Fritz ate a late dinner with his wife, Mollie, after spending all day at a CSA conference and driving home for two hours. Watching an old Godfather rerun on TV, the Manager of Safety for Bright Mountain Trucking soon drifted off to sleep.
In his dream, he was young again, a driver getting advice from a bookie-type named Jimmie Numbers.
NUMBERS: Listen up, ‘cause I’m going to tell you somethin’. Numbers make the world go round, kid. And the Feds, they like numbers most of all.
Fritz: But what does that have to do with me?
NUMBERS: You don’t hear too good, do you kid? I talk; you listen. Numbers make the world go round. Right?
NUMBERS: And the Feds, they like numbers like I like pizza with extra cheese. Right?
Fritz: If you say so.
NUMBERS: I do say so. Bureau of Labor Sta-tisss-tics, Budget Offices spread across the country like ants at a fat man picnic….mountains of reg-gu-latoooory agencies…Census Bureau, not to mention your I R S . They live and breathe numbers.
So it’s natural that the suits who came up with CSA, your FM C-S-A—the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Ad-min-i-stray-shee-own…they love numbers too.
NUMBERS: When you got a problem, dollars to doughnuts you try to solve it with what you know, right? The Feds had a problem. They couldn’t inspect carriers as much as they’d like to.
Fleets jam-packed with semis, inter-modals, straight trucks, flatbeds, buses, motor coaches, vans, curtain sides…some hadn’t been inspected since cargo was hauled by mules and donkeys…few and far between, right?
And some joints were getting away with murder. Dora the Explorer and her monkey Boots could have found more. FMCSA figured they didn’t have enough bodies to catch everyone gettin’ a free ride. So how do they fix it?
Fritz (hesitantly): With numbers?
NUMBERS: You bet. You ain’t as dumb as you look.
See, by putting cops and computers together, you can get a picture of what’s going on without having to go to a terminal. You got eyes everywhere that see from the big city to your heartland of America…across any state. Sea to shining sea. Then you put it all into a gen-u-ine USA-made superspeed microprocessor computer and what do you got? Clint Eastwood time: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
You got a system to separate the good from the bad, the wheat from the good-for-nuthin’ stems.
Carriers with millions of drivers lined up in a row from angels to monsters and everything in between. And they get lined up seven times, one lineup for every BASIC.
NUMBERS: But you gotta be smart. Some things aren’t as bad as other things, right?
Fritz: Well, ah…
NUMBERS: Look. You got your criminal justice system. Littering ain’t as bad as shopliftin’ and shopliftin’ ain’t as bad as armed robbery and armed robbery ain’t as bad as murder, right?
NUMBERS: So the Feds, knowin’ what they know and thinkin’ how they think, put the same kind of system in for CSA drivin’. Having a light out is not as bad as speeding and that’s not as bad as drivin’ when you’re stoned. So the Feds figured which violations were woiist and gave them a higher number. The ones that weren’t as bad, they give a lower number. So all the violations have a number from 1 to 10. Ten is woiist.
Fritz: But how did they figure which ones were worse?
NUMBERS: You know the answer, kid.
NUMBERS: Exactomundo! They got an army of suits with math degrees, PhDs, MBAs and any other alphabet soup you can think of figuring the odds…what the fancy-smancies call your correlations. Some accidents are caused by speeding. Some are caused by drugs. Some are caused by tired drivers. Not too many are caused by a crooked placard. So they run the numbers—bada bing, bada boom– and bingo, the computer tells you what causes accidents the most. Or so they say.
It ain’t perfect though. Wise people in trucking think that lots of violations get too high a score. They say they got nuthin’ to do with safety and accidents. The penalty don’t fit the crime. Yeah, so right now some of it don’t make no sense. But, it’ll change over time as they argue these out. All you can do is live with it for now.
NUMBERS: Drivers with high numbers get in trouble and they can get the carrier they work for in trouble too. That’s because all the numbers from every driver—and listen up–this is important–when they’re working for that carrier—get added up and divided by another number. Feds got formulas. All the carriers are lined up and put in groups. Carriers with the highest numbers in each group are in trouble. They’re the hunted ones.
They become—are you ready for this one—“targeted” carriers.
It’s like they’re driving down the road with a bull’s-eye on them. Johnnie Law will pull them over any time anywhere, just because they’re on the list. It’s like bein’ the deer that the lions and tigers and wolves can smell first.
Weigh station—come on in.
Checkpoint Charlie—come on in.
Driving down the road, mindin’ your own business…you get the picture.
Fritz: I hope we don’t become targeted.
NUMBERS: You and everybody else who knows the score.
Fritz: Violations stick around for a long time.
NUMBERS: Yeah Just like da’ oil spill in the Gulf. Only passing time can clean it up.
Fritz: So what’s the answer?
NUMBERS: Simple. Stay away from the numbers. Don’t get moving violations. Drive de-fensifa-ly. Avoid accidents. Don’t let anyone bully you into speeding. Check your truck before you leave the terminal for cargo and vehicle snafus. Make sure you got the right signage, the right paperwork.
If you never get pulled over and you never get inspected, you’re an A student. You got zero points. Perfect score. It don’t get any better than that.
Carrying a fake Hours of Service Log, getting an extra drivers license or CDL to spread your points around, faking a drug test…fuggedaboutit.
If you do get stopped and they don’t find nothin’, make sure Johnny Law puts it in his book. That’s the only way it will get into the Feds computer and become a good number. You want good inspections to be on the record. They make you look good and keep your carrier from becoming targeted.
Fritz: This is a nightmare.
NUMBERS: It ain’t no sweet dream, but look at it this way. Any driver who has a clean safety record is going to be sittin’ pretty. Everybody wants a clean driver. That’s a good thing.
Second, you got an edge. You know the score now and most drivers don’t. Bazillions of ‘em are goin’ learn the hard way.
Fritz: I’ve got to warn everyone at Bright…
Mollie: Wake up Fritz. You’re having a nightmare.
Fritz: You can say that again.
Lou Graziani: creator of Bright Mountain Trucking “transportation guru, training expert, and imagineer.”
This story continues…