Now wonder we get lost...

TD54: Truckers Get Lost: The Do’s And Don’ts Of Giving Directions

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No wonder we get lost…

Truck drivers disagree on lots of things; like whether bathing is necessary or not. But they also agree on many things. For example, no driver will argue when I say that the driving directions our companies provide stink worse than fresh tequila vomit.

The average trucker will drive 120,000 miles per year, so you’d think we’d have this whole navigation thing down, wouldn’t you? Yet we don’t. Well, some of us don’t. So what seems to be the problem? Well, let’s see…

First, I should explain that most drivers receive directions to the customer when we receive our load information. Who’s responsible for supplying that information? Well, the majority of companies that I’ve worked for haven’t had a standard. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

Some companies ask the customers for directions when they book the freight. Other times, they tell the driver to call the customer to get directions. Still, other times, I’ve had dispatchers tell me, “Hold on while I Google it.” Oh boy, this is gonna to be a hoot.

Let me address this Google thing first. While there have been numerous occasions where Google Maps has bailed me out (see Trucking in the Northeast), there have been just as many times where it’s gotten me into trouble. Just the other night, I found myself in a quiet residential area in Rhode Island because my company didn’t have any directions and the customer was closed on Sunday. Well, the neighborhood was quiet before I got there anyway.

The fact is, Google Maps aren’t truck-friendly. It doesn’t know a truck route from a goat path. It doesn’t consider the weight limits of bridges or the height of overpasses. And it certainly doesn’t inform us of HazMat restricted routes. Like I said, Google has gotten me out of a few pinches by simply providing a map of the area I’m in, but it’s anything but perfect for trucks.

You may ask, what about GPS? Even regular GPS units won’t do the trick. If you want all the information relevant to trucks, you’ve got to buy a truck-specific unit. However, having used one before, I have to tell you that I wouldn’t trust one of those any more than a dad would trust his daughter’s date on prom night.

I was talking to a driver trainer the other day who told me he had a student that refused to learn how to read a map. The trainee said he didn’t need it because he was going to get a GPS when he got out of training. First off, this guy would’ve never made it out of training with me. I would’ve sat there like a stone-faced gargoyle when he asked me where to go and where to turn. He would have learned to read a map or found a new instructor. Why? Because map reading and following directions are essential to a truck driver. What happened to this student next is a perfect example of why.

Two weeks later the student got his own truck. He called the trainer and asked how to get to a particular shipper. The trainer said, “Where’s your GPS?” He replied, “Uhhhh… I don’t have it yet.” Frustrated, the trainer said, “Where are you now?” The new driver said, “I’m over at the yard where you dropped me.” To which the trainer said, “Look across the street.”

So, back to our problem. How do we get and give quality directions? Well, we can’t totally control how our company office people handle directions, but we sometimes have a say in the matter. Many carriers will ask the driver to provide them with the directions to the customer once they’ve established a good route in. Once they’re in the system, they send them out to every driver going there in the future. And herein lies my beef. Many truckers are just as bad at giving directions as Googling non-truckers. So here are some do’s and don’ts when supplying directions to your company or any other fellow human being that you don’t completely loathe:

  • Do give enough information to be clear.
  • Don’t give more information than is needed. Is it really necessary that I know that I’m going to pass a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Burger King, a WalMart, and a Long John Silvers? I’d like to deep-fry the drivers who do this.
  • Don’t give directions from your starting point. Not everyone going to Pennsylvania is coming from Oklahoma… freakin’ moron.
  • Do start the directions from the nearest Interstate. Even if the next driver is coming from a different direction, they can look on a map and see how they need to adjust their route. That is, he can if Mr. Know-It-All can read a map.
  • Do give a compass point off the exit ramp or main road. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like, “From I-30 take exit 34 and go right.” Great. So if I’m going west, I’ll be heading north; if I were headed east, I’ll be going south. Or will I? What if the exit is a clover leaf to a stop light? Then it’s the exact opposite. See what I mean? You can be much clearer by saying, “From I-30 take exit 34 and go south.”
  • Don’t give the direction you are going on the Interstate unless it’s relevant. For instance, if an exit can only be accessed when going westbound, be sure to say something like, “From I-44 West take exit 15 (Duquesne/Joplin.). No access from I-44 East.”
  • Do give an exit number and the name of the town or street on the exit sign. If you’re not certain of the exit number coming from the other direction, say, “From I-44 West take exit 15 (Duquesne/Joplin). Unsure of exit # from Eastbound.”
  • Do use the term “right” and “left” once you’ve got your bearing off the main road. It sounds too confusing when you say, “Turn south at the exit ramp, go east on Naval Drive, north on Bellydancing Lane, and west on Bellybutton Circle.”
  • Don’t give distances off the main road if it’s fairly close. However, if your next turn is 6 miles down the road, say so. That way, a driver isn’t slowing down at every intersection for the next 6 miles. And all those 4-wheelers can refrain from cussing us for 6 miles.
  • Do provide street names. “Take the second left” just doesn’t cut it. How do you know a new street or two hasn’t gone in? “Take a left on Port-A-Potty Road” is much more precise.
  • Don’t use landmarks that could change. Providing landmarks can be good in the right circumstances. For instance, railroad tracks, bridges or the city hall rarely change, but Hardee’s, stop lights, and gas stations do. Not long ago, I got directions that said, “Turn east onto Route 126 and turn right at the Exxon station.” I happened to remember the customer, which was fortunate since the station had recently changed to a Phillips 66.
  • Don’t be too frugal with your wording. In-cab satellite systems have been in use since the mid 90s, so truckers have been doing the whole text-shortening thing a lot longer than you 4-wheeling punks. Satellite systems usually charge by the character, so truckers were encouraged to use as many abbreviations as possible. Substitutions such as 2 and # were used in place of the words “to” and “number.” I once got directions that said, “Go 4 mile and the customer is on the right.” I went 4 miles. Whoever had typed the directions had substituted the number “4” for the word “for.” Don’t do that. U-turns in a truck just flat-out suck.

Sometimes the directions that we get are perfect. Those have been sent in by yours truly. You’re welcome. Sometimes the directions that we receive aren’t wrong, they’re just extremely vague. One is just as bad as the other. When you’re driving a 70+ foot vehicle, the last thing you need to do is get lost.

So here’s how I plan to solve this problem. As soon as someone is willing to give me a million bucks, a computer programming whiz, and a list of every business in America, I’ll get started making a database that carriers can subscribe to.

On second thought, that sounds like an awful lot of work. What-say we drivers just pull our heads out of our tailpipes and use some common sense when we’re sending in those directions to our companies. And any dispatcher who gives me directions from Google should be coated with BBQ sauce and left in a cannibal-infested desert.

*Please click the “like” button if you enjoyed this post and/or give it a rating. Okay, folks. Tell me what I forgot. What are your suggestions to make directions more clear. Leave a comment for all to see.*

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25 Responses to TD54: Truckers Get Lost: The Do’s And Don’ts Of Giving Directions

  1. Jason October 7, 2010 at 8:26 AM #

    Well, I would say this post is spot on! Great work! You nailed this one. I can’t tell you how many 4 letter words I have said before when getting Google directions..:)

    And yes that sounds like a lot of work but it would be nice…

    Map reading should be a priority item on a training list…schools teach it and if you can “properly read” a map you won’t get lost – very often. But, I always said you have not driven anywhere if you have not been lost in a tractor and trailer. Keep up the great work and be safe!

    • Todd McCann October 7, 2010 at 5:49 PM #

      Man, I know what you mean about not being a real trucker until you find yourself lost in a tractor trailer. The feeling you get when you begin to realize that you may be lost is horrible. The sudden hot flash, the increased heart rate… oh yea. That’s a rush of the worst kind.

      Thanks for leaving a comment.

  2. Droidtrucker October 7, 2010 at 9:06 AM #

    My favorites are the leave em guessing ones like “xit 11, take r at 6th light”. For one customer this includes the light at the xit ramp, another starts count once you are actually off the ramp.

    • Todd McCann October 7, 2010 at 5:52 PM #

      You got that right. Vagueness is just as bad as wrong directions. And that stoplight thing is a pet peeve of mine. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  3. Lawsonbulk October 9, 2010 at 8:54 PM #

    I also hate directions that count stop lights. It’s amazing how many drivers can’t count to six. I do like landmarks though. I make a lot of deliveries in the boonies at night. You can’t read street signs if they are even there and knowing what business is supposed to be on the corner I need to turn on often helps.

    The State of Il. is now considering a law that would ban any GPS from a truck that is not a truck GPS because so many trucks using car GPS have ended up on roads and bridges they don’t belong on. I see this to be a future trend for all states.

    If your to lazy to learn how to read a map you really need to get out of the truck and find a new line of work. Map reading is the easy part of the job.

    • Todd McCann October 16, 2010 at 6:44 AM #

      Well said, my good man. After reading this comment, I’m considering altering my original post. You definitely make a valid point for using landmarks. They certainly are useful after dark. So here’s the compromise I’m willing to make.

      Drivers: It is now officially okay to use landmarks, such as Taco Bell or 6 stoplights. But if you use them without an accompanying street name, you’ll be squished against a trailer interior wall with a ratcheting load lock until your chest caves in. Fair enough?

      Seriously folks, “Turn left at the Taco Bell” doesn’t cut it. “Turn left at the Taco Bell (Burrito Ave.)” does.

  4. Kevin McKague October 9, 2010 at 9:31 PM #

    There are so many great points in this post, and in the comments.

    I am baffled as to why so many new drivers refuse to learn how to use a map. How hard is it anyways? Then again, I’ve always been fascinated by maps. I’m a geek.

    The best solution when going to a new location is to call the receiver at the place you are visiting. The receptionist might know exactly how to get to where you are going, but be clueless about the low-clearance bridge on her normal route to work.

    One of the companies I used to work for actually had drivers who would intentionally give incorrect directions to be given to other drivers. After finding myself on a residential street in the middle of the night, I rarely looked at their directions again.

    All of this talk about directions reminds me of a somewhat related story;

    Before becoming a truck driver I had a crappy retail job. Nearly every week somebody would call the store asking if the store “is on the right or left side of the road”.

    “Well,” I’d reply, “I guess that depends entirely upon your starting location”.

    Like you said, “right side” or “left side of the road” instructions help approximately 50% of the time.

    • Todd McCann October 16, 2010 at 6:52 AM #

      You made a great point yourself, Kevin. I can’t believe I forgot to put this in the post. Thanks for the reminder.

      Listen kiddos, Kevin is correct. If you can call a customer for directions, by all means do so. Some will even have directions listed as a menu item on the message. If they don’t, ALWAYS talk to someone who works on the docks or the shipping/receiving office. Just as Kevin said, the receptionist is the worst person in the world to get directions from.

      Funny story about people calling your retail job for directions. Love your response. I can see their eyebrows furrow on the other end of the telephone line. You know, I half expect that from normal folks. But why so many truckers can’t grasp this is mind-boggling.

  5. Lisa Nowak October 11, 2010 at 3:14 AM #

    How can anybody not be able to read a map? It’s not rocket science.

    I remember a friend in North Carolina telling me how people gave directions down there. They always included one final landmark. “If ya get to the Piggly Wiggly, ya done gone too far.” I’m sure that would be really useful to someone in a big rig. He also said someone once gave a him a set of directions that included turning right at the three cows grazing in the field.

    • Todd McCann October 16, 2010 at 6:53 AM #

      “Turn right at the three cows grazing in the field.” That’s hilarious. Hope none of those cows are pregnant.

  6. Aaron October 13, 2010 at 1:11 AM #

    It sounds to me like you can’t go wrong with a good old map. Map reading should be part of every truck school’s criteria…Everyone knows that google maps doesn’t always get it right!

    • Todd McCann October 16, 2010 at 6:55 AM #

      Apparently, not everyone knows Google Maps aren’t always right. I could name a few dispatchers… 🙂

    • fltruckerwife October 28, 2010 at 12:15 AM #

      My hubby has tons of maps on the truck with him but not every place is on the map. Little known streets and back roads that his company like to send him on are not usually there. Back roads to avoid toll roads = BIG headache

      Oh and don’t get me started on his driving partner. All he does is cry all day about not having a new qualcomm with a gps on it. He won’t even look at a map. Grrrr…

      (Yes he is requesting a new partner)

      • Todd McCann November 8, 2010 at 1:56 AM #

        I know all about the headaches of avoiding toll roads. My company avoids them like the plague. As for drivers who won’t use maps, I say we use them as a replacement for speed bumps.

  7. fltruckerwife October 28, 2010 at 12:10 AM #

    Yup. You summed it up. I have been telling Chris for a year that I am surprised no one has come up with a truck friendly mapping system online. The technology is there, but who is willing to take the time (and money) to do it is the question.

    I have to look up directions for Chris a LOT. I always use google and I ALWAYS go to street view when it is available. It has saved him many times but I agree that it is just not a reliable source for truck friendly routes.

    Just today I was giving him directions to a receiver coming from the NJ turnpike. Yeah…. I know. The way google directed me was to make a left on this one street… only there were no left turns allowed. He had to find a street that allowed left turns then get back to the original street to continue on.

    Crappy directions SUCK.
    /endrant

    • Todd McCann November 8, 2010 at 1:52 AM #

      “Crappy directions SUCK.” Awww, my friend. The eloquence of words are once again with you. 🙂 They do make GPS units that are designed for trucks, but I still don’t trust them entirely. And they are stinkin’ expensive to boot.

      And thank you for being a superb trucker’s wife/navigator. I’m sure Chris appreciates it. As a matter of fact, most of us truckers out here could use a home navigator. Please enter your home telephone number here: _____________________ LOL!

      • Casey November 8, 2010 at 3:13 AM #

        Don’t be jealous of my eloquence. 😛

        P.S. Chris’ driving partner bought a trucking GPS… Guess what? He has gotten lost no less than 10 times since installing it. Chris tried to tell him not to rely on it but… it was pretty much a lost cause.

        • Todd McCann November 8, 2010 at 8:32 AM #

          I see a future drive into a lake for Chris’ partner one day. Let’s hope Chris isn’t asleep in the bunk at the time. Unless of course he has a healthy life insurance policy. LOL

  8. David Ross September 6, 2013 at 10:50 PM #

    My late grandmother – the same one who taught me about driving though she never drove a day in her life (see below) – instilled in me a love for maps. I enjoy all types of maps – road, topographical, and navigational charts (e.g. aeronautical charts).

    I’ll give directions using landmarks (one or two) if I know the landmark is still there in cases where the turn might be hard to see or use a landmark to indicate they have passed where they should have turned or stopped. An example of the latter: My apartment building is hard to see from the road. I’ll let them know that if they pass McDonald’s then they have gone too far.

    Now, how could my grandmother, who never drove a day in her life, teach me about driving? For those who haven’t seen my previous post, I’ll tell you. My grandma would take the bus everywhere. What she learned by observing the bus drivers was that they constantly scanned. They would like ahead, look at the mirrors, look at the dash, and repeat the process. That, to me, is a great driving method. One needs to know not only what is in front of him while driving but also to the sides and back.

    • Todd McCann September 22, 2013 at 4:12 AM #

      Hey David,

      If you notice further up in the blog comments, I sort of had a change of heart about giving landmarks as part of giving directions. I just insist that it isn’t something that could easily change. You’re fine telling someone not to pass the McDonald’s because when you non-truckers give directions, they usually are only needed for the present day. We truckers, however, turn in directions that could be in the system for years to come. So that McDonald’s might be a mom and pop seafood restaurant in 5 years. Whereas railroad tracks and bridges aren’t likely to change over time. Kapeesh?

      • David Ross September 22, 2013 at 6:15 PM #

        Kapeesh.

        I do have another observation on this. If I was a trucker or anyone else getting directions,I think I would be somewhat leery of any directions that a few years old. Even though the directions could still be good, they may not be good for the situation that I’m in. For example, a section of the directions could have been made off-limits to trucks or through-traffic. A good example is a the town of Livermore here in the People’s Republic of California. The downtown road use to be 4 lanes. Now it’s 2 lanes with on-street parking. Hopefully the dispatcher would be up-to-speed and know to remove directions involving this street.

        So, I take it the following instructions are no good? Take a left at the place where the tree was blown over last year. Go a fair distance then turn right where my mom and dad met and then go 2, 3, maybe 4 miles and turn at the

        • Todd McCann September 24, 2013 at 9:49 PM #

          No David, those directions are great! I’ll meet you there in 10 minutes. LOL Seriously though, while it’s a great point you make about trying to get recent directions, with most of the large carriers I’ve worked for we had no way of knowing how current the directions were. I know for a fact that I’ve seen directions that I had turned in 2 or 3 years before. And expecting a dispatcher to know would be like expecting your newborn infant to sit up in her crib and holler, “Hey Pop! I gotta poop here! Think we could use the toilet this time?”

          • David Ross September 24, 2013 at 10:20 PM #

            LOL! If you take the shortcut where the that gray pebble is you can save a couple of minutes.

            • Todd McCann September 24, 2013 at 10:23 PM #

              Sweet!

  9. David Ross September 6, 2013 at 10:53 PM #

    One more thing – I swear by GPS units! However, you need to have backup in case the unti goes out. That’s where maps come in handy. And detailed maps at that!

    (I’m a four wheeler, by the way.)

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