The Freedom of Trucking: Blessing or Curse?

by G-Town

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I think we have all heard this saying: "With Freedom Comes Responsibility"

Let’s assume it’s understood how that statement applies to our personal lives as United States citizens, etc. Perhaps in a bigger way, this too applies to trucking. "How so"? Of all the topics we cover in Trucking Truth; success criteria and things that enable failure, the freedom of trucking can swing either way.

Most of us did not enter into a trucking experienced in managing almost unlimited job freedom. Conventional jobs typically require adherence to a set schedule; following the rules of where to be, when to be there and what to do. A structured job is what most of us have experienced. The freedom associated with trucking is often viewed as a great benefit, one that most everyone entering into this career desires and looks forward to. At least they think they do...

I suggest the Freedom associated with this job, many times requires one of the more acutely difficult, but not so obvious adjustments. This "freedom adjustment" can be challenging for almost anyone because with few exceptions, most of us have never had this much of it, not at a job or at school.

The first and second step with any potential problem is recognition and then understanding. Once past the comfy-confines of the trainer’s truck, we are all effectively cut loose from the Mothership, launched into the tough world of trucking, free to roam the vast byways and highways of our great country.

Take me for instance; worked most of my adult life in various technology consulting and project management positions. I had the bosses who signed my paycheck and the bosses (customers) who signed my status reports and deliverables acceptance reports. As a journeyman consultant, I had many bosses and it varied as the assignment changed. Never did I need to worry about having any freedom at work…sans the solace of the occasional potty-break, there really wasn’t any.

Although I was happy to leave that box, my new found freedom created an interesting situation for me. Basically most truck drivers are given a start date and time, a delivery date and time with potentially a whole lot of space in the middle; that other than e-logs we have very little direct accountability for. In a conventional job, there are usually all kinds of people poking their noses in our business. But with trucking, those frequent checks, the invasive oversight doesn’t typically occur. I suggest Freedom is one of the more daunting reality-checks a new truck driver faces. Please do not underestimate it.

Here is how I adjusted and handled it in the beginning as a neophyte trucker...

Time Management Can Be Daunting

Admittedly, my approach to time management clearly needed to improve, requiring a change in thought and planning. Throughout the first three months of my Walmart Dedicated Account career, I ran out of hours far too many times. I’d get to the 13th hour of on-duty and wonder; "where did it all go?" I mean, honestly, I sucked first couple of months. I realized "Trucker Freedom" has a price.

Problem recognized, gut-check time. I began to document all of the things that cost time. Like getting lost, wrong turns, getting lost again, spotting trailers at a store with a door blocked on the inside or outside, entering on the wrong side of the store, having to turnaround in the customer parking lot, missed drop & hook locations, standing outside repeatedly ringing the bell (delayed), multiple PTA’s during the day, and numerous individual vendor backhaul procedures. I focused on compiling this list for about two weeks. A humbling experience it was, reviewing the myriad of screw-ups. All of these issues added up, amounting to gobs of lost time.

Having The Proper Mindset

Step two of my adjustment was building a mindset of accountability and improvement. I began each week by focusing on one or two problems within my control of improving. There was the tactical and of course the bigger picture items on my list. My first order of business was to do a better job of trip-planning (sound familiar). This included doing a better job of reviewing each store’s dock area using Google Maps as I progressed through my stops. Considering a 5 stop-run, the less time spent getting to the dock, bumping the dock, and exiting the store was time saved on the clocks.

Here are the first few steps of my adjustment:

Never trust your GPS

I aligned the GPS using the look-ahead feature with the written instructions on the Walmart trip-sheet for each store. NaviGo (our GPS) was only taking me to the front of the store…putting me in harms-way more times than not. The written directions solved that problem by describing the steps required to safely get to the dock bypassing the primary customer areas and how to safely exit. In addition, I pre-check the GPS route between stops also by using the look-ahead feature. I learned the hard way, the GPS was right 98% of the time going to the first stop and returning to the final destination. In-between going from the first to the second, and so-on, not as accurate and at times grossly wrong.

The accuracy also degraded when re-routing for a missed turn or a detour. I began to compile route notes on all of the different variations from one store to the next and all but ignored NaviGo. This was of particular importance when delivering within urban areas that included residential neighborhoods. Yes, I too have traversed many a car/tree-lined narrow street; occasionally by design, but usually by mistake. So trip planning on this account; is perpetual…real-time, never completely stopping throughout the day. Huge adjustment, one that required many months of trial & error; a realization that time spent on planning saves many times that by the end of the day.

Have A Clear Plan

Have a plan for each delivery or backhaul before arriving. Until I became a truck driver, I loved surprises. Showing up to a store with no clue what to expect was not only elevating my anxiety level (when a bad surprise is discovered), but many times my backing setup was guesswork, a mess. Google Maps…is the best tool available to prepare for the unexpected and dealing with really tight spaces. Having both an overhead view and street view allowed me to plan the best approach for any dock requiring unconventional maneuvering.

My approach was to first focus on the store parking lot, expand the view to include entry and exit and the surrounding route. Saved a ton of time once I adopted this as a part of my daily real-time trip planning. I knew in advance of each stop what to expect and I documented the troublesome stores in a notebook (like Elmsford NY Sam’s, Warminster PA WM, Boothwyn PA WM, Mt. Pocono PA, Clinton NJ, Princeton NJ WM, Maple Shade NJ WM, Wall Township NJ WM, Riverside NJ, and Cedar Knoll NJ WM to name just a few).

Using the store phone numbers. The process and procedures, with no exception; I must have paperwork signed confirming delivery, present the invoice, and/or if a live-unload I must monitor/observe the unloading and at times the reloading process. It requires me to gain access into the interior receiving area of each store or Sam’s Club. About half of the stores I was delivering to kept me waiting at the door, sometimes up to a half an hour. Crazy when a 5-stop run is the dispatched trip. Incredibly frustrating.

My solution; voice dial. And it was a two- fold process depending on the location being delivered to. I adopted a "ring-twice" approach. Ring the bell, wait 1 minute and ring again if no response. Wait another minute and then call for a manager using voice-dial. If no one has let me in, I’ll call again. I am almost always in after the second call. Almost immediately, this achieved results. I was getting into the store dock far faster, usually in less than 5-minutes. This on average was saving about 30 to at times 45 minutes for each dispatched load.

Develop Strong Relationships

Relationships with Driver Leaders and Planners. As I developed a better understanding of the account operation, at about the 6 month point I began to request trips a day in advance, they call it a pre-plan. Having a set pre-plan coming off a 34 hour reset is important in starting off a new week efficiently. I built a database of store locations in proximity to an Interstate to reduce the travel time required to progress through each stop.

The basic steps I applied, plus the skills development that naturally occurs, greatly improved the approach necessary to manage the Freedoms of Trucking. Personal responsibility is the essential element required and although the steps I implemented are specific to Walmart Dedicated, I believe the basic rationale is consistent no matter what type of job you have.

In summary a New OTR driver can adopt a similar approach transitioning to trucking from a more structured job. Trip planning is the essential element this requiring far more time than we are typically taught during road-training. Preparation and preparedness is key.

Eliminate Surprises

Reduce the surprises. Have a basic understanding of where you are going and what to expect along the route and at the shipper/receiver dock. If dock ingress requires a specific approach and you guess wrong? The result can be gobs of lost time adjusting to the mistake. Plan. As I mentioned earlier, never rely entirely on GPS. This is especially true in a real-time, rerouting fashion. GPS is one of several tools necessary for identifying route directions. It’s important to review the route using the look-ahead feature and also compare it to the Trucker’s Road Atlas. Have a basic idea of turns, the terrain, entering and exiting of Interstates and Major Highways. Write it down on a sticky note, attach the within easy reach and use as a reference, specifically in the event the satellite connection is dropped (which will occur at the most inopportune time).

Great Communication Is Vital

Proactive communication. Keep your driver leader (dispatch) informed of progress or delays. Verbal communication although important, is not going to establish the correct level of attention and documentation. Use the Qualcomm or other company issued electronic device to document communication. It can always be referred to for clarity at some point in the future.

Be your own advocate by constantly evaluating your performance and your ability to handle the freedom that goes with it. To this day I still review my day, and critique how I handled situations and how best to improve where applicable. Ask for the driver leader’s input whenever it makes sense. In the beginning it makes sense to do this frequently. Do not be afraid to ask for help if you think it’s needed.

If you think you need help (and you probably do), ask for it.

Looking forward to reading how others adopted an approach to leverage their freedom. Safe travels!

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.

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.

Interstate:

Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).

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.

TWIC:

Transportation Worker Identification Credential

Truck drivers who regularly pick up from or deliver to the shipping ports will often be required to carry a TWIC card.

Your TWIC is a tamper-resistant biometric card which acts as both your identification in secure areas, as well as an indicator of you having passed the necessary security clearance. TWIC cards are valid for five years. The issuance of TWIC cards is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

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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