Truck drivers disagree on lots of things; like whether bathing is necessary or not. But they also agree on many things. For example, no driver will argue when I say that the driving directions our companies provide stink worse than fresh tequila vomit.
The average trucker will drive 120,000 miles per year, so you’d think we’d have this whole navigation thing down, wouldn’t you? Yet we don’t. Well, some of us don’t. So what seems to be the problem? Well, let’s see…
First, I should explain that most drivers receive directions to the customer when we receive our load information. Who’s responsible for supplying that information? Well, the majority of companies that I’ve worked for haven’t had a standard. Maybe that’s part of the problem.
Some companies ask the customers for directions when they book the freight. Other times, they tell the driver to call the customer to get directions. Still, other times, I’ve had dispatchers tell me, “Hold on while I Google it.” Oh boy, this is gonna to be a hoot.
Let me address this Google thing first. While there have been numerous occasions where Google Maps has bailed me out (see Trucking in the Northeast), there have been just as many times where it’s gotten me into trouble. Just the other night, I found myself in a quiet residential area in Rhode Island because my company didn’t have any directions and the customer was closed on Sunday. Well, the neighborhood was quiet before I got there anyway.
The fact is, Google Maps aren’t truck-friendly. It doesn’t know a truck route from a goat path. It doesn’t consider the weight limits of bridges or the height of overpasses. And it certainly doesn’t inform us of HazMat restricted routes. Like I said, Google has gotten me out of a few pinches by simply providing a map of the area I’m in, but it’s anything but perfect for trucks.
You may ask, what about GPS? Even regular GPS units won’t do the trick. If you want all the information relevant to trucks, you’ve got to buy a truck-specific unit. However, having used one before, I have to tell you that I wouldn’t trust one of those any more than a dad would trust his daughter’s date on prom night.
I was talking to a driver trainer the other day who told me he had a student that refused to learn how to read a map. The trainee said he didn’t need it because he was going to get a GPS when he got out of training. First off, this guy would’ve never made it out of training with me. I would’ve sat there like a stone-faced gargoyle when he asked me where to go and where to turn. He would have learned to read a map or found a new instructor. Why? Because map reading and following directions are essential to a truck driver. What happened to this student next is a perfect example of why.
Two weeks later the student got his own truck. He called the trainer and asked how to get to a particular shipper. The trainer said, “Where’s your GPS?” He replied, “Uhhhh… I don’t have it yet.” Frustrated, the trainer said, “Where are you now?” The new driver said, “I’m over at the yard where you dropped me.” To which the trainer said, “Look across the street.”
So, back to our problem. How do we get and give quality directions? Well, we can’t totally control how our company office people handle directions, but we sometimes have a say in the matter. Many carriers will ask the driver to provide them with the directions to the customer once they’ve established a good route in. Once they’re in the system, they send them out to every driver going there in the future. And herein lies my beef. Many truckers are just as bad at giving directions as Googling non-truckers. So here are some do’s and don’ts when supplying directions to your company or any other fellow human being that you don’t completely loathe:
- Do give enough information to be clear.
- Don’t give more information than is needed. Is it really necessary that I know that I’m going to pass a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Burger King, a WalMart, and a Long John Silvers? I’d like to deep-fry the drivers who do this.
- Don’t give directions from your starting point. Not everyone going to Pennsylvania is coming from Oklahoma… freakin’ moron.
- Do start the directions from the nearest Interstate. Even if the next driver is coming from a different direction, they can look on a map and see how they need to adjust their route. That is, he can if Mr. Know-It-All can read a map.
- Do give a compass point off the exit ramp or main road. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like, “From I-30 take exit 34 and go right.” Great. So if I’m going west, I’ll be heading north; if I were headed east, I’ll be going south. Or will I? What if the exit is a clover leaf to a stop light? Then it’s the exact opposite. See what I mean? You can be much clearer by saying, “From I-30 take exit 34 and go south.”
- Don’t give the direction you are going on the Interstate unless it’s relevant. For instance, if an exit can only be accessed when going westbound, be sure to say something like, “From I-44 West take exit 15 (Duquesne/Joplin.). No access from I-44 East.”
- Do give an exit number and the name of the town or street on the exit sign. If you’re not certain of the exit number coming from the other direction, say, “From I-44 West take exit 15 (Duquesne/Joplin). Unsure of exit # from Eastbound.”
- Do use the term “right” and “left” once you’ve got your bearing off the main road. It sounds too confusing when you say, “Turn south at the exit ramp, go east on Naval Drive, north on Bellydancing Lane, and west on Bellybutton Circle.”
- Don’t give distances off the main road if it’s fairly close. However, if your next turn is 6 miles down the road, say so. That way, a driver isn’t slowing down at every intersection for the next 6 miles. And all those 4-wheelers can refrain from cussing us for 6 miles.
- Do provide street names. “Take the second left” just doesn’t cut it. How do you know a new street or two hasn’t gone in? “Take a left on Port-A-Potty Road” is much more precise.
- Don’t use landmarks that could change. Providing landmarks can be good in the right circumstances. For instance, railroad tracks, bridges or the city hall rarely change, but Hardee’s, stop lights, and gas stations do. Not long ago, I got directions that said, “Turn east onto Route 126 and turn right at the Exxon station.” I happened to remember the customer, which was fortunate since the station had recently changed to a Phillips 66.
- Don’t be too frugal with your wording. In-cab satellite systems have been in use since the mid 90s, so truckers have been doing the whole text-shortening thing a lot longer than you 4-wheeling punks. Satellite systems usually charge by the character, so truckers were encouraged to use as many abbreviations as possible. Substitutions such as 2 and # were used in place of the words “to” and “number.” I once got directions that said, “Go 4 mile and the customer is on the right.” I went 4 miles. Whoever had typed the directions had substituted the number “4” for the word “for.” Don’t do that. U-turns in a truck just flat-out suck.
Sometimes the directions that we get are perfect. Those have been sent in by yours truly. You’re welcome. Sometimes the directions that we receive aren’t wrong, they’re just extremely vague. One is just as bad as the other. When you’re driving a 70+ foot vehicle, the last thing you need to do is get lost.
So here’s how I plan to solve this problem. As soon as someone is willing to give me a million bucks, a computer programming whiz, and a list of every business in America, I’ll get started making a database that carriers can subscribe to.
On second thought, that sounds like an awful lot of work. What-say we drivers just pull our heads out of our tailpipes and use some common sense when we’re sending in those directions to our companies. And any dispatcher who gives me directions from Google should be coated with BBQ sauce and left in a cannibal-infested desert.
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