Sometimes, driving with the windows up is a good thing. For when someone cuts me off, or turns unexpectedly without slowing and signaling, or any of a variety of other minor driving offenses, a torrent of unsolicited advice pours from my mouth, often at very high volume, and occasionally accompanied by profanity. My children are still fond of pointing out to me the state of my windows, i.e., closed. “Dad, they can’t hear you.” “Dad, your windows are up.” Or, “Dad, why do you shout when no one can hear you?” Indeed, I may the automotive equivalent of a tree falling in an unoccupied forest. If no one hears me, did I make any noise? Well, at least no one has shot bullets at me in a road rage response.

In October, DGAC held its annual conference. And as annual as the conference is DGAC’s Wilson Award. I’ll probably never get one, but if somehow I ever do, it would be a treasured award. For the Wilson Award only goes to those who have helped make the world a safer place. Significantly safer. For a very long period of time. Usually a career award, this year’s Wilson went to a relatively young man, at least in comparison to most years’ winners. Bob Richard was due to get a Wilson Award someday, anyway, but I’m led to wonder about why this year, why now rather than later? So, I’ve been pondering…

You may or may not know about US politics and PHMSA, but you surely know about the global practice of scapegoating. In a nutshell, in my opinion, some legitimate concerns at PHSMA were used to unfairly scapegoat Bob Richard, resulting in his political exile from the government department he’s best equipped to serve. As right or wrong as I may be, there are many others that share my opinion. And some of those people are involved with DGAC, although I prefer not to reveal whether they are members, or staff, or both. Regardless, there are those of us who believe that Bob’s exile was actually detrimental to efforts to fix the concerns at PHMSA, and harmful to international efforts to harmonize transport safety regulations. Thus, safety was compromised, and international business made more difficult.

So, I’m pondering, rather than just richly deserved for a career as a regulator, was this year’s Wilson Award also a middle finger salute to those responsible for Bob’s professional exile? Was it a subtle statement that the regulated prefer to work with the regulators to ensure the rules are workable, for unworkable rules cause non-compliance, and non-compliance usually leads to lowered levels of safety? Or, was it just that Bob was the best of this year’s nominees? If it is the former, that salute and the subtle statement, who noticed? I suspect the regulated noticed, and I’m sure many at PHMSA noticed. But those responsible for Bob’s exile have probably never heard of the Wilson Award, and probably didn’t notice who received it this year. So, I wonder. Was there a signal? Was the signal delivered from inside a car with the windows rolled up? Of course, if there was a signal, it’s probably best that it not actually be received. For no one at DGAC deserves to have a hail of road-rage-esque, Wilson Award induced, political bullets aimed at them.

Or was that part of the plan, too?

Written 8/12/2010 for HCB Magazine