Line One
Sludge Awards for ‘Bad Actors’

By Bill Hudgins


As you read this column, the new rule requiring electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs, or “black boxes” for short), is supposed to take effect within two years on carriers that have an hours-of-service violation rate of 10 percent or greater during a single compliance review. These characters have been dubbed “bad actors” in recognition of their crappy performances.

With the feds announcing this punishment shortly after the Academy Awards, my friend and ace gearjammer (and aspiring Hollywood star) Rufus Sideswipe suggested the trucking industry should start its own version of the Oscars.

“Call ’em the Sludge Awards, since these bums have gummed up the works for everyone,” Rufus groused. “There’s probably a lot of ‘good’ actors whose efforts to run legal got slimed by the bad actors,” he added. I agree. The hammer will drop on hapless drivers forced to run illegally, as well as those who did so willingly.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of giving these bad actors 15 minutes in the limelight of shame. Rufus even had some award categories in mind:

  • Worst Overall Abuse, awarded to a carrier’s CEO or president;
  • A Sludge Award for directing to the Worst Dispatch Department;
  • An award for Most Disorganized Documentation;
  • A Special Effects Award for the most creative, or bizarre, attempts to disguise violations;
  • Supporting bad actor awards to shippers and receivers who do business with these carriers. (We wonder if those shippers base their business models on long waits and carriers who force drivers to run overtime. Well, maybe we don’t need to wonder about that.)

Rufus thinks the feds should publish the names of these bad actors and not let them remain semi-obscure on some database. If they do publish the names, he’s going to have DeWayne, his computer-geek first cousin once removed, set up a website called The Sludge Report to make sure everyone knows who they are.

We talked about EOBRs for a while more. In a sense, the EOBR is a motorized version of that electronic ankle strap Martha Stewart wore after they let her out of the pokey. I always thought that bracelet should have included a dye bomb that, if Martha were on the run, would go off and coat her with a color that she looked really bad in.

Rufus said having something that records what he does all day won’t be anything new. His second wife seemed to remember every minute she rode with him, since she could recount minute by minute everything he could have done better.

From “you didn’t warm up the engine long enough before we left” to “my brother would have let the engine lug coming down to the stop sign” to “don’t you ever buy a new air freshener?” she could regurgitate every detail.  

“At least,” Rufus says, “an EOBR won’t keep telling me about my mistakes over and over, and it won’t come in the house with me. Plus, it can’t divorce me.”

And like that former Mrs. Rufus, EOBRs likely won’t tell the driver’s side of the story when the feds check up on the bad actors. To try to protect those drivers trying to do right, Cousin DeWayne suggested adding some features:

Cameras that capture a visual record of the run – stuff like cars whipping in front of a rig and braking hard, or tailgating (each a significant cause of truck-related accidents). That way, when a driver notes this happened, there’s hard evidence to back it up.

A Bluetooth kind of apparatus that would allow a trucker to document waiting at docks – not just by logging the time but also by transmitting the statements of the dock foreman to the EOBR’s memory; e.g., unload or load yourself if you’re in such a blankety-blank hurry.

That same device would come in handy when a trooper rousts you from an “unofficial” stopping place, forcing you to move on and probably incur a ticket as well. Giving the driver a chance to compile hard evidence potentially in his or her favor is only just.

The same gizmo would also be a big help when someone tells you to “do what you have to do” with an impossible schedule. Let’s add a new Sludge Award: Best Candid Camera performance.

Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. LL