You know I hate rules. If you’ve read this column even sporadically over the years, you’ll have ‘heard’ me bitching about everything from speed limiters to emissions mandates. But there’s one I like, which I’ll get to in a minute.
I have a particular hatred of hours-of-service rules, or at least of their nonsensically arbitrary nature. And therefore of electronic onboard recorders, EOBRs.
If I were out there hauling loads of widgets from A to B and back again, I’d go crazy in no time. Every day I’d find myself looking for a non-existent parking spot at a point when the law demanded it while my body would be saying ‘Whaaat? Already?’ And then I’d spend a few hours wide awake, bored stiff, and sitting still, the frustration growing with every minute. Like as not, when the numbers said I was good to go again, I’d be ready for a nap within an hour or three — but unable to take it because I’d never get the widgets to Wisconsin in time if I did.
And at that point I’d be legal but dangerous.
My body’s rhythms aren’t typical. I don’t need a lot of sleep, actually don’t even like it much. Waste of good hours, I say. My normal bed time is about 3:00 a.m., frequently later, and I’m back at the keyboard somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30. Alert, too, if not very chatty.
But those particulars don’t matter much at all, the point being that ‘typical’ is hard to define. I’ll bet that many thousands of truck drivers are just as atypical as me. In fact I know it. The rules, such as they presently are, were built by wildly scientific calculations based on means and averages, and they may well fit most drivers more or less. But I’d bet you could quantify ‘most’ in the 50-60 percent range.
The rest? Well, they suck it up. Or they bitch and moan and get all gnarly. Maybe they even leave the industry.
There has to be a better way.
OK, so that’s one rule among the many I despise, but there’s actually one I like, which surprises me no end. The ban on cell-phone use while driving makes perfect sense to me. It didn’t at first, so finding myself angry when I see another driver blabbing away on his iPhone — a very, very common sight — really is a surprise. I’m usually the first one to say ‘to each his own’ but not when my life is endangered.
Shockingly enough, I’m not even sure I like the hands-free solution. There’s still a bit of button-pushing to do, and then there’s the distraction of the subsequent conversation. I don’t even like talking to my passengers most of the time. So more often than not I’ll pull over if I have to make a call or receive one that’s going to demand much of my brain.
Frankly, having examined my own cell use pretty carefully, I’m somewhat reluctantly tempted to suggest banning use of the damn things in vehicles entirely.
Yeah, I know, what have I said?
But how far down that road should we go? The list of on-the-road distractions is a lengthy one. Like the search for a new CD to shove in the stereo. Chomping on a Big Mac. Billboards with clever lines or pretty girls or phone numbers you just have to catch. Do we ban all that?
And what do we do about some of the biggest distractions of all? Like worry over making the next truck payment, like re-living and regretting the fight you had with your mate this morning, like fretting about your kid’s problems in school. Obviously there’s no controlling any of that.
Which leads me to my usual response to excessive rule-making and the unimaginative plods who feel bound to create them: we cannot make a perfect world. The best we can do is limit risk where there is an obvious — really obvious — gain to be had. Hoping all the while that common sense will prevail.
We’ve recently seen a rare example of exactly that when Ontario’s Minister of Transportation extended the exemption for the hand-held use of CB radios by commercial drivers for an additional five years. The original exemption was for two years, made back in 2009, the idea being that in the meantime some hands-free alternative would be developed. Hasn’t happened yet, hence the extension.
CB radios, it seems to me, are entirely different from cell phones and I don’t even see the need for a hands-free gizmo. The suits now have half a decade to figure that out.
(Originally published in the November issue of Today’s Trucking.)