Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pallet Buyers Need to be Aware of "Voodoo" Environmental Claims

VINELAND, N.J., May 20 (SEND2PRESS NEWSWIRE) -- The pallet industry has begun to promote green and with that, environmental claims are sprouting up everywhere, cautions PALNET. A 2008 study conducted by Price Waterhouse found that consumers only believe 16 percent of environmental claims. There's a good reason why. Of 1,753 environmental claims researched last year, all but one were either false or misleading, according to the State of Green Business report.

Similar practices seem to be taking place in the pallet industry. Last month, a supplier of plastic pallets made an environmental claim based on the 100 percent recyclability of the plastic used in their pallets.

According to Michael Smith, C.O.O. of PALNET, a national supplier of pallets, "That claim didn't take into account that plastic begins its life in an oil well, gets transported in an oil tanker like the Exxon Valdez; and, according to the EPA, plastic production plants have a heavy carbon footprint." Smith adds, "It's true that plastic can be recycled, but it rarely is. That's why so much of it is growing old in landfills all across America.

"What's more, to make plastic pallets meet necessary fire retardant standards, a chemical called deca-bromine is used. The FDA recently issued a warning that this chemical can leach into the food supply it's carrying.

Other pallet companies have raised their green flag as well. One website features a carbon footprint calculator where you can input facts and figures to determine your carbon footprint -- including how many dump trucks of waste are saved when measured against one-way pallets.

"What's a one-way pallet?" asks Smith, a 30-year veteran of the pallet industry, "There's no such thing." A one-way pallet would have to be a pallet that gets delivered, used just once, never reclaimed, repaired or recycled and gets unloaded and tossed into a landfill. Wooden pallets almost never make one-way trips. They get delivered, picked up, inspected, repaired, reused, and when no longer viable, get ground up into garden mulch or stove pellets.

Smith concludes, "Companies that are striving to be environmental need to be able to rely on the claims their suppliers make to be true and accurate. If not, everyone suffers, the environment included."

For more information on PALNET and its environmentally-friendly pallets and services, visit www.PALNETUSA.com or call 1-877-PALNET-1.

All trademarks and service marks are the property of the respective parties.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

As Trucking Goes, So Goes the Economy

As trucking goes, so goes the economy
Roads less active during downturn
By Samantha Bomkamp, Associated Press
Sunday, May 17, 2009

NEW YORK -- Looking for signs of economic recovery? Try counting the number of trucks on the road.

Trucks carry almost all the manufactured and retail goods in the country -- from refrigerators to lumber, detergents to toys. Many economists gauge how fast assembly lines are running, and how much consumers are buying, by the volume of goods hauled by trucks. But the most recent earnings reports show trucks are not carrying enough yet to indicate recovery is near.

Slow consumer spending and stalled manufacturing activity took its toll on truckers in the first three months of the year. Nearly all major trucking companies reported lower first-quarter revenue and falling profits as the recession continued and shipping demand slid. Many cut back their fleets because of soft demand. Werner Enterprises Inc., for example, said it trimmed an additional 4 percent of its fleet of over 8,000 trucks in the first quarter. Many companies said more cuts will come.

In the first quarter of 2009, about 480 trucking companies went under. That's less than 1 percent of the nation's total freight capacity, which still leaves too many trucks competing for fewer shipments, according to analyst Donald Broughton of investment bank Avondale Partners. More than 3,000 trucking companies went out of business last year -- taking seven of every 100 trucks off the road.

Broughton said that more trucking companies will inevitably fail if the economy remains weak. But the pace of closures needs to speed up, he said, to allow other trucking companies to get a bigger slice of shipments and to raise prices again.

Analysts think that the number of trucks on U.S. highways will continue to slide until supply is more aligned with demand. When the trucking business starts to pick up again, they say, other economic factors -- from the employment rate to the gross domestic product -- will eventually follow.

Tavio Headley, an economist with the American Trucking Associations, believes that trucking industry business will pick up as early as next quarter, and the broader economy will show some minor improvements beginning in the last three months of the year. That is slightly earlier than previous estimates by the ATA, but Headley emphasizes that the economy will probably stay weak for some time.

"We do expect the economy to continue to contract, but at a slower pace over the next few quarters," he said. "And the reason we're not optimistic? A huge reduction in business investment and the housing market continues to be a huge drag on the overall economy."
Some data may indicate the nation's economic tailspin is beginning to level off.
The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said earlier this month that manufacturing activity contracted at a slower-than-expected pace in April, as new orders to factories rose.

Less encouraging, the government also said that the nation's gross domestic product contracted at an annual rate of 6.1 percent during the first three months of the year. But the GDP numbers also showed a rise in consumer spending and a decline in inventories, which suggests manufacturers and retailers may have to increase new orders soon.
But "soon" doesn't seem soon enough for the trucking industry, which is anxiously waiting for calls from manufacturers and retailers who need deliveries. The ATA's Headley said that although inventories are falling, sales are dropping at an even steeper rate.

Trucking companies usually see shipments increase in number and weight three months to a year before the broader economy picks up.

In the recession in 2001, freight shipments improved a full year before the broader economy.
But there is no sign of that yet in the current recession.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When's A Trucker Too Tired to Drive?

When's a trucker too tired to drive?
JIM FOTI, Star Tribune

How should a state trooper decide that a trucker is too tired to drive?

That's the question at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed by a national truckers association, which contends that the Minnesota State Patrol has illegally kept trucks off the road by using a lengthy "fatigued driving" checklist. On the list are such items as whether the driver seems dirty, disheveled, unshaven, irritable or overly agreeable, and whether his sleeping berth is "obviously unused" or has a video game system.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Minneapolis by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Inc., on behalf of two out-of-state drivers, points out the tricky business of regulating drowsiness on the road.

"We consider this ... an outrageous abuse of police power and an intolerable violation of the civil and constitutional rights of professional truckers," said Jim Johnston, president of the association, the largest in the nation representing professional truckers. "We see no justification for this conduct either scientifically or in rational, legitimate law enforcement."

A State Patrol spokesman said the agency wouldn't comment on pending litigation. The defendants are the patrol's chief, the commander of its commercial vehicle division, and a handful of officers.

The suit says that the checklist was created by Capt. Ken Urquhart, the commercial vehicle commander, and that officers were "strongly urged" in an internal memo to use it when stopping truckers. However, the suit says, it "does not define fatigue, nor does it incorporate any medically or clinically tested and approved methods for measuring fatigue.

"The suit comes as fatigue's role in crashes is coming under scrutiny both regionally and nationally. The same day the suit was filed, the National Transportation Safety Board questioned the sleep habits of the two pilots of the Continental Connection flight that crashed in upstate New York in February and killed 50 people. The NTSB says the copilot apparently pulled an all-nighter before the flight, and both pilots can be heard yawning on the cockpit voice recorder.

Also Wednesday, the lawyer for the truck driver blamed for a fatal bus crash on Interstate 94 east of Eau Claire, Wis., in 2005 indicated that the driver will appeal federal convictions on five counts of falsifying his driving log. The NTSB ruled that Indiana driver Michael Kozlowski had fallen asleep at the wheel of his truck, causing the crash of the bus, which was returning to Chippewa Falls, Wis., after a band field trip.

In 2007, Kozlowski was found not guilty of other charges in the crash, which killed five people and injured 28.

'Difficult to define'

Fatigue may be gaining attention as a safety issue, but enforcement is more complicated than it is for seat belt use or drunken driving, two frequent subjects of special patrols and public education efforts.

"With blood alcohol, there's a concentration that you can measure, and there now is a consensus that at a certain level, people are undoubtedly impaired," said Dr. Elisa Braver, senior epidemiologist with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "There isn't any argument about whether this individual or that individual is impaired.

"Fatigue is much more difficult to define," she said. "This is why the federal government has set limits on the work hours of drivers.

"The problems, Braver said, are that widely used handwritten log books are easy to falsify, and that drivers can become fatigued even if they are within the legal limits.

Hence the roadside examinations -- and Minnesota's unusual checklist.

The suit alleges that the patrol had failed to make the checklist public and used it to remove Stephen K. House of Springdale, Wash., and Gary B. Page, of Spencer, Wis., from behind the wheel in incidents in 2006 and 2008 at a weigh station on Interstate 94 near Moorhead, Minn.

The suit describes interactions that the two men had with members of the State Patrol. House was asked about his "purportedly red" eyes (he said he had allergies) and whether he was able to sleep in his berth, which he often shared with his wife and young son.

The two men said they had no prior knowledge of the checklist and say they each sustained in excess of $75,000 in damages.

'Loopy'-sounding, but ...

The Minnesota Trucking Association doesn't have a position on the checklist, said its president, John Hausladen, but as it gets more attention nationwide, his organization is receiving calls from concerned truckers.

"We are not getting complaints from Minnesota-based carriers being put out of service," he said. His group held a phone-in seminar titled "How Law Enforcement Recognizes Fatigue at the Roadside" in February, and a copy of the checklist can be found on its website.

"If you look at the checklist in isolation, some of the questions just look really loopy," but the overall process to assess fatigue has merit, he said.

Other states have taken an interest in Minnesota's approach. In Iowa, 12 officers have received training from members of the Minnesota patrol as part of a pilot program, said David Lorenzen, chief of Iowa's motor vehicle enforcement office.

The pilot will run until Aug. 1 and then be evaluated, said Lorenzen, who cited the recession as a factor fueling driver fatigue. "People are going to take second jobs and work longer hours, and the economy makes things tougher for everyone.

"Truck drivers are "kind of like the last cowboy," said Capt. Wayne Andrews, a former over-the-road driver who now works for the state police in Indiana, which has had several high-profile fatal crashes tied to fatigue. Indiana troopers used the Minnesota checklist for a time, then received complaints from the state trucking association and ultimately decided the list wasn't necessary.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Trucking Industry Group Wants Bigger, Heavier Rigs

Greater efficiency cited with higher weight limit, but opponents worry about safety

Sunday, May 10, 2009
by Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

To the alarm of some safety advocates, the trucking industry is asking Congress to allow heavier tractor-trailers to ply the nation's highways. The industry contends that an increase of the federal maximum weight from the current 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds would promote efficiency and reduce congestion and pollution without compromising safety.

Several families of truck crash victims held a news conference in Washington, D.C., last week to decry the proposal. "If the big truck companies have their way, more families will have to suffer what ours did and always will. There will be more truck crash-related deaths, more debilitating injuries and more roadway damage and destruction," said Frank and Marchelle Wood, of Falls Church, Va., in a statement. Their daughter, a college student, died in a 2002 crash with a truck.
"They want bigger, heavier, longer and more dangerous trucks," Jackie Gillan, of Silver Spring, Md., a longtime highway safety advocate, said in an interview. "They are asking the American public to pay for this with their lives and their wallets."

The higher limits are supported by the 37,000-member American Trucking Associations, the trade association of the trucking industry. But not all truckers are on board -- the Teamsters union and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association are opposed to the increase.
"Large trucks are more dangerous to drive and damage highways and bridges; the safety, highway design and operating issues involved in allowing bigger trucks are not worth the negligible gains in productivity they might realize," said LaMont Byrd, Teamsters safety and health department director, at a news conference last month. He was speaking in support of a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., to freeze weight and size limits and extend them beyond the 40,000-mile interstate highway system to 161,000 miles of U.S. highways.

That bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and John Murtha, D-Johnstown. A different measure introduced by Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, would allow states to increase the weight limit to 97,000 pounds and impose higher fees to compensate for bridge damage from the heavier trucks.

The issue may come to a head during debate this summer on a new multiyear highway funding authorization bill. The current legislation -- the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users -- expires Sept. 30. Clayton Boyce, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, said the higher weight limit has been adopted in Canada and Europe and "it has proven to be safe there."

The principal benefits of heavier trucks are more efficient shipping of freight, which translates to lower consumer costs, and the need for fewer trucks on the highways, which reduces congestion and pollution, he said. The proposal would require heavier trucks to have an additional axle, giving them extra braking power and enabling them to stop in the same distance as tractor-trailers carrying the current maximum, he said. "There's no degradation of safety, so you have to look to the benefits of it," Mr. Boyce said.

The Truck Safety Coalition, a leading foe of higher weight limits, disputes the industry's claim that heavier trucks would mean fewer of them on the roads. "Even after several increases to the sizes and weights of large trucks, the number of trucks on U.S. highways has consistently grown over the past few decades," the coalition said in a statement. The mileage logged by large trucks doubled from 1982 to 2002 and continues to grow, it said. "Every time Congress has increased truck weights, there has been an explosion in trucks. That is a completely bogus argument," said Ms. Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Some 4,808 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks in 2007 -- "the equivalent of 52 major airline crashes ... one crash every week resulting in 95 deaths," the coalition said. That represents a decrease of 590 deaths annually compared with a decade ago. Pennsylvania ranked 28th among states in truck crash deaths per 100,000 people in 2007, the most recent year for which statistics were available. It had 194 deaths that year, down from 224 in 2003.
Mr. Boyce said the leading cause of accidents attributable to trucks is speeding and reckless driving, not vehicle weight. He said his organization has supported -- to no avail so far -- mandatory use of governor devices that limit truck speeds to 65 mph and a requirement that companies with poor safety records install data recorders, similar to those deployed on airliners, in their trucks.

Mr. Boyce said some of the groups opposing higher weight limits were fronting for the railroad industry. "Railroads want government action to make trucks less competitive," he said. "Safety has been our most important issue. We are working to improve safety." "We've never gotten a single dollar from the railroad industry," said Ms. Gillan, who said 50 relatives of crash victims paid their way to Washington to attend the news conference and meet with lawmakers.

Jon Schmitz can be reached at jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.