When you're brand new to trucking, you don't really know how to manage your time efficiently or how many miles you should turn. You've heard a ton of stories and gotten a lot of advice, but you really don't know what to believe.
Unfortunately, in the trucking industry there's a lot of bad information and bravado passed around - and much of it is terrible advice. And the standards that apply to grizzly trucking veterans are not the same as those that apply to rookies. So if you're new to trucking or you've recently attended a truck driving school you'll want to have some reasonable mileage goals in mind to shoot for when you start running solo and some ways of managing your time well. So let's take a look at some time management factors and mileage expectations.
See also: Any Tips For Getting Better Miles?
One of the most important things to understand is that a rookie truck driver does not have the ability to turn the miles that a veteran driver does for a number of reasons. The two main reasons are:
2) You don't have the time management skills to safely run the big miles without burning out or getting bogged down in heavy traffic, bad weather, and the lack of available parking
So you might be sitting at the counter in a truck stop and hear a veteran complain that he only had 3100 miles this week, and you're so exhausted you can't remember your own name and you only turned 2400. What gives??? How do they do it? Let's look at some differences between how a rookie might handle things and how a veteran might do it.
One of the most exhausting and frustrating aspects of trucking is the lack of truck parking at night. After about 7:00 pm in the summer and maybe 6:00 pm in the winter, it's incredibly difficult to find parking at truck stops. They fill up quickly. As a rookie you quickly realize that if you can get parked early enough in the day you'll have no problems, but wait even an hour too long and you'll be hunting around at different truck stops, off ramps, and parking lots begging for a spot. This is exhausting and frustrating. You're wasting time, you're not getting sleep, you're aggravated, and you're not turning efficient miles for the time you're spending behind the wheel.
It didn't take long for me to realize that if I can manage to get parked early and get up really early, I'll save a lot of time, energy, and frustration. So I adapted as quickly as I could to getting up about 2:00-3:00 am and getting parked in the evening by 6:00 pm as often as I could. But then again, sometimes that wasn't a concern. It depends on where in the country you are. Some areas it's easy to find parking anytime - some areas it's almost impossible. It takes time to learn the difference - another advantage the veterans have.
Yeah, easier said than done, right??? Well, sometimes - yes. But most of the time you can do a lot to alleviate the problems. Scheduling your runs will soon involve traffic management. For instance, a load from Toledo, Ohio to Rockford, IL will take you across I-90 past Chicago. Are you going to plan on cruising by Chicago at 7:00 am? Good grief I hope not!!! You'll likely spend a lot of frustrating time sitting in traffic. You'll want to schedule your run to cruise by Chicago when chances are better that traffic will be lighter. You can't always win - sometimes you'll sit in a traffic backup at 3:00 am - but over time you have to learn to play the odds.
And consider this: if you get parked early on this run - say you stop at a plaza on the toll road in Indiana at 6:00 pm. There are piles of empty parking spots. Now, when you leave at, say, 2:00 am, you'll hopefully be able to cruise past Chicago in the middle of the night without much trouble, and arrive early at your destination in Rockford. So by keeping this schedule you've found easy parking, arrived early for your appointment, and made the most efficient use of your driving time - all while getting a great night's sleep.
One thing veteran drivers usually become quite good at is getting to their appointments early and getting loaded or unloaded ahead of schedule. You will have tons of opportunities to cut hours, or sometimes even an entire day off of a run. For instance, you might be sitting at 8:00 am on Monday morning about an hour from where you're picking up a load scheduled for Monday afternoon at 2:00 pm that goes 750 miles for a Wednesday morning delivery. Often times if you plan your time wisely and use a little savvy, you can safely make that delivery to Tuesday morning.
So you call the shipper and try like crazy to get that appointment time moved up so you can get loaded at 9:30 am instead of 2:00 pm. Now you will likely have the hours available to legally make that delivery by mid-morning Tuesday. If you can pull it off, you've cut an entire day off the journey, the customers were given excellent service, you've made more money in less time, your company made more money in less time, and everyone is thrilled! This type of savvy can make you a ton of extra money and get you some great respect from your dispatcher, leading to better miles and better treatment in the future - but there's one thing to look out for, and that is....
The mind needs time to rest and recover. However, there is something critically important to know - the more exhausted you let yourself get, the less efficient your recovery time will be. If you learn to take short naps when you're getting tired instead of pushing through to exhaustion, you'll feel far more awake and energetic. If you learn to park early for the night to get a good night's sleep when you're feeling tired and get up earlier to stay on schedule, you'll feel far more awake and energetic. When you push your mind to exhaustion you're going to need a lot more recovery time. Often times you won't fully recover even with a good night's sleep. The next day you'll still feel groggy and worn out. It can take two good nights of sleep to fully recover from being extremely tired.
Obviously there's a huge safety factor here too. You're incredibly dangerous when you're driving tired. Someone who has been up 24 straight hours has the same driving skills as someone who is legally drunk - it's been proven through scientific testing. So stop and rest before you become too exhausted. You will feel more energetic and you'll be a safer driver if you stop to sleep before you become too exhausted.
And what mileage goals should you shoot for as a rookie driver? In your first six months on the road as a rookie, I would say about 2400-2700 miles per week would be a solid goal to shoot for. From about six months to a year on the road, you can up it a little bit - maybe 2600-2900 miles per week. After you've been on the road for a year you should be able to run about 3000 miles or so per week on average safely without burning out.
So if you can manage to avoid many of the traffic delays, find easy parking when you need it, try to get some of your appointment times moved ahead, and rest before you become too exhausted, you'll be able to turn more miles, make more money, feel more energetic, be a safer driver, and please your company immensely with the same amount of sleep as a driver with less efficient time management skills.