathe more than twice a week.”
Teddy Amenabar contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Donna Penland drives for Martin Transportation. She drives for Marten Transport.
June 29, 2018 SALT LAKE CITY — Here’s one surefire way to give your financial advisor heartburn — take out a car loan of seven or even eight years. That’s what more and more car buyers are doing to get lower monthly payments.
In its recent state of auto financing report, Experian says the average loan for a new car has reached 69 months.
“You’re just asking for long-term problems,” says certified financial planner Shane Stewart of Deseret Mutual.
Stewart says, yes, you’ll lower your monthly payment. You’ll also pay a lot more in interest over time.
Let’s say you buy a new car at $34,600. That is the current average price people pay for a new car, according to Edmunds.com. At 5 percent interest, you’ll pay $4,576 in interest over five years. Add two years, you will pay $6,478 in interest; a difference of $1,902.
“Typically, if you’re stretching it to a seven or eight loan, you’re trying to get a more expensive vehicle that might be a vehicle you can’t afford,” says Stewart. “You might want to check your motives for that and see if that’s what you really need to do.”
Shara Jessop, president of Smedley Financial, is no fan either.
“I hate that they’re doing longer-term loans,” says Jessop. “I think younger people get caught up in that early, and then it’s harder to get out.”
New car values typically drop 25 to 30 percent in the first year. You could owe more than your car is worth years after the new car smell fades.
“You’re paying on something where it’s no longer as exciting as it was when you first got it,” says Jessop. “Think about it. Over a few years, a car becomes a part of normal life. The excitement is gone. But, those long-term loans, you’re still paying on them for a long time.”
You could lose thousands if you have to sell your car early or if it gets totaled in a crash because you would be upside down in your loan, owing more than it is worth.
Both Jessop and Stewart say a much better alternative to buying a new car on a long-term loan is to buy one used.
“Many times you can buy a used car that’s a year or two old,” explains Stewart, “It’s already had a lot of the depreciation taken out of it. As long as it’s in great shape, a used car might be a great alternative.”
“Lease buy backs are great,” says Jessop. “They’ve been maintained and typically there’s low mileage.”
If you’re buying a new car, the general consensus from experts is to go in with a 20 percent down payment. Also, aim for a monthly payment that does not exceed 10 percent of your gross income.”
“Anything from three to five years is a good range for an auto loan,” says Stewart. “If you can’t afford the car you’re looking at in that range, well then, you should rethink that.”
“We’re all human. We all want something new,” Jessop says. “The trick is delayed gratification. Treat yourself right, financially, and make a good decision you won’t regret.”
Dealers often use lower monthly payments to sell people on higher-end models. Knowing the total loan amount and how much money you can spend beforehand, helps keep you out of a long-term loan.
June 26, 2018 In 1978, Danny George’s sister worked as a waitress at a truck stop in Wheat Ridge, Colo. Forty years later, his sister attended a ceremony to name that truck stop after her brother and sister-in-law.
As part of the TA & PetroCitizen Driver awards, the TA in Wheat Ridge was officially named the Danny and Cindy George Wheat Ridge Travel Center during a ceremony on June 20. Danny’s sister, Holli Martinez, returned to her former workplace to witness the honor.
“She and her husband were able to attend, and they were kind of blown away by the whole thing,” Danny said. “I warned her when she came that they might put her to work again.”
Friends and family of the Georges witnessed a lifetime achievement award of sorts for the truck driving couple.
Each year, the Citizen Driver Program honors “exceptional drivers who demonstrate values of citizenship, community involvement, health and wellness, leadership and safety.” The program, which started in 2014, has rewarded 31 truck drivers by naming a truck stop in their honor. OOIDA members Danny and Cindy George join OOIDA member Ingrid Brown, Roland Bolduc, and Carol Nixon as the honorees for 2018.
The Georges have combined to drive 6 million safe miles. During their 29 years as a driving team, they have earned 14 U.S. Xpress safety awards.
In addition to their success as drivers, the couple works to help their community and promote a positive image of truck drivers. They are involved with such organizations as Insight for Living, Samaritan’s Purse, KTLF Christian radio, Denver Rescue mission and the Salvation Army. They also donate money to help children in Kenya.
Danny and Cindy also tout the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Danny completed a marathon in 2006 and a half Ironman, which consisted of a combined 70.3 miles of swimming, cycling and running, in 2016. Cindy participates in cycling and has competed in several 5-kilometer races. The couple also completed a sprint triathlon together.
Their Adventure Trucking Blog details their adventures on the road, and they use the platform to share dietary tips, exercises and healthy choice recipes for the road with other professional drivers.
Whether the Georges like it or not, all of these accomplishments were put in the spotlight by winning the Citizen Driver award.
“We don’t like to brag on ourselves,” Danny said. “Our fleet manager nominated us for this award, and we didn’t know. But this is an important thing that TA & Petro is doing. This award sets a high standard to achieve for truck drivers. Their need to be good examples, and this places a positive light on the industry.”
“The award is something truck drivers can strive for,” Cindy said.
The Georges said the ceremony was a top-notch event. Danny said they spent three or four days cooking to make a meal that catered to their tastes.
“They were so accommodating and did everything that we could have asked for,” Cindy said. “They really went the extra mile in terms of the menu.”
“The way they treated us was tremendous,” Danny said. “What more could you ask for?”
June 10, 2018 This caution comes from a New Jersey member: We should warn NMA members that their auto insurance company lawyers work to protect the interests of the insurer. The insured is wise to considering contracting an attorney for protection from . . . his own insurer.
Most of us aren’t naïve enough to believe that our insurers put our interests over theirs. But this member backs up his warning with an experience that drives the point home. In his words:
Many years ago a damaged vehicle─one that didn’t look safe to be on the road─passed me on the right so close that our side mirrors contacted. The other driver’s mirror broke. Mine was unscratched. She demanded we wait and have a state trooper make an accident report. While waiting, several times she offered to settle on the spot not for a few hundred dollars as nuisance value but for thousands.
The trooper arrived, took our statements, noted no injuries or significant vehicle contact, wrote something up and told us we both could leave. I left and described the incident in a report to my insurance company and highlighted that this might be an instance of insurance fraud.
Unbeknownst to me, the other driver stayed behind and called local police, an ambulance and a tow truck. My insurance company found no record of the trooper or his accident report. The only information available was that I hit her car and left her injured at the scene, backed by some eyewitness statements about seeing her being carried to an ambulance.
I was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident. “My” insurance company lawyer agreed to pay damages to the other driver rather than to pursue a claim of fraud. My insurance coverage was dropped and a hard and lasting lesson learned.
There are certain steps to take after being involved in an accident if you are physically able, particularly if you believe it may have been a staged accident with you as the targeted victim. Among them:
· If you have a camera --- a smartphone will usually serve the purpose --- take photos of the cars and people involved to document the damage and physical condition of the others involved. Also capture the images of bystanders.
· Get names, contact information, driver’s license numbers, and auto insurance details from all parties.
· Call the police yourself, be satisfied that you are dealing with legitimate law enforcement, and be certain to get a copy of the police report before leaving the scene.
· Stay until the (real) police release you.
· Don’t trust people who pop up on the scene almost immediately after the accident to recommend help from specific towing companies, doctors, attorneys, or car repair shops.
· Do not sign a blank claims form.
· Advise your insurance company immediately after the accident of the details and of any suspicions of a scam.
· Never admit fault at the accident scene. Assume that if you are in public view, anything you say will be heard and repeated.
The immediate aftermath of an accident is a trying time. Consider keeping a checklist like the one above in the vehicle with you and use it. It may help you from being victimized a second time by your own insurance company.
PRINCETON, WV — June, 2018 While many tractor-trailer drivers are taking a mandated detour around a major interstate project, more than a thousand others have been ticketed for skipping that detour and driving through a construction zone.
Deputies with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department and troopers with the West Virginia State Police Princeton Detachment have been patrolling Interstate 77’s northbound lanes between Bluefield and Princeton ever since a contractor started repaving those northbound lanes. Highway signs direct truckers to leave I-77 at Exit 1 near Bluefield. The tractor-trailers then travel east on Route 460 to Exit 9 near Princeton and turn to the interstate there; however, plenty of drivers are staying on I-77 and getting ticketed.
Records at the Mercer County Magistrate Clerk’s Office showed that between May 21 and Monday afternoon, deputies and troopers had written 1,066 tickets for traveling through a construction zone; and that number was expected to rise before the day was over.
“We’re slammed with them,” Deputy Clerk Karmin Richmond said. “And there are so many that are pleading not guilty to them, so our court dockets are going to be packed.”
Chief Deputy Capt. Joe Parks of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department said the deputies are writing multiple tickets every shift. Some deputies have issued up to 15 tickets during an eight-hour shift while other deputies on longer shifts have written up to 40. When two deputies are on duty, each often stop 20 to 25 tractor-trailers during their shift. Off-duty deputies have been contracted by West Virginia Paving, the contractor working on I-77, to do traffic control.
“We turned in 221 hours this past week, and I think the tickets were 230 that week,” Parks recalled. “That’s roughly one an hour.”
Some of the truck drivers who were ticketed said they didn’t understand the detour instructions, but signs warning that a detour is ahead start as far away as Wytheville, Va., and some are in Bristol, Tenn., Parks said. One driver who was avoiding the detour one day and was pulled over the next day.
Other drivers avoiding the Route 460 detour are “trying to save 10 minutes and hope they don’t get caught,” Parks added.
State troopers are issuing just as many tickets and hearing the same excuses from drivers. One, Trooper K.A. Filer, wrote 41 tickets in one shift, Sgt. A.P. Christian said at the Princeton Detachment’s barracks.
“It’s pretty much the same old story,” Christian said. “They say that they don’t see the sign.”
Other drivers have different excuses.
“I had another say he didn’t see the safety issue,” District Commander First Sgt. J. Tomblyn stated. “It was actually two of them. They didn’t feel the need to detour.”
Signs alerting motorists about the I-77 construction and the Route 460 detour start appearing at the 85 mile marker, and Tomblyn said three of those signs can be seen after drivers go through the Big Walker Mountain Tunnel.
The tickets have led to other charges besides going through a construction zone. Tomblyn said two fugitives have been arrested, and there has been one arrest for DUI. One tractor-trailer overturned on Saturday morning, but there were no injuries.
Back at the Mercer County Courthouse Annex, the magistrates’ administrative assistants and the magistrates’ phone system have been dealing with hundreds of calls from tractor-trailer drivers wanting to deal with their cases.
“It is a huge, colossal event that we did not see impacting the court as much as it has. We knew that it was going to be a headache and an inconvenience for the detour, but I don’t think anybody knew of the tremendous work load that it’s shifting to the magistrate court system, “ Magistrate Mike Flanigan said.
“Our traffic line really hasn’t changed much ... the only time it’s changed was two and a half to three years ago when the county commission bought a new phone system for the courthouse,” Flanigan recalled. “So we did an updated information on the phone that essentially said the same thing, and it gives fines with court costs for speeding tickets only; everything else had to be assessed by a magistrate. The magistrates got together and we decided what the fines were going to be in uniform for speeding violations in a 55, 65 or 70 mph zones. So that was all that was on the recording, and that was almost three years ago was the last time it was updated because it’s just quietly churned away.”
Each magistrate is allowed one assistant, and when the magistrate is on night duty, his or her assistant is still at the courthouse annex during the day, Flanigan said. Magistrate assistants normally answer the traffic line.
“How it used to be it would hold and it would be forwarded to an assistant. That way if it was anything other than a speeding ticket, it could be assessed by a magistrate at the time or given instructions on how to contest their citation,” Flanigan stated, adding that this routine changed when the new series of tickets started to arrive.
“When the tickets started rolling in in mass, the first assistant to suffer the traffic line was literally on the traffic line from the moment she walked in (8:30 a.m.) until 4:30 (p.m.) when she left,” Flanigan said. “She was on the phone the entire day. It was insane.”
This assistant’s magistrate was on night duty for a week.
“She was absolutely hammered by these phone calls,” Flanigan stated. “She was on the phone constantly. We started getting reports from the county commission that people were calling there wanting to know why people weren’t answering the magistrate court phone, or traffic line. We started to get calls from the (state) supreme court wanting us to know that they’re getting complaints that no one was answering the traffic line, and I knew she was because she was literally on it all day. The amount that were coming in was actually worse than what we had expected.”
The magistrate court has worked to adjust its answering system to help alleviate the call volume. In many cases, the system has hung up on people because it was overwhelmed. About 200 message left by callers could not be reached because the pass code was unavailable. The phone provider, Frontier, was contacted about the problems.
“What was happening when they would call the traffic line number, they wouldn’t necessarily be in a queue, but they would get some hold music, about 30 seconds of hold music, then it would ring twice, and then it would cut them off,” Flanigan said. “I understand why people are getting upset and angry because I would, too. Personally, I don’t like talking to robo calls. I don’t know anybody who enjoys it.”
The magistrate phone system has been “revamped and updated” so callers will have multiple options. They now can get instructions for pleading “not guilty” to their citations or pleading “guilty” or “no contest” on the tickets they’re issued by law enforcement. These tickets can then be mailed or faxed to magistrate court.
“If they want to contest the citation, it’s very simple. There’s a place on the citation that says ‘not guilty.’ They sign that. There’s two different types of tickets. There’s the traditional citation ticket; the not guilty part’s on the back,” he said. “Then there’s the e-tickets, which is a very long printed out strip of paper, and that ‘not guilty’ section is at the bottom. If they want to contest their citation, they sign where it says not guilty, they put on a piece of paper their correct address and phone number, and send that to us. Then we set a court date.”
“At that point, ticket comes in, it’s sent to the clerk’s office, and they’re evenly distributed among the magistrates. The assistants set it for a hearing,” Flanigan said. “To get that information before, you had to talk to an assistant. We automated that. The vast of majority of the charges that we’re seeing from the construction is failure to obey traffic device or failure to detour. That means if a tractor-trailer fails to take the (Route) 460 detour, law enforcement will stop them for violating the sign.”
Truck drivers found guilty or pleading guilty or no contest face paying a total $200 in fines and court costs.
“We get a lot of questions dealing with points (on licenses), but magistrate court doesn’t deal with that,” Flanigan said, adding that this is the job of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
June 18, 2018 A simple tweet from an Indiana State Trooper got an overwhelming response after reminding people about the state’s so-called “slowpoke law.”
Sgt. Stephen Wheeles with the Versailles District in southeast Indiana tweeted a photo after pulling over a driver for going too slow in the left lane on I-65.
“I stopped this vehicle today for a left lane violation on I-65. The driver had approximately 20 cars slowed behind her because she would not move back to the right lane,” Wheeles tweeted Saturday.
“Again…if there are vehicles behind you, you must move to the right lane to allow them to pass.”
Wheeles’ tweet has nearly 15,000 retweets and more than 49,000 likes.
The state’s “slowpoke” or “move over” law went into effect in 2015. It says that drivers traveling in the left lane must move over if the car behind them is going faster. Police have said a driver going too slow in the fast lane can be just as dangerous for traffic as a speeding vehicle.
Wheeles was overwhelmed with responses to his post, with many applauding him for enforcing the law and expressing their frustration with drivers who go too slow.
In one response to a Twitter user, Wheeles acknowledged that the law can apply even if you’re going the speed limit—it all depends on how fast the traffic behind you is going.
“The spirit of the law is that since many people drive well above the speed limit, it creates an ‘accordion effect’ as traffic starts backing up behind the slower vehicle,” Wheeles wrote. “This is where many of our crashes occur on the interstates. It’s all in the name of safety.”
But he also said that the law isn’t intended to encourage anyone to break the speed limit.
“This is in no way encouraging people to speed. Those speeders are definitely in violation also. Vehicles all travel at different speeds. It was put in place to keep left lane drivers (or the family ten cars back) from getting run over by faster traffic while in the left lane.”