Trucking news and briefs for Friday, April 16, 2021:
SuperTruck 3 initiative expands to include medium-duty trucks
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) first launched the SuperTruck initiative in 2009, aimed at improving heavy-duty truck freight efficiency by 50%, while the follow-up SuperTruck 2 in 2016 sought to double fuel efficiency for Class 8 trucks.
EERE’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) and Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) are partnering on the SuperTruck 3 to offer up to $100 million in funding over four years to pioneer electrified medium- and heavy-duty trucks and freight system concepts.
DOE says the funding focuses on a range of approaches to electrification – all-electric, plug-in hybrid systems using renewable biofuels, and hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, including hybridization strategies such as fuel cell range extenders.
In addition to the $100 million available for medium- and heavy-duty truck development, VTO is also offering up to $62.75 million as part of its “Low Greenhouse Has Vehicle Technologies Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment” initiative aimed at reducing emissions and increasing efficiencies for on- and off-road vehicles.
The application processes for the SuperTruck 3 initiatives will include two phases: a concept paper and a full application. Concept papers are due May 13, 2021, and full applications are due July 12, 2021. Applicants are required to submit a plan for achieving diversity, equity and inclusion objectives, including support for people from underrepresented groups in STEM, advancing equity within the project team, and producing benefits for underserved communities.
Nikola partners with Iveco, OGE for hydrogen infrastructure in Europe
Iveco and OGE will join Nikola in advancing hydrogen infrastructure to enable the growth of FCEVs in alignment with European policy and industry needs.
The primary focus of the collaboration is to further develop hydrogen fueling systems in Germany in support of the European commercial transportation system and to work with industry partners to install safe, reliable and cost-effective storage and fueling locations for FCEVs.
Fleet expands with new offices in Texarkana
The 120-truck carrier will use the Texarkana space for its regional hauling division and its over-the-road fleet management oversight. Woodfield’s regional-based operations will begin in early May.
Trucking technology news and briefs for the week of April 12, 2021:
Luma Brighter Learning added a new interactive content creation tool to its Luma eNugget Learning Management System (LMS) used by motor carriers for driver orientation and training.
The Luma eNugget LMS comes with nearly 700 training content modules, referred to as eNuggets, that fleets can already customize for a variety of training needs. With the new interactive templates, Luma’s trucking clients are able to quickly create new modules and embed interactive, game-based content.
Currently, the LMS has several types of templates and Luma will be releasing new templates each month.
Other LMS platforms that allow for customization typically require users to upload files from additional software packages, like Adobe Captivate or Lectora, Luma said. This can be costly, cumbersome to learn and implement.
Luma already creates game-based, interactive eNuggets for its clients, “but why not give the power to our clients to create these same experiences for their drivers without having to purchase and learn additional software?” said Dr. Gina Anderson, chief executive of Luma. “This is something that our clients have asked for, and we have delivered.”
Executives from Dart Transit shared how they use the Luma training platform on Tuesday, April 13, in a webinar hosted by Workhound. Eagan, Minn.-based Dart Transit operates more than 1,600 tractors and has been using the Luma eNugget LMS since late 2019.
Gary Falldin, Dart vice president of safety, security and driver onboarding, said the platform has enabled the fleet to compress in-person driver orientation training program from three days to one and give drivers monthly, annual and custom online training assignments.
Falldin talked about how Dart can customize training content with Luma’s design tools. “There are always tweaks we do on training because things change over time,” he said, noting that to change or develop new content is “very quick and easy.”
For truckload shipments, FourKites guarantees that it will identify unassigned shipments and shipments with bad appointment times at least 90% of the time and identify more than 90% of late shipments prior to arrival.
For LTL shipments, FourKites will identify unassigned shipments at least 90% of the time and outperform the ETAs of carriers more than 90% of the time. FourKites provides its customers with a shipment ETA within a 4-hour window.
FourKites has more than 500 customers worldwide and a tracking network with more than 2 million active shipments each day.
Maven integrates workflow with McLeod
Telehealth provider expands in trucking
With Urgent Care, drivers have 24/7 access to high-quality medical care for common illnesses and injuries via computer, mobile app or phone – including nights, weekends and holidays.
Samsung’s new Galaxy A smartphones
Omnitracs Sylectus sees record growth
Small and medium-sized fleets use the Sylectus platform for compliance, order entry, dispatch, trip management, and telematics. The TMS is connected to the Omnitracs Sylectus Alliance load board where users connect with other Alliance carriers to find available loads and trucks and seamlessly track shipments.
U.S. net trailer orders for March climbed 6.4% month-over-month, reaching 27,400 units, according to preliminary data compiled by FTR.
A few large dry van fleets increased their 2021 requirements, noted FTR Vice President of Commercial Vehicles Don Ake, while flatbed and other vocation trailer orders remained steady. Trailer orders for the past 12 months total 346,000.
While orders are expected to seasonally moderate in the coming months, several van OEMs are nearly booked solid and order boards for 2022 have not yet opened due to materials and component costs uncertainty. Ake said there have been reports of shortages of flatbed trailers in some regions as the industrial and housing sectors improve.
“Pressure is building up in the trailer market. Backlogs are at record levels and fleets desperately need more trailers," he said. "Capacity is very tight in some areas of the country and spot rates remain near record highs."
Production output is expected to have improved in March and orders beat expectations, Ake said, adding the supply chain continues to present challenges.
"We expect the supply chain to be better, but not perfect, in the second half of the year, allowing build rates to rise," he said.
Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, April 15, 2021:
Biden taps Joshi to lead FMCSA
Joshi was one of 10 nominations announced by the White House Wednesday to fill posts at various agencies related to climate and transportation.
If confirmed by the Senate, Joshi will be the first person to hold the title of FMCSA Administrator since Ray Martinez left the post in 2019. Jim Mullen served as acting administrator after Martinez left. When Mullen retired from the agency last summer, Wiley Deck led the agency as deputy administrator from September until Jan. 20.
American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear noted that as Deputy Administrator, Joshi has been communicating well with trucking industry stakeholders, "and our economic recovery and growth will depend on how challenges facing the industry are addressed. These issues – including training, workforce development, technology and strengthening interstate commerce – will need strong leadership by FMCSA," he said. "As our economy and communities recover from the pandemic, we look forward to working with her in her new role to help address these critical priorities without compromising safety.”
Joshi most recently worked as a principal and New York general manager with the transportation firm Sam Schwartz for the past year. She assumed that post after serving for more than five years as chair and CEO of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). That commission regulated all yellow taxi cabs, as well as the app-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
Before serving as CEO, Joshi was TLC’s Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs and General Counsel. Prior to that, she served as the first Deputy Executive Director of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, the agency tasked with investigating complaints of police misconduct. She also served as an Inspector General for the New York City Department of Investigation and was responsible for overseeing New York City’s Department of Correction, Probation, Juvenile Justice, and the TLC.
Yellow undergoes leadership change
Harris joined Yellow in November 2020 as Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives with the responsibility of instituting and leading a company-wide enterprise transformation initiative.
He is a 25-year industry veteran with extensive experience in the less-than-truckload marketplace. Most recently before coming to Yellow, he served as CEO of Xpress Global Systems in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Prior to that, he worked in sales and operations at some of the largest freight companies, including FedEx Freight.
“Darrel is well-positioned to help drive Yellow toward a vibrant future," said Yellow CEO Darren Hawkins. "He brings innovative, exciting ideas and leadership to his new role. He started his trucking career working the docks, and few are better positioned to understand this industry than those who have worked at all levels. I’m proud to see him in this expanded role.”
Harris will assume some of the responsibilities of T.J. O’Connor, Yellow’s former CEO who is retiring, and Scott Ware, former Chief Network Officer, who announced his resignation.
Women in Trucking Driver of the Year finalists named
Three female truck drivers – Carmen Anderson, Ingrid Brown and Nikki Weaver – have been named finalists for Women in Trucking’s 2021 Driver of the Year award, sponsored by Walmart Transportation.
The second annual award recognizes outstanding female professional drivers who lead the industry in safety standards while actively enhancing the public image of the trucking industry.
Brown is an independent owner-operator with her own Rolling B LLC authority. She’s been trucking for more than 40 years and has more than 4 million accident-free miles. She also drives for Fleenor Bros. Brown has received recognition from across the trucking industry, including being on the WIT Image Team in 2015; an FMCSA Voice of Safety for the Our Roads, Our Safety campaign; the National Association of Small Trucking Companies’ 2015 Woman Driver of the Year; a TA-Petro Citizen Driver in 2018; and more.
Anderson is a company driver for America’s Service Line and has 2.5 million safe-driving miles. In 2015, she won the South Dakota Truck Driving Championship and went on to compete in nationals in St. Louis. Two years later, she was selected for the Wisconsin Road Team, and in August 2019, she was named the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association Driver of the Month. She also won the WMCA 2019 Driver of the Year – the first woman to be named the sole recipient of the award.
Weaver has been a company driver with FedEx Freight for 12 years and has more than 2 million accident-free miles over her 19 years as a truck driver. She served as an America’s Road Team Captain in 2019, and she was most recently a finalist for the Luella Bates Award at FedEx Freight and is a two-time winner of the prestigious Bravo Zulu Award, an award created by FedEx Freight founder, Fred Smith.
The winner of the award will be announced April 27 and awarded a plaque and commemorative ring.
More than 100 organizations sent a letter to Congressional transportation leaders on Wednesday urging the passage of the DRIVE-Safe Act, legislation that would allow CDL holders under the age of 21 to cross state lines.
Promoted as a solution to a shortage of truck drivers, the legislation – first introduced in 2018 and reintroduced last month – would classify 18-to-20-year-old CDL holders as “apprentices” and allow them to drive interstate while participating in an apprenticeship program.
The District of Columbia and 49 states currently allow individuals under the age of 21 to obtain a commercial driver’s license and operate commercial vehicles in intrastate commerce, but federal law prohibits them from driving a truck across state lines until the age of 21. The ban on interstate commerce also precludes drivers under 21 from hauling any freight intrastate that originated from out-of-state, such as cargo shipped by air into their state of domicile.
In order to qualify for the proposed apprenticeship program, candidates must complete at least 400 hours of additional training, and all qualified driver participants would be accompanied by an experienced driver in the cab and would only be allowed to drive trucks outfitted with the latest safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing event recording cameras, speed limiters set at 65 miles per hour or less and automatic or automatic-manual transmissions.
The letter, sent on behalf of 117 organizations from across the U.S. supply chain, notes that 70% of the nation’s freight is carried by commercial trucks, "and while demand is projected to increase over the next decade, the threat posed by the driver shortage stands to disrupt the continuity of the supply chain."
The legislation had strong bipartisan support in the 116th Congress and is backed by the American Trucking Associations, which calls it both “common sense and pro-safety.” The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has long been opposed to allowing under-21 truckers to cross state lines.
Among the transportation stakeholders to co-sign Wednesday's letter to Congress were ATA, FedEx, National Tank Truck Carriers, Truck Renting and Leasing Association, Truckload Carriers Association, UPS and Walmart.
"The DRIVE-Safe Act will help our nation’s freight continue to move while preserving and enhancing the safety of our highway system," the letter reads. "It will help fill desperately-needed jobs and provide younger Americans with the opportunity to enter a profession with a median salary of $54,585, plus health and retirement benefits. And it will bolster and support our nation’s supply chain, which is an issue of heightened urgency as our nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic."
Trucking is hot and demand continues to rise for trucks, including those with zero emissions and crash avoidance technologies. A semiconductor shortage is a problem that continues to hinder manufacturing efforts, and the anemic supply also impacts the availability of aftermarket parts that experts say has also reduced vehicle repairs.
To help bring an end to the global chip shortage, engine and vehicle manufacturers have asked the Biden administration to focus more on addressing their needs for semiconductors. This would make it possible for them to step up and meet increased demand for commercial trucks, vans and engines at a time when freight levels continue to rise as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent letters submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security on the risks posed by the chip shortage, The Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), Cummins and the American Automaker Policy Council jointly asked the Biden administration to concentrate on helping to keep the wheels of U.S. auto and engine manufacturing turning.
In a two-page letter, EMA points out how demand for medium and heavy-duty trucks continues to grow in a freight-heavy market that includes vital shipments of COVID-19 vaccines.
“We urge immediate action to alleviate the current semiconductor supply crisis that threatens the ability of the commercial trucking industry to deliver critical goods and services—and keep our economy moving—and long-term measures to ensure the global semiconductor supply chain can meet the medium- and heavy-heavy truck industry’s future needs,” EMA writes in a letter posted on regulations.gov.
Trucks with crash avoidance safety technologies and zero emissions “will require significantly more semiconductors," EMA points out.
To help manufacturers meet growing demand for trucks and vans, EMA recommends “a prioritization of automotive grade semiconductors for medium- and heavy-duty truck components and aftermarket parts.”
In a two-page letter, Cummins Vice-President of Government Relations Catherine Van Way goes a step further and suggests that the Biden administration “encourage other users of semiconductor wafers/chips that currently have excess supply or stockpiles to temporarily reduce orders to allow the automotive sector to obtain the chips necessary to avoid manufacturing slowdowns or complete shutdowns due to lack of semiconductor supplies.”
Near the top of a 12-page letter, the AAPC, which represents Ford, GM and Stellantis (formerly FCA), asks the administration to help increase chip manufacturing in the U.S. AAPC President Matt Blunt points out that while semiconductor demand is greatest in the U.S., it only accounts for roughly 10% of global production while the remaining 90% occurs in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
“To avoid future shortages, AAPC therefore proposes that at least 25% of any federal funding for the construction of semiconductor wafer/chip production facilities must go to U.S. facilities that commit to allocating 25% of their capacity to producing automotive grade wafers/chips,” Blunt writes.
On the topic of chip production, EMA notes that the Biden administration should include provisions to enhance domestic production of automotive grade semiconductor chips amid “a competitive global supply network.”
Any increase in domestic chip production should consider the specific needs of the auto industry, suggests Way.
“We believe that any funds or incentives directed towards increasing domestic manufacturing of semiconductors must specify that a portion of the new capacity go the manufacture of legacy designs and larger format chips that can supply the automotive and commercial vehicle markets,” Way writes.
Comments submitted to the Biden administration may help craft policy changes that could help end the chip shortage. Congress weighed in with a bill introduced in the House last summer dubbed the CHIPS for America ACT (H.R.7178). According to congress.gov, the bill “establishes investments and incentives to support U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, research and development, and supply chain security.”
Blunt suggests that “U.S. taxpayer’s investment made through the CHIPS for America Act (CHIPS ACT) be reserved for automotive applications. We believe that such an investment would help maximize the CHIPS Act impact on U.S. economic and jobs growth.”
In a year of stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, the world was presented with a number of critical challenges that no one saw coming.
One of many interesting new developments that can’t be ignored is that while people sheltered in place, they turned to eCommerce to acquire groceries, toilet paper, over-the-counter medicine and other essential items. Instead of lining up in stores, many queued up online, waiting for the next available shipment of disinfectant wipes.
This propelled eCommerce more than 32% year-over-year, achieving sales in excess of $794 billion in 2020. This is nearly double the original projected growth rate of 18%, which still would have represented a sizable increase over the previous year.
As more consumers turned to eCommerce for safety and convenience, its heightened popularity put a strain on the trucking industry, with truck drivers being tasked to deliver more goods at a faster rate.
While that speed may be necessary in order to keep up with consumer needs and expectations, it also poses a greater risk for getting injured on the job and accelerates the need to recruit and retain top talent.
Organizations should do everything in their power to reduce that risk, which not only serves employees but also helps businesses as well by maintaining operations, by keeping the most capable employees working, and by avoiding preventable compensation claims.
If delivery personnel are to remain safe and avoid injury during these unprecedented times, trucking companies must ensure their team members have the knowledge and skills necessary to move in strong, safe positions without slowing them down.
Speed can come at a cost, but there is a solution
Instead of thinking in traditional terms, consider how the human body should operate while in motion. If team members don’t know how to properly move their bodies to decrease the likelihood of injury, and they are moving quickly, mistakes, injury, and loss in productivity could follow.
However, with the right movement training, team members can build injury prevention skills quickly, allowing them to foster the right muscle memory in order to default into strong, safe positions while they are moving quickly. Over time, they will be able to move faster and faster while maintaining these strong positions.
The best way to move is to always move well
The solution is to focus on moving well all the time, which takes much less effort while reinforcing strong muscle memory so that workers naturally default into the best positions. It can also prevent them from making thousands of small mistakes that, over time, may add up to nagging pain and repetitive motion injuries.
That means whether workers are picking a pen up off the floor, moving their first case of product that day or making the 60th delivery of their route, their lift should be perfect.
By investing in that training early, organizations can ensure that their team members are able to handle the speed when necessary. This is essential to their short- and long-term success, particularly when onboarding new hires, but it can also assist in efforts to boost employee retention.
Safe and healthy employees are happy employees, and happy employees are less likely to quit. Thus, the sooner businesses deploy the right movement training, the sooner they can position their most capable team members to be there during peak seasons.
Understand what strong and weak positions look like
Thus, it is important for team members to be trained to prioritize protecting their spine. They should understand what strong and weak positions look like. They should also be equipped with a technique for bracing their spine that they can practice and apply to any situation they come up against.
Continue working while remaining safe
On the contrary, now is the time to dig in and improve the health and safety of frontline workers everywhere. With social distancing guidelines and other restrictions in place, organizations can use mobile technology to provide their workers with daily learning modules that highlight key safety practices.
As with any physical profession, there is always going to be the possibility of injury. However, by practicing daily safety training, frontline workers are better positioned to prevent these injuries – even in the demanding world of eCommerce.
John Leo Post is the co-founder and vice president of product at Worklete, a developer of enterprise SaaS products designed to reduce injuries and associated costs in labor-intensive industries.
Robert M. Braswell is a man of many talents.
He's a capable shade tree mechanic and an award-winning journalist. He at one point pursued a career as a physician. As Executive Director of ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC), and a TMC staff member for nearly 30 years, his fingerprints are on the organization in places too numerous to count.
A self-described tinkerer, Braswell grew up in southern Maryland, spending a lot of time on construction sites alongside his father, a marble and tile tradesman.
"What you could do back then, you could never get away with today," he said, "but I was going with my father on job sites when I was as young as four or five years old, carrying tile boxes back and forth and observing everything."
It was on construction sites where Braswell first recalls being exposed to a commercial truck – the multi-wheeled machine that would lord over much of the rest of his life.
"It was my dad's 1963 International A120 Metro van," he said, noting that the family still owns it. "That was one of his main work trucks when he’d go to job sites."
The work van itself was a fairly standard one-ton, dual real wheel configuration – more common among package couriers than a construction site – but Braswell noted it was a capable workhorse nonetheless.
"It had the sliding cage like any one of those UPS delivery or FedEx package trucks out today," he said, "and I remember – kind of amazing to think how it was back then – but you know, cars or trucks didn’t have seatbelts, and the A120 only had one seat. So [my dad] used to have a fold-up chair for me sitting there next to him. He'd occupy the driver’s seat, of course, as he was driving and behind the engine doghouse, there'd he put a fold-up chair. Just so happens one day the cage was slid open and as we were pulling up into a driveway on a hill, I slid all the way to the back — still in the chair — landing in a pile of sand that he had for his work materials. That was probably my first experience in what you would call the need for supplemental restraint devices."
The next day, Braswell's father — Robert G. Braswell — bought a brand new Chevrolet Cheyenne Super pickup equipped with (lap) seatbelts – a now 50 year-old truck that the family still owns with more than 650,000 miles on the odometer. "I don't think there's probably a piece of equipment that we don't still have these past 50 or 60 years," he said. "I've spent most of my life working on one piece of equipment, or truck, or car or another you-name-it."
Braswell's inclination to tinker, he said, is "probably what attracted me to the [trucking] industry; just that kind of an upbringing. I never expected to go into this industry, but there it is."
Braswell could have followed his father into construction if it weren't for the guidance of ... well ... his father.
"My dad used to tell people who asked 'why are you taking your son to all these jobs with you?' And he says, 'I take my son with me on these jobs so he knows what not to do when he grows up.' I think that was very indicative of that generation; to say they want something better for their children," he said, "and so they discouraged them from entering the trades. They discouraged them from entering industries where you worked with your hands, feeling somehow that they wanted their children to do something better."
That's a sentiment Braswell said routinely surfaces at TMC in meetings, where some of the trucking industry's best technical minds mostly encourage their children to pursue another career path. And it's something Braswell and his group have worked hard to reverse.
"Like Mike Rowe often says, people have been dissuaded from tactile learning and trades for many, many years. I myself have great respect for the trades," he said, "and have had very diverse interests in education."
He's the one they call Dr. Goodwrench?
"My actual post-secondary training was as a microbiologist but I never completely entered the field," he said, noting he worked as a technician in a garage while studying in college. "I've always had kind of an eclectic mix of interests, and it's taken me in different directions when it comes to that kind of stuff."
Braswell played several instruments in band, showed an affinity for writing and debate, and was active in various clubs in high school, but tinkering with computers and "keeping my 1968 Buick Wildcat running," he said, were important priorities.
"And of course, you know, it's not a brand new car. The Wildcat was a hand-me-down and just keeping that up and running and learning how it worked was a big experience," he said. "I started turning wrenches because I wanted lift time to work on my car, because I had an older car and you always have something to fix and/or you want to improve on it. And working at a garage was a great way to do that."
All throughout college, Braswell worked at the garage doing "a little bit of everything," he said, "from painting curbs, oil lube and filter to take on/put off, to a little bit more complicated things after you got trained – tire and wheel service, you know. I enjoyed installing, repairing and balancing tires."
Braswell recalled when the shop got its first static/dynamic balancer that "I thought that was the coolest thing. It had push-buttons on it. It was computerized. It was just like something from another planet compared to what the old days were like," he said. "I just thought that was really cool, but it wasn't something I ever expected to have a career in. It was a skill to have, but not necessarily that it was going to be my career."
Braswell had his sights on a career that would take him far from the grease of the garage. Majoring in chemistry and microbiology with an interest in pre-med, "I was actually studying to be a physician," he said of his time at the University of Maryland-College Park. "I did pretty well and I was intending to continue on, but after graduating I wanted to take a break for a short while and try to do a couple of other things first."
He turned down a job offer in his original field of study and instead applied for a post as a writer at a newspaper in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area and "one thing led to another. I did get a job as a reporter on a short-term basis," he said. "I ended up winning an editorial award my first few months on the job – kind of got the journalism bug – so I did that for a couple of years."
In honors programs in high school and at the University of Maryland, Braswell noted, "writing was always something I enjoyed doing, and I was pretty good at it. I was told I could take technical and/or complex subjects and communicate them effectively. So that was a strength."
Pivoting from the life sciences, Braswell sought to combine his talent for writing with his passion for cars and cut a path in the automotive magazine business – a road he hoped would lead to Road & Track or Car & Driver.
"I just thought it was a very glamorous idea. I love cars. I love trucks," he said. "I thought 'wouldn't it be cool to be able to go out and test sports cars and get paid for it?'"
Braswell's goal was to build a writing portfolio that might draw the attention of the nation's most popular consumer automotive magazines, "so I started with the local newspaper, and that led to another job with a chain of papers in the Washington D.C. area. And then that led to another job as a medical writer, believe it or not. Back to medicine."
The Fork In the Road: Enter TMC
Braswell's stop as a medical correspondent for a subsidiary of Capital Cities/ABC Television was about as close to a career in microbiology and medicine as he had gotten, and it would be his last stop before pulling into TMC in 1992 – then just called The Maintenance Council.
Landing at TMC, he said, was "an accident" in that he'd applied for a position at Transport Topics, still with the aim of building clips that would lead him to Road & Track.
"So, I figured, well, trucking. I know a little bit about trucks," he said. "Maybe I could try this for a while, never expecting to be any one particular place very long. Well, they said they didn't need me at Transport Topics, but did suggest 'There's this group at ATA called TMC. You might want to try that out. I hear they've got an opening.' And so I did. I applied and the rest is history. I've been there almost 30 years."
After two interviews and a writing test, he was hired as TMC Information Manager by then TMC Technical Director Carl Kirk and TMC Executive Director Bill Tracy, with responsibilities for the group's magazine, newsletter, technical journal, "and just about any other duties as assigned, I think that was in the job description. I even loaded and hauled boxes of newsletters and magazines in his pickup truck from the printer to the mail house," he said. "I was able to learn quite a bit of different things about the association business – something of which I absolutely knew nothing about entering into that job."
“A lot of life is luck. When I was hired, the S.5 Fleet Maintenance Management Study Group Chairman was Robert S. Braswell (no direct relation), from Central Freight Lines in Waco, Texas. So maybe a familiar name helped get my resume noticed by Carl and Bill. Carl and I had also attended the same high school, albeit 11 years apart, so that probably helped get me noticed, too.”
Braswell was given opportunities to develop educational sessions for the association's meetings and work on projects beyond the tasks that were his core function. Always capable behind a microphone, Braswell was also able to hone his public speaking – a skill that would prove helpful in running and preparing large national meetings.
"I just enjoyed learning about the business – all different aspects of the business," he said, "from the technical side, which was the development of the recommended practices (RPs) and the products and the videos and the manuals, and things like that, that we were very famous for, to the meetings themselves, to the trade show. You know, all of that fascinated me."
Braswell served as information manager from 1992 to 1994, when he was named assistant technical director – a job he pursued "because I had a growing interest in the technical side of the business," he said. About a year-and-a-half later he was promoted to technical director, where he served from 1996 until 2017. “I have to say I owe a great deal to Carl Kirk, who gave me my start at TMC, encouraged my development and offered me so many opportunities to grow professionally. Heand others including Bill Tracy and senior TMC staff members Gerri Murphy and Paul Domer were instrumental in my career progression.”
Serving as TMC's Technical Director, Braswell said, was "like going to graduate school for maintenance," during which time he was responsible for editing and organizing the Council’s study group and task force recommended practices, information reports and related products.
"It's almost like going to class 14 or 15 times, three times a year – back then we had three meetings a year – and we were probably developing 30, 40 sometimes 60 RPs a year," he said. "You become a subject matter specialist pretty quickly when working on a well-developed RP – just from reading and proofing it four or five times if nothing else."
Braswell has been TMC's Executive Director since 2017, succeeding one of the men who hired him, Carl Kirk, and noted that in many ways TMC’s core mission remains much the same now as it did when he joined its ranks nearly three decades ago. However, he conceded that it has grown and expanded its aegis substantially.
"We've expanded beyond what originally was a Class 7 and 8 technical group to cover just about every kind of piece of equipment you can think of – light-, medium-, and heavy-duty, even off-highway a little bit,” he said. “We cover a lot of different ground."
The Council, like the members it serves, has also become more data-driven and tech savvy in terms of IT, whereas that really didn't exist in the group's early days.
"When I first started at TMC, I remember I was one of the first people in the council that even had an email address," he said, "and I had been working with computers before that as a student and a journalist. I had to maintain an ArcNet/Novell NetWare network for one of my previous employers, for example, so I knew somewhat how networks worked, how to build/upgrade PCs and so forth."
TMC used Macintosh computers at a time when few people did, which Braswell said enabled the organization to be more nimble and adaptable to member needs, "and we could do things very quickly and very, very well," he said. "I remember setting up the first website for TMC, and I believe that was one of only two websites within all of ATA in 1993."
As TMC's Executive Director, Braswell rubs shoulders with some of the brightest technical minds in the industry – men and women who understand how things work, why they sometimes don't and can diagnose and triage downtime before many people could click the "Car Culture" tab on Road & Track's website. However, he said he's never been intimidated leading an organization comprised of such expertise.
"I would say the people at TMC have always been very welcoming. The members — there were so many I hesitate to mention names for fear of leaving someone out (but from the press corps Bob Deierlein, Jim Winsor and Paul Abelson immediately come to mind) — were very generous with their time when I first started. I was very eager to learn, first of all. The material never intimidated me because I had some practical experience turning wrenches and an educational background where I had studied college level subjects covering calculus, chemistry, physics and engineering. I had experience working on computers, cars, trucks, motorcycles, or whatever. I felt confident I understood the basics and I don't think I was ever intimidated by the subject matter," he said.
"There is a need for people who are able to bridge the worlds of the gear heads and the chip heads – the people that past CLA winner Darry Stuart likes to call 'doctors of iron' and 'doctors of data.' There's a need to be able to explain to both camps what's important and what needs to be done technically, and to the extent that we do that at TMC as professional staff, I believe we bring important value. I think that's where we bring a true expertise."
Braswell stresses whatever the Council has accomplished is because of the strength of its membership, its dedication to collaboration and consensus building, and a strong group of talented staff. “I’ve been fortunate to work with great professionals for long stretches of time during my tenure at TMC. In an age when five years is an eternity, many staffers have served the Council for decades during its history, such as Carl Kirk, Gerri Murphy, Paul Domer, Marsh Galloway, Janet Howells-Tierney, and Jack Poster. They have provided a level of excellence and stability that is so important to the Council’s success.” Added to this, he says, is the vital support that comes from the numerous ATA staff — led by ATA President & CEO Chris Spear — and relative newcomers to the Council staff itself such as Ross Froat (who started with TMC but now serves as ATA’s Director of Engineering & Technology Policy), Cori Hicks, Jack Legler, Rachel Akpotu, and Curry Blanton.
"The role of the council staff is to enable members to communicate professionally what it is they believe needs to be done for the sake of the industry. To the extent that I'm able to help them in that regard, I feel that's my function," he added. "There was an old commercial back in the day – I forget the company – but it said 'we don't make the so-and-so. We make it better.' And that's kind of how I feel my role is."
Focusing on the Trades
However, he said he is pleased to have contributed to a number of initiatives, including the establishment of the Professional Technician Development Committee (PTDC).
Such a movement put Braswell at a crossroads with members of his father's generation who wanted their children to pursue professional jobs outside of a trade, and the role of leading a professional organization who needed skilled tradespersons.
"We recognized there was an ongoing issue with technician recruitment and development and I was part of the group (led by past CLA recipient Mike Jeffress) that helped to establish that committee for TMC," he said, "and then from that we established our national technician skills competitions – what we know collectively now as TMCSuperTech, and later, of course, TMCFutureTech for the students."
The genesis of this push was born in the early 2000s when the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) disbanded its Service Technician Society, "and it created a vacuum for heavy duty," Braswell said. "Some of the TMC members, we got together at a restaurant in Greektown while we were at an SAE meeting in Detroit. There was about eight or nine of us and we agreed there's got be a place to showcase the professionalism of heavy-duty technicians, because it seemed like technicians didn't have a very positive image even within trucking, let alone among the lay public."
Not only was PTDC born, it's grown and now covers medium-duty and trailer technicians as well as heavy-duty.
Braswell has more recently taken an interest in gamification as part of ongoing efforts to bring new technicians into the industry and sell the attractiveness of a commercial vehicle technician as a career option.
With the support of the Arkansas’ Office of Skills Development, Travel Centers of America, and other sponsors, TMC developed an app-based game that he hopes students in middle and junior high school will download, play and learn about the business along the way. [The game is designed for Apple iOS and Android and is available on the Apple App store and Google Play — keyword search TMCSuperTech.]
"Basically, what you do is, you enter in as a trainee tech at Arkansas State University-Beebe and you fix trucks. You're responsible for a little fleet," Braswell said. "And the little fleet drives around the City of Little Rock, Arkansas in the game, and you've got trucks that break down and you've got to bring it into the barn and fix them. And when you do that, you get paid. And if you do a good job, you get rewarded with money and you can use that money to change the look of your vehicles and advance your skills and things like that."
There's also practical elements in the game that direct students to the Tech Force Foundation and information about scholarships "and ways of convincing your parents and guidance counselors that being a tactile learner is not a bad thing," he said. "There's a lot of good career opportunities to be a technician, and I just think that [gamification] is the future. You know, you have to be able to reach students at that level."
Braswell has also expanded TMC's professional reach by branching out its media presence, including the development of a weekly satellite radio segment on SiriusXM in partnership with Dave Nemo Entertainment, and logging more than 770 shows over 16 years.
"We're on once a week. It's a program where we have callers call in with their technical problems, their equipment problems, and then we present technical information and solutions to them as well," he said.
The program that has run for more than a decade-and-a-half, Braswell said, was started "by accident." Braswell had been invited to the studio to simply sit in with a guest of Nemo's and leapt at the chance because "Dave Nemo was a legend in the trucking radio business," he said.
Braswell and then-TMC General Chairman Dave Rehurek went by the Nashville studio and "we sat in for a couple hours with Dave on the radio. We talked and had a conversation. We answered some calls and I thought that was fantastic."
Six months later, Braswell got a call from Nemo asking him to become a regular feature on the program, "and I thought, 'yeah, that'd be great.' What a way to reach a large audience of company drivers and owner-operators we would otherwise never reach."
Braswell said he sees that type of outreach as important because it's enabled the organization to put TMC's technical expertise in front of the people who most need it, yet may not be as likely to seek it out.
"When I first started with the council, a big push that our S.2 Tire & Wheel Study Group was making was to get owner operators to stop using thumping or billy sticks to check tire air pressure because you can't tell what the inflation pressure is in a tire with a billy stick," he said. "So the fleet managers all know you can't do that, but you had to get the word out to the owner operators. You have to get it out to the drivers. And TMC was never really an ideal forum for doing that. This was a way to talk directly to the owner operators out there. Of course, owner operators are the vast majority of your trucking companies."
"The segment — Tech Talk with TMC — is a great way to reach out and touch them directly each and every week in large numbers,” he added. "We reach many more people through satellite radio than you would, let's say, in a meeting room of a thousand people, and we have learned so much from our listening audience, knowledge that has worked its way into various TMC RPs. It’s been a fantastic experience working with Dave Nemo."
Staying Ahead of the Game
"We're working on every single one of those topics," Braswell said. "We've got task forces and any one of 16 different study groups that are tackling all those issues right now."
"I think those (RPs) are a piece that need to come along first," Robert added. "Just like when ABS came out the second time in the '90s, TMC and SAE worked together to make sure that there were standards and recommended practices in place when that was happening. You can't have the technology come out, wait five years, and then do your RPs. You certainly can do some of them that way – lessons learned – but you have to be ahead of the curve. And I think TMC has always been very good about not just being reactionary, but being proactive when it comes to some of these things."
Braswell noted that electrification, hydrogen-electric or whatever the next big “it” thing turns out to be won't be the first time transportation has undergone major changes. "When the electronic engine came out in the late 80s to early 90s ... that was a big change," he said. "Just the idea of having to deal with vehicle electronics, something that was already on-board cars 15 years before. It always seems like the trucking industry is about 10, 15 years behind with the passenger car folks are doing,” he said.
Braswell met his wife, Margaret, when they were both students at the University of Maryland. They first met while taking chemistry-level physics classes and quickly found a common interest in all things automotive — even though she was a Mopar fan while he favored General Motors’ offerings. They were married in 1996. The couple has two children, Beverly and Robert W., each themselves now a college student at the University of Maryland. The family enjoys working on the family farm and fixing up their collection of classic cars and miscellaneous equipment.
Beverly already holds a degree in environmental technology and design and is pursuing her mechanical engineering degree. Robert W. is also interested in environmental technology and design along with natural resource management. Those degrees will put Braswell's children on the frontlines of where his industry is heading.
"I think that's going to be the future. The green technology,” he said. “That's going to revolutionize modes of transportation and just about every aspect of life. And I think those career paths that they're undertaking right now are very exciting."
Now is also an exciting time to be in the industry, even if you have a degree in life sciences. Believe it or not, Braswell said he routinely finds ways to use his schooling as he's plying his trade.
"You look at, for example, issues such as onboard fuel contamination, diesel storage housekeeping, and cab cleanliness. They’re caused by microorganisms,” he said. “And what part of engineering does not involve physics? When it comes to chemistry, all our emissions issues deal with chemistry. Nitrogen oxides, oxidation catalysts, aftertreatment systems, that's all chemistry. Never underestimate what knowledge or training will eventually become useful to you at some point. I think I’ve been very fortunate being a jack of all trades, even though I may be master of none," he said.
Trucking news and briefs for Wednesday, April 13, 2021:
Volvo secures largest VNR Electric order to date
Volvo Trucks will begin delivering the Class 8 battery-electric trucks to QCD this fall to operate out of its distribution center in Fontana, California.
“Earlier this month, we delivered QCD’s first VNR Electric to be used in its first-class distribution and logistics services,” said Peter Voorhoeve, president, Volvo Trucks North America. “With this exceptional commitment to deploy an additional 14 Volvo VNR Electric trucks, we are pleased that QCD has chosen to continue its longtime partnership with our organization to achieve its sustainable freight transportation goals.”
The 14 leased Volvo VNR Electric trucks and supporting charging equipment are assisted with funding by a $3.9 million grant awarded to Volvo Financial Services (VFS) from the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee’s (MSRC) Inland Port Program. Combined with MSRC grant funds, the VFS leases provided through the program will reduce QCD’s total cost of operating the electric vehicles, making the trucks cost-competitive with existing diesel technology. The MSRC is a committee of California’s largest transportation and clean air agencies and stakeholders.
Through the Volvo LIGHTS project, QCD recently took delivery of its first Volvo VNR Electric. With this additional order, QCD’s total fleet of VNR Electric trucks will reach 15 by the end of 2022.
Covenant announces leadership changes
David R. Parker will remain Chairman and become CEO. Joey Hogan will become president and Paul Bunn has been promoted to Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Hogan and Bunn will report to Parker.
“Based on the successful execution of our strategic plan during 2020 and the rate of improvement in 2021, we are accelerating the planned evolution of our management team," said Parker. "We have great confidence in the next generation of leaders, and it is time for them to enhance their contribution."
Bunn will assume daily responsibility for all operations, sales and operational improvement of Covenant. He has been with the company for 12 years.
Hogan will continue focusing on mentoring the leadership team while leading the financial and administrative side of Covenant. Hogan has been with Covenant almost 24 years. He becomes the company's principal financial officer.
John Tweed will step back from the Co-President position and transition to a short-term consulting role effective July 3.
Every month has designations from governments and private groups to bring awareness to certain causes. April has several, but the one that stands out most is Distracted Driving Awareness month.
This year, awareness may be more important than ever for motorists to get back on track.
Motor carriers have already made big strides to lower the risks of distracted driving. Many realize that having policies that prohibit the use of handheld devices while driving is not enough, and are using technology such as inward-facing cameras to enforce those policies by recording distracted events and other types of risky behaviors.
A growing number of fleets are using technology that alerts drivers with visual and audible cues the instant they become distracted or fatigued. Technology also can detect handheld device use and smoking, among other behaviors, with a high degree of accuracy by tracking drivers' eyes, head movements and objects nearby.
The technologies fleets are using to minimize distractions offer a stark contrast to the trends in consumer behaviors during the past year.
A false sense of security
Studies from telematics service providers that capture data from personal and commercial vehicles show that speeding events increased significantly last year. A recent survey by Travelers insurance also shows that distracted driving events went up.
A recent Travelers 2021 Risk Index on distraction was completed using survey responses from more than 1,000 consumers and business managers. The survey found that public perception on the risks of distraction has changed for the worse.
One in four drivers surveyed think roads are safer today than before the pandemic.
“Traffic volumes were lower during the early days of the pandemic, which may have given drivers a false sense of security,” said Chris Hayes, Travelers vice president of workers compensation and transportation risk control.
Compared to the 2020 Risk Index, more respondents admitted they have been using mobile devices in the following unsafe ways while driving:
The increase in risky driving behaviors in 2020 has possibly contributed to the increase in vehicle deaths. According to the National Safety Council, 2020 motor vehicle deaths were up 8% from 2019 – the highest percentage increase in 13 years.
Compared to the 2020 Travelers Risk Index results, a higher number of employers in the recent survey are concerned about liability from distracted driving. More than one-quarter (27%) indicated that they worry a great deal about their liability should an employee be involved in a crash because of distracted driving, up from 21% pre-pandemic.
Despite these concerns, the survey found their workers are feeling more pressure to be available. Hayes describes the need that workers feel to be connected as a more of a fear of missing out. One in four respondents said they answer work-related calls and texts while behind the wheel because of the following reasons:
People feeling more pressure to stay connected while driving is not imaginary. In fact, 48% of surveyed business managers expect employees to respond frequently to work-related calls, texts or emails. This was up from 43% in the pre-pandemic 2020 Travelers Risk Index.
Hayes recommends that businesses of all types have distracted driving policies for any employee that spends part of their time working on the roadway. Those policies should be communicated to family members, customers and anyone else who may be calling them.
Additionally, he recommends that safe driving should be part of companies’ performance evaluations and hiring criteria for various types of jobs, not just for full-time drivers. The same policies that commercial drivers have to sign off on should apply to all types of jobs, so that motorists who surround professional drivers on the road are operating with the same standards.
Businesses should never expect their workers to respond to a message, or to start or finish a conversation while driving.
“That is the environment that every tractor trailer driver is in,” Hayes said.