Trailers and truck bodies free of steroids

May 1, 2010
OUR local football team had its first winning season in its history last year. After trying unsuccessfully for seven consecutive seasons, the Houston

OUR local football team had its first winning season in its history last year. After trying unsuccessfully for seven consecutive seasons, the Houston Texans finished 9-7, thanks in part to the addition of a linebacker who won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2009.

Look out, football. Here we come.

But Houston, we have a problem. The team's new addition failed his drug test — an indication that his outstanding rookie season may have gotten an illegal assist from a banned, performance-enhancing substance. The National Football League has suspended him for the first four games of the upcoming season.

While no one wants to see their team lose a top player, we understand the ruling. Banning performance-enhancing drugs helps level the playing field and in the long run is best for the health and safety of the players.

In industry, as in professional sports, there are a few players who seek a competitive edge and may bend or break a few rules to get an order or make a sale.

It's fairly easy to enhance your performance in this business. Football players can cheat with HGH (human growth hormone). Manufacturers and distributors can fudge with FET and NHTSA. Not collecting federal excise tax and cutting corners on NHTSA requirements are two quick ways to bulk up the bottom line.

The big difference between the football business and the truck and trailer business is the officiating. They have it. We don't.

Unlike the NFL, NHTSA doesn't aggressively screen for noncompliance. Generally speaking, manufacturers and distributors comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards because it's the right thing to do. That's the carrot. Of course, there is also a stick — the possibility of a product liability suit. Try convincing a jury that a product is safe when it does not meet basic motor vehicle safety standards.

Yet until someone is injured, it is possible for the truck equipment distributor or trailer manufacturer to produce vehicles that don't meet safety standards — with little fear of consequences. He can take engineering shortcuts. He can ignore recordkeeping requirements that his competitors spend time and money to produce.

Even with frequent testing, professional sports still must contend with those who cheat. “Seriously, sir, I don't know why my All-Star body contains a substance normally found in pregnant women.” Likewise, a few in our industry fall short of what the law requires.

So what to do?

Rather than campaigning against those who take shortcuts, our industry is making it easier for customers to identify those who don't. For years, the National Truck Equipment Association and the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers have operated programs designed to identify members who comply with applicable rules and regulations. To date, members have voluntarily done what is required to qualify for either the MVP Program conducted by NTEA or the compliance guidelines program of NATM.

According to NATM, 70% of its members have met the requirements of the association's compliance program. Now NATM is raising the ante — proposing to make compliance with its guidelines mandatory for membership. Based on input from members at the recent NATM convention, the association will bring the issue to a vote sometime this year.

The vast majority of NATM members attending the convention seemed to favor the proposal. But even if the majority of members approves it, the association knows that the mandate will lead some companies to drop their membership.

“To us, this isn't a cost issue,” says Pam O'Toole, NATM executive director. “The things we require in our compliance program are required by law. Our program simply verifies that these companies are doing that. We feel the time has come for us to take the next step.”

Of course, not every noncompliant truck or trailer on the road is the result of a deliberate decision to scam the system. Federal excise tax and vehicle certification involve complex rules and regulations. It's quite possible for companies to cut corners and not even know it.

That's really the strength of the NTEA and NATM programs. They are first and foremost educational efforts designed to help individual member companies navigate through a complex maze of issues. With help from their trade association, member companies can upgrade themselves, their industry, and the safety of our streets and highways.

We applaud our industry trade associations for providing a better way to enhance performance.

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About the Author

Bruce Sauer | Editor

Bruce Sauer has been writing about the truck trailer, truck body and truck equipment industries since joining Trailer/Body Builders as an associate editor in 1974. During his career at Trailer/Body Builders, he has served as the magazine's managing editor and executive editor before being named editor of the magazine in 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.