Posts Tagged ‘common sense’

Are All These Changes Good for the Trucking Industry?

January 26, 2012

Photo by johanohrling via Flickr

The new Hours-of-Service rules, texting and cell phone laws, the CSA, and my personal nemesis and eternal torturer of my soul, Electronic Logbooks, all claim to make the trucking industry safer. But do they? Let’s take a look at that. We’ll discuss the issues first, then sum it all up at the end. May as well tackle these puppies in order. And yes, tackling puppies is perfectly okay if they’re barking for no reason.

So about these new Hours-of-Service rules. Well, truck accidents are at a 60-year low, so naturally, it’s time to change the rules. Oh boy. Where to start? I guess we really only need to focus on a few of the rules that will affect the majority of drivers. For a complete list of the Hours-of-Service changes, click here.

The 11-hour rule: Well, for once we lucked out. The powers who know whats best for us had wanted to reduce our daily driving sessions to 10 hours. They lost. For now. Don’t expect this to go away though. They’ve already said they’re going after it again. Yay.

The current 34-hour restart rule: The old rule said that if you took an uninterrupted 34-hour break, you got to reset your 70-hour work week. Why was this rule important to drivers? Because if you reset your 70 hours, you could squeeze in 82 hours of working within that week. Thanks to @TameraGeorge1 for pointing me to an article on this.

The new 34-hour restart rule: Used to be, you could take your 34-hour break any time you wanted. Now it has to include two periods between 1:00 AM – 5:00 AM, home terminal time. Granted, they wanted the hours to be from 1:00 AM – 6:00 AM, but they relented. Bless their hearts. But why did they want specific times at all? Well, the divine rulers of all things sacred and righteous said that they wanted us to be sure to get two periods of “overnight” rest. How thoughtful of them. In reality though, these people know trucking about as well as I know the commodity market. They’re pretty sure that we need to sleep sometime and I’m pretty sure that you can sell a pig. That’s about the extend of our knowledge. The difference is, I’m not trying to tell them how to run the commodities game.

So what’s the problem with the new rule? Let me sum it up for you. The new 34-hour rule is as worthless as a drunk Harley rider in a motocross race. Why? Because we truckers don’t sleep when normal folks sleep. Sure, 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM might be prime sleeping time on one day, but two days later it’s the middle of your driving shift. They just can’t comprehend that not everyone has a 9 to 5 day job and not everyone sleeps at night. The concept truly is beyond them.

Now let’s be honest here. The current 34-hour rule is hard enough to do as is. The trucking industry simply moves to quick. The last thing anyone wants is to leave a driver sitting for 34 hours. I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten 30-32 hours into a 34-hour break, only to have to cut it short to pick up a load by a certain time. In other words, freight has to be really freakin’ slow to sit still for 34 hours. Kinda like right now. I’m writing this in the midst of what is looking to be a 42 hour shutdown. Still, that doesn’t happen all that often. Especially this marathon sit-a-thon I’m tolerating today.

So now we’ve got a time restriction on top of all that. It’s not all that often that I get shut down for 34 hours. But now it has to be 34 hours starting and ending at a particular time. I’m sorry, but I really don’t see the shippers staying in touch with my dispatcher to find out if their shipping schedule works with my 34-hour restart.

You can only do one 34-restart per week: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Although it really doesn’t matter, since we’ll be hard pressed to get even one restart per week. If you have enough time to get a second restart within a week, you’ve got bigger problems than it not being legal.

The 8-hour break rule: Basically, you can’t drive more than 8 hours without taking a break of at least 30 minutes. Personally, I can’t wait until I have to refuse a load because the delivery is 9 hours away and a 30-minute break would make me late. Honestly though, for the vast majority of drivers this will have little effect, as most stop at some point in their day to eat. It probably will affect me as I typically eat my mid-shift meal on the run. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Speaking of distracted driving. . .

Distracted driving laws: No texting for truckers. No cell phones for truckers. What’s next? No iPods for truckers? No CD players for truckers? No GPS for truckers? No CB’s for truckers? Okay. I admit. I’d be all right with that last one. But hey, why not get rid of the  gauges on my dashboard? I do look down at them ever now and then. Better get rid of all the billboards too. And while you’re at it, Corvettes are no longer allowed on the roadway. And that beautiful river? Better dam it up. I can’t be caught looking away from the road. And of course, my e-log unit needs to go. All that beeping is waaaaay too distracting.
The CSA, or Comprehensive Safety Analysis: This fairly new system is the FMCSA’s attempt to get rid of bad drivers and bad carriers by assigning points for naughty behavior. If a driver gets too many points, they’re a hiring risk. And since those points transfer to the trucking company, they want to get rid of bad drivers. Problem is, you can be cited for all kinds of things that are out of your control. For instance, I recently got a warning for speeding (I actually wasn’t). Even though I didn’t get a ticket, I still got points on my CSA. Here’s that story and my complete thoughts on the CSA. Also, if a tail light burns out in mid trip, that’s considered unsafe and I get points. But the last time I checked, my eyeballs were restricted to my head. Now if I could just take them out and hang them 70 feet out my window I could’ve seen that burned out light. Oh wait. Can’t do that. That would be distracted driving.
The cursed E-logs, or Electronic Logs: I have so many musing on e-logs that I’m not even going to link to them all here. Just go up to the handy-dandy search bar, type “e-logs,” and mark off a day-and-a-half on your calendar. Okay. It’s not that bad, but I have written extensively about them. My hatred is known far and wide. I’m pretty sure that even that rice farmer in rural China has heard about it by now.
Okay. So back to the question: Are all these changes good for the trucking industry?
Well I guess that all depends on which part of the trucking industry you’re talking about. In short, I think the changes will be good for the safety aspect, so-so for the trucking companies, and downright awful for the driver and their bank account. Gee. There’s a surprise.
First, I think when it comes to safety (which this is supposedly all about), adding time restraints to the 34-hour rule change won’t have near the effect that the trucking godheads believe it will, mainly because I don’t think drivers are going to get it very often, if ever. But this is not good news for the carriers and the drivers. You see, the whole point of the 34-hour rule is to reset your 70-hour work week, enabling you to work more hours, which in turn puts more money in yours and the carriers’ pockets. But if they’ve now limited the work week to 70 hours, what’s the point in having the rule at all? Is it just me, or am I totally missing something here? I guess it will make doing your paper logs easier with a reset, but other than that this rule is as pointless as a lead life jacket.
As for the 8-hour rule, I suppose the more breaks you take in a day, the more alert you’ll be. And if you have to be down for 30 minutes, maybe so many drivers won’t be eating while they’re driving. So I guess you can mark that as a plus for the safety side. As for the carriers, they may experience a few more late deliveries, but that probably won’t happen very often either. As for the drivers, maybe being forced to stop will allow them to quit eating so much fast food. Maybe. Okay, that’s a Mr. Fantastic-sized stretch.
Now for distracted driving laws. This one is probably good for safety. . . as long as they don’t take it too far. Although they may have already crossed that bridge. As bad as I hate to admit it though, distractions do cause us to take our eyes off the road for a brief moment. I think if we were all honest with ourselves, we’d admit this. How many times have you done something while talking on the phone or fiddling with your CB that you never would’ve done if you weren’t? I mean, that’s never happened to me, but maybe it has to you. But where does it all end? With nothing to listen to and nobody to talk to, how long will you be driving before your eyelids come crashing to the ground? Sorry, but the surrounding traffic is better off with me texting (not that I’m advising that) than me asleep behind the wheel. Hey, that’d be a good name for a band. Oh wait. . .
Next we tackle the puppies. I mean the CSA. We’ve already tackled the puppies. As bad I hate to admit it, I believe that the CSA is going to be good for safety. They’re trying to weed out the bad drivers and the carriers who turn a blind eye to safety issues that their drivers are pointing out. Unfortunately, some good drivers with bad luck, a bad day, or even bad timing are going to get caught up in this mess. One bad thing could screw up an otherwise excellent career. Still, I know from my own experience that the CSA has caused me to do some things I haven’t done in the past. That license plate light that’s burned out? Yea, I fixed that. That missing mudflap? Yep. Went to the shop for that too. Watching my speed more closely? Yep. So blame the CSA when you get behind me and I’m doing the speed limit. Yes. I’m now that annoying guy.
As for those hell-spawned e-logs, well, I’d really rather eat a turd casserole than admit what I’m about to say, but here goes. I think that e-logs are good for safety. Gosh, I feel like banging my head against a dresser drawer like Dobby for saying that. The fact is, there’s absolutely no way to cheat. I’ve heard drivers say they can cheat with e-logs, but I think they’re probably so used to lying on the CB that it’s spilled over into their e-logs. I’m sure most carriers love them because they don’t see as many log violations. But is this good for the driver? Well, it keeps them from cheating and it makes them run legal logs, but I stand by it when I say there needs to be more flexibility. Add more flexibility to the Hours-of-Service rules and e-logs won’t be such an issue. I won’t be holding my breath on that one though.
So where does that leave us drivers? Well, I don’t really care. The new Hours-of-Service rules don’t kick in until July 1, 2013 and I’ll be off the road and out of the trucking industry for good by then. Yea. Like I haven’t been saying that since 1997.
*What do you think about all these changes? Let us all hear your thoughts by leaving a comment. And please give this post a rating and force it onto all your unsuspecting online friends. Thanks*
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Arguing E-logs

October 28, 2011

Unless something unprecedented happens in the near future (my company changes a policy for the better), this should be the last in a long series about e-logs. Now I know that you’re probably already in the midst of doing a happy little jig about this wonderful news, but let me explain why this should be the last. I can do so in one sentence. Nearly every argument I make against e-logs is comparing it to the illegal ways I can manipulate paper log books.

I’ve had questions about electronic logs before I even got them. Check out Fear and loathing of electronic logs for my initial thoughts. Turns out, most of my fears were warranted. For example, let’s take a brief look at my first run that I took while sneering at my shiny new e-log unit.

Basically, I was pissed because I figured my time wrong (a rookie mistake) and therefore delivered my load late (details in E-logs: My first impression). If I’d have still been on paper logs, I undoubtedly would have taken off a bit earlier because I knew I could fudge the log book a little bit. But the unrelenting clock on the e-log system doesn’t allow that.

Now, would I be hurting anyone if I left an hour or two early so I could avoid being in a rush and possibly have a chance at delivering early? I don’t think so. I’d had plenty of sleep. I’d been off-duty way longer than my mandatory 10-hour break required. This all makes sense to a truck driver, but try arguing this point to the authorities and you’re talking to the wind. That’s because leaving early and marking your log book after you get somewhere is illegal.

Here’s another example. One of the things that most makes me want to hand my e-log unit to my youngest nephew (that kid can destroy anything with the slightest touch) happens when I’m trying to find a parking spot late at night (find a perfect scenario in E-logs: Do they really increase driving time?).

With e-logs you have to start looking for a parking spot earlier than most drivers would like because you have to be parked when the e-log clock clicks down to zero. That means I have to start looking for a place to park at about the 10-hour mark. But on paper logs, I can utilize more of my drive time by pulling into a truck stop when my 11 hours of driving is up. If I can’t find a spot there, I just show stopping there for the night and I drive on to the next available parking. If it took me another 30 minutes to find parking, I’d just leave 30 minutes later the next day. Again, this is illegal according to the folks who supposedly know what’s best for us truck drivers.

What about how e-logs keep on counting down your time when you’re in rush hour traffic? I really hate that because when I was on paper logs I could just show that I stopped at a truck stop to wait out rush hour. I mean, what’s the difference? Either I’m creeping along in rush hour or I’m sitting in a truck stop for an hour. But again, logging yourself at a truck stop while you’re sitting in traffic is illegal.

So there’s my point. I’m trying to convince everyone that e-logs suck because I can’t run illegal like I used to do. Regardless of the fact that these illegal acts don’t really hurt anyone. That’s really what it boils down to and ultimately why all arguments against e-logs will fail worse than a 98-pound sumo wrestler.

Now here’s another side of the coin. Sometimes I’ve wanted to prove a point about e-logs, but I can’t because doing so would backfire like Elmer Fudd’s shotgun when Bugs sticks his finger in the barrel. Usually it winds up being a case of “logging it as you do it.”

First up is how we drivers log at customers (shippers and receivers). Every company I’ve worked for has crammed the phrase “log it as you do it” down my throat. Yet without fail these same companies have told me to log 15 minutes of On-Duty time (mandatory by most carriers) as soon as I get there or just before I leave. Why then? Because not doing so could totally screw up a 10-hour break and make me as inefficient as scraping your windshield with a nickel. Let me explain.

Say I pull into a receiver at 2 AM and I log myself in the Sleeper Berth. My appointment is at 8 AM. So if I’m “logging it as I do it” I should put myself on the On-Duty line for 15 minutes at 8 AM while I check in to the office and back into the dock. Then I’d put myself back in the bunk. But that would interrupt the “continuous” 10-hour break that the law requires. That means I’d have to start my break over again. So by “logging it as I’m doing it” I’d have to be shut down for 16 hours instead of 10; that’s 6 hours before I checked in and 10 hours after.

The company doesn’t want this and neither does any trucker. So in this case, I don’t want to go in and call the company’s scruples into question by saying, “Hey, Mr. By-The-Book! How come I have to log it as Driving while sitting in a traffic jam, but I don’t have to log it as On-Duty when I bump a dock in the middle of my 10-hour break?” Talk about shooting myself in the foot with an elephant gun! What if they thought about it real hard and decided I was right? Which policy do you think they’d change? Yea. That’s what I thought too.

How about the fact that the company only requires me to log 15 minutes to do my pre-trip inspection? What if it takes 30 minutes? Or 45? Well, I don’t want to waste my valuable On-Duty time, so I’m not going to “log it as I do it” in this case either. The company may say that they want you to log it correctly, but they don’t really want you eating up your hours either. Fine by me.

There is, however, one thing I won’t give up on. There is absolutely no reasonable excuse for not making e-logs editable by the driver. Most carriers realize this and have given their drivers a big ol’ pink electronic eraser. Not mine. They’ve set them up according to the DOT “suggested guidelines.” I have no words for how stupid this is.

On paper logs, we could make changes and initial them if we screwed up. With my company e-logs, changes can only be made by a member of the safety department. If no one is there to make the changes until the next morning, I’m still required to “electronically” sign my logs as “accurate” at the end of the day. Since the only button available is to “okay” it, if I choose not to sign, I choose not to move. Even if I’m fully aware I’m signing a log that I know the safety department will change in the morning. And yes, I’ve brought this fact up to the safety director. All I can say is he’d make a good politician. I still don’t have a satisfactory answer.

Am I nitpicking? Yes I am. But a driver’s log book is a legal document that can and will be used to protect or defend us in a court of law. What happens if I have an accident causing a fatality before the safety department changes my log? Yes, the chances are slim, but it is a possibility. The fact is, I shouldn’t even be put in this position. Yet I am. Okay. Now that my blood pressure is testing the integrity of my veins, I’ll just suck it up and accept the fact that my company are boneheads when it comes to e-logs. If it weren’t for the money. . .

Now let’s close this sucker up. You can now see why I’m bringing my unhealthy obsession with e-logs to a close. I just can’t win. Most truckers would agree with everything I said, but throw the argument against e-logs at the lawmakers and I’d end up looking dumber than. . . well, dumber than I actually am. And quite frankly, that’s pretty freakin’ hard to do.

*What do you think about e-logs? Have I missed something? Please leave your comments and give this post a rating while you’re at it. Thanks.*

Truckers Go Turtle Racing

April 16, 2011

Photo by TheMarque via Flickr

Turtles are cool. If I see one trying to cross the road, I’m the kinda guy that’ll pull over and carry him across the road to safety. That is, unless it’s one of those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If I see one of them in the road, I’m gonna stick out my tongue, close one eye, take aim, and hit the accelerator. Man, those “dudes” are annoying.

So why would I go out of my way to help a turtle cross the road? Well, like I said, they’re cool, but it’s also because The Evil Overlord likes that about me. What can I say? I’m a sweetie. Still, the main reason is simply because he’s so freakin’ slow. By the way, I do always assume it’s a male turtle crossing the road. My thinking is that the only thing that could make a turtle jump out into traffic is a lady turtle batting her eyes and wiggling her sexy little tail around.

So anyway, why all the talk about turtles? Well, because the trucking industry has its own version of turtles. Only no one likes them. I’m talking about speed-limited trucks. Specifically, I’m talking about two speed-limited trucks trying to pass each other out on the highway. You know; Turtle Racing.

Whether your vehicle has 18 wheels or four, we’ve all experienced a Turtle Race. You’re tooling along in the fast lane, when some trucker jumps out in front of you. You calmly slow down and follow while this truck slooooooowly creeps up and passes the slightly slower truck. I assume you were calm, right? I mean, it only took five minutes for dillmunch #1 to pass dillmunch #2.

Notice that I called both of these drivers “dillmunch.” Besides the fact that I have no earthly idea what a dillmunch is, I still say the turtle race was both of these driver’s faults. It takes two to do the Tango and it takes two to race. If you were to ask most drivers whose fault it is, they’d blame the guy trying to pass. I agree… and I disagree. Let’s take a look at that.

Okay. Say my truck will go a mind-blowing warp speed of 65 mph. I’m coming up on a truck going 64 mph. Sure, I could tap my brake, lower my cruise control, and stare at his trailer doors all day. After all, I am looking pretty smokin’ in those reflective doors. But why should I have to slow down because my truck is faster than his? Wouldn’t it make more sense to let the faster truck get on with his business?

The thing is, it takes two drivers with common sense, professional attitudes, and the willingness to put themselves in the other driver’s shoes. Those are three attributes that are sorely missing in today’s trucking industry. Nowadays, everyone is out for themselves.

Drivers can’t be bothered to let you go around them before they take ten minutes to back into a wide-open parking spot. The same guys don’t have a second thought about butting in line to get to the shipping clerk’s window. Nor do they mind parking in front of the fuel bay while they mosey into the truck stop, stand in line to get their fuel receipt, take a dump, fill up their thermos, and grab some to-go food; hopefully in that order.

These are the same drivers who see the faster truck coming up behind them. They’re the drivers who see you in their mirror as you pull out to pass. The same jerk who can see the traffic stacking up behind you. The worthless puddle of dog vomit that refuses to tap his brakes, even though he can clearly see you’re going to pass him eventually.

Here’s how I try to deal with this. First, I give the driver the benefit of the doubt, trusting that as soon as he notices me, he’ll let me around. Hey, it could happen. Once I’ve caught his beady little eyes looking at me in his mirror, I wait a few seconds to see if he’s gonna back out of it. If he doesn’t, I resort to a drastic step. Well, it is for me anyway.

I break out the “Official Communication Device of Hell”, otherwise known as the CB radio. Again, I’ll be nice at first. Maybe he’s into a good audiobook and the situation just hasn’t registered in his puny little brain. I’ll key up the mic and say in a friendly voice, “Hey driver. How about a little driver courtesy here?” Sometimes that works. Other times, the guy doesn’t have his CB turned on. Can’t say as I blame him for that. Still other times, you know you’ve got a real winner on your hands when he picks up the mic and says, “If you can’t pass me faster than that, it’s not my problem.” Oh my. What do you do with a guy like this?

That’s when I take a deep, calming breath and explain to him that we as drivers are never going to get respect and cooperation from the public if we can’t even get it from our fellow drivers. I’m often filled with awe from their insightful comeback. Something truly wise, like, “Shut up, stupid.”

This is what we’re dealing with out here. All this could be avoided if drivers just had a little common courtesy towards each other. Instead, we’re all faced with turtle racing every day. And as for you four-wheelers, don’t think you’re exempt either. The only thing more frustrating than being stuck behind turtle racing trucks, is to be stuck behind turtle racing four-wheelers. For the love of Pete, folks. Trust me on this. It’s okay to turn your cruise control off. The car manufacturers have thoroughly tested these devices. You’re not gonna break anything. Except for my forehead, which is decisively bashing into my steering wheel with a head-banging force usually reserved for Slayer songs.

So here’s my plea to all drivers. Just get off the road and let me do my job. Okay, I guess that’s a bit impractical. So practically, let’s do this.

  • First, keep your eyes open and pay attention. They key to avoiding turtle racing is knowing when it’s actually happening and then doing whatever it takes to help the situation.
  • If you need to instigate a turtle race, wait until most of the traffic behind you has cleared. If traffic is heavy and you’re going to be holding people up, just tap your brakes and follow the slow-poke until traffic thins. Then mount your attack.
  • If you’re the slower driver, be a sport. Tap your brakes and let the other driver around. It’s not like you’re approaching 88 mph and if you don’t reach it in time, you’ll be stuck in the past… or future.
  • If you’re the faster driver, use the CB to politely ask if the dimwit will let you around. My suggestion would be to NOT use the term “dimwit” when addressing said dimwit.
  • If the slower driver ignores you, or worse, laughs at you, feel free to wave at him as you drive past his window. I leave the amount of fingers you use entirely up to you.
  • If you’re the faster driver, and Captain Slo-Mo just won’t let you around, even after multiple attempts, be the bigger man (or woman). Back out of it, get behind him, and let all the backed-up traffic go on their merry little, un-speed-limited way.
  • Now for the final and most important step. Concentrate hard and wish for the next toilet seat he visits to be infested with crabs. Now, don’t you feel better?
*If you think I’m totally off-base here, or you’ve got some good tips to avoid turtle racing, please share them in the comments section. Also please give this post a star rating. I’m sorry, but the button seems to be broken. It appears that only 5 stars are being accepted at this time. HeeHee And please share this post on whatever social network that sucks up waaaaay too much of your time. 🙂 Thanks.*

E-logs: My First Impression

January 1, 2011

Despite the fact that I’ve been driving for 13 years, I made a bonehead rookie mistake yesterday. It was especially unfortunate since it probably would have been covered if it didn’t coincide with my first day running with e-logs. But first… what are e-logs?

E-logs are electronic logs. For more details, you may want to jump on over to a previous blog of mine before you read on. I gave it the appropriate name of, “Fear and loathing of electronic logs.”

As my truck was getting e-logs installed, I was taking a class on how to use them. I went in grumpy and hating them. Four hours later, I came out with a slightly less grumpy disposition and a lower hate factor, but I’m still not doing round-off-double-back-handsprings. And thank God for that. I wouldn’t want you to see my cheerleading panties.

One thing I knew going in was that each company can set up e-logs according to their own guidelines. This is something that @Dean0806 had informed me of in the blog post mentioned above. Knowing my company, this was what I was most worried about. My worries weren’t unfounded.

For example, Dean’s company has their e-logs set up where he can creep along (7 mph or less) in rush hour traffic and still be on the “On-Duty, Not Driving” line. My company has it set to go to the Driving line after a half-mile, no matter what your speed is. It used to be set at 1 mile, but they decided that was waaaay too long. Grrr. Keep this under your hat, but I think mine is still set at 1 mile. Shhhhhh.

When they mentioned this in class, all three of us drivers started talking at once. Our concern was this. Many times we’ll be parked at a shipper/receiver waiting for a dock. Or maybe we got there the night before. Either way, if it’s going to be a while, we’ll start our 10-hour break. At some point, we’re going to have to wake up and back into a dock. Now there are a lot of massive warehouses out there. Some of them even have off-site buildings. Many of them will require us to drive over .5 mile to get to the dock. That will effectively break our mandatory 10-hour rest period.

The company is aware of this and is looking into it. For now the fix is to call in to the Safety Department and let them know what happened. If they can verify you never left the property, they’ll fix it. While it’s good that they’ll do that, it’s a big fail in my book. Still stranger, I’m thinking they wouldn’t even have this problem if they’d just left the 1 mile limit in effect. Although that still wouldn’t fix the off-site problem…

Next, I asked about a situation that happened to me not long ago. I had enough hours to get to my delivery location, but they didn’t have any parking. My plan was to park at a nearby Lowe’s that I had been parking at for years. Since I didn’t have enough time to fit in a 10-hour break before my delivery appointment, I was just going to drive the 5 miles from Lowe’s to the customer and show on my paper logs that I had been at the delivery point all night. Illegal? Technically, yes. Done frequently by truckers? Definitely yes. Able to do on e-logs? Nope.

That was my plan anyway. What actually happened is a tow truck driver knocked on my door and told me he was instructed to tow any truck that wouldn’t leave the Lowe’s parking lot. Naturally, I left. Here’s the thing though. I was about 7.5 hours into my break. If I had been down 8 hours I could have used it as part of a split sleeper berth, moved, and gotten my other 2 hours somewhere else. Since it wasn’t, I moved, pretended I didn’t, and delivered my load on time.

But that was only possible because I was on paper logs. I asked the trainer about this scenario and was told that since I didn’t have any hours available, and I had to move before my 10-hour break was completed, I would be charged with a log violation. She did say that the company would note the situation along with the violation so that it could be seen that I had no choice in the matter. While this sucks more than a dehydrated mosquito, that’s not the worst of it.

Since I had moved before completing my 10-hour break and I hadn’t even gotten 8 hours in to set up a possible split sleeper berth, I would now have to start my break over. So now my mandatory 10-hour break has just turned into a mandatory 17.5 hour break (that’s my wasted 7.5 hours that didn’t count, plus my new 10-hour break). Furthermore, I’m sitting 5 miles from my delivery point, but I now can’t deliver because I don’t have any driving time. In this situation, another driver would have to come and deliver my load.

The trainer said the fix for this problem was to plan ahead. If you know that a receiver doesn’t have parking, tell your dispatcher how close you can get and they’ll find another driver to relay the load. This is going to lead to a LOT of relays, especially since my company doesn’t always know which customers allow parking, and which don’t. Even crappier is that many times you can get within the same city as the receiver, you just can’t park at their facility. Since my company doesn’t pay a dime for local runs (within the same city), many of these runs won’t pay anything except for the miles it takes you to get to the relay point. So that guy taking that relay from me would’ve been hosed on money.

While all this sounds easy enough, what about those situations like the one I was in? I’d been parking at that Lowe’s for years. How was I to know they’d change the rules all of a sudden? Or how about those times when you park somewhere questionable because you’ve run out of driving time? Truckers are forced to move all the time for reasons such as this. Who gets stuck with the log violation, the ticket if we get caught, and possibly a service failure if the load can’t be delivered on time? Once again, it all comes back to the driver.

Here’s the next thing that didn’t make sense. Any calls to breakdown must be done during On-Duty time. So say you pull into a truck stop, do your walk-around, and notice a flat tire. You call into breakdown while you’re still On-Duty, then you check into the shop at the truck stop. They say it’ll be about 3 hours before they can fit you in. That’s fine, I’ll just go to sleep until then, get my 2 hours of my split sleeper berth in, and finish the other 8 hours after I’m out of the shop. Right? Wrong. The new e-log rules say that when you are awaiting repairs, you have to log it as On-Duty time. So not only are you wasting time that could be going toward your 10-hour break, you’re also using up your hours on your 70-hour work week. Can someone please explain to me how this is any different from moving on a customer’s property to bump a dock? Cuz my e-log trainer couldn’t.

One thing I was anticipating was for them to say how much time e-logs would save me. It came as expected. She said, “Using paper logs, you have to log 15 minutes for fueling, even if it only takes you 5 minutes. Now, if it takes you 5 minutes, it saves you 10 full minutes of driving time!” To which I responded: “But isn’t logging 15 minutes for fueling a company policy?” It was. “Federal guidelines say that anything under 7 minutes doesn’t have to be logged, other than flagging it. So, in essence, we’re losing 15 minutes, because under DOT rules, we wouldn’t even have to show fueling if it only took 5 minutes.” No good answer followed.

AMMENDMENT:

I later discovered that ANY time working has to be logged. So I was mistaken about this and so was my e-log trainer. Gee, that’s comforting. If they can’t get it right, how the heck am I supposed to? So in the above scenario, even if I managed to fuel in 5 minutes, I would still have to log it as 15 minutes on my paper log. So now that that’s clear as a tornado sky, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled program.

END AMMENDMENT

Next was the mandatory Pre-Trip Inspection. 15 minutes minimum is the standard for both carriers and the DOT. As I happily pointed out, “Here’s another 15 minutes lost. Before, I could log my PTI when I fueled, no matter what time of day it was. Now you’re telling me I have to do it at the beginning of the day, and it can’t be combined with any other activity.” Again. No explanation.

Now back to my rookie mistake. I got my load information and wrote it all down. For some reason, my brain decided that my delivery time of 1300 (1 p.m.) was actually 3 p.m. I don’t know how that happened. I’m guessing the “3” in 1300 stuck in my demented brain. Anyway, here’s how e-logs affected this situation.

Since I got this load information the day before and I didn’t want to sit around and wait, I had already asked if I could deliver early. No one would respond to my dispatcher, so I never got an answer. Now if I had been on paper logs, I no doubt would’ve taken off extra early and tried to deliver before my appointment time. If the customer would’ve taken me early, all would be well. If they wouldn’t take me until my appointment time, I would’ve simply showed taking off a couple of hours later on my logs. Again, illegal? Yep. Done by truckers every day? No doubt.

Instead, I waited until the very last minute to take off. I knew that the second I rolled out, my 14-hour clock started ticking. If I rolled out too early and couldn’t deliver, I’d have burned all that time while I sat waiting on my appointment. I wasn’t going to do that. The problem was, I only left in time to deliver by 3 p.m. When my dispatcher called to ask me why I wasn’t heading toward my delivery, I knew I had screwed the pooch. I had planned on rolling in by 3 p.m. Now I was going to be 2 hours late.

Luckily, I have a cool dispatcher who knows I don’t make rookie mistakes like that very often. It was also lucky that there was heavy fog out that she could blame my lateness on. I’m telling you folks, I’ve got the coolest dispatcher. Still, if everyone on e-logs is trying to maximize their time, it seems to me that it will put a whole lot of truckers in a race against time. Does anyone think that’s a good idea?

So now that my first day with e-logs is completed, here’s my initial impression. They are fairly easy to learn and use. It has some cool features that I didn’t have before, such as a running total of my hours, always knowing what city/state I’m in, and how it automatically knows when I arrive at a customer.

While all of that is great, the ability to search and read messages while I’m driving is my favorite feature. My old Qualcomm unit wouldn’t let me read a message unless I was at a complete stop. They say that I still can’t type while I’m going down the road, which is to be expected. Again, I think they forgot to disable this feature in my unit, because I’ve tried typing while going down the road and it works just dandy. Of course, I’m not planning to abuse this, but still… shhhhhhh.

I’m convinced that the trucking industry is going to have to change if e-logs are going to work. Shippers and Receivers in particular are going to have to start caring about a trucker’s time. And if some of the new proposed rules, such as the hard 14-hour workday take hold, it will be even more necessary. I just don’t think e-logs are quite ready for the weird situations that truckers find themselves in every day.

To sum up, I think the key isn’t the e-logs themselves. The key is how they’re set up. E-logs can be as flexible as a double-jointed gymnast or as rigid as an Eskimo’s clothesline laundry. Here’s to hoping that trucking companies prefer leotards over stiff boxer shorts.

*Please leave a rating and post a comment with your concerns or experiences with e-logs.*

A Trucker’s Home

December 6, 2010

I’m 42 years old and The Evil Overlord has been 29 for several years now. We live with her parents. How pathetic is that? Well, according to many of the truckers I’ve spoken with, it’s not pathetic at all. Well, at least it’s not that uncommon anyway.

I was reminded of this again yesterday when my company asked me to pick up a driver whose truck had broken down. He needed a lift home and they needed me to rescue him and the load he had been hauling. I’d be willing to bet that they were more concerned with the load than the driver. Carriers are “family-oriented” like that.

I knew immediately that Clint was a non-smoker. If he had been a puffer, all his stuff would’ve smelled like smoke and it would have taken a week or two to fumigate my truck after the 4.5 hour trip to his house. I did, however, put my foot down when he tried to bring his 13-gallon trash can into my cab. That would be the one that was caked with Skoal spit. *shudders* I was also grateful to discover that he wasn’t one of those annoying drivers. That would have made it seem like an 8-hour trip.

As we talked (and no, I didn’t do all the talking), I discovered that Clint was an avid sportsman who loved hunting and fishing. Well, there’s two things right off the bat that we don’t have in common. I’m certain that I don’t have the skill to shoot a fish or cast far enough to snag a deer.

As the conversation progressed, I discovered that he was a 41-year-old single guy who had never been married. After serving a couple of terms in the Navy, he got his CDL (Commercial Drivers License) and moved home with his dad. His father had recently passed away after a nightmare called Alzheimer’s disease.

I asked him if he had moved in with his dad because of the Alzheimer’s, to which he said, “No. He got that years later. I drive a truck. I’m never home. What the hell do I need a house for?”

Good point. While it may be pathetic for most grown adults to live with their parents, I believe that truckers might be one of the exceptions. People with special needs such as physical or mental disabilities would be understandable too. Now that I think of it, a lot of truckers might qualify for the mental side of that.

After The Evil Overlord and I got married, we moved to Dallas where I attended The Art Institute. During that time, we rented an apartment and suffered through life as most poor, uneducated, newlyweds do. They were some of the best years of our lives. Doesn’t everybody say that?

After graduation, we came back to Missouri and moved in with her parents until we could get our lives in order. We got into trucking after discovering that my degree was a worthless as a bartender at a lemonade stand.

As truckers, we stayed out on the road for 3 weeks at a time. Many drivers stay out much longer than that. When we did get home, we were only there for 3-4 days at a time, so we never really saw the need to get a place of our own. Her parents were happy to see us when we got home and they had an extra room to spare, so what the heck?

Years later, we got the itch to own a home. Since we were making good money, we thought we’d build a house that we could enjoy when we finally quit trucking and came off the road. We built that beautiful house, but there was one big honkin’ problem. We didn’t see any immediate end to our trucking careers.

I’ve got to tell you, it really sucked paying a large mortgage payment on a place that seemed to only be good for doing your laundry when you came off the road. It didn’t take long before we sold it and moved back in with her parents.

Fast forward to present day. The Evil Overlord is no longer driving. She quit for a while, then came back for a year-and-a-half, then quit again. Fickle woman. This time it’s for good though. Now she’s back at school and living with her parents while I’m out here on the road. And that is why we’ve put a deposit down on one-half of a brand new rental duplex.

Parents are fine. Actually, they’re more than fine. Without those two people feeling frisky at least once in their lives, you wouldn’t even exist. We should all thank them for doing the nasty for us. Still, they aren’t someone you want to live with for the rest of your lives. That’s why the Bible says to “leave your parents and cleave to your spouse.” God knew even back then that your parents would eventually drive you bonkers.

After The Evil Overlord put the deposit down on the place, she gleefully called me up to ask me if I was excited. I was less than enthused and she was perplexed. I explained that, while I understood her giddiness, I was still out here on the road for 3 weeks at a pop. She was happy to be getting some personal space and that was understandable. Since I’m rarely home, all it does for me is make her happy. And after all, I guess that’s part of a husband’s job. I’m sure I’ll enjoy getting back to the way it all began. It’ll be just me and The Evil Overlord again. And those pesky nephews, I guess. Unfortunately, my glee will only last for 30-40 hours a month.

My point is this. You’ve got good reason to raise your eyebrows when you meet a grown adult who still lives with his/her parents, but if you find out that person is a trucker, give them some slack. Would you want to spend a good chunk of your monthly income to own a home or maintain an apartment that you rarely get to visit?

*Please leave a comment with your thoughts on this subject. And if you’re feeling particularly nice, go up to the top of the post and give it a star rating. Thanks.*

How Much is Too Much?

November 25, 2010

Photo by MyLifeStory via Flickr

I’m fixing to kill two birds with one stone. As if I could even hit one bird with a stone, let alone two. Heck. I once missed a squirrel from 20 feet with a 12-gauge shotgun. Seriously. I’ve got no hope with a freakin’ stone.

Any-who, for those of you who don’t know, the carrier I drive for has made a lot of changes to company policy lately. I’ve been rather vocal about these changes, both online and off. This prompted me to write a letter to the head of our safety department. Not an e-mail, an actual letter; with a stamp and everything. Perhaps I should address it with giant block letters, that way it will for sure get noticed. Nah. I don’t want to have the HazMat folks evacuating the building.

I’ve decided to post this letter on the blog because it speaks to a subject that every driver has to face. What exactly are you willing to give up in order to get something else? Maybe it’s a nicer truck or the opportunity to be home more often? In my case, it’s higher pay that causes me to make sacrifices. But where do you draw the line? How much is too much?

Also, this letter will show you hot-headed drivers how to write a respectful letter to an employer, a government official, or a retailer who has given you bad service. Not that I’m an expert on the subject, but I know that some of you psychotic drivers out there think everything can be solved by cramming your fist down someone’s esophagus. While that’s a temptation we all want to give in to, a little respect goes a long way. So here goes.

The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Also the company name, the address, and the pay rates. And before anyone asks, I’ll say it again. I DO NOT reveal the name of my company. This is to insure that my butt keeps it’s job. Also, the formatting of the address looks funky on here. I assure you that it looks beau-tee-ful on the actual letter.

November 24, 2010

Mr. Q.B. Cull

Turtle Trucking

10-4 Drive

Freightville, Hawaii

Dear Mr. Cull,

I trust that I have sent this to the appropriate party. If not, please pass it on to the correct individual or department.

In light of some of Turtle Trucking’s recent decisions (and some older ones), I felt the need to voice my opinion. According to many of the other company drivers that I’ve spoken with, I’m positive that I’m not the only one who is concerned.

We all know that Turtle Trucking charges its customers a premium price for excellent service. According to the company line, none of this is possible without top-of-the-line drivers. I fear that these policies are going to start affecting the quality of drivers that are attracted to Turtle Trucking.

I don’t actively recruit drivers, but I have plenty of them ask me about the company. The first thing they ask is if the 3 cents per mile is true. I have to tell them that pay rate was before the bad economy hit, and that it’s now 2 cents. Still, I assure them that the money and the miles are there to be had.

Next, they ask me how I like the company. I tell them that the company is efficient and the money is great, but that they will have to make some sacrifices for it. The first thing I mention is that no inverters are allowed in the truck. They always ask about the cigarette lighter kind, to which I say no. 9 times out of 10, they walk away.

If that didn’t scare them off, they usually say, “That’s okay, I’ve got one of those cooking devices that plugs into a cigarette lighter.” Now I have to tell them that they can’t have those either. I’d be willing to bet that they’ll walk off too. Every Turtle Trucking driver I’ve spoken with is livid about this new rule.

Drivers only have a few things that make their life on the road bearable: a paycheck on Friday, a hot shower, and a hot meal. Turtle Trucking pays more than most carriers, but now if I want a hot meal I have to spend that hard-earned money to eat in restaurants. If the health and efficiency of the driver is truly a concern for Turtle Trucking, this can’t be a good thing. Not to mention, hot meals cooked in the truck are $2-3, and the cheapest you can walk out of a truck stop restaurant is $10.

I spoke with a couple of 10+ year Turtle Trucking drivers and some maintenance personnel about the inverter issue. It seems that they were banned after a couple of drivers misused their inverters, which caused their trucks to catch fire. I can only assume that some drivers recently showed poor judgment using their cooking devices too.

It’s disturbing to me that a few drivers with poor judgment can affect company policy so much. If a driver is found to be an unsafe driver, you don’t put the truck out of commission; you get rid of the driver responsible for the behavior. Why punish all the drivers who still use common sense? Clearly, these devices couldn’t be sold if they were unsafe to operate. It’s the idiotic driver who is at fault.

Next up: idling. While I personally think the new idling policy is fair, I’ve had many-a-driver walk away when I mention it. Most say it wouldn’t be an issue if we had APU’s, but as you well know, Turtle Trucking hasn’t decided that they’re cost effective yet.

E-logs are another matter. I know every carrier will eventually convert to E-logs, but I also know from talking to drivers that most want to avoid them as long as possible. Therefore, many won’t even be considering Turtle Trucking.

Despite what the company posters say, all the Turtle Trucking drivers that I’ve spoken with don’t like them. At worst, one company driver was going to retire early because of them. At best, the remaining drivers say that they don’t like them, but that they are “tolerable.”

Lastly is the fact that you have to turn your truck in if you’re going to be out of it for more than 3 days. I know it used to be 4 days. One of those 10+ year Turtle Trucking veterans said that it was 5 days a while back. While this rule won’t affect drivers who live near a yard, it will certainly affect those of us who don’t.

In order to keep my truck, I used to be okay with the idea of taking only 4 days vacation instead of 5. Now, if I want a week’s vacation, I’ll have to drop my truck at the Honolulu yard and drive home 7.5 hours. When I’m ready to come back, it’s another 7.5 hours. That’s one full day of my vacation wasted driving to and from a yard. I understand that you need to utilize your trucks, but how can you expect to keep drivers long-term if they can’t make their vacation time worth their while?

To sum up, I, and every other Turtle Trucking driver I’ve spoken with know that we make sacrifices for the higher pay that Turtle Trucking offers. The question is this: In an industry where many carriers are striving to provide better conditions for drivers, how will Turtle Trucking fare when it comes to hiring and retaining quality drivers in the future? And how long before the extra pay isn’t worth it?

Sincerely,

Christopher T. McCann

Okay. Don’t be laughing at the first name. Don’t force me to cram a fist down your esophagus.

I know what some of you are thinking, and you’re probably right. I don’t expect this letter to change any of our company policies, but hey, you never know. The engine with the low dipstick gets the oil. And since I’m so slick… uhhh, wait… or am I the dipstick? Oh, shut up and eat your turkey…Turkey.

*Please leave a comment with your thoughts. And if you can stir up the energy to move your mouse to the top of the post, please give this post a rating.*

The EOBR Myth

October 18, 2010

Used with permission of Xata Corp.

Quick: What’s the leading cause of trucking accidents? If you were to ask that question to the non-trucking public, they’d probably tell you that trucker fatigue was the culprit. They’d be wrong.

It’s not their fault. The media, our lawmakers, and many interest groups are cramming that idea into their ears with one of those cannonball-stuffing doo-hickies. I’m not going to go into all the statistics on this because, well, that’s just not my bag, baby. Still, I’m not asking you to take one loud-mouthed trucker’s opinion on this either. I let OOIDA (Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association) do the dirty work. Check it out for yourself.

So what is the leading cause of truck accidents? Well, actually the leading cause is 4-wheelers. In some studies it’s estimated as many as 71% of accidents involving a truck and a passenger vehicle are caused by the 4-wheeler’s actions; not the truck’s. Putting that fact aside, the accidents caused by a truck driver are usually caused by driver error, not driver fatigue.

Speeding, taking a turn too fast, improper lane changes, tailgating, and driving too fast for conditions are just a few things that cause truck accidents. Most of these kinds of accidents are the result of being in a hurry. Even when time isn’t an issue, accidents are more likely to be caused by pure carelessness, not driver fatigue.

Any honest trucker will back me up on this. Not counting time issues, the majority of close calls are caused by the stupidity of other drivers, reaching for your iPod, reading your map, eating, spilling your coffee, daydreaming about your lottery winnings, or being lost due to bad directions (see Truckers get lost about that whole ball of frustration). The vast majority of truck drivers have the common sense to get off the road before we get too tired. Despite this well-known fact, the people and industries that know what’s best for everyone else has decided that EOBRs are necessary to prevent these infrequent fatigue-related accidents.

Now I’m sure all my trucking friends have already heard of EOBRs. The acronym stands for Electronic On-Board Recorders. Basically, it’s a tell-all device for truckers. It’s what the “black box” is to the airline industry. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you likely will soon enough. There is a major push by industry groups and lawmakers to make EOBRs mandatory in all commercial vehicles. While I do think EOBRs have their merits, I also believe them to be as important to preventing accidents as the Easter Bunny is to delivering presents on Christmas Eve.

So what are the good points about EOBRs? Well, for one thing, they can detect sudden lane changes, hard braking, excessive speed, etc. That kind of information could come in handy when truckers are trying to prove themselves innocent of an accident. On the flip side, it could also be a prosecuting attorney’s ace-in-the-hole if you’re as guilty as a drunk Alcoholic Anonymous member. Secondly, I believe EOBRs would succeed in keeping those rare renegade drivers in check. It would be kind of hard to run two log books and drive until your eyes are drooping like that weird, old lady underarm flab with an EOBR installed. So that’s a good thing.

There are a couple of things that EOBR haters are worried about. First, is the whole “invasion of privacy” issue. Sure, the box would show your company where you live when you go home, but who cares? They already know your address. And yes, it shows where you’re currently located. Well, maybe if you don’t want someone to know that you’re at the nudie bar, you shouldn’t be there in the first place. While I suppose that it could be the foot-in-the-door to something more sinister, I’m just not that paranoid. And if you’re driving like a crazy person, I don’t mind the little box tattling on you.

Another complaint is the cost. Now I’ve never priced one of these puppies, but I’ve read that some of these units can cost as little as $300-$400 to install. That’s just a couple of weeks of G-string fodder for some of these guys. And if you’re a company driver, you’ve got no call to complain about the cost at all. The company will be paying for it.

The thing is, most company trucks already have some sort of EOBR in them. Our current satellite systems already show how fast we are going and our location at any given time, therefore many of us company drivers are already dealing with them. And what do you think electronic log books are? They’re just glorified EOBR boxes.

I know what some of you regular readers are thinking. “But you said you had fear and loathing of electronic logs.” I did, and still do to some extent. I don’t know exactly how they work, so that’s part of the mystery. But here’s why I’m dreading the day that I get e-logs. Time management.

The difference between our current satellite system, or even a black box that is mounted under the driver’s seat is; no one is monitoring your satellite system unless something warrants an inquiry. But e-logs are monitored real-time. If that thing is beeping at you, your dispatcher is seeing it too. This presents a problem.

Admittedly, the way the vast majority of truckers do their log books is technically illegal. Still, most truckers don’t run two logs books and backlog trips either. We simply fudge a few things here or there to suit the situation. For example, let’s say I’m going into the shipper the night before my morning appointment, therefore, I’m not in any particular rush. If I hit a traffic jam just before I run out of hours, no big deal. As long as I don’t have a DOT weigh station to deal with, I can just take my time getting to the shipper, get there 15 or 30 minutes later than “technically” legal, and show getting there when I had originally planned. Illegal? Yes. Driving 5 mph over the speed limit is too. Good thing none of us do that.

The biggest problem I see with e-logs is that there will no longer be any wiggle room. Now if I’m almost out of hours when I hit that traffic jam, what happens? Well, I get tagged by my company for driving over my hours. Either that, or traffic breaks free and I put the hammer down to bust my hump to the shipper (or any other safe parking space) before the stinkin’ e-log machine starts beeping at me.

So I ask you; what’s safer? Calmly driving 15-30 minutes over my allotted time, or driving like a Formula 1 driver injected with squirrel DNA to keep from going over my time limit? I imagine that it’s going to feel like an episode of “24” every time I get behind the wheel. Is a trucker driving an 80,000-pound weapon someone you want racing against the clock every day?

*Please leave a comment with your thoughts on EOBRs and how you think they will affect you. And if you liked this post, please make use of that pretty “Like” button below.*

Truckers Get Lost: The Do’s and Don’ts of Giving Directions

October 7, 2010

No wonder we get lost…

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.

*Please click the “like” button if you enjoyed this post and/or give it a rating. Okay, folks. Tell me what I forgot. What are your suggestions to make directions more clear. Leave a comment for all to see.*

Lunar Driving as a Trucker

September 22, 2010

Photo by Jason Bache via Flickr

Here’s a heads-up to any prospective drivers out there. If you think Over-The-Road (OTR) trucking is a 9-to-5 job, you’re gonna be more disappointed than a stoner with a bag of oregano. We have a name for you folks: Solar drivers.

Solar drivers are guys or gals who only like to run during the daylight. While our circadian rhythms are ideally designed for solar driving, the chances of you getting to do it every day are about as good as you finding a Christian Atheist that’s interested in converting to Islam.

Remember that I’m speaking of OTR driving. Sure, you may be able to find a local driving job that will let you do the solar thing, but if you’re a long-hauler, well, good luck with that. And don’t get your hopes up for a local driving job with big bucks and no whammies.

The fact is that freight can pick up or deliver at any time, and 9 times out of 10, you’ve got no choice as to whether you’re going to be a Solar driver or a Lunar driver. Most loads simply don’t have enough extra transit time for you to be picky.

Common sense would tell you that most businesses are open during the day, so that’s when you’ll be awake and driving. That’s all fine and dandy, but what if you pick up a 500-mile load at night and it delivers at 7:00 AM the following morning? This happens quite frequently, so you should expect it.

I’d love to tell you that you won’t have to drive at night very often, but if I did I’d be a bigger liar than if Pamela Anderson came out and said that she was born with those entities (no pun intended).

There is an exception to this rule. If you’re a team driver, you may get to choose Solar or Lunar driving. Since a team truck pretty much runs around the clock, you can usually get on a schedule. For instance, The Evil Overlord is a Lunar driver. Each afternoon I’d wake her up, and after wrestling the grenade launcher from her, we’d eat and shower. Just before dark she’d start her driving shift and finish sometime before sunrise. You can do this too if you’ve got a flexible co-driver who’s willing to drive the opposite shift.

I’m a lucky guy. Not only am I blessed with devastating good-looks, but I’m also capable of switching from a Solar driver to a Lunar driver in less time than it takes you to roll your eyes at that “devastating good-looks” statement.

So tell me. Why is it that you want to be a Solar driver? Are you sure that it’s all it’s cracked up to be? Here’s my argument for embracing your inner Lunar driver:

  • There’s no rush hour at night. That should be enough in itself.
  • There is no such thing as a good time to cross over the George Washington Bridge into New York City, but if you must, 3:00 AM is the time to do it.
  • There’s less construction at night. Even when the crews are working the graveyard shift, there’s fewer 4-wheelers around that haven’t figured out how to merge BEFORE you get to the giant flashing arrow!
  • When it’s time to go to sleep, the truck stop parking lots are less crowded in the morning.
  • There’s less traffic at night.
  • The darkness is sooooo peaceful.
  • The chicken coops (DOT weigh stations) are less likely to be open at night.
  • Fewer drivers are cursing at each other on the CB radio.
  • It’s fun to flash your bright lights at people. Kidding. Okay, maybe sometimes. Ohhhhh. So THAT’S why he was cussing at me on the CB.
  • If you’re a woman trucker, it’s harder for people to notice you. Therefore, they don’t slow down, act stupid, try to get your attention, and unwittingly block you behind other traffic. The Evil Overlord drove at night for this very reason.
  • Did I mention that there’s less traffic?
  • Heavy winds usually get calmer at night.
  • The fuel bays are typically less crowded at night.
  • So are shippers and receivers.
  • There’s no waiting for a shower at 2:00 AM.
  • If you pull out of a parking spot after dark, you just made another driver happy enough to pee his pants, which could actually be the very reason why they’re looking for a parking space in the first place.
  • And I should also mention that there’s less traffic.

Then again, as I’m making this list, some negative aspects of Lunar driving come to mind. For instance:

  • Potty breaks become an ordeal because all the rest areas are packed tighter than a Mexican illegal immigrant’s apartment. On the plus side, the exit ramps are usually quite dark. So do what you gotta do.
  • OH CRAP! DEER!
  • More drunks on the road… or the sidewalk… or the shoulder of the road… or the ditch… or on the wrong side of the highway… or all of the above.
  • You can’t see the ladder laying in the middle of the road until it’s too late. That would be the ladder that fell off the roof of the aforementioned drunk’s VW Beetle.
  • You can’t see the Smokey Bears (police) at night. Not that it matters when your speed-limited truck gets outrun by an armadillo with a limp.
  • Snow-packed and/or icy roads at night are much more dangerous, which is why you should pull over and tell your dispatcher to stuff it.
  • Your choice of fast food is Subway, Subway, or Subway. If you’re lucky, you can wait a few more miles and find a Subway.
  • It’s harder to read street signs in the dark.
  • Fewer of your Twitter friends will be online. Now put down that phone and drive.
  • Finding a parking spot in the middle of the night just plain sucks.
  • Getting brighted by some jerk who’s just doing it for fun. *snicker*
  • I did mention that there’s less traffic at night, right? Oh shoot. That went in the other section.
  • Sometimes that pesky circadian rhythm jumps up and yanks your eyelids shut for no apparent reason. Even if you’ve had plenty of sleep.
  • The Fuzz can easily see if you’ve got even one teeny-tiny-little-light that has burned out. They’ll pull you over as the VW drunk guy does a U-turn in the ditch to retrieve his ladder.

So maybe there are some advantages to being a Solar driver. I can do either, and quite frankly it’s nice to have to mix it up a bit. I wouldn’t want to have to choose between the two, but if I were forced, I’d go with being a Lunar driver. Why? Did I mention there’s less traffic on the Lunar shift?

*Got pros and cons that I’ve forgotten? Leave a comment so that everyone can read them! And please pass this on to anyone who you think might enjoy it. Thanks*

The Tale of Three Trucker Slobs

July 9, 2010

In the last 24 hours, I saw three different truckers do three things that disturbed me. That’s pretty bad, considering I spent about 23 hours and 50 minutes alone in my truck. Two of these things, I see all the time. The third I knew happened, but had never actually seen it with my own eyes. Now I’m wishing that I hadn’t. Be forewarned. This post isn’t pretty.

The first thing I saw was the most disturbing. Being the sweetie-pie that I am, I’ll save it for last. The second thing I saw was early this morning when I got up and ventured into the bathroom to brush my teeth. As I walked in, I noticed an extremely short, but stocky, older guy standing at the sink doing his morning ritual. I could tell right away that this guy was a slob.

Any driver will tell you that truck stop bathrooms are nasty. The sink countertop is always covered with water, excess soap, soggy paper towels, facial hair, you name it. Every trucker will act all grossed out about it too. So if everyone is so put out by it, who the heck is making all the mess? Well, for starters, my morning companion.

He was washing his face and hands, and water was going everywhere. And I don’t mean just on the countertop. I mean everywhere. It soaked the front of his shirt, the countertop, and it was even splashing onto the floor. If there hadn’t been an empty sink between us, I’m sure he would have gotten me wet too. He didn’t even bother to dry anything off, including himself. So there’s offense #1: Not cleaning up after yourself.

I was finishing up when Aqua Man finally left. As I was preparing to follow, a guy stepped out of a bathroom stall and walked out the door in front of me. And there’s offense #2. Whether you go #1 or #2, wash your freakin’ hands! I mean, you may be fine with touching your special parts, but when you don’t wash your hands, you put your funk all over everything you touch. So knock it off.

I will congratulate him on one thing though. He had been in there the whole time and I hadn’t noticed. For once, there wasn’t a gawd-awful stench and loud noises coming from the stall. He was as quiet as a church mouse wearing tiny, little moccasins.

Now, I’m not stupid… or so I keep telling myself. I know certain noises and scents coming from certain body parts can’t be helped. Still, it’s gross to have to hear it from someone other than yourself. Why God put us together that way is a mystery. I’m sure a lot of wives will be asking him that very question when they get through the pearly gates. Since St. Peter is a man, let’s hope for their sakes that there’s no farting in heaven.

The part that really bugs me are the noises that come out of the other end. I tell you, if you aren’t in severe pain caused by some rare gastrointestinal infection that you picked up in the Amazon, keep your grunts, groans, and heavy breathing to yourself. No one is interested in hearing it.

So, while I commend Mr. Allergic-To-Soap for doing his business so unobtrusively, I’m not about to shake the guy’s hand. And I certainly hope he wasn’t heading over to the deli to pick up some finger foods.

Now on to the last guy… or would that be the first guy? Yes, it’s the first guy… that I’m mentioning last. I met this guy the night before. I was catching up on Season 3 of Supernatural when my own super nature called. Rather than use the parking lot as my personal commode like so many truckers do, I ran into the bathroom. Another guy walked in right behind me.

Great, two urinals with no dividers. Who designs these freakin’ things anyway? So, we both step up to do our business. And that’s when the fun started. First, I need to say that I’m not a peeker. Most guys aren’t. We stare straight ahead and don’t say a word. That’s why there’s always an advertisement of some kind right there at eye level. Women, on the other hand… well, you ladies carry on conversations while you’re taking care of business. What’s up with that?

So back to my ordeal. As I’m staring straight ahead, I hear a sound. It’s a splashing sort of sound. From my peripheral vision, I can see that this guy is totally missing the urinal. Well, not totally, but I’d say that only half of the gold is making it to the pot. Why, you may ask? Because he’s got one hand on his hip and the other hand holding his shirt up over his belly. Furthermore, he does absolutely nothing to adjust his aim.

Now how do I react? I figure that I’ve got two choices: say something or don’t. My initial reaction was to say, “Can you not see that you’re pissing all over the floor?” No. Too confrontational. Not my style. Perhaps I could have been more witty by saying, “I hope you don’t have any career plans to be a sharpshooter.” But in the end, I went with silence and a step away from him. After all, if a guy can’t cover up his gut and put at least one hand on his junk, I doubt that anything I could say would make this guy go to a community college and enroll in Whizzing 101. As a grand finale, he grabbed hold and shook it like he was trying to strangle an anaconda. Which, of course, released more venom.

So there you have it. Like I said, I always knew that the wet stuff on the floor wasn’t water. I knew how it got there. I really think that knowing was enough. I didn’t really need to see it first hand. I do understand that no man hits his target every time, especially with that weird viper piss that strikes some mornings. The difference is, most guys adjust their aim.

There is a moral to this story. Truckers don’t get much respect; and from what I’ve seen over the last 13 years, I’m not surprised. It’s not just the bathroom issues that I’ve pointed out here. It’s the way we treat other people’s property. It’s the way we drive. It’s the way we talk on the CB. It’s the way we react when we’re disrespected.

Truckers one and all; listen up. It’s as easy as this. If you want respect, start being respectful. How the heck do you expect the outside world to respect us if we don’t respect each other first? You can start by always having one hand on the wheel… and other places.

*So what have you experience that totally grossed you out? Let us hear about it by leaving a comment. And if you feel dirty afterwards, by all means wash your hands. If you enjoyed this post, please pass it on to a friend or two. Thanks.*


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