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August 30, 2011

CB Radios and Such

Cobra is part of trucker folklore. Those LT21 CB radios were part of the growing up of the owner-operator through the ’72 Arab oil crisis – the CB connection allowed independent truckers to find scarce fuel through their own communications network, truck to truck.

That was a little before my time, but I’ve enjoyed 20 years of CB aid and assistance since arriving here from Europe in 1980. True, I cringed for much of that time at the absolutely horrifying language, propositioning and general behaving badly that seemed to be part and parcel of CB radios, and the more unseemly part of our industry that used the CB. And likely it still is. But through it all, the uniquely trucker radio seems to have survived.

At the recent Great American Trucking Show, Cobra introduced something new in its CB lineup to address the increasing concerns about distracted driving: a hands-free boom microphone accessory that plugs into the standard four-wire microphone socket.

However, I think of all the stuff in the truck cab, the CB radio is about the least distracting.

I’ve editorialized about cell phones and hands-free operation – that it’s not handling the phone that’s the problem, but rather the distraction of the telephone conversation.

But if ever there was a mindless pursuit that should offer no distraction, it’s the CB conversation. There’s no denying it’s great for those long stretches in the night when staying awake is all important.

I’ve wept tears of laughter at many CB exchanges. One that was told to me was about a four-way conversation where one of the truckers was a Roadway driver. He called for a time check and was told it was 10 minutes til 12. Another driver quickly responded, “Roadway, that’s the big hand on the 10 and the small hand on the 12.”

But I digress.

Much as I appreciate the Cobra CBs and their legendary market position, I have to take them to task for a silly press release about their “hands-free” product that debuted at the GATS. The release says, “The system consists of an ergonomic headset with retractable cord, a state-of-the-art boom microphone featuring noise canceling technology, and a heavy-duty push-to-talk (PTT) button. With the PTT unit affixed to the gear shift lever and the headset and boom microphone placed on the driver’s head or around the neck, professional drivers can safely operate the CB radio without ever moving their hands or taking their eyes off the road.”

The release drones on: “Driving today’s big rigs is a demanding job, and drivers are constantly faced with many tasks and many distractions, and safety is always the paramount concern,” said Toby Bogard, veteran trucker, author and Cobra spokesperson. “CB radios provide a vital communication link for truckers, but operating them adds another distraction, and it forces drivers to take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road. Cobra’s innovative new Remote CB Microphone System is a breakthrough in professional driver safety that eliminates this problem and delivers safe and convenient CB operation at the touch of a button.”

‘Scuse me? The button is strapped to the gear lever. How’s that not taking the hand off the wheel?

I have to say, I often drive with my right hand relaxed over the shift knob and I think Cobra is on the right track here. But to say the hand stays on the wheel is too silly for words.

Not in the press materials was anything about Cobra’s seemingly excellent navigation unit. It has a large, truck-sized 7-inch display, backed up by car and truck unique databases like the equally excellent Rand McNally TND unit. The displays are gorgeous, and the display shifts to show upcoming junctions – just the thing truckers need. The added features of driver hours, state mileages and so on are a bonus that justifies the cost over a car-type navigation unit.

It’s probably driver-distracting. But it will get you where you need to go without confronting low bridges or truck no-go streets. Check it out.

And stumbling around the halls of GATS late week, I came across a Beltronics booth. Or should I say an Escort/Beltronics display?

I’ve already dated myself in this blog, but back when I was editor of American Trucker magazine, we did a radar detector shootout with eight devices shortly after they were outlawed in truck cabs by the feds. Now there’s an early warning of the “nanny states” we are fast becoming. Back then Escort was an independent manufacturer of high-quality radar detectors and it may still be.

Anyway, despite the Federal ban. Beltronics saw many sales of radar detectors through truckstops. And who do you think was buying them? Why, truckers of course!

So the engineers went back to the drawing board and built a radar detector that did not leak the electromagnetic radiation that troopers can pick up on the radar detector detectors. So if you see a Beltronics unit in a truckstop, give it some serious consideration. It’ll detect all there is out there – including laser – though today with instant-on you just have to hope they’ve got someone else just ahead of you.

And I have to post another cautionary note: Back then in the mid ‘80s, we tested the units that purport to cancel out radar. They are still out there and they still do nothing. The electronic circuits inside are only sufficient to light the standby light.

They were a scam then and they’re a scam still.

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