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Short Takes

Dick Larsen

HOS hotline: About 5,500 truck drivers have called the FMCSA’s hours-of-service hotline since it was activated Dec. 29, 2003. Questions concern the sleeper-berth exemption, the 34-hour restart provision, the definition of a 14-hour workday and procedures for recording hours in driver logbooks. FMCSA Administrator Annette M. Sandberg said, “We’re hearing thoughtful questions and witnessing a sincere desire to follow the new regulations.” The toll-free telephone line, 1-800-598-5664, is staffed around the clock to answer drivers’ questions.

Hot topics: About 18 percent of FMCSA hotline calls were about the 34-hour restart period. Another 16 percent want to know more about the sleeper berth provision. Nine percent have asked about the 60/70-hour work week change. Likewise, 5 percent called about record keeping. The remaining calls vary widely, including questions specific to unique driving scenarios, questions on the difference between drive time and duty time, and inquiries into the use of electronic on-board recorders.

Can states out-regulate feds? In recent oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for the makers of diesel-powered vehicles and the petroleum industry challenged clean-air standards imposed in California. Their argument: The standards conflict with the federal Clean Air Act — because they are tougher than that law.

Commercializing rest areas Nat-so good: Truck stop owners recently held their yearly meeting in Myrtle Beach, SC, in part to celebrate the group’s lobbying effort that removed language from federal legislation to permit commercialization of rest areas on interstates. Natso Inc., the truck stop and travel plaza association, said commercialization would hurt counties and cities by forcing businesses near interchanges to close, thereby removing a source of money. Sometimes there’s razzberries and sometimes there’s roses, but given the dire shortage of parking places that currently exists for trucks, Natso’s position is a real stinker.

For whom the road tolls: Noting that the current fuel-tax-based system of financing highway projects is likely to fall short, Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters recently advocated new demand-management models to generate adequate future funding. Among the possibilities — more tolls. Peters envisions a public utility model in which fees are charged directly for road use and the toll rates are varied to manage demand and achieve efficient use. In other words, we’re going to get those pain-in-the-arse drivers who must use the roads to make deliveries and those who choose to drive to jobs.

“The street” looks to the road: U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has announced the Transportation Services Index, a new economic indicator by which Wall Street can measure the economy’s performance. The index will focus on the movement of freight and passenger traffic by land, water and air. Transportation accounts for 11 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and employs more than 11 million Americans. At the New York Stock Exchange alone, there are 39 transportation companies listed that together have a current market value of over $181 billion.

No, no, a thousand times no: Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta in February again said President Bush insists on transportation funding principles of “no increase in gasoline taxes; no indexing of gasoline taxes, because he considers that a tax increase; no long-term bonding; and no impact on the deficit in the general fund.” He said the administration’s $247 billion proposal is already “the largest investment in highway and transit in the history of this great country.”

Yes, yes, yes. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-AK, says we have a looming crisis in highway and transit funding and that no option should be placed “off limits” for discussion. Young has urged President Bush to reach out for new and creative ways to address the funding of “one of the most essential programs carried out by the federal government — the funding of highway and transit programs.” Neither side said boo about the 45 percent diverted from the highway trust funds revenue for non-highway projects in 2004.

Survey says — aggressive driving: Trucking safety managers said their company executives regard speeding and aggressive driving as the worst safety-management problems, according to a Transportation Research Board report. A survey said 55 percent of managers showed those behaviors leading a “Top 20” list. TRB defined unsafe driving practices as speeding, excessive speed on curves in bad weather, following too closely, crowding other vehicles during lane changes, failure to yield at intersections and “general disobedience of rules of the road.” Wonder how those execs recruit and pay those aggressive drivers.

Now won’t that make them punkin trucks coo’ ... The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded separate grants totaling more than $550,000 to Caterpillar Inc. and Schneider National Inc. to investigate truck idling reduction systems. Caterpillar’s project, “Demonstration of the New MorElectric Technology as an Idle Reduction Solution,” will run through Sept. 30, 2005. Schneider’s project, “Cab Heating and Cooling,” will run through January 2005.

Dick Larsen can be reached at

Editor Todd Spencer contributed to the article. Todd Spencer can be reached at