Important Truths for Rookie Drivers: Surviving Your First 6 Months

by lucky13

I believe it was Brett who wrote here in the trucker's forum that a new driver's first year isn't about money, it's about survival. Truer words were never spoken regarding what it's like to be a brand new driver in an industry that chews new people up and spits them out like so much stale chewing gum. So how does a new driver survive their hectic, tiring, demanding, and incredibly stressful first 6 months on the job? That's a question that I'm here to hopefully shine some light on.

About Me

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First of all, who the heck is this Lucky 13 guy? I am a rookie driver. However, I am a rookie who is proud and happy to tell you that I have successfully driven across this country 4 or 5 times already without an accident. In just my first 6 months I have survived being lost, exhausted, confused, stressed out, bewildered, angry, bored, and lonely beyond belief.

In my first 6 months I have also seen some of the most beautiful and majestic sights that this great country has to offer, sights that have literally taken my breath away and made me stare in awe. I've seen the sun rise from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Portland to Houston to Charlotte and back again. I've seen the red mountains of Flagstaff in the bright orange setting sun. I've been across the George Washington bridge on the edge of New York City and seen the skyline of Manhattan several times. I've driven in rush hour from Oakland to Chicago to Atlanta to Washington D.C. I've driven a rig through blinding snow in Wyoming with 50+ mph winds, up and down the Rockie Mountains 4 times, over Donner Pass, through long tunnels and across more bridges than I can count. Does that make me super-rookie? No, it does not. It does, however, make me a survivor thus far. Am I proud and happy to say that? You can bet your last buck I am.

The reason I told you that, my fellow new driver, is so I can tell you these simple words of hope and encouragement: If I can do it, so can you.

Before driving school last July, I had never driven a big rig in my life. I had never even ridden in one. As a new driver, you probably can't wait to get out on the road in your own rig. I can't blame you a bit. I was the same way in my trainer's truck. When I finally did get out there, though, I found out real quick that being a new driver is a tough place to be. It ain't as easy as it looks, and your trainer ain't around to read the map, answer questions, or spot you when you back into that tight dock while other impatient drivers wait for you to get out of their way. That's my whole reason for writing this post, so that other new drivers like you might read it and hopefully gain some insight into what it's like when you're out there running solo. I also hope that I can share some techniques and principles that you can use to save yourself some grief, or at least make the grief easier to bear, so here goes:

Rookie truth #1: You are going to get lost

Hey. I hate to have to tell you this, but you are going to get lost. Maybe a little, maybe a lot, but it's going to happen, so be prepared. Here are some things that help me through when I get lost:

1. Relax, and don't panic. Getting in a panic will only get you lost more, believe me. Plus, driving in a panic will only increase your chances of having an accident, so chill out. Find a safe place to pull over and look at your company directions again. Did you take a wrong turn? Copy an address incorrectly? Find out first where the heck you are and where you need to get to. After that, the answers will get easier. Your company may have a special macro to send for directions to your shipper or consignee. If so, send it. If you have a Android phone or iPhone with Google Maps, use it to pinpoint your location and find it on your map or atlas. I have one word of caution regarding Google or some other form of GPS other than one your company supplies you:

2. Don't use Google Maps or a car-based GPS for navigation unless you know for sure you're taking truck routes. If you use any car-based GPS long enough in a big truck, I promise you that you'll regret it. Think about how much fun it would be to get routed into a residential subdivision in say, Atlanta, and find yourself dead-ended in a cul-de-sac and have to turn the rig around in it without taking out someone's mailbox or hitting a parked car. It's not fun, so don't trust your car-based Garmin, 'cause I promise you it will put you in the wrong places from time to time. Truth be told, your Rand-MacNally Motor Carrier's Road Atlas is your best friend. Learn how to read it. Every truck route on it is highlighted as such. Low bridges are listed there too. Pay attention to those! There's a left turn off of I-95 in Bronx, NY that you had better make if you go there. If you don't, you'll go right under the elevated train tracks. The clearance there is 12'-6". How high is your trailer? You get the idea.

Another trick is to call the shipper or the consignee. I have done this many times and gotten some very helpful directions when I found that my company directions were wrong. It happens.

Also, if you have a CB Radio, call out to a local driver and ask him where to go. I had a helpful local guy get me to a consignee in Dallas when every tool I could think to use did not work. Remember, every driver gets lost once in a while. Just keep a cool head, pull over and get your bearings. And above all, if you have to turn the truck around, find a safe place to do it! Many accidents happen when drivers panic, get in a rush, and either turn around in a space that's too small to turn around in or fail to see an obstacle. They run over a landscape boulder, drive into a ditch, hit a dumpster, a parked car, sideswipe a trailer, or have some other completely avoidable accident. After that, they start looking for another job. Don't let that happen to you, okay?

Write your route down on a sticky note and slap in on the dashboard or tape it on your visor where you can refer to it later. Look up your route in your road atlas and note the cities where you will have to change highways. Familiarize yourself with your route as much as possible before you begin your trip. This will lessen your chances of even getting lost in the first place.

Rookie truth #2: Get as much sleep as you can - you're going to need it!

Nothing feels worse to me than knowing I need to drive 500 miles that day and I'm already beat because I had such lousy sleep the night before. Rest is your best ally when it comes to safe driving.

See also: 12 Tips To Help Drivers Stay Awake Longer

If you're tired and you get to a shipper for a live load that will take a couple of hours, get your butt in that bunk and stretch out! Even 10 or 20 minutes of shut-eye will help you. Just remember, any kind of rest is better than no rest. Still, there will be times when you get really, really tired.

When you do get over-tired, pull the truck over in a safe place and get out of it for a few minutes! Take a walk around the truck, check your lights and tires, go into the restroom and splash some water on your face. Do some jumping jacks, anything to get the blood flowing and your eyes open! Stop at the truckstop and get some coffee. Whatever you need to do to revive yourself, do it!

Whatever you do, don't drive when you're too tired. If all else fails, pull over and go to sleep for a bit. Anything is better than falling asleep at the wheel of a truck! If you do, it could take your life or someone else's. Also, don't abuse energy potions or caffeine! There are diminishing returns on all of the high-energy stuff out there, meaning it only does so much for so long, then you're going to crash, and crash hard. The stuff may keep you awake, but you will not be alert. There is a difference.

Above all, don't take anything illegal. It will get you unemployed, in jail, or worse. If you need to sleep, do it. If you are going to be late, call or message your company and tell someone. Remember, my friends, being late is better than you or someone else being dead. Enough said.

Rookie truth #3: Communicate with everyone consistently and professionally.

There are going to be days out there when things don't go as planned. In fact, you will find that is very often the case in trucking. Your shipper takes 6 hours to load you and you only had 2 hours to sit in their dock before you are late on that load. You pull into your assigned fuel stop to fuel and you're told that there is no diesel, nor will there be any for at least 2 hours. You're 20 miles from your pickup in Dallas and one of your drive tires blows up like a hand grenade, slinging rubber all over the road and making you limp along the road to the next exit. You get to a stop in Scottsboro, Alabama, check in with the security guard, get back in your truck to pull into the dock, and the entire electrical system in your truck goes dead. Things will happen out on the road. In fact, all of those things happened to me.

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Last month, in fact, I had my truck break down 3 times in 3 weeks. It sucked. So did my paychecks that month. When things like that happen to you, keep your cool! Your company knows that these things happen, and they are likely ready and willing to help you out of a jam if you are honest about where you are, what happened, and what you can do as a driver to offer a solution. Don't just call your manager and complain. Flat out, no one likes a crybaby, so don't be one.

What your managers need to hear from you is the truth in a calm and professional tone. Never, never, never call your dispatcher or driver manager and go off like a loose cannon. I guarantee you will not make friends that way. Simply put, if you are pain in the @** to someone, it's going to come right back at you in one form or another. If you do have an issue with a load or some difficult circumstances, and you will, tell your company right away, be honest about what is happening, and work together with your manager on a solution. If you do that, you are much more likely to get some help, develop good relationships within your company, and find out what to do the next time you are faced with the same problem.

Furthermore, communicate with your loved ones regularly. I'll tell you a little secret that I'm not ashamed to admit. Within my first 3 weeks out, I actually broke down and cried one night when I was talking to my wife on the phone. I was that lonely. It just hit me so suddenly and unexpectedly that I didn't know what else to do. I had driven over 500 miles that day, I was tired, hungry, exhausted, and missed my wife and daughters more than I had in my entire life. I had not talked to a single soul all day, and when I heard my wife's voice, I just broke open. If that happens to you, don't worry about it. You are no less a man or woman because of it. What it makes you is human.

I think we all need human contact. We all need someone to care about, and to be cared about by someone else. So talk to someone, even if it's your other trucker buddies. Don't try to go it alone out there, it will get to you.

I talk with my buddy from driving school nearly every single day when I am on the road. We sometimes call our little talks our "b@#$%ing sessions." We call each other, tell jokes, whine and complain about someone or something that made our days hard, then we usually laugh about it.

One day he told me how hard it was for him to scale a load at the Coors plant in Elkton, Va. When he did, I laughed my butt off about it right there on the phone. I wasn't making fun of him. What I told him was that I feel his pain. I had been to that place only a week before and experienced the same pain in the butt that he was going through. That's my point. Wherever you are and whatever you are up to in trucking, someone has probably been there and done that at some point, and they know what you are going through. So talk to them. Let them know your struggles, your experiences, your triumphs, your dumb mistakes.

We've all made them. There isn't enough room on this blog for me to tell you all of the dumb things I've done in 7 months, but you know what? I'm still here, and I feel really good about that today. When you get to this point, you will too. That brings me to my final word of advice, from one rookie to another. When you feel good and you accomplish something, treat yourself...

Rookie truth #4:Treat yourself well, because you're the only you you've got.

You need to treat yourself well out on the road. You're working hard out there, so when you get a chance, give yourself a break. Take in that tourist attraction you wanted to see. Go to Iowa 80 Truck Stop and look around. Step up to the truckstop buffet once a week, sit at the counter and swap lies with other drivers. You'll here some very interesting stuff there. Even if most of it isn't true, it's sure to be entertaining.

Buy yourself something special that you've been wanting ever since you started driving school. Maybe it's that new chrome Cobra cb in the display case at the truckstop, or that cool Stetson hat in Jackson, Wyoming. Whatever it is, treat yourself, because you've earned it.

Once you make it to even 6 months in this tough industry, you will have realized that no one has handed you your success. You will be successful in the trucking industry only through your hard work, your commitment to safety, your positive attitude, and your ability to adapt to a difficult but rewarding lifestyle. I can tell you this, after 3,000 miles of driving last week, my paycheck was very rewarding. Yours will be too.

I'll tell you what I did for myself about a week ago. I was on my longest solo run to date, from Missouri to Billings, Mt. I had time on the load a and big paycheck in my pocket, so I decided a little treat would be appropriate.

I went to Wall Drug in South Dakota and bought myself a real pair of black leather trucker boots. I had wanted those boots for a long time. Yes, they did cost me a few bucks. Let me tell you they were worth every penny. Those boots to me are worth every day I spent in Memphis last July in 100 degree heat learning to back up a truck all day long. When I got to Montana, I put them on and walked across the parking lot of the TA truckstop there to hit the buffet and have a good meal after 2 weeks of eating soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I looked out at the beauty of the mountains. I thought about how far I had come in such a short time. It dawned on me right then and there that I was beginning to feel like a real trucker. I realized right at that moment that being exactly where I was and doing what I want to do for a living is why I went through all of the hard work it took to get there. Man, did that feel good.

I don't think that I will ever forget that moment for as long as I live. It is my hope that everyone reading this will feel that way too. If you do, I promise you it is something you will never forget. Good luck out there, be safe and well!

Consignee:

The customer the freight is being delivered to. Also referred to as "the receiver". The shipper is the customer that is shipping the goods, the consignee is the customer receiving the goods.

Shipper:

The customer who is shipping the freight. This is where the driver will pick up a load and then deliver it to the receiver or consignee.

Over The Road:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Dispatcher:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Dm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Driver Manager:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

DWI:

Driving While Intoxicated

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

by Brett Aquila

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