July 2017

Home of the Brave

July 4th was just another day until our founding fathers issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Britain had lost its right to rule their American colonies because it had lost the consent of the governed. The Declaration provided a preamble to state an essential, foundation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Over the Independence Day holiday, millions of Americans are traveling across the country pursuing their own version of “Happiness” whatever that may mean to each individual. Our great Country’s truck drivers and those on the front lines of trucking operations will be out there too, pursuing their happiness through driving and working at their jobs. But what about driver’s and fleet owner’s rights to “liberty” and the industry’s pursuit of “happiness” to safely and profitably deliver the nation’s goods?

When it comes to American values, truck drivers, especially long-haul professionals have always been identified as representing the best Americans have to offer, that is, hard-working, independent, reliable, willing to help others and highly patriotic. Most people understand truck driver’s work hard, but few realize how hard they work or just how dangerous the profession can be. For example, a friend and industry journalist described his recent passing through Loveland Pass in Colorado witnessing how a sudden snowstorm forced hundreds of trucks to the side of the road to so that the operators could fit their chains. For those not aware, the task is hard enough without doing it in a blizzard with gloves on and a heavy “persuader.” The next day, most of the drivers, he related, were on top of their rigs, shoveling (another government safety mandate) off two feet of snow –shoveling the equivalent of a driveway’s worth of snow off a slippery platform (no rails) 18 feet in the air! Imagine the “debate” between the long haul couple deciding “who’s turn it is” for that duty … Oh boy.

It takes real courage to do that – defined as doing your duty while understanding inherent risk. Where is the “Home” of the brave? Perhaps it is in the cab of a truck—a place that is increasingly being invaded by technologies designed to monitor and control both the driver and fleet operators and regulate bad behaviors, usually associated with (but not caused by) the profit motive. Greed and malfeasance aside, connectivity and data from all inputs associated with driver, truck and hauling operations (despite the Big Brother analogies) puts solid information on the hands of those who can use it most – leveling the playing field between fleet owners, drivers and owner/operators and perhaps most importantly regulators. If we can all agree the data is good then we all can deal with each other more honestly, less skeptically and regulate ourselves better without mandate or penalty – that is liberty.

This also calls to mind the recently concluded strike of drivers serving ports in California. These drayage drivers complained of hostile business environment and unfair business practices associated with hiring owner/operators working this part of the trade. Regardless of which side one lands on this one, it does speak to the exploitation owner/operators can face and their efforts to try and put some liberty back into their work.

Automation is another topic and perceived by some as a threat to (among others) driver jobs and professional autonomy. Orwellians decry the sky is falling with every announced advance in automated, autonomous vehicles. But the truth is very few believe the task of navigating a heavy vehicle in traffic will be turned over to robots entirely any time soon. Fortune magazine’s new State of Automation report found that automation is well-suited for repetitive tasks but not so hot at handling the fast-changing, “mindful” tasks healthcare workers and truck drivers do day-in-day out.

The future, according to many analysts, will likely involve more of a hybrid with automation playing a supporting, not a supplanting role. Sure driverless trucks get lots of press, but the future — at least in the near term — is more likely, according American Trucking Association’s Michael Cammisa, to involve automated trucks that combine drivers and varying levels of technology aimed at “supplementing or augmenting the driver’s role.” Broad implementation, he said, is about a decade away but “It’s important to start talking about this now,” Cammisa said. “This has the potential to change all aspects of the trucking industry, but it’s important not to talk about driverless, but automation to enhance drivers. We’re talking about saving drivers.”

In other words, rather than automation taking away a driver’s potential pursuit of happiness, it will enhance it. Apparently Mark Zuckerberg, founder of FaceBook wasn’t able to articulate the nuance very well. Zuckerberg was reported to be “talking with truckers” at an Iowa truck stop, ostensibly dipping a toe into politics and working the stump. Typical of progressive technocrats, his thinking is likely guided by an ultimate faith in technology to solve all problems. One report described him as clue-less as to why the issue of automation might make drivers fear for their jobs. At least Zuckerberg was talking to truckers trying to understand if he can get consent from the governed, rather than presuming his vision of “disruption” in the trucking will be “okay” in the long-run.

One last note on technology and liberty. Uber launched its Uber-Freight app June 28—something that might just re-inject some independence into drivers and owner/operators. Uber Freight says its new application dedicated to match truckers and small logistics companies with loads to haul—what could be wrong with that? Yes, Uber is imagining mating it with automated trucks, but for now, consumers of freight services may find its “on-demand” or “just-in-time” nature just what the doctor ordered when it comes to obtaining new flexibility.

Regardless, truckers, drivers and fleet owners have long been an essential part of America’s social and commercial landscape. America would not be the home of the brave nor the land of the free without them. We couldn’t be America without you sons and daughters of liberty. God Bless You and God Bless America!