Trucking At Night Versus During The Day - What Should Your Strategy Be?

by Brett Aquila

Driving at night versus during the day normally comes down to two factors, a person's preferences and their pickup and delivery schedule. A third factor that almost always comes into play is finding parking. Let's take a look at these factors and figure out what your approach should be to daylight versus night driving.

Trying To Find Truck Parking

One of the things that always drove me nuts about trucking was having to revolve my schedule around finding a place to park. How annoying! Of all the things to worry about out there, finding a place to park shouldn't have mattered. But it did. It mattered a lot.

I used to try to get parked by about 5 p.m. if I knew I was going to be parking at a truck stop. Now if I was going to be in a really busy area, like Chicago or anywhere in the Northeast, I would consider parking at the customer. Rarely will you have to worry about having room to park at a customer, so that will give you a lot more flexibility in your schedule.

So if you find yourself in a situation where you're going to be parking in a busy area at night, consider scheduling your trip so that you can park at your customer's lot.

I'd just like to chime in and point out that there are a lot of places in this country, mostly on the coasts, where you're going to be hard pressed to find parking after 5 p.m., making it advantageous to start early and shut down early. I spend the majority of my time running the west coast, and generally try to be parked no later than 4 p.m. Yes, that means I have to drag my carcass out of bed at 2 or 3 in the morning most days, but it beats the hell out of having to park on an off ramp or a wide spot on the shoulder because there is no safe truck parking left at any of the truck stops or rest areas.

Fatsquatch

A Good Question From A New Driver

Recently in our trucker's forum, a new driver that was about to finish training, Chris D, asked this about his situation:

Well I'm currently about to finish training with Stevens Transport, and I've had two different trainers thus far who've told me two different perspectives on night time driving.

My first one always had us stopping st around 10-12 at night, we would wake up the following morning and bang out the day no problem. The second trainer I got is big on me driving till 2-3 or more in the morning, and tells me I need to get used to never stopping early (10-12 at night), since I'll never sleep the same schedule.

I'm just curious about which may be true. My first trainer had been doing this for about 6 years, and says he's never had to drive late at night unless the trip absolutely required it, and even then it was few and far between. The second has been doing it for 3, and says he's always doing it and even trains his students to do it. I'm just not sure which to believe lol

Chris D

You can read the entire conversation here:

Forum Conversation: Trucking At Night

Sambo pointed out that it might depend on the type of freight you're hauling also. Dry van and refrigerated freight tend to have different types of appointment times, dry van often being more flexible than refrigerated:

Now, depending on what you are hauling, either of your trainers answers could be true. At Knight Transportation, our dry van side has a lot of loads that have a window to drop, and thus those guys can plan their runs to only drive during the day. They generally don't have set appointment times. Often, it's "drop this load between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.", for example.

Refer side, on the other hand, has very little drop and hook , so there are very few appointments that have a window. This means that in order to meet your delivery time, you have to drive at all hours of the day and night. Most of the time, you are taking your 10 [hour break] off, and then driving again, which means your drive time could change drastically from day to day.

Sambo

Expect To Keep A Flexible Schedule

We all have personal preferences for when we'd like to drive, but often times there are factors that take that out of our control. If you want to turn big miles you have to drive the schedule the freight dictates. Expect to do plenty of daytime and nighttime driving.

Being able to drive both is crucial; however, you will develop when you like to drive. You must be able to be flexible when you drive as freight will dictate that. I personally tend to drive during the daytime. There are ways to work a schedule so you drive when you like.

Patrick C

Look, you are going to be hauling a reefer I assume, and by all means there are going to be times when you need to drive at night. The truth about this whole situation is that you are the captain of your truck, and when you are a solo driver you will manage it how you see fit. Certain loads may require you to do some night driving, but you will develop your own style of getting things done, and if you want to be really good at this and make some really good money, you had better get accustomed to the idea of driving during conditions that are not ideal. I mean we are truck drivers, we do what it takes to "git er done." Sometimes we drive in a snow storm, sometimes we drive through the desert in 110 degree heat. We push through heavy rains, and the dark of night at times.

Old School

Remember That Trucking Is Also Very Competitive

We all would love to drive a 9 to 5 schedule and only on sunny, dry days. But it simply doesn't work that way. If you want to be one of the drivers earning top paychecks you're going to have to learn to perform in less than ideal circumstances. Otherwise you're going to be sitting around at truck stops waiting on the easy freight while your peers are churning out the miles and getting paid.

What does an athlete do? He practices all the time, he hones his skills. He never stops trying to improve himself. He analyzes where he is at, and he works on his weaknesses. It is the same way for the top tier drivers out here. We push ourselves to excel. We are the equivalent of the guy who is the "go to man" on a professional sports team. When the team needs a victory, you want to be the guy who knows how to score. Nobody gives the ball to a guy who doesn't know how to shoot a three pointer in the clutch, or balks every time he needs to drive into the lane for a lay-up.

You have got to learn to press through a lot of things in this career. Start now, early in your career, and take charge of your fears and/or your preferences and overcome them. Learn to be a top performer in all conditions, and all areas of the country. I bust out some really big miles, partly because there are so few people on our fleet who are willing to do the things I do. Be the guy who is willing, and work on being the guy who is able. When you put those two things together you will come out on top at this thing we call truck driving.

Old School

Traffic Is Also A Big Factor

Let's face it, some of the worst cities for traffic are almost impossible to get around during peak hours. Try going through Atlanta or Washington D.C. or Los Angeles during the day and you're going to be sitting around wasting an awful lot of time. You're going to have to plan your trip so that you can avoid the most congested cities at their busiest times, and sometimes avoid them during the day altogether.

A few months ago I was sitting in Reno, it's about 7:00 a.m. and I'm just getting done with a 34 [hour reset]. I get a call from dispatch asking if I can do a special run for them. The load picks up at 17:00 hours and has to be in Los Angeles first thing in the morning.

Three other drivers in front of me had already turned it down so I took it. It payed expedited [rates] anyways, so that's more money for me. The receiver is a 24 hour shop. I get down there around 3:00 a.m. and off load. I take an 8 hour [break] in the sleeper, roll to [pick up] another load, and I'm in and out of Los Angeles without dealing with too much rush hour traffic.

Don't limit yourself by saying you can't run this or that. [Don't say] you won't run these loads or that state. Some of the best money I have made out here was by doing things that are not fun or easy. Also, if your dispatcher knows you're a hard worker you will move to the top of their board for favors. So when you want to take a 34 [reset] at the house on your kid's birthday it just might happen.

Murderspolywog

Your Body Needs Time To Adjust To An Erratic Schedule

It's one thing to have a constant schedule of working days or nights, but in trucking you'll find a mix of both most of the time. It's very difficult to adjust to an ever-changing schedule like that. So don't push yourself too hard in the beginning. Give yourself time to learn how to sleep hard when you get a chance so that you're fresh and ready to go when the time comes.

I always tell people, "I sleep like a trucker" which means I can fall asleep anytime under almost any circumstances, and I can wake up after any amount of sleep and be ready to go right away. It takes time to learn how to do that.

I would go pick up a load and they'd tell me, "Wait in the truck. We'll come and knock on the door when it's ready. It will be about an hour." Well for me, that meant about 50 minutes of great sleep! In five minutes I'd be in the truck, in five more I'd be sound asleep. I'd sleep hard until someone knocked on the door and instantly I would jump up and be ready to go. That could have been at 3:00 in the afternoon, or 3:00 at night. It almost didn't matter to me.

You'll get that way too after a while, but it's going to take some time. So don't rush it. Allow yourself time to adjust and be super careful not to push yourself too hard.

If your flexible, responsive, and "Always Ready" when your DM/Dispatcher says game on, your going to earn a lot of good loads. But if you are unable to adapt, you're going to be mediocre and find rough seas ahead.

As Bruce Lee said, "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be Water my Friend."

He would have been a very successful trucker.

Patrick C

Suggestions For Staying Awake

I wrote an article called 12 Tips To Help Drivers Stay Awake Longer and you should check that out. Some of the highlights include:

  • Take short naps, they help a lot
  • Don't allow yourself to get too exhausted before sleeping
  • Avoid too much caffeine because it can make you crash too soon
  • Avoid really large meals

Nothing beats sleep when you're tired. There is no alternative. But a well-timed cup of coffee might help keep you more alert when it's getting late or you've had a long shift.

The Bottom Line With Driving During The Day Versus At Night

Sometimes you're not going to have a choice. Your pickup and delivery schedule is going to dictate how you plan your trips. If you do have the luxury of a flexible pickup and delivery schedule make sure to look at your route ahead of time and try to plan on hitting the major cities during off peak hours.

You also want to plan where you're going to stop and park for the night. If you're in a busy area, don't try to get parked in a truck stop at night if you can help it. Either get parked by about 5:00 p.m. at a truck stop or try to push on to the customer's location to spend the night. Make sure you call the customer to make sure they have room available for truck parking at night.

This really is a competitive industry so in the end it will be to your benefit to learn to adapt to whatever the schedule calls for. It's going to be tough in the beginning, but focus on safety and learn how to fall asleep hard and fast whenever you get the chance. A short nap might be just what you need to stay awake and alert long into the night.

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.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

Drop And Hook:

Drop and hook means the driver will drop one trailer and hook to another one.

In order to speed up the pickup and delivery process a driver may be instructed to drop their empty trailer and hook to one that is already loaded, or drop their loaded trailer and hook to one that is already empty. That way the driver will not have to wait for a trailer to be loaded or unloaded.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

by Brett Aquila

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