Saturday, 18 October 2014

FINING UNDERPAID DRIVERS

Police and courts should start giving professional drivers a fair go

When a normally law abiding private motorist slips up and gets caught once every 20 years, he will probably be disappointed with himself and the system. He or she will have had a bad day, but then life will go on again.

But the private motorist should spare a thought for the average professional driver who will run up the equivalent of 20 years of car driving in about one year and if no more, nor no less, careful than the average car driver, he’ll get a ticket a year. Right?

Wrong!

The professional also faces exposure to penalties for a raft of other offences that almost never affect car drivers; exceeding a lower speed limit, impeding other traffic, overloading, insecure load, parking and unloading where cars or signage leave insufficient space for large vehicles, logbook discrepancies, to name a few.
The drivers of these coaches deserve better from
the public, police and courts

So why do people drive trucks and buses? Some have been doing it for so long that they would find it difficult changing to another industry. Others like the machinery. Others like the travel, the outdoor life and the freedom from minute-to-minute supervision that one might be subjected to in an office or factory. Many have escaped that life. But then, out on the highway, many find that police and private motorist supervision can be even more soul destroying.

All over the world good bus and truck drivers are in high demand. Drivers are leaving in droves. Low wages, long hours, road rage, police harassment and unsympathetic courts are taking a toll.

Just now on television I’ve watched a news item about a Transit New Zealand truck that tests the highways for skid resistance. The tests must be carried out at speeds between 45 and 80 kph and the truck crews are experiencing abuse from car drivers. Well, that’s not really news at all, not to other professional drivers. They cop abuse and intimidation every day, just doing their job to the best of their ability. Transit New Zealand says that car drivers should understand that their lives could be saved by those trucks.

Car drivers should also understand that every part of their car, everything they eat, everything they wear, everything they use in their business or employment, and everything they enjoy during their leisure time, was delivered by a truck and the low cost of drivers’ wages subsidised the retail price of everything they buy. Car drivers should also understand, when they see a bus or truck ahead of them on the road, that if there were no buses or trucks the roads and streets would be gridlocked by cars 24/7 in most towns and cities.
This is what my first bus looked like in 1964.
It was a 1946 Ford

My truck driving experience amounts to about five years in total since 1961 and I’ve never had an infringement notice or prosecution for anything in connection with a truck. But my experience as a bus driver over 50 years indicates an increasing bias against professional drivers by police. Let’s look at my record since first driving a bus in 1964:

1967: Early morning in Auckland, about 5:00 a.m. and crossing the newly opened Newmarket Viaduct with an empty bus. I was going to downtown Auckland to start a workers trip to South Auckland. The traffic was just two above zero on the viaduct; myself and a motorcycle traffic officer. In those days the speed limit for cars was 50 mph, 45 for buses and 40 for trucks. I was driving at 45 mph and was stopped because I was speeding, according to the officer. He got it wrong. He somehow believed that when a bus was empty, it was legally a truck and should therefore be restricted to 40 mph. I asked him to check with someone else. He said he didn’t need to because he knew the law, I didn’t. He said he would show me in the Road Code and searched in his saddlebags for a copy. He couldn’t find one. He said he would bring a copy of the Road Code to my depot later in the day. He was friendly enough and courteous, but almost 50 years later I’m still waiting for him.
That's me on a South Island tour in 2014

1987: The Auckland City Council had just installed red light cameras at several key intersections where red light running was becoming an epidemic. Surprise, surprise! I got a phone call at work from an ACC traffic officer. They wanted me to go for an interview the next day (never mind work schedules) about allegedly running a red light with a tour coach.
They had three lovely colour photographs of my coach proceeding against a red light. The first photo, they explained, was taken 1.1 seconds after the light turned red and the next two photos were taken at one second intervals. The position of the front of the coach in the first photo was several metres ahead of the double lines that mark the beginning of the intersection. In the second photo the coach was half-way across and in the final photo the coach was leaving the intersection.
“What do you have to say about that,” they asked.
“I’d say the photos prove my case, not your case,” I replied.
“But you were in the intersection while the light was red.”
“But I didn’t enter the intersection while it was red, therefore I must be innocent.”
“But that doesn’t matter. You proceeded against a red light.”
I produced a copy of The Traffic Regulations 1955 with two clauses already highlighted.
“I see what you mean,” said one officer.
“Book the bastard,” shouted another officer. “We won’t let him come in here telling us how to do our job. Book the bastard!”

The interview was recorded on my micro-cassette recorder inside my jacket pocket and I duly appeared in court before two justices. The photos were produced and so was the recorder along with a transcript of the recording. The Council objected to the recorder but the justices allowed the transcript. The recording and transcript did nothing in terms of evidence about the lights, other than to prove that the officers had been motivated by malice.

The justices retired and took about 40 minutes to reach a compromise. They found me not guilty, but ordered me to pay $65 court costs, which was a nonsense. But I was happy to have escaped a conviction and paid the $65.

Years later I discovered that I had a conviction for proceeding against a red light. Someone had altered the court records so that the computer would accept the court costs. With the help of a senior police officer and some diligent court staff the conviction was eventually removed. But, like the cop who is going to show me the Road Code, I’m still waiting for my $65, plus interest.

Shortly after this case the Auckland City Council stopped using the cameras, which was a shame because a real problem did exist at traffic lights, and still does. All they should have done was rethink their interpretation of the law and the way the cameras were operating. Thousands of innocent people will have paid fines, and that is why it is so important that people who think they should not have been ticketed should take a stand.

1990: Exceeding the speed limit in a 50 kph zone with a bus. I’d slipped up and I paid up without question.

2004: Exceeding the speed limit of 90 kph with a bus. Yes, I did it again. Again I paid up without question.

2006: I was charged with failing to keep my driver’s logbook up to date. It was a technicality, but I had to take a day off work to talk to a lawyer and another day off to present the case in court myself. The outcome was a discharge without conviction. It could have been several months’ suspension of licence, loss of wages and a $2,000 fine. 

2014: Charged with impeding the traffic flow with a bus travelling at 90 kph on a motorway with both lanes moving at the same speed as the bus. This is how they made me celebrate 50 years of holding a bus licence. For details of this case scroll down to the Blog post headed A DAY IN COURT.

The above list does not include parking infringements. Perhaps someday I will write another post for this blog about parking infringements for buses.

It's dangerous out their on the highways.

Better stay home with a good book!




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Friday, 17 October 2014

I WAS A PAID TOURIST

They paid me to go sightseeing all over Uncle Sam country
The following is a free read from the e-book HIGHWAY AMERICA by Peter Blakeborough

I took my usual evening walk in the countryside and then went to the truckstop restaurant where, at the counter, I wedged my skinny frame between two typical wide-bodied drivers who could have been mistaken for billboards for obesity.
Old Bluey was my trusty stead for many thousands of miles
On Saturday morning I dropped the Cedar Rapids trailer, hooked up another and set out for Bellmawr, near Philadelphia. It was a leisurely drive across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and the beautiful Daniel Boone countryside of eastern Kentucky with Old Bluey performing faultlessly all the way.
Tuning to a new radio station as I entered West Virginia at Huntington they were playing Take Me Home Country Road and not for the first time I felt a little homesick, not for West Virginia which is extraordinarily beautiful and featured in the song, but for New Zealand.
The next morning, after an overnight rest at a truckstop at Hancock, Maryland, the route took me close to Harper’s Ferry, an ancient village at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
Harper’s Ferry is famous as the place where in 1859 revolutionary John Brown captured the local US arsenal and held out against the Union forces for several days. But Brown’s days were numbered and six weeks later he was hanged at nearby Charles Town giving rise to the Union song; John Brown’s Body Lies a Moulding in the Grave.


On the road early again as I neared journey’s end I decided to make a breakfast stop near Frederick, Maryland. According to my maps and guides there was a truckstop at Exit 54 on the north side of the freeway. I found the off-ramp and crossed to the north side but failed to locate the truckstop. Continuing north along Market Street, thinking that it may have been a little way away from the freeway, I quickly found myself deep in the bowels of a city first settled back in 1745 and little changed since, except for the erection of one-way street signs and signs banning trucks. Mystified as to why they put those signs in the middle of town instead of at the entrance to the town, I spent a precious hour trying to extricate Old Bluey from the maze of cobblestone lanes and alleys. It was still quite early in the morning and the traffic was light but I did get some odd looks from some locals as I took several bites to get the rig around some of the corners without demolishing any verandas, anti-truck signs or trees.
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Fortunately I had developed a habit of starting the final run to a customer early enough in the morning to have time to get lost and found once or twice and still arrive at least an hour ahead of schedule. But I had not counted on getting lost long before I got anywhere near the customer. Back on the freeway I reached for my notes and re-read the directions for the receiver Nordal at Heller Road, Bellmawr, in the sprawling suburbs of Philadelphia: From I-295N take Rte 168S to Bellmawr. At the Wendy’s turn R on Benigno. Cross RR and turn R on Heller. Plant is last on R.
It seemed that after approaching from the south I was expected to keep turning right until heading north again. I approached with caution, unsure as to whether I had faulty directions or just a faulty interpretation. For once there was no need to worry and a few minutes after leaving the I-295 I was backing into the Nordal dock still an hour ahead of schedule.



Thursday, 16 October 2014

A DAY IN COURT

A court makes a ruling on heavy vehicles impeding the traffic flow

Many car drivers will think that police and courts give them a hard time – until they start driving heavy vehicles for a living. The truth will then hit them in the pocketbook.

They will soon learn that even the most careful and conscientious commercial drivers will have to allow for infringement notices and fines as a normal part of life on the road, and there will be precious little that they can do about it. It is like an extra tax on what is usually a less than an average wage, for considerably more than average hours of work.
The court was told that this was a two lane road but then the officer
claimed he could see the bus 400 metres away over the hill.

The low wages and long hours are a fact of life in a highly competitive industry, rather than the fault of an individual employer, most of whom wish they could pay more. Drivers generally accept those realities, but the extra tax they find harder to stomach.

Commercial drivers often work under extreme pressure from the authorities and impatient, incompetent and careless car drivers. They often feel that they work in a war zone and I have known many good drivers who suddenly snapped and turned their backs on the industry because they had reached the end of the highway of psychological abuse. I have known drivers who suddenly quit hundreds, even thousands, of kilometres from home because they were at their wits end. They just throw their hands up and walk away, as shell-shocked as an Anzac veteran. No one should ever be pushed to that point.
From the end of the merging lane it is 2 k to Takanini.
The green truck ahead was the subject of questions about
what the officer may or may not have seen in front of the bus

Critics of these comments will say that if a truck, bus or taxi driver gets a ticket, he will probably deserve it and he pay up and shut up. But that attitude is part of the problem. Anyone, driver or otherwise, who feels that an infringement or other charge is unjustified should contest it. They have a responsibility and a duty to contest it. I don’t mean that they should just refuse to pay a fine, deliberately break a law or stage a street protest. They should work within the system by pleading not guilty and fighting it all the way.

Critics will also say that a person who has done nothing wrong will have nothing to fear. Again, those critics are part of the problem. The police and courts need reminding periodically that they are not infallible. They need to be reminded that people are watching. They need reminding that victims of injustice can, and should, hit back. But these critics will go on believing that the police and the courts are perfect, until they fall victim themselves. Then listen to them whinging.

With the above in mind, I appeared on October 15, 2014 in the Papakura District Court, Auckland, New Zealand to defend a charge of impeding the traffic flow with a bus while travelling on the Southern Motorway near Takanini.
This is where the bus was ordered to stop at Takanini

The police evidence was that the officer first sighted the bus near the Hill Road, Manurewa exit in the fast lane where the motorway is two lanes in each direction. Three cars were behind the bus and more cars were behind the patrol car. The bus had plenty of opportunities to move into the slow lane but failed to do so. Some cars were getting impatient and overtaking the bus in the slow lane. The officer followed the bus for 4 kilometres before activating the lights and siren near the Takanini exit.

It took another kilometre to get the bus driver’s attention and another kilometre for him to stop. The officer further stated that after the bus had finally stopped the driver quickly went back to the patrol car and angrily demanded to know why he had been stopped. The officer attempted to explain that the bus had been impeding the traffic, but the driver became argumentative, abusive and accused the officer of talking rubbish and not knowing the law. He considered prohibiting the driver from driving any further, but decided not to because the bus had passengers. He then issued a traffic infringement notice with a $150 fine.
That was the police version of events.

I started my cross-examination of the officer by asking him if there was anything that he wished to change in his notes made at the roadside on 19 May, his formal statement made on 8 July, and his evidence in court on 15 October. He stated that there were no mistakes and that he stood by all statements.

I then asked him about his statements (formal and evidential) that he first saw the bus in the fast lane as he passed the Hill Road, Manurewa exit and his claim that the motorway at that point was two lanes in each direction. He said those statements were correct. I then showed him a photograph of the Hill Road exit looking south and asked him how many lanes he could see. He answered three but said that he had been able to look ahead to where the lanes merged to two. He was asked how he could see the lanes 400 metres away on the other side of the hill. He said that he had been able to see.
At the other end of this bridge was the first safe place to stop

He was asked if he had really been able to focus his eyes solely on one vehicle for four kilometres to the exclusion of all other traffic and his own driving. He replied that he had been trained to multi-task.

He was asked if he understood the meaning of 451 on the Hill Road exit sign. He said he did not. He was asked if it was possible that 451 meant 451 kilometres from the start of the highway. He replied that it was possible. He was then shown photographs with signs indicating the distance to where the third lane would stop and the distance from there to the Takanini exit (400 metres plus 2 kilometres) and asked how it could be four kilometres from Hill Road to Takanini. He answered by saying that he had measured it.

At that point one of the two judges interrupted my cross-examination to say that I was bordering on giving evidence and that the time for that would come later.

I asked the officer why, in all his statements and evidence, he had made no reference to cars in front of the bus in the same lane. He stated that he could see in front of the bus and there were no cars in front of the bus. I then asked him to look at one of the photos taken near Hill Road and to observe a truck several cars ahead of the camera and to tell the court how many cars he could see in front of the truck. He said he could not see any in the photograph but had seen them in front of the bus at the same location.
The three Bus With Us coaches. Ex Mount Cook 540 (centre) 517
 (partly obscured) and 529 nearest the camera

I then showed him a photograph taken just after the Takanini exit at the point where he had activated the lights and siren, and asked him how the driver of a heavy vehicle with limited vision on the curb side could safely pull over by crossing unbroken lines and a high-speed on ramp. He replied that a vehicle ordered to stop must do so immediately and there can be no other considerations. If it is found later that the stopping place is unsafe, then the vehicles can be later moved to a safe place.

I asked him if he recalled that after the on ramp the shoulder had been closed by pink cones for approximately one kilometre and the bus would have been obliged to stop in the traffic lane. Before he could answer one of the judges interrupted again to say that they were not interested in anything that happened after the lights and siren had been activated. That evidence was irrelevant. I agreed that it was irrelevant, but the officer had been allowed to present it as evidence and that I simply wanted an opportunity to examine it. The judge then stated that allowing the officer to say what he did, didn’t necessarily mean that they would give it much weight.
With Leisure Times Tours near Kaikoura

I felt quite strongly that the officer’s comments about my behaviour after being stopped would have been defamatory if used outside the courtroom, but my attempt to question him on that matter was well and truly stymied.  

Then it was my turn to give evidence. Until then I had been undecided about giving evidence. I had a good witness waiting outside and I know that in any court case the defendant is the one witness who will carry the least weight when it comes to influencing the outcome. A court is inclined to regard a defendant’s evidence as predictably in his own favour. But because the cross-examination of the officer had been cut short, I felt that I needed one more shot to draw attention to his real motive in charging me with impeding the traffic. I’ll come to that soon.

Meanwhile, I believe that I gave my version of events between Hill Road and Takanini clearly, concisely and calmly. But as soon as I mentioned the on ramp south of Takanini I was stopped again by the judge. I was determined that the truth had to come out and the truth lay at the roadside where the bus had stopped with the patrol car behind. I sensed that the court did not want to hear that the officer had been motivated by anger and revenge. At that point I was obliged to abandon my evidence and rely on my witness.

One of the leaders of the Thames Te Korowhai Kaumatua Social Group, who travelled on the bus, then took the stand and stated and stated that she was sitting near the front of the bus with a clear view of the road ahead and to the sides. She stated that several passengers commented on how well the driver was driving and how courteous and considerate he was to other traffic, including sometimes moving over a lane at road works or to allow other traffic to merge.
Continued below . . . .

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She also stated that the bus shifted to the fast lane to overtake some slow vehicles and for a time was unable to return to the slow lane due to traffic alongside the bus. She said there was traffic ahead of the bus in the same lane and moving at the same speed as the bus. She also said that when she heard the siren she had no idea that the bus was required to stop because she was not aware that the driver had done anything wrong. She thought some cars may have overtaken the bus in the slow lane while the bus was unable to move over, or when one lane travelled a little faster than the other for a brief time. She stated that because of the traffic ahead, it was not the bus that was impeding the traffic.

She also stated that the bus had been ordered to stop in an unsafe place because of the on ramp and further on the shoulder was closed by pink cones. At that point the witness was interrupted to be told that anything that happened after the siren and lights were activated was irrelevant.

When questioned, she stated that after the motorway reduced to two lanes both lanes were needed for the volume of traffic and both lanes were in use. When asked about the distance between the bus and the car in front, in the fast lane, she replied that the distance was no more than a safe following distance.

When asked by the prosecutor how long she had been a friend of the driver she replied that she had met the driver for the first time that day.

In my summing up I drew attention to Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004, Rule 2.1 (2) which states, “If a driver’s speed, when driving, is such as to impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic, that driver must, as soon as is reasonably practicable, move the vehicle as far as practicable to the left side of the roadway when this is necessary to allow following vehicles to pass.”

That rule is fine as far as it goes, but it dates back to the early 20th Century to a time before we had multi-lane roads. It now needs to be read in conjunction with several following clauses which cover multi-lane roads and outline the exceptions to Rule 2.1 (2) above.
At that point I was interrupted by the judges and told that they know the law and that 2.1 (2) was the only clause that mattered.

By not being allowed to point out these exceptions to the court I effectively lost the case at that point, I include the extra clauses here for the benefit of readers:

Clause 2.1 (3) “A driver may drive in the right lane in the direction of travel when driving on a multi-lane road if – (b) the driver is passing; or (c) the left lane is unavailable to the driver.”
Clause 2.3 (2) states, “A driver, when driving on a road marked in lanes – (b) Must not move from a lane until he or she has first ascertained that the manoeuvre may be made safely.”

Finally, there is Clause 2.3 (3); “A driver must not, when passing another vehicle moving in the same direction, move into the line of passage of that vehicle until the manoeuvre can be made safely and without impeding the movement of that other vehicle.”

At this point I must point out to non-Commonwealth readers of this blog, that we drive on the left side of the road and we normally shift right to overtake. But overtaking can also take place on the left too in marked lanes. Further, all lanes have the same speed limit, even though some classes of vehicles have a lower speed limit. There is no law in New Zealand restricting a particular class of vehicle to certain lanes. But having said that, many car drivers believe there should be such a law, and some mistakenly believe that such a law actually does exist.

I have no issue with the above laws. They are sound and work well. I do have some issue with their enforcement, and in particular the use of these laws in conjunction with hidden agendas.

Now I can tell on this blog what I was forbidden from telling in the court.
The bus was a Mount Cook Denning 45 seat tour coach (Mount Cook #529) built in Christchurch in 1981. I drove the same vehicle in the 1980s and have driven it again numerous times over the last two or three years. It has a large luggage bay beneath a raised floor and the engine in the rear, more than 10 metres away from the driver. This vehicle, in spite of its age, is in excellent condition, but like all rear-engine buses there can hidden hazards. In any compartment that contains heat, fuel, oil and electrical wiring there is always a risk of fire, and that risk is higher when the engine it is far away from the driver. 

Fire in a vehicle can spread very fast. Evacuations must be carried out quickly and efficiently. #529 has one door which needs more than a metre of clear space at the side to open. It can’t be partly opened. #529 also has an emergency exit, being one window, almost two metres above ground level on the traffic. In addition, there are two push-up escape hatches in the roof 3.8 metres above ground level.

While looking for a place to pull over, a problem with the bus was one of several scenarios that went through my mind. I was sure that I had not broken the law. A problem in the engine bay was a real possibility and I had to weigh that possibility against the danger of stopping in a traffic lane with traffic averaging 90 kph, the speed limit for the bus. In my opinion any police officer who demands that a vehicle stop immediately regardless of danger to life or property, is a negligent police officer, who in the event of a fatal accident should face court charged with manslaughter.

It was the possibility of a serious problem with the vehicle in my mind that I immediately went back to the patrol to speak with the driver. His angry, bullying response was inexcusable and insolent. I only wanted to know if it was safe for my 40 elderly passengers to remain on the bus. At that moment our friendship ended before it had a chance to get started. He blew it.

He then compounded the situation by shouting, “You need to learn the law! Heavy vehicles are banned from the fast lane. You cannot use it under any circumstances!”

This was patently incorrect and no amount of reasoned talk could convince him otherwise. He seemed unable, or unwilling, to cope with a driver with a different, and correct, interpretation of the law. This officer seemed to feel that he had to get even by issuing an infringement notice – any infringement notice. In the end the charge that started as one of using a prohibited lane changed to one of impeding the traffic flow.

The court did not hear all the facts. The court appeared not to want to hear all the facts. What was ruled irrelevant was not only very relevant, it was crucial.

The verdict: Case proven.
The penalty: (After more submissions) Fine reduced by $50 and court costs reduced by $100.

I now drive with a dash cam operating whenever I’m in a large vehicle. It is the best protection against police bullying and court indifference. 

This video highlights the very real dangers that are ignored by police when they order vehicles to pull over regardless of safety.






Sunday, 5 October 2014

MICRO SLEEP DANGERS

Death in a split-second awaits tired drivers

It happens somewhere every day, or night.  A car or truck runs off the road and crashes on a seemingly easy stretch of highway. It could be 3:00 in the afternoon, or 3:00 in the morning, and the outcome could be a seriously shaken driver, or multiple deaths and injuries. Why do these accidents happen?


The answer could be simple driver distraction or inattention in some cases, but researchers are uncovering another cause that can strike with the speed and certainty of a death adder. It’s the micro-sleep.

The micro-sleep is a 5-10 second period when part of the brain involuntarily shuts down and receives no incoming information, even though the eyes may still be open and the subject may still appear to others to be functioning normally.

But it is not just the 5-10 seconds that counts. A driver waking up after 10 seconds still needs time to process the new situation and then additional time to react. A vehicle traveling at 100 kph (62 mph) will travel 27.78 metres every second or 416.7 metres (0.258 miles) in 15 seconds. But even then the driver may not be out of the woods and may take another 300 metres to bring the vehicle to a stop.

Micro-sleeping is a problem that may be killing many thousands of people world-wide every year.

There is still much to be learned about micro-sleeps, but researchers are convinced that sleep deprivation, a changing body clock (or biorhythms), and monotonous driving conditions are major contributors to micro-sleeps, especially when two or more factors combine.

In a recent study 45% of men and 22% of women admitted to micro-sleeping, but that is misleading because most people can micro-sleep without realizing it has happened. The micro-sleep is a very stealthy death adder. Everyone who drives any distance, in any kind of vehicle, should address each of the micro-sleep factors listed below. Lives may depend on it.

Firstly, how much sleep is enough? Research indicates that the eight-hour sleep is a myth. Most people don’t need quite that amount. The eight-hour sleep is a left-over from another era when it was customary to go to sleep, wake up and move about for a time, and retire again for a second round of sleep, waking again about eight hours after first retiring.

Trials have been conducted monitoring one group of people sleeping 6.5 hours a night while another group slept 7.5 hours. After several days the groups were swapped around. It was found that sleeping only 6.5 hours raises the likelihood of daytime drowsiness and poor work performance along with an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and cancer. The same risks were not detected when the groups were allowed to sleep for 7.5 hours. So Rule 1 for avoiding micro-sleeps, and other health issues, is to always start with a minimum of 7.5 hours sleep.

Secondly, it is important to let your body clock, or biorhythms, run your life. A work roster that has you starting your work day at midnight one day and 3:00 in the afternoon the next day is a recipe for poor health and a danger to yourself and others when operating machinery or making critical decisions. Extended off duty time should be allowed between shift changes so that the body clock can adjust for the new work time. For a 12 hour change of shift the body clock can take up to five days to fully adjust.

Transport operators should make sure that their drivers have starting and finishing times that change by no more than 1-2 hours daily and roster changes should be monthly rather than weekly. It has been shown that mid-afternoon and 3:00 to 6:00 in the morning are the times when transport drivers are most likely to ‘nod off’ due to shift changes, loss of sleep, or tedious roads.


Many truck drivers prefer to drive at night when there is less traffic, and this is especially so in places where cars and trucks have conflicting speed limits, but truck accident rates soar when the sun goes down. It would be safer if the transport customers worked at night enabling drivers to work in daylight. But that would be expecting too much.

I once set out from Little Rock, Arkansas to deliver a load 724 miles to Columbus, Ohio, which was a pretty full day but not impossible and legally allowable. My problem was that I had driven through the night and spent much of the following day getting problems sorted with a new truck. At the time I knew nothing about micro-sleeps. It was late at night when I left Little Rock, took a power-nap in Kentucky, and expected to arrive in Columbus at 4:30 pm on Friday. The receiver changed my appointment time to Monday morning instead of keeping someone back for a few minutes. For more on this and other adventures see: HIGHWAY AMERICA   

The third major factor in micro-sleep accidents is the highway and the vehicle. If the vehicle is hard work to drive it will be tiring, but cruise control, automatic transmissions and air-conditioning can make driving less tiring. However, nothing will put a driver into a micro-sleep quicker than a long, straight, boring highway.


Laws on driving hours and rest periods in many countries are arbitrary and often don’t really address the real issues. A common rule is that a commercial driver can drive for 5.5 hours after which he must take a 30 minute break, when in fact it would be more beneficial for a driver to take two or three minutes every hour and only take a longer break when he needs to eat. But usually the law does not recognize rest periods of less than 30 minutes, while failing to give the same recognition to driving periods of less than 30 minutes. These laws should stipulate a maximum number of driving hours in 24 hour and monthly periods, and let the driver decide how to divide that time between driving and resting. But I guess that would be too simple for a bureaucrat to understand.

The so-called power-naps that some authorities recommend, while being better than running off the road, are of little benefit in the longer term. They are unhealthy because they do not allow time for the four essential stages of sleep that we all regularly need. Nothing can beat 7.5 hours of proper sleep in a proper bed. And the power-nap will only delay slightly an inevitable micro-sleep.

Technology could be developed to detect dreamy drivers, keep them awake, or to disable their vehicles when all else fails.

Meanwhile, governments do little to sponsor research into sleep-related driving accidents, or to initiate measures that could effectively beat this deadly highway problem. It is easier for governments to let families bury the dead while courts punish surviving drivers.




Saturday, 4 October 2014

AROUND THE WORLD PILOT

Geraldine Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world

Geraldine (Jerry) Mock (1925-2014) set out from Columbus, Ohio on March 19, 1964 in a single engine Cessna 180 Spirit of Columbus to fulfill her life ambition to circumnavigate the world as a solo pilot. Jerry Mock wasn’t the first woman to try the ultimate adventure of the time, but she was the first to succeed.
Jerry Mock at the White House receiving
an award from President Lyndon Johnson

At the age of seven she took her first flight with her father in a Ford Tri-Motor and decided that she wanted to be a pilot. Girl things she found boring. She was later inspired by the radio broadcasts about the achievements of Amelia Earhart. Earhart became famous, not for having achieved her dream, but for having failed after missing a landfall and running out of fuel over the Pacific Ocean, only a few days from home. She and her navigator were never found.

About the same time as Earhart, New Zealander Jean Batten succeeded in flying solo from England to New Zealand, just half-way around the world. But unlike Earhart and Batten, Mock never sought fame from her adventure, and when it was all over, 29 days later, she faded into obscurity.

That was fifty years ago, and on September 30 this year, Jerry Mock passed quietly away, aged 88, in her Quincy apartment in the Florida panhandle while another generation of international pilots, male and female, went about their business overhead, without ever having heard of Jerry Mock.

With her record-breaking flight, Jerry Mock advanced the cause of aviation, but she did much more than that. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, she took a giant leap for women and it came at a time when other women were finding girl things boring and wanted to be liberated, to be equal with their men.
Mock's Cessna 180 Spirit of Columbus or Three-Eight Charley

Jerry Mock’s flight was no easy stroll in the park. She had planned it to be a leisurely run with time to relax, take in the sights and meet people. But two days before she was due to depart Joan Merriam Smith set out with the same goal and for Mock the leisurely adventure became a race.

Smith flew a modified Piper Aztec twin-engine aircraft and followed the longer route of Amelia Earhart and took 56 days from Oakland, California back to Oakland, California. Smith, who was a professional instructor and charter pilot, died in a flying accident in California the following year.

Mock went all out to be the first woman to fly solo around the world with a single engine and most days she flew for 12 hours, regardless of weather, and slept for only 5 hours when she found time.

Jerry Mock was born in Newark, Ohio (just outside Columbus) and trained as an aeronautical engineer. In 1945 she married Russell Mock and they had three children. After her record flight she worked as a producer and director in radio and television and wrote a book Three-Eight Charley, the story of her flight.

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Friday, 26 September 2014

THE SCAPEGOAT

Wheeling and dealing down on the farm
A sample read from The Scapegoat  by Peter Blakeborough

Cambridge, New Zealand, 1905
Back at the farm Cedric Asker called on Ambrose McHugh again.
‘Willis says it’s still a marginal deal for me to buy your farm, but I’ll get a final answer early next week.’
‘A few more days won’t make any difference, Cedric.’
‘There is something else you should know, Mr. McHugh.’
‘What’s that?’
‘There may be an opportunity to buy something else that won’t be such a large commitment for us.’
‘I appreciate you telling me that. But it makes no difference to me, Cedric. You should consider all options and take professional advice.’

‘Thank you, sir. It’s a carrying business that’s about to go into liquidation because the owner is in poor health.’
‘If its Albert Hooper’s carrying business, you’ll get it dirt cheap, and as for poor health, it’s really just a case of too much grog. It could be a good buy.’
On the Tuesday morning Cedric and Granny Ruby Asker sat in the bank manager’s office again.
‘I’m sorry to have to tell you that the bank will not be in a position to advance any money for the purchase of Mr. McHugh’s property. It’s outside the bank’s criteria,’ Willis hesitated for a moment. ‘Unfortunately, the bank has not been able to grant any more time for Albert Hooper to meet his obligations. We have already taken possession of his business and assets in the name of the bank. A creditors meeting was held yesterday. The Hooper’s have already moved out and the bank is now able to negotiate a sale, if you’re still interested.’
‘Yes. I’m still interested.’
‘Is there anyone else that you would like to assist you while we do an inspection and draw up a sale and purchase contract?’
‘Yes. Mr. Buckland and Mr. Freeman. We have already met Mr. Buckland and we’re told he’s a very good lawyer. Mr. McHugh recommended Mr. Freeman as a good accountant.’
‘You understand, of course, Cambridge is a small town and, often as not, the parties end up sharing the same professional advisers. Buckland and Freeman have been representing Mr. Hooper, but I shouldn’t let that bother you. I know that both are absolutely trustworthy gentlemen. That's the way we often do business here.’
‘Yes. I understand.’
Later that morning they all met at Hooper’s former property on Laurent Road. Willis showed them through the three-bedroom weatherboard house, which still had the Hooper’s furniture. Outside he pointed out the boundaries, horses and the wagon that had been used in the carrying business. Then he explained how the liquidation would proceed.
‘Now, gentlemen, and ah, Mrs. Asker, as liquidator, I have certain powers and responsibilities. First, the bank is the only secured creditor and gets paid in full before the unsecured creditors receive anything. In the event that all creditors can be satisfied then the former owner will be entitled to whatever remains. However, in this case, it is unlikely that there will be anything left for the previous owner, not even the furniture.’
Cedric caught the look of horror on Ruby’s face. He knew instantly what she was thinking. These professional wolves would not only put a man into bankruptcy, without batting an eyelid, but they would just as readily strip him of his dignity and last stick of worn-out furniture. If Cedric and Ruby wanted the Hoopers to get their furniture back the creditors and the liquidator would expect them to pay more to take over the business. Was there another way that the Hoopers could retrieve something?
The bank manager continued with his discourse.
‘The amount outstanding to the bank is one hundred and forty-seven pounds. The unsecured creditors are owed forty-two pounds, making a total of one hundred and eighty-nine pounds. The assets have been valued as follows. Ten acres of level pastureland at five pounds per acre is fifty pounds. A three bedroom, ten-year-old house is seventy-five pounds. Then there is one carrier’s wagon, seven years old, at twelve pounds; six horses at five pounds each is thirty pounds, and finally, the items of furniture, as listed, ten pounds. That totals one hundred and seventy-seven pounds, which leaves a deficit of twelve pounds to be shared by the unsecured creditors.’
Willis gave a little cough to clear his throat.
‘Unfortunately, if these assets are sold at their current market value there will be nothing left for the Hoopers. I have not included a goodwill figure because, since the business is no longer operating, that is entirely at the discretion of the purchaser. However, in all honesty, I must point out to Mr. Asker that Hooper’s former competitors will be lining up down at the branch line to deliver to his former clients.’
Buckland and Freeman quietly nodded their agreement.

‘Well, it’s over to you, Mr. Asker. If you are prepared to pay a hundred and seventy-seven pounds it can be all yours with immediate possession. With your own contribution from your savings, plus the contribution from Mrs. Asker senior, the bank will approve a mortgage to cover the balance.’
Cedric scratched his ear thoughtfully as he studied the figures again.
‘The ten acres of land seems to be priced a bit high for land that’s not doing anything other than grazing a few horses. It’s not producing any crops, fruit, or vegetables, other than for the house. The fences are run-down. It’s not worth five pounds an acre. The house hasn’t been decorated, or painted, since new. It needs substantial expenditure. The wagon is on its last legs and will need replacing quite soon. My offer, Mr. Willis, is a hundred and fifty pounds.’
Willis was taken aback and it showed immediately in his face.
‘Mr. Asker, I admire your pluck. But your offer cannot be taken seriously. Have you considered the position of the unsecured creditors, and that of the Hoopers?’
‘Yes, sir. I have. I believe the unsecured creditors have contributed to Hooper’s downfall in no small way. Take the general store. The Hoopers have purchased more than essentials on credit. There are many items they could have done without. And this one here, the publican, he sold them liquor on credit, month after month. What kind of man would do that?’
‘I agree with your moral sentiments, Mr. Asker. You’re exactly right. But, as liquidator, I’m obliged to consider only the legal situation. The claims of the unsecured creditors are legitimate.’
‘Yes. They are legitimate claims,’ Buckland confirmed.
‘What about the valuation, Bruce?’ Willis turned to the accountant.
‘I think Mr. Asker is very close to the mark, Alf.’
The bank manager looked quickly around the faces that were waiting for him to break the impasse.
‘Alright. Can we settle at one sixty-five?’
Cedric shook his head slowly and Ruby spoke for the first time.
‘One fifty-seven pounds, Mr. Willis. Take it or leave it.’
Willis thoughtfully scratched his balding head.
‘I’m sorry. I can’t sell for less than one sixty-five,’ he said firmly.
With equal firmness, and a poker face, Cedric created a lie.
‘Well, you can’t sell for more than one fifty-seven. You see Granny Ruby… I mean Mrs. Asker, has already told me that she would withdraw her support if the price was more than one fifty-seven and I respect her wisdom and considerable business experience.’
Willis stared at the papers in front of him for a moment in silence.
‘Well, we do have to sell,’ he said at last. ‘Alright, we’ll settle at one fifty-seven pounds. Congratulations, Mr. Asker, and Mrs. Asker. You’ve done very well indeed and I wish you every success. Now let’s all go back to the bank where we can get everything signed up.’
As their carriage moved along Laurent Road Cedric casually turned the conversation to the former owners.
‘Incidentally, where are the Hooper’s staying now?’
‘I believe they are with relatives in Victoria Street,’ Willis volunteered.
‘That’s right,’ Buckland confirmed. ‘From memory, I think it’s about number five.’
After the formalities had been completed Cedric and Ruby walked back to their new property.
‘Was there a reason, son, why you wanted ten quid off the price?’
‘No. We got twenty quid off the price, didn’t we?’
‘But wasn’t it ten quid that you really wanted?’
‘Was it?’ he said with a grin.
When they reached the property he immediately harnessed the horses to the wagon and drove them to the front door of the house. He loaded the Hooper’s furniture onto the wagon and set out for Victoria Street. From the gate he called to Ruby.
‘Even a liquor shicker should be able to sleep it off in comfort.’
Ruby smiled as she waved to him. He was such a good young man, and so different to the beast that fathered him.



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