Friday, December 17, 2010

It Doesn't Hurt So Bad When You're Used To It

One of the topics dominating blogs and the news is the TSA's usage of the new backscatter machines as well as their intrusion into what most of us consider privacy and rights enumerated in the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment - unreasonable search and seizure - and the Fifth - self incrimination - are the basis for many of the arguments.

I happen to agree - I think the procedures are intrusive and un- Constitutional. The common citizenry's rights are being compromised so the TSA won't have to profile - even though profiling is a proven solution. That isn't a politically correct solution, so everyone else will have to suffer.

Like I said - I agree. However, don't expect a whole bunch of sympathy from me. Why?

Surely, in your travels, y'all have seen ports of entry for trucks. You've probably seen trucks pulled over on the side of the road by a state trooper in a big SUV - like a Tahoe or similar. We, as truckers, have no expectations of constitutional protections in our vehicles because we are being inspected. All commercial vehicles have to pull into ports of entry (unless they are using PrePass, and even then may be required to come in).Commercial vehicles can be pulled over, cab and cargo searched, without any probable cause. We can be pulled over for safety inspections designed to find mechanical infractions. You can cross a state line without being checked out, but we can't. Brake linings a little thin on your car? No problemo. On my truck? Trouble waiting to happen.

See, federal DOT regulations outweigh the Constitution when it comes to truckers. End of story. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say commercial vehicles and their drivers have any expectation of rights - since the licenses, tags and such are all state granted, the Bill of Rights don't apply. The Constitution doesn't say anything about "private" vehicles, either, so if "they" wanna - y'all are up next. Right now, private vehicles do enjoy some property rights and the drivers have some protection enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The eternal political pessimist in me says: "for now."

But, Jeffro, you say - it's for safety! For the "common good!" We don't want nasty ol' trucks with no brakes driving around on "our" highways! Fine - but at least require some sort of probable cause and the associated protections like a search warrant. My company is required to allow inspectors into their offices to search our records for compliance or violations of DOT regulations. How would you feel if a cop showed up at your door, and demanded to see proof of insurance for your private vehicle for the past ten years? Then, march right on in and start looking for said records? In any place in your house they want?

One of the scenarios in truck forums that can really test people's attitudes toward the rights due a trucker is having a locked safe in your truck. Invariably, there are enforcement personnel advising the driver not to do that, because it would upset an inspector. Wouldn't wanna do that, because if you thought they were crawling around your backside before, wait 'til you piss one off. They'll just "go to town" on your ass. Best not to provoke 'em. They can (and do) search your cab, throw everything out on the ground, make a terrible mess, and jump in their cars and drive off when they don't find anything. Never happened to me, but it does, in fact, happen.

One of the little digs I had to remind me of my place happened the other day at a port of entry (or weigh station, chicken coop in trucker lingo). Many states have a pass through lane and a lane that takes you over a set of scales. As you are driving into the facility, the road splits from one lane to the two options. There is usually an embedded scale that measures the ground pressure of at least the steer axle plus the truck is under video surveillance as well. Suspended above the lanes are a series of lights - the first several have green arrows. If they don't really want to see you, they'll give you a green arrow towards the pass through lane. If they want you on the scales, they'll point the arrow towards the scales. As you travel down the correct lane, green lights with arrows pointing ahead are above you, and red X's are displayed in the lights of the other lane. There is a final set of traffic style lights at the ends of each lane - one conveys to trucks when to pull on and off the scales, and if you are in the pass through lane, they might change their minds and give you a red light anyways. Loudspeakers (that sound as bad as the adults in a Charlie Brown special) inform you if they want you to pull over and what paperwork to bring inside. Some states use message boards for this purpose, which work far better.

So, I was pulling into the point of decision. I had a green arrow pointing to the scales. But, at the last second, it switched to the pass by lane. Oh Boy, I don't have to wait in line and get to go! Woo Hoo!

But, not so fast, Fat Boy. I got to the end of the lane and the red light was on. BLAH BLAH BLAH CIRCLE WEIGH BLAH BLAH. So, I had to circle around the scale house, drive into place behind the line of trucks waiting to pull on the scales, and get weighed. I was empty, by the way - which with a flatbed - well, it's pretty obvious I wasn't carrying any freight. No matter. I figured I'd get the red light at the end of the line and a BLAH BLAH DRIVER'S LICENSE PERMIT BOOK LOG BOOK INSIDE BLAH BLAH message, but I did get a green light.

What had happened? Whoever was running the light switch inside had switched it too early - the truck behind me was the one that was supposed to get the bypass - not me. Even though they screwed up, I still had to drive around and kill another five minutes. I guess I oughta be grateful they didn't call me in and kill a half hour or so, or turn me over to their safety inspector for a complete truck inspection.

Why, if I'm empty, did they want to have me cross the scales? Because they wanted to run my DOT number - prominently displayed on the side of the truck. They wanted to check my IFTA sticker to see if it was current. They wanted a record of my trip passing through there.

"They" are wanting more than that in the future. GPS tracking is coming - hey, asshole, we show you driving two mph over the speed limit! Ticket in the mail for you! BMI index a little high? Sleep apnea testing for you, fat boy! Don't wanna have a sleepy trucker on the road! Stopping dispatchers and shippers from keeping drivers waiting for loads without pay, and unreasonably expecting the driver to get a load across the country on time even though it was delayed by days by the shipper? Au contraire mon frere! Making a driver keep an appointment to unload but not actually unload for hours or days? Still A-OK! It's easier to prove our Nation's Highways and Byways are safe by stepping on drivers' necks than fixing root causes of problems, see? Sound familiar - security theater?

Well, I see all kinds of people stepping up to stop this sort of thing. It's against our Nation's principles for these egregious actions to continue. It's gotta stop!

Oh, wait... Seems the average person is behind all of this, because they believe it makes life more gooder. Not only will it keep on, it's gonna get worse.

Forgive me if I can't get too excited about you having your junk touched, even though I think it's wrong. Martin Neimoller? They've already come for me.


drjim said...

Excellent post, Jeffro!
For those that read this, and don't get the reference, here's a link:

Jeffro said...

Thanks! I should have made Neimoller's name a link back to that Wikipedia article, but I wuz lazy.

Lisa Paul said...

Great article. I used to wonder why the hijackers chose planes instead of big-rig truck bombs -- which I thought would be easier to assemble and deploy undetected. Now I know. Unless it's a Timothy McVeigh sized bomb in a U-Haul truck (which can still do plenty of damage), trucks are safe.

But you make a good point. Safe, at a cost...

I guess the way this is parsed from a Constitutional angle is that driving is a privilege, not a right (hence the license) and when you chose to fly commercially, you are agreeing to undergo whatever security measures that private carrier wants to impose (just as you have to agree to the "no shoes, no shirt, no service" rules if you want to drink in a fine establishment.) And you have the choice to travel alternatively if you don't like it. (Although practically train, bus and private car travel is not practical for some people.)

It's a tough one and, when I fly to England for Christmas, I guess I'll see it in action -- up close and personal.

Jeffro said...

Lisa: One of the byproducts of McVeigh's explosion was to consider the routes explosive vehicles travel. Most cities have signs with an HC inside a green circle on truck routes approved for hazardous cargo. If you have a placarded load and are caught off the route, there are fines involved.

I've kvetched about having to go over Loveland Pass on I70 west of Denver because we don't fit in the Johnson/Eisenhower tunnels. HC loads are forbidden as well - they have to go over the mountain, too. I don't see how they'd stop a terrorist driving a fuel truck from driving into the tunnel and detonating the load anyways, but the law abiding types have to avoid the tunnels for that reason.

Dad Bones said...

I appreciate the job you guys are doing to get our stuff moved from one place to the next. And under difficult circumstances that we dilettantes behind the wheel of pickups are usually clueless about.

Tomorrow or the next day I'll be cutting across the wide open spaces of Kansas to see PTG again. - I was hell on wheels when I was young but anymore I have to make an effort to keep up with traffic. I'll apologize in advance if you find yourself on my bumper.

Jeffro said...

Dad Bones - I'll probably be off in OK and TX - rest easy. It'll be some other idjut that will run you over. Hope that helps....

Bob's Blog said...

I have a stepson 21 who just passed his CDL, and another stepson 18 who is in his first year of tech college studying to be a diesal mechanic. I've told them both about your blog. Happy Holidays!