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Over The Road Challenges

by Becky Prestwich

It doesn't take long when you're on the road to realize there's a litany of challenges that truck drivers must contend with day in and day out. Some are obvious things that anyone would expect like heavy traffic and poor weather conditions. But most of them are specific to trucking that a driver will often discover the hard way. Here's a few of the biggies...

The Schedule

trucks-at-warehouse.jpg

The DOT has a lot of rules for truck drivers and their scheduling. They can work fourteen hours a day but can only drive for eleven of them. Once they sign into work the clock starts to keep time. At or before eight hours of work they must take a half hour break. Once they have reached eleven hours of driving and/or fourteen hours of total work time (you can sit at a shipper or receiver for hours while on duty but not driving, for instance) they must shut down and go into the sleeper berth. They must be off duty for ten hours and in sleeper for eight of those. So truck drivers run their schedule around that. I don't know if they are all alike, but I know Dee is ready to go the minute he is eligible. Most pickups and deliveries are scheduled at a specific time and drivers want to meet those obligations. And if the wheels aren't turning, you aren't racking up miles. Truckers are paid by the mile. They want to be moving.

What you may not realize is that, while ten hours off seems like a lot, and your trucker has time to do all kinds of things, the reality is, by the time they gas up, park, go in and take a shower, and get something to eat (whether in a restaurant or in their truck), they have maybe eight hours to lay down to sleep. If you're thinking 'yeah, but they've been sitting all day, how tired can they be?' let me tell you, it is more exhausting than you think. Not only are they controlling up to eighty thousand pounds of truck and cargo, they are dealing with four-wheelers (trucker lingo for cars) who are blissfully oblivious to how dangerous some of their maneuvers are. In just a week I have seen cars cut in front of this semi on several occasions, drift too close, and generally drive as if they do not know how much damage a semi will cause if it collides with them. People really can be stupid. The truckers are also under pressure to meet schedules and please customers. The job is mentally exhausting.

Shippers and Receivers

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Dee is using a Qualcomm , which is the method by which he receives his marching orders and any communication from the Company. When he gets a load to pick up he is given the shipper information, including the PO number and the address to the place. When we get there, he checks in with shipping and is given a Bill of Lading, and told to proceed to the dock he will be loaded in. Once we back in, he is on duty but not driving and we must sit there until the shipper gets us loaded. Sometimes you get loaded immediately. Other times you must wait for hours. Your work clock is ticking down but all you can do is sit and wait.

Sometimes there are drivers lounges where you can get out of your truck, stretch your legs, grab something out of the vending machines, and maybe even watch a little television. If any shippers or receivers happen to read this, you should know that this is greatly appreciated. Dee and I found ourselves at such a shipper the other day. Not only did we enjoy the time out of the truck, and the use of the bathrooms, but this particular shipper had cool new vending machines that we enjoyed watching as they were used. One employee told us that those machines had just been installed a couple of months ago and that they were pretty cool to them too.

The Never Ending Highway

Time is always an issue when you have a scheduled delivery time and only so many hours to drive. Pretty soon, you lose track of where you are, what state you are in, and you are only looking for the next turn. The highway slides by you mile after mile, and it can be monotonous. A driver has no choice but to stay alert and keep driving. Fortunately, as a passenger, you have other options. You can read, listen to music (bring an iPod or something; drivers like to listen to talk radio or a game, or the music they prefer, so you will want other options) or take a nap. Dee and I carry a hot spot so I can even get online if I want to. I can make him a sandwich too, so he can just keep on truckin'. I also help with navigation, because the company tells him the route but he cannot drive and read that safely, so I help out where I can. The point, here, is that we have become a team. He is the employee, but I can be here to make life a little easier for him. And while he will drive for some 2500 to 3500 miles a week, at least he does not have to worry about rushing home to me. He tells me often that he is glad I am here with him. That makes it worth it.

Where to Park

Many shippers and receivers dictate that once you are loaded or unloaded, you must leave their property immediately. That means, if you are out of hours, you must find a place to park for the night. There are not many places to park a semi truck. People are pretty obnoxious about that. If you are able to make it to a truck stop or rest area you might find it full for the night. If there are no parking spaces, you must move on. The Company has a rule against parking on on/off ramps so that leaves few options. This can be very stressful for a driver because, if he runs over his DOT dictated hours he will be flagged and receive a violation. They don't care what the reason is.

Some truck stops are bigger than others. They all start to fill up around dinner time though. Truckers start to worry about getting an open spot. Just another worry to deal with. It is only when they have parked and shut down that they start to relax. Once they check their messages and write down the information they need for their next stop, and scan in the paperwork for their latest loads so HQ has billing information, they can try to wind down and grab some dinner.

The other night, Dee and I found ourselves at a truck stop in an area where the temperature outside fell below zero. It was one of those rare nights when we had to idle the truck pretty much all night. Most nights we just start it up and run it long enough to warm the sleeper, then shut down until it gets too cold inside. When the temperature falls below a certain degree the company wants you to idle the truck for a bit every couple of hours anyway. Diesels are finicky. The fuel can start to gel up below 20 degrees. Drivers are instructed to add additives to keep that from happening. Just more stuff for them to think about and take care of.

I hope that gives you a better view of what being OTR is all about. In the next entries I want to give you some highlights of our experiences. The long hours of driving and waiting are often broken up by interesting people or sites, and I will share those with you soon.

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.

OTR:

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.

Sleeper Berth:

The portion of the tractor behind the seats which acts as the "living space" for the driver. It generally contains a bed (or bunk beds), cabinets, lights, temperature control knobs, and 12 volt plugs for power.

Qualcomm:

Omnitracs (a.k.a. Qualcomm) is a satellite-based messaging system with built-in GPS capabilities built by Qualcomm. It has a small computer screen and keyboard and is tied into the truck’s computer. It allows trucking companies to track where the driver is at, monitor the truck, and send and receive messages with the driver – similar to email.

DOT:

Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

DWI:

Driving While Intoxicated

by Brett Aquila

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