The Private Motor Carrier as Sun Tzu (The Art of War) Part 2

In our continuing discussion of Sun Tzu The Private Motor Carrier, we think about what the Chinese mercenary general might do if he was hired to run a private fleet for an existing construction company.

Last time we talked about the steps Sun Tzu might take in order to:

“Know Yourself” – the first part of Sun Tzu’s best-known quote:

“Know yourself, Know your enemy, and prepare the battle-field”

To review, I suggested he might:

  1. Make a list of his assets (CMVs)
  2. Study the accident register and loss runs, as well as moving violations
  3. Review all training records for the most-recent 24 months.
  4. Conduct his own informal survey of the organizations safety posture

Now, we’ll discuss how Sun Tzu might tackle the 2nd part of his most-well-known truth: “Know yourself, know your enemy, prepare the battlefield.”

When you are focusing on safety management controls, who is the enemy?

Some people think the FMCSA is the enemy, but they really aren’t.

I can see how people feel this way; but the FMCSA is really all about saving lives. I could spend all afternoon speculating about how the agency’s inconsistent enforcement effort levels the playing field, giving an advantage to the small motor carriers who don’t have much to lose, while handicapping larger motor carriers who fear being shut down as a result of even one or two mistakes.

The enemy is complacency.

Drivers know they are supposed to pay attention, but they get bored by running the same routes or travelling over the same roads. Periodic, meaningful training regarding safe driving practices can have a mitigating impact. When was the last time they had defensive driving training?

The enemy is fatigue.

The worst thing you can allow is for people to work a long day, then drive 100 miles or more to get home. You have to develop some policies to mitigate this common problem, and you need to communicate them clearly. And, of course, no policy is meaningful unless it includes a monitoring process.

The enemy is bad driving.

In my illustration, you are in the construction business, so you hire machinery operators who may or may not be good CMV operators. You have to have some sort of training standards, and stick to them.

The enemy is drug use.

Too many people – and the percentage is going up – use illegal drugs, or use prescription medicines illegally. Is your drug and alcohol testing system really being administered properly?

The enemy is bad roads.

At least do some research. If you are sending a team from Springfield MO to do a job in Pittsburg, KS, what road will they take and what is the condition of that road? Your knowledge might not always be perfect or complete, but at least you can check the ATRI’s Bottleneck report:

What is the enemy you face?

Is it one or all of these? Or is there someone or something else that bedevils your efforts, as a company, to operate in a safe and professional manner?

Next time we will discuss: Preparing the Battlefield

The Private Motor Carrier as Sun Tzu (The Art of War) Part 1

Sun Tzu the Private Motor Carrier

 Sometimes I refer to Sun Tzu during seminars; and I always start by saying “Some of you have probably heard of Sun Tzu.” It’s not unusual for people to have read something about this Chinese mercenary general who lived 5 centuries before Christ.

But most people have never thought about this: If Sun Tzu was here today, and he was the traffic manager for, let’s say, a construction company, how would he approach the role?

Here’s what we know about Sun Tzu: One of the most-frequently-quoted truths found in Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, is this one:

 “Know the enemy and know yourself”

As an engineering officer in the Army, I was told Sun Tzu said “Know yourself; Know your enemy, and Prepare the battlefield”.

While this might be an imaginative interpretation, stemming from some charismatic Army staff officer in the 1980’s, we don’t know that Sun Tzu didn’t say this. And, we can easily apply these 3 rules to every challenge, every decision, every challenge we will ever face. I will demonstrate:

  • Know yourself.

If Sun Tzu were assigned the responsibility of managing a fleet of construction vehicles today, I believe the first thing he might do is to make a list of his assets, or ask someone to do it for him. Depending on the size of the organization, you may be a one-man shop or you might be able to delegate some mundane tasks. Either way, you must have a list of CMVs, by year, make, model, and GVWR.

Then, he would probably study the accident register and loss runs, as well as moving violations in the past 24 months. This last is easily done by signing on to SMS. Your recent history is the most-reliable predictor of your immediate future.

Another step Sun Tzu would probably take is to review all training records for the most-recent 24 months. Have we done some good training? Have we put it off? Have we been overly-reliant on some pre-recorded training materials of dubious quality?

Finally, I believe Sun Tzu would rely on his instincts, walking around and taking an informal measure of the organizations safety  controls and the way people respond to them. Do people ignore rules that are clearly posted? Do people follow rules to the letter, grudgingly? Or do people cheerfully follow the spirit of company safety rules, because they know these rules are meant to save lives?

This might include visiting some construction jobs, listening to people talk, taking an informal measure of how well-developed the company’s safety management controls are and how seriously people are taking them.

Next time, the 2nd part of Sun Tzu’s first lesson; know your enemy.


“Don’t lose the lesson” – Root Cause Analysis

During seminars, I always try to encourage people to devote a percentage of their time to case studies. “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson” I say. “Learn from your mistakes. But, don’t wait ‘til you have had a tragedy to find a way to improve your own safety management controls. Learn from other’s mistakes.”

So pick up a newspaper from time to time, particularly when there has been a truck crash near you or in your industry, and read the article with a critical mind; thinking about root cause.

A lady in a car T-bones a school bus while she is talking on her cell phone. No one is hurt, but maybe this is a reminder to do some training on the consequences of distracted driving; with particular emphasis on decreasing cell phone use while operating CMVs. Maybe you even want to review your company’s policy on the practice.

In May 2013, A 51-year old man driving a garbage truck, talking on a cell phone, ignores an unmarked rail grade crossing, crossing in front of an oncoming train. The resulting derailment was caused by a driver who was talking on a cell phone using a hands-free device. Here is a shortcut to some news coverage of the NTSB report: Now, even though the driver was held to be responsible, there were also some changes made to the immediate surroundings and there was some serious discussion of who is responsible for maintaining infrastructure immediately adjacent to a rail-grade crossing. But we can all think about that driver using a hands-free device; do you have drivers who do this a bit too much? Maybe just a sobering word is all you can offer them. Personal cell phone use is a difficult thing to monitor, but you can try to share with your drivers some reasons they should consider cutting back, if they are on the phone constantly.

When I was a young man getting started in life, I joined the Army and soon found myself in the 82nd Airborne Division. I still read news items about paratroopers; possibly more than the average person would. In September 2013, there was a tragic parachute incident that took the life of a senior officer, and the Army conducted some really serious root-cause analysis: if you’d like to read about it, this is pretty sobering. It’s not about trucks but it’s about an organization learning from its mistakes:

I think, to some extent, all organizations do a pretty good job of learning from their mistakes. But how about learning from other people’s mistakes? I think we could all do a bit better; even my favorite organization: What if the officer who died on a routine parachute jump in September 2013 was in the French Army? Or the British Army? Do you think we would have made the same adjustments? Now let me ask another sobering question: What if this exact incident happened to a French staff officer in 2012, and the US Army ignored it, then a senior commander in the US Army suffered a similar fate in September 2013. You would say the Army failed to learn an important lesson, right?
So the next time there is an article about a truck crash in your local newspaper, or you hear about something on the radio, listen to the details and ask yourself “What caused that crash” or “Why are those people dead now?”. Sometimes you have to wait days, weeks, even a year or more, to find out what really went wrong. If it is a multiple fatality, the NTSB will eventually release an in-depth report. Look for lessons learned. Look for root cause. Think about what you can do to keep the same incident from occurring with one of your drivers.

Remember, “when you lose, don’t lose the lesson”.

But don’t wait until you experience a tragic loss; learn from other people’s mistakes and misfortune as well. It will accelerate your learning curve as an organization.

Mike England

DOT Compliance Help Inc


Transportation Bill Thoughts

The US House of Representatives is apparently focused entirely on the transportation bill this week – there are some interesting articles coming out about it. The way they make laws in this country – it’s terrible and it’s ugly but it’s the best system ever devised.

Here’s this bill, all about transportation, and the country’s future and the (possible) solution to the crumbling infrastructure and everything, and the first step is, they have to vote up or down on a hundred amendments, many of which have nothing to do with transportation. But some do.

First, a Wisconsin Republican sponsored a bill, co-sponsored by 3 Democrats from OR, NC, and MN, to allow states to raise the weight limit on trucks from 80K to 91K., and it went down in flames yesterday. 
This means the final vote will NOT include this provision.

Second, the way the bill is written today, the CSA scores will be secret until some mysterious review of the algorithms is completed. 
There is an amendment that would keep the scores public until the review is completed.

Third, there is an amendment that would allow states to raise fuel taxes but it would also make states responsible for maintenance of the interstate highways within their borders. I remember reading about this a year ago. First time I remember seeing the word “Devolve” in a federal law of any kind. (as in devolve authority and responsibility to a lower level – think limited government and leaving everything to the states that is not specifically done by the federal gov’t according to the constitution).

Apparently there are as many as 250 amendments, transportation-related and otherwise, being discussed, and the prediction is, the highway bill will be voted on, in it’s entirety, by the end of the week. 
The end of the week, if I am not mistaken, is Thursday. These hard-working lawmakers have to have a 4-day weekend every week, you know.

Of course, this is the house version of the transportation bill. The senate already passed a different version and the two will have to be reconciled. Still, we may have a six-year bill by the end of this year. The biggest question, I believe, is how the whole thing will be funded.

The reason this is not a part of the overall omnibus funding measure that allows for budgets for most other government functions is, transportation infrastructure has long been paid for, in theory, by the fuel taxes. Since fuel taxes have always been a per-gallon thing and not a percentage, the transportation budget takes a hit when we put more-fuel-efficient cars and trucks on the nation’s highways.

So a lot of ink will be spilled to describe how the whole package will be funded for the next six years. The last I heard, there was this hocus-pocus theory about the one-time tax windfall that might result from repatriation of oversees funds held by American corporations. 
(HUH? – whatthehelldoes thathave to dowith transportation?) 
I hope they come up with a better solution than that. I really do. 
This is all smoke and mirrors and projections that may or may not come to pass.

OK, I admit it. I kind of enjoy watching government work. Just a little. It’s kind of like watching a train wreck; it’s awful but you can’t take your eyes off it. . . wait, that would be the FRA’s jurisdiction; are they included?

Yeap, that’s part of the transportation bill also. 
(funding for the federal railroad administration) 
I wonder where their funding comes from? 
I better go read some more.

4 Solid Reasons to Attend a Conference

  1. Networking (Meeting People Like YOU)

Many times, you are the safety person for your company because NO ONE ELSE is. Which means you are working with people who aren’t doing what you are doing. It’s nice to meet, interact, and bond with people doing the SAME work as you are.

    2.  Ideas

Like above, if you are the only one at your company working toward safety, it can feel like you are stranded on a deserted island! Coming up with custom solutions and inventing ways to make your work successful is hard on your own. Taking a conference and just listening to other situations can foster new ideas and ways to work on problems you would not know if you spent time alone in your office. Conversations and live training foster creativity.

3. Focus

Again, it’s hard to focus on safety when many times your colleagues need you for other things. We often lose sight of what our job is in an effort to help everyone else in the office meet their goals – but what about your goals? A conference can help you focus your efforts to make them easier for others to help with, which leads to another bonus post-conference: productivity!

  1. Knowledge

This may be so obvious, sometimes it’s forgotten. A conference gives you the gift of content – pure and simple. In our industry, many times the information we are expected to know is not easy to understand and apply because it is written legalistically. An instructor with years of experience can quickly tell you what you need to know faster than if you were to sift through a regulation book and try to decipher it.

Are Printers needed for EOBRs?

I received a question from a client recently and thought I’d share the response to help clear up confusion about AOBRs (automatic on-board recorders), EOBRs (electronic on-board recorders) and some other related technologies out there.

“I had a driver pulled over yesterday Read more of this post

Costs of Transportation from ATRI

And now, for something serious. . . The American Transportation Research Institute – a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the DOT – just released the annual industry study on costs of transportation. Once again, costs are up – this time it’s $1.68 per mile but there are a lot of variables. To read the report, go to – there are a lot of ‘white-paper’ briefings there – you have to go through a few steps but it’s well worth it. One of my favorite recent ATRI papers was the one that looks at the utility of sending drivers to a simulator to make them better drivers (statistically a very good investment).

Required Vs. Recommended DOT Training

I got a client’s email question a few days ago asking what training is required annually, and I thought, “Wow, this guy must be a real go-getter!” as most motor carriers don’t do any training at all . . . this guy is looking for mandatory training topics to cover yearly!

So I gave it some thought, answered his question, and then realized it would be a good topic for a blog post.


The first question was, “What training is required on an annual basis?” 

The answer may surprise you: NONE.

In fact, the only training the DOT requires to be re-done on a regular (but not annual) basis is HazMat Training for HazMat drivers/other employees.

(A quick note: OSHA may require some training annually, but I’m not an OSHA expert. I think you are supposed to train on fire extinguishers annually.)


So, let’s put together a rundown on required training:


  1. I always tell people the MOST important thing (unless you are hauling HM or driving doubles/triples) is:

Supervisor Drug and Alcohol Training

The DOT nearly always asks for proof all members of management have had this training.

Best management practice is to do a refresher course each 2-3 years.


  1. HazMat training, for drivers and administrators.

This is required if you haul placardable quantities of HM, but note it’s also required for a lot of HazMat that is in LESS than placardable quantities.

And, some ‘universal’ HazMat safety training is supposed to be done for ALL CMV operators, regardless of their shipments.

So, is it required by the regs? Yes. Is it enforced by FMCSA though? Not so much (except for actual HazMat drivers – then it is really enforced).

Then, is it a good idea?

Yes, for everyone, once each 2-3 years. If you are a hazmat hauler, this has to be done each 3 years.


  1. Introduction to Drug & Alcohol Testing training for all CDL drivers.

This is required by the DOT, but hardly anyone does it. Most companies give the driver a copy of the company D & A policy (which usually is incomplete) and make them sign a receipt.


The regulation states you are to provide information to the driver about the 11 topics found at 382.601. If the company D & A policy is complete, and if this is presented to drivers as a training session and then it is documented properly, this can be acceptable.


  1. I like the fire extinguisher training as required by OSHA and NFPA regulations. 

The regulations are as follows 1910.157(g)(1) and 1910.157(g)(2) that require all employees to be trained and have annual refresher training. This training is not that long and has helped out on other areas also.


  1. And then there is Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) – it’s a good starting place. Four topics required in ELDT are: Driver Qualification\Disqualification, Hours of Service, Wellness, and Whistleblower training. Here is a comment I made on ELDT on a national website about 2.5 years ago:


“I think you should present, at a minimum, the 4 ELDT topics PLUS load securement to all new drivers, regardless whether ELDT is required by the DOT.

1 – If you as a manager understand driver qualification and disqualification, you should be the one training the drivers. This can be incorporated in the DQ process, along with any unique administrative requirements.

Be sure to cover the physical qualification to include if you are unable to work one day and you have to see a doctor, you MIGHT not be qualified to work – and you should check with the medical examiner (this is a ‘best management practice).

2 – Hours of Service – most drivers lie on their logs all the time.

I hope if you are participating in this forum you have made a business decision to put a stop to it.

Drivers deserve to hear this from you. And, you need to show them how you want the logs presented. Again, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but I have to say “If you understand HOS documentation” because a lot of people don’t.
There is a new website with some training material on driver fatigue; if you have never seen it, you should invest a little time in looking at it. Go to

I am NOT a fan of “canned training” – I think it conveys the message that you are just paying lip service or that you don’t understand it yourself.
A – you need to understand it if you are the safety manager, and
B – your policies procedures and paperwork need to be customized for your circumstances.

3 – Wellness – who cares if it is REQUIRED – It is a good idea to have a brief, frank discussion with your drivers on this topic. The health insurance industry says “Persons / employees / co-workers who are concerned about their personal physical well-being are less often missing time due to illness and injuries and return to work sooner” or words to that effect.
If you care about your drivers or the long-term success of your business, you need to deliver a brief, meaningful presentation on the topic of driver wellness. The occasional distribution of some literature on the topic has also been shown to have a beneficial impact.

4 – Whistleblower Training. As I understand it, OSHA requires this for any company that has more than 8 or 10 or 16 employees – I don’t remember the exact number because I am not interested in doing just the minimum.
I advocate doing what is right and what is smart, to the extent that I know what this is.
A driver deserves to know you mean it when you say you don’t want dispatchers pushing them inappropriately and that you WILL fix it if it is a safety issue (HOS and Maint. are the 2 whistleblower topics)

5. And the bonus segment – load securement.
Though not technically required as a topic of training, the regulation does say a driver is not qualified to operate a CMV unless he knows how to block, brace and secure cargo. And, since one of the required topics is on Driver Qualification\Disqualification, if you have never done any formal training on the topic, you cannot prove the driver is qualified to drive a CMV. So why wouldn’t you spend a few minutes to go over it with them during the entry-level training?

Again, I hate to step on toes here, but it would be a bad case of ignoring the elephant in the room if I didn’t address this:
 – SOME trucking companies hire a person and give them the title of safety manager with no regard for whether the person has a clue about motor carrier safety. If you are not competent to deliver a presentation on these 5 topics to your drivers, you should seek self-improvement such that you are comfortable with not only the DOT minimum, but the industry standard and best-management practices. There are a lot of people out there who have been given the title “Safety manager” without the proper background.
If you have been given the title without the perfect body of experience or educational background, you are not in the minority. When I was first instructed to “read this stuff and make sure we are doing this paperwork right” I was hopelessly unqualified – it’s like being tossed into the deep end of the swimming pool – you either figure it out or you have a bad experience.

If you don’t feel comfortable putting together a meaningful presentation – one that is customized for your company – on each of these five topics – MAYBE using some sort of ‘canned training’ product is better than nothing.
But, it should be a temporary solution, and you should strive for a better command of the material and you should be planning to develop your own unique treatment of each of these topics.”

This leads me to my final topic, which may be a bit self-serving, but I promise you it did not start that way:


When I first got into this business back in 1988, one of the helpful suggestions I got from a member of the state motor carrier association was to attend a 2-day seminar. There were several vendors of such educational events in the 1980s, and I was able to find one. It was helpful in getting my feet under me, so to speak, in this new area.


After I left the FMCSA in 2007, I started helping small trucking companies establish safety management systems; the first 10 or so people I visited with simply didn’t know anything about DOT safety regulations. So I told every one of them they needed to find and attend a 2-day seminar. They all called and emailed me back saying they were unable to find such a training event. So, I created one. I figured out later there were a couple major national providers of these training events that had simply dropped out of the marketplace, creating a vacuum. Today, I think we offer the best 3-day seminar there is on the topic.


The FMCSA has tried and failed repeatedly since 1982 to make driver training mandatory. (Other than the approximately 2-hour ELDT requirement for new CDL drivers, there is still NO mandatory training for CMV operators). But, in MAP-21 (the current transportation law), there is a requirement for the FMCSA to create a specific proficiency requirement for motor carriers. Not later than April 2014, the agency was supposed to create a regulation making this mandatory. I’m not sure what the current status is, but my point is the whole “go-to-a-seminar if you are new to the business” might be in the DOT Regulation someday.

Right now, it’s just a recommendation for those newly assigned to the job.



In summary:

If you are coming into this job from another area of management, and you are accustomed to a checklist of required training, note there is very little required by the FMCSA, but there are at least three types of training you should be thinking about:


-Topics above (A, B, and C) required by the FMCSA

-Entry-Level Driver Training / initial driver safety training (E)

-Training for management


This is just my 2 cents worth on the topic – but hey, I’m just a simple country boy with a public-school education from southern Missouri.
-Mike England

Fixing the Five Dollar Haircut (Or, Sometimes it’s better to do things right the first time.)

Fixing the Five Dollar Haircut  (Or, Sometimes it’s better to do things right the first time.)

Many of you have surely heard the story of the $5 haircut before, but in case some have not, I’ll try to recap it briefly here.

The story goes like this; there is a barber in a small town – let’s call him Barber Smith – who has had most of the town’s business for several years. The town grows, the highway in and out of town gets smoother, cars go faster, and some people drive the 20 miles to a larger community and a bigger selection of barbers and beauticians. But enough locals patronize Barber Smith. He has just enough business to keep him busy, and charges seven dollars for a trim.

One day, a new barber moved to town, and right across the street from Smith’s shop, the new barber – we’ll call him Barber Davis – rented a shop and put a sign in front offering “$5.00 haircuts” . . .

Predictably, many of Smith’s long-time customers strayed across the street to save $2.00 on a haircut. Not surprisingly, the quality of the cheap haircut turns out to be substandard, and as soon as people’s hair started to grow out they discovered it was uneven and spikey.

What do you do with a bad haircut? Even as it grows it continues to be a bad haircut.

Well, here is one answer; you go back to the last good barber who did a good job. Sure enough, a few of Smith’s customers returned to have things put right, and before long, Smith put up a new sign across from the cut-rate barber and his $5.00 haircut sign. The new sign says “We fix $5.00 haircuts.”

The moral is, sometimes the cheapest option is not the best choice.

Sometimes I feel like the older barber.

If a person or three wants to start a trucking company, they can call me up and I’ll help them do things right the first time. Or, you can start a business without a clue, do things wrong, forget to do things that are important and that can get you in hot water with the DOT, and next thing you know, your frugality starts to cost you money in ways you had not anticipated. Maybe the DOT shuts you down. Maybe there’s a wreck and everyone is convinced they are going to jail, because all those things they said they didn’t know about. . . they knew they needed to do that – they just didn’t know how.

There are big fines from the agency, or your business is threatened when the DOT assigns you a less-than-satisfactory safety rating and some of your customers won’t return your calls any more.

Some people call me in these circumstances – to come in and fix what was not done right the first time. A bit like fixing the five-dollar haircut.


There have been a lot of customers who have come to us here at DOT Compliance Help Inc. after having a bad experience with a so-called DOT Expert who turned out not to know so much.

I’ve been in the business since 1988, but that’s not the whole story.
I have a unique way of explaining and demonstrating things, and my customers know not only what the FMCSA wants them to do, they know what to do FIRST. They know which mistakes might land them in jail. And where to find a checklist of things to do. And how to prioritize their effort. In short, I explain to people how to do the things that are discussed in the FMCSR.

“I got this email about your seminar, but I found this other seminar that cost less. . . Now after going to that seminar I don’t think I understand anything more than I did before.” . . . this is something I have heard numerous times.

This one is even worse. “After I apparently failed my safety audit, the DOT Was talking about shutting me down, and I hired this guy that said he could get everything done for me for $XX.XX. . . he took my money and printed out a bunch of flyers and left them here and now he doesn’t answer his phone. And I’m shut down in 4 days.”

There are a few people that have worked for the DOT for some time, and they know one slice of the organization’s responsibilities. But they have never worked for a trucking company.

Motor carrier management people hear this when they talk “According to 391.27, you have to blah, blah, blah, blabity blah” . . .  it’s one thing to memorize the regulation, and another thing entirely to explain it in actionable terms.


So here’s my advice; let me help you understand the regulations, and how to get it right the first time. If you decide to go it alone, or purchase services from a cheaper source, or just take a guess, I’ll be here to help you later. But my favorite customers are those who contact me before things are done wrong and before the DOT starts to take action and before the lawyers have anything to sink their teeth into.

For instance, THE VERY FIRST THING YOU MIGHT DO is getting your DOT number and MC authority – it’s pretty simple but if you’ve never done it before, a lot of people pay a permit company a lot of money to do it and THEY ALWAYS DO IT WRONG.

If you ask me to get your DOT number for you, I will get it in 30 minutes and it won’t cost you a penny.

If you want me to help with the MC Authority, I’ll do the online filing for you for almost nothing and it will be done right the first time. If this isn’t done right – and the permit companies never do – it’s nearly impossible to fix and it can cause you problems for years.

So call us before the DOT calls you. I enjoy helping you do it right the first time.


Prosthetic Arm Medical Waiver Question

We recently had a fellow on Facebook post this question to us:  Read more of this post