I am an over-the-road truck driver. I have been driving for 22 years. Furthermore, I am also a blogger. Thus it makes sense that I should weigh in on the looming April 12th shutdown, and the group behind it. Black Smoke Matters is organizing the shutdown. Who are they? What do they want? How far will they go to get it? Let’s take a look.
What’s with the name Black Smoke Matters?
I would be remiss if I didn’t start there. Yes, it is a poor choice of a name. Worse yet, the organization has at times tried to avoid the obvious conclusion. In an interview that the group linked on their official Facebook Page, the following statement appears.
Denney took issue with recent reporting accusing the group of spinning their name off of the controversial “Black Lives Matters” movement. He gave TNN context to the formation of the name. “Black smoke means the sacrifices that all of us truckers have given to this industry.”
In a previous interview, Mike Robbins admitted the name is a spin off of Black Lives Matter. This vacillation on the origins of the name isn’t surprising. It highlights the fact that even founding members of the group are aware of the controversial nature of the name. It was, in my opinion, poor planning to use the name. Using it will alienate potential allies in the industry. Moreover, it will also alienate potential allies in the general public. However, it is what it is so we shall move on.
Black Smoke Matters Goals:
The goals of BSM are listed on their website. I encourage you to click the link and read them yourselves. They give a lot of background information. For the sake of brevity, I will bullet point them here.
- Make the Electronic Logging Device optional.
- Overhaul the Hours of Service regulations.
- Improved training curriculum.
- Federally mandated truck parking areas in state and local municipalities.
- Form a committee of trucking industry members to advise the Congressional Oversight Committees and Department of Transportation.
The last goal is the one I agree with the most. It’s just good governance for the regulators to get insight from the regulated. Furthermore, I support improving the training curriculum. A higher industry standard is in order.
This leads me to a point of potential agreement. However, the “goals” page of the BSM site leads me to believe we will have a point of contention here. The group takes issue with unfunded mandates. Thus, it stands to reason that they want the parking mandate to be funded. I would need to see a detailed plan on this before I could support or oppose this.
Points of disagreement:
I’m not necessarily opposed to making ELD optional. I just find most of the arguments against electronic logs to be silly. For example, Lori Franklin says it makes her feel “stressed” and not at her “full potential”. She also expressed privacy concerns.
“As a single woman running down the highway, who do I know that’s hacking into that system and can see there’s only one driver driving that truck, and where I’m going and where I’m picking up?”
First off, the log doesn’t tell someone where you’re going, only where you’ve been. Secondly, the log would tell someone that you are a solo driver. However, it’s hard to consider that “private information” when you’re declaring it to the world in a media interview. Furthermore, the log doesn’t tell the hacker that you’re in the truck by yourself. Again, she just informed the world of that.
Is this really about cheating on logs?
I will concede that these might be legitimate privacy concerns to some, although clearly not to her. However, hacking is against the law. Having a title for your home opens you up to title hackers. Yet we require homeowners to register their titles. This is just one example to make the larger point. Legislation is implemented to force compliance, not to compensate for a lack of compliance. BSM would be better served in this matter to push for better cyber security or stronger penalties for hackers.
In my opinion, all of this is a front. Drivers don’t like electronic logs because it’s harder to cheat on them. Plain and simple, this is the issue. The ELD mandate didn’t change the actual hours of service rules. It simply changed how compliance is monitored and reported. Thus, when a driver reports being “stressed” or “limited” by ELD, what they are saying is they can no longer do what they used to do on a paper log.
2. Hours of Service changes.
The only big problem I have with the HOS rules is the 30 minute break. Therefore, a shutdown is a huge over-reaction in my opinion. 70 hours in 8 days is reasonable. Moreover, with the introduction of the 34 hour restart, it’s not even a hard limit. The 14 hour clock is a pain compared to the old 15 hour clock. However, the 10 hour driving limit being extended to 11 compensated for that. Furthermore, Black Smoke Matters doesn’t articulate how they want the rules changed, only that they want a change.
In a Facebook video, Chuck Biddles, one of the founders of BSM, stated the following.
“Black Smoke Matters is not backing any shutdown of highways or freeways,”
However, go to the Black Smoke Matters website homepage and the first thing you see is this.
One one hand, they claim to be opposed to shutting down highways. On the other hand, they insist they will. I can understand differing views within an organization. Conversely, the organization itself needs to have a focused approach. Black Smoke Matters is muddying the waters here.
The stated goals of Black Smoke Matters are fine. However, they don’t clearly articulate how they intend to achieve them. They want Hours of Service rule changes. They do not say which rules they want changed, nor what the new rules should be. Similarly, they want federally mandated truck parking areas. Yet they don’t state how they intend to achieve this. Additionally they want improved training curriculum. However, they aren’t advocating for specific changes or improvements in the existing curriculum, nor are they pushing a new one.
The tactic of shutting down highways and performing “slow rolls” is counterproductive. It endangers public safety and the safety of motorists, to include the drivers involved. Moreover, it angers the general public who gets caught up in the protest.
This leads us to the strike. I have no problem with my fellow truckers striking. However, Black Smoke Matters hasn’t made a sufficient argument for a strike. Hence, they want to shut down highways to force the majority of truckers who oppose the strike into joining the movement by blocking roadways. I am adamantly opposed to this tactic. Thus I do not support Black Smoke Matters. Therefore, I will not be participating in any slow rolls or strikes.