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Any trucker who’s driven for more than a week will tell you that there are stupid rules everywhere in the trucking industry. Naturally, if you’re one of those truckers, your thoughts immediately flew to the well-meaning, but ignorant rule-makers at the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, or FMCSA for short. But today is not the day to rail against the FMCSA. I’ve done plenty of venting about them in the past. Just type “FMCSA” into the search bar if you don’t believe me. We also won’t be discussing bad trucking company policies. I did touch on that way back in TD10: When Company Policy Overrides Common Sense. No, today we’re talking about stupid rules that are put into place by the shippers and receivers we truckers deal with every day.
Stupid rules caused by stupid truckers
You know, if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that people are often idiots. I think we can all agree on that just by watching one short episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Or if you’re a trucker, you can simply look out your windshield for the next three seconds. Now it wouldn’t be so bad if all these idiots could be stupid in a vacuum, but unfortunately their stupidity oozes out onto the rest of us like a jelly donut inevitably squirts raspberry goo onto your new white shirt. What I’m trying to say is that all too often the stupid rules we truckers have to follow can be traced back to some crap-for-brains trucker screwing it up for everyone.
At some time or another, some trucker has tried to pull away from the dock before they were supposed to. Whether this was an impatient trucker, a simple lack of communication, or possibly a bit of both, it really doesn’t matter; the trucker will likely take the blame. The shippers/receivers have come up with all sorts of ways to keep dock accidents from happening. Before we get into the stupid rules, we should discuss the things that shippers/receivers have done to prevent dock accidents.
Dock lights – Every modern dock is equipped with these lights. They are always on the outside of the building on the driver’s side of the dock so the driver can see them from the driver’s seat. If the light is green, that means the trucker can back in or pull away from the dock safely. If it’s red, you should keep your stinking hands off the gear shift. These lights are reversed on the dock side, so when the driver has the green, the forklift driver gets a red light, meaning they shouldn’t go onto the trailer. Likewise, when the driver sees the red light, that means it should be safe for the lift driver to go on and off the trailer.
Dock restraint systems – These restraint systems are designed to lock the trailer against the dock. There are many manufacturers, but they all pretty much do the same thing. A giant hook comes out and latches onto the bumper of the trailer. These restraints work on all trailers because every trailer since the early 80s is required to have a DOT (Department of Transportation) regulated rear bumper installed for safety reasons.
It’s important to note that both of these safety devices can only be controlled from inside the building. And more often than not, there’s a sign stating that the driver is not allowed to touch the controls. Okay, so you’d think that would be enough, right? Well, apparently not because many shippers/receivers have implemented additional guidelines that can be characterized as nothing less than overkill. Oh boy, if my brother knew I just said “Overkill,” he’d be wigging out. He does love his 80s metal bands. So now we get to the stupid rules ranting. Let’s go.
Overkill dock safety practices
Chocking a tire – (see picture) Most companies have chock blocks sitting out and there are signs stating that you won’t get loaded until you stick one under your trailer tire. Sometimes the loader checks this visually, other times not. Now these chock blocks won’t keep a torque monster like a semi from pulling away from the dock if you’ve got a mind to, but they will provide enough resistance to hopefully wake you up out of your stupor. Okay. So now we have something stuck under one tire. Fine. Combined with the dock lights and the restraint system, that should be enough, right? Well, that depends how anal the shipper/receiver is.
Chocking two tires – Okay, now we’re getting into overkill land. Some customers will have you use two chock blocks, one for each side of the trailer. Does this make any sense? Sure, it might double the resistance factor, but it seems a bit excessive. Or does it? Maybe not. Cuz some companies go even further.
Air line locks – The braking system on a tractor-trailer is controlled by air. The blue line you see in the photo is the service line. It regulates air to the brakes. If you press hard on the brake pedal, it forces more air to apply the brakes harder. The red line is the supply line (or emergency line). It’s job is to supply a steady stream of air to the air tanks on the trailer. If the pressure drops too low, the trailer brakes will lock up. This is the loud pop and whooshing sound you hear when we are parking.
An air line lock is used to make sure the trailer brakes stay locked. This small device is attached to the glad hand by an employee of the customer. Since the red air line can’t be attached at the same time, this really does a good job of keeping the trailer in place. Even if a trucker wanted to, they probably couldn’t move the trailer. With those trailer brakes locked, even a torqued-out diesel engine usually can’t drag a loaded trailer with the air brakes locked.Okay.
So now if I want to move this trailer before I’m supposed to, I’ll have to ignore the red light, rip the restraint system off the wall, and run over two chock blocks. But that’s only after I take a sledge-hammer to the air line lock. Yeesh. Is this step really necessary? But wait! There’s more!
Disconnect from the trailer – We’re not talking about just the red air line here. We’re talking unhooking both air lines, the electrical line, the fifth wheel, lowering the landing gear, and pulling out from under the trailer. Sometimes they’ll let you sit in front of the trailer. Other times they’ll have you go park in another area. So now I’m not even hooked to the trailer. Finally! Safety has been assured, yes? You would think, wouldn’t you?
Take your keys inside – Believe it or not, there are still some customers who take it one step further: you have to take your keys inside and hang them on a board or give them to the shipping clerk. Sometimes they’ll let you go back out to your truck, but there are just as many who require you to stay in the building. So now we’re completely safe. No chance of pulling away from the dock. But just to be safe…
Lock your keys in a locker – Okay. Let me go ahead and say that this has only happened to me a few times in my 17-year career. Still, it has happened. I’ve done all the aforementioned stuff and when I went inside they actually take my keys and lock them in a locker. Only after they’ve finished loading/unloading and I have my paperwork in hand do they hand me the key to the padlock. Hellooooo? Have we reached Paranoiaville yet?
Other miscellaneous stupid customer rules
No idling – I’ve already covered this topic in far greater detail way back in TD11: The Insanity of Truck Idling Laws. As a matter of fact, that whole article was brought about by this very situation. I was sitting at a customer who wouldn’t allow trucks to idle while being loaded. Other customers go so far as to say there is no idling whatsoever allowed on their property; sitting in a dock or not. Okay; let me be brief. Here are 3 reasons no-idling rules aren’t cool:
- A co-driver could be trying to sleep.
- I could be either colder than Eskimo snot or hotter than Daisy Duke in a jacuzzi.
- I might need to idle to power all my electrical crap. Enough said.
Both drivers must exit the truck – The Evil Overlord and I have dealt with this in two scenarios. One; they don’t want either driver in the truck while they’re loading/unloading. Again, 9 times out of 10 this disrupts one of the driver’s sleep. That’s just so uncool, man. And secondly, they’ve needed us both to check in at the shipping/receiving office.
Honestly, this latter situation hasn’t happened a lot, but it really hacked me off every time it did. And if I was peeved, you can imagine how pleased The Evil Overlord was. Especially when she was the one having to get out of bed. Seriously, if it’s a security issue (like a high-value load), what’s the point of dragging both of us inside? If the truck or any of its product gets stolen, the company I drive for knows everything about both of us, including our social security numbers. And if they know what truck number picked up the load (and how could they not if they sent me to get it), they know who is driving the truck. And let’s not forget that most trucks have satellite systems that can be tracked too. Overkillllll!
Unreasonable speed limits – Why is it that a customer can post a 10 mph sign and every driver is expected to do it, except of course, all the yard jockeys… who are apparently trying to run down The Flash? Listen, I understand the need to not have every truck flying around the parking lot, but if I’ve got to go to the far side of that huge warehouse, I’d like to get there sometime before tomorrow afternoon. Lighten up already!
Shipper load/driver count – I covered all this junk back in TD32: SLC to CYA, but I’ll touch on this particular one again. Sometimes the shipper will claim responsibility for the correct count of the product. That’s called a Shipper Load and Count, or SLC.
Other times, they pass it off onto the driver. We call this Shipper Load/Driver Count, or SLDC. In this situation, we drivers have to stand by the dock door and count the product as it’s loaded. Here’s the problem with this; we don’t know the product. Now if the loader tells us that each pallet has 30 cases of prune juice, then that’s easy enough to count; 6 boxes on each row, 5 rows, equals 30 cases… and lots of pooping. But if it gets any more confusing than that, how are we to really know what we’re signing for?If they tell me there’s 200 boxes per pallet, how easy is it to know for sure? How do I know the loader hasn’t taken 10 cases out of the middle of the stack and hidden them in the trunk of his car? And if the pallets are double-stacked… well, then I’m really clueless about what’s on that bottom pallet.
My point is, why should it be the driver’s responsibility to make sure the trailer is loaded with the right amount and correct type of product? Loaders should be responsible for loading. I mean, I don’t ask the receiver to back my truck into the dock, do I? That’s my job. What the heck is his if it’s not loading trucks?
Cleanliness of trailers – I haul sugar quite a bit. These loads are known as “food grade” loads. Not only are these loads a pain because they’re heavier than Jared before Subway, but these customers also require you to get on your hands and knees to lick your trailer floor clean. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad. But I have had trailers rejected for what seems like ridiculous reasons.
Listen, I understand the concept of “food grade.” As one annoying sugar plant supervisor once told me, “How would you like to find metal shavings in your food?” Well I wouldn’t. But still… I have been rejected due to a few (and I mean less than a dozen) teeny, tiny, little metal shavings before. We’re talking smaller than a grain of rice here.
Again, I understand “food grade.” But can you tell me exactly how a rice-sized metal shaving is going to jump off the floor, over a wooden pallet, rip through some plastic shrink-wrap and the heavy paper packaging for each bag of sugar, and somehow manage to embed itself into the sugar? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Oh. And did I mention these tiny specks of hellish impurity are usually only still there because they’re down in a crack in the floor of the trailer? Yeah…
So there you have it. These are just a few of the stupid rules that we truckers have to deal with every day. Now I know we truckers aren’t alone here. I’m sure every non-trucker has their own set of stupid rules they’re required to follow too. Heck, just look right here inside our own industry for a great example: The members of the FMCSA are a bunch of non-truckers who have to make up rules for those of us who are truckers. Talk about stupid. Now where’s that Daisy Duke link again? 😀
*So what have I missed? What’s the most customer overkill you’ve witnessed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll share them on a future podcast too!*