Posts Tagged ‘Google maps’

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.*

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Trucking in the Northeast

April 13, 2010

Photo by wonderferret via Flickr

I’ve been needling the west coast for quite a while now. First, there was my blog post about Oregonians called “Too Stupid to Fuel?” Then, on Twitter I’ve been bashing California and Oregon for their ridiculous 55 mph truck speed limits. Washington state isn’t much better at 60 mph. Now let me aim my shotgun of disdain at the other coast. Let me further limit it to the Northeast.

I really don’t hate the Northeast all that much. Other than the heavy traffic, the road restrictions, the way the towns were built, and the occasional a**hole with a middle finger that has its own bicep, it’s really a lovely place. But for the most part, the Northeast can’t be blamed for all this. The fact is, the Northeast was mapped out long before trucks, or even automobiles were built. A**holes, on the other hand, choose to be a**holes, so I’m laying that blame right on the a**hole who chooses to be a**hole-ish.

Our forefathers had a lot of foresight when it came to that whole Constitution thing, but they were waaaay off the mark when it came to laying out towns. I’m pretty sure that ol’ Ben wasn’t anticipating a 70-foot long vehicle weighing 80,000 pounds. And I’m certain that he’d never seen a 13′ 6″ tall horse-and-buggy before. That’s why, when traveling in the Northeast, truckers must always be on their guard when they get off the beaten path. The roads are tight and there always seems to be a low bridge lurking around the corner. This was renewed in my mind the other night.

After receiving two different dispatches and having both cancel as soon as they beeped into my truck (I just love that), it was finally settled that I’d pick up a load in Pottstown, Pennsylvania at 1:00 a.m. As usual, my company sent me all the relevant information, including the directions. As usual, these directions were as trustworthy as a Hollywood spouse. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. I should have anticipated it, but being in a hurry, I didn’t.

The fun began when I turned off the main road. The first thing I saw was a long, somewhat narrow bridge. Beside it was that sign that every trucker loves to see. You know, the one that inevitably posts weight restrictions that you can’t possibly meet. Well, at this point, there was no backing up and no turning around. Having an empty trailer at the time, I wasn’t that much over the weight limit. And since I didn’t see a fleet of cop cars, I proceeded slowly. Not falling into a cold, icy grave made me happy.

Figuring the worst was over, I continued to follow my directions. As The Evil Overlord was happy to later point out, I’m not real bright sometimes. I came to a T-intersection and took a left and then a quick right, just as the directions said. About a quarter-mile down the road I saw one of those glow-in-the-dark yellow signs. I immediately became leery, but since it looked close to the ground, I plunged on ahead. As I approached, I realized that the road started to go down hill. And that’s why the sign looked so close to the ground. Uh-oh. Last time I checked, a 13′ 6″ vehicle can’t fit under an 11-foot bridge. Nuts!

Being focused on that cursed yellow sign, I hadn’t noticed the two cars that had crept up behind me. As I reached for the trusty iPhone, the first car came up beside me. He stopped and rolled down his passenger window. Forgetting I was in the Northeast, I was expecting the guy to ask if I needed some directions around the low bridge. Instead I got, “Hey buddy! How ’bout some flashers?!” While it was true that I hadn’t bothered to turn on my flashers (it was 1:00 a.m. and there hadn’t been a car in sight), I hadn’t been stopped for more than 10 seconds.

Pointing at the low bridge, I said, “Sorry, my focus was on that.” In typical a**hole fashion, he said, “Oh,” and drove off. No, “sorry.” No, “You need a hand?” No, “Gee. Guess I’m an a**hole.” At least the next car just drove right past. No help, but at least I didn’t have to talk to another a**hole.

I called the shipper to get some directions that wouldn’t involve a truck decapitation, but of course, it went directly to voice mail. I found out later that the guard had stepped away from his desk for a few minutes. Of course he had. Nice timing. Next, I pulled up the directions on Google Maps. Ohhhh. So that’s where my company got those directions! Even though I couldn’t follow their recommended route, at least I had a map of the city. So I winged it.

Luckily, there was a huge empty parking lot right beside me, so I whipped a U-turn and took what looked like the biggest road on the map. When I got back to the street I was supposed to turn on, all I could see were houses. Since trucks and residential areas are normally as compatible as Bobby and Whitney, I kept on going.

I finally found another road big enough to turn onto and made my way back to the pinpoint on the map. It was there alright. Tucked in the middle of a town, surrounded by houses; but it was there. Now where to turn in? Nope. Not that first entrance. That’s the employee parking lot. There was barely enough room for a U-turn. Maybe on down the residential road a bit? Nope. No gate down there. So now I’m stuck backing up for a quarter-mile on a dark, residential street lined with cars. Man, I love trucking sometimes.

Holy crap! What was that? I swore I saw something move behind me. It seems that I almost backed over the security guard. I’m guessing this guy was a hide-and-seek master in his youth, as he went from hiding from a phone to hiding behind a moving semi in the matter of a few minutes. I’m also guessing he was about as bright as the street I was on.

He informed me that I was at the right location, but I was supposed to be at the back entrance. After getting directions and taking a couple of tight little nasty corners that had me dodging cars that were parked in front of houses, the gate finally came into sight. But wait.

Seeing what awaited me, I parked down the street and walked toward the gate. There were cars parked in front of houses on one side of the street and trucks parked on the other. At the gate, the intercom assured me that I was in the right place. On my way back to the truck, another fine citizen of Pottstown came out onto his porch smoking a cigarette. Once again, the naive optimist inside of me was expecting a witty comment about how tight it was going to be. Foiled again!

Shocking me back to reality, he said, “You gonna sit out here and idle your truck all night?” Why yes, dill-munch. That is exactly what I had planned to do. Here I was, walking back to my truck from the gate, while my truck sat in the middle of the road with its headlights on. Clearly that was my plan. I simply said “no” and kept walking. As they say, if you don’t have anything good to say…

Being evil and all, The Evil Overlord called him by his appropriate name. She didn’t use asterisks though. Gotta love her. She’s like that little red devil sitting on my shoulder. I’m the white angel that keeps getting jabbed in the face with her pitchfork.

Thank God The Evil Overlord was awake though. It’s times like that where you say a silent thank you to the engineer who designs these trucks. So that’s why our side mirrors fold in. It was that tight. With the mirrors folded in and both our heads hanging out the windows like a couple of joy-riding slobber hounds, we slowly crept forward. We had a whole six inches to spare on each side.

After getting loaded, we went back through the truck funnel using the same process. Once out on the street, I was tempted to take Mr. A**hole’s suggestion to sit idling by his house, but I went on down to where there weren’t any houses to do my paperwork. One point for the angel. Having gotten the proper directions from the shipper, we went back out a different way. So it seems that there was a way to avoid drowning and decapitation after all.

So anyway, I can’t blame everything on the Northeast. I’m guessing that weight-restricted bridge was built years before trucks got so darned huge. Same goes for the low underpass. Some good directions would have avoided that trouble; not that my company can be bothered with such trivial matters.

As for the a**holes… well, I’m afraid there’s no avoiding them. At least not until some enterprising young proctologist invents an a**hole detector anyway.

*I believe I may have just set a record on using the word a**hole in a blog post. So what do you have to say about the Northeast and its inhabitants? C’mon, Northeasterners. I dare you to leave a comment explaining why y’all are so freakin’ grumpy. Of course, I’m fully aware that I’m going to have to edit some astericks into it. 😉 *


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