company policies

TD130: How Much Should Truckers Bend The Rules?

The trucking industry is full of opportunities to fudge things. But the question is; should we? Where do we draw the line between fact and fiction; between right and wrong? In other words, how much should truckers bend the rules?

The trucking industry is full of opportunities to fudge things. But the question is; should we? Where do we draw the line between fact and fiction; between right and wrong? In other words, how much should truckers bend the rules?

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Download the intro/outro songs for free! courtesy of Walking On Einstein.
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This was the topic of a conversation I had in the Trucker Dump Slack group after a friend called me out about something I mentioned doing. He was basically questioning whether what I was doing was moral or not. For the record, this is one of the things that I love about the Trucker Dump Slack group. We can always have a lively, yet civil conversation without anyone get bent out of shape and resorting to personal insults. So anyway, I don’t fault this guy at all for questioning my morals. In fact, I welcome it. 

You see, this guy is a friend of mine and a fellow Christian. Stick with me here. The religious stuff will be over in a minute. I just need to set the stage so you can see where we are both coming from. 

Even non-Christians know the verse in the Bible about not judging other people. Heck, they quote it all the time to justify some of their behaviors. This makes sense when you’re talking about unbelievers. Why should a Christian judge them against something that this person doesn’t even believe? On a side note, people who disagree with Christians should remember this works in reverse. Anywho…

But far too often Christians use this rule amongst themselves too. And that is not what the Bible says. There are many verses saying that we are supposed to hold our fellow Christians accountable; that we are to call them out and try to help bring them back if they are going down a slippery slope. So with that explained, let’s move on to what my friend was calling me out on. Sunday school class is dismissed. 😉

The setup

The Evil Overlord (wife and ex-codriver) and I are planning to go on a little trip to her aunt and uncle’s lake house this weekend. We’ll be doing some skiing, some canoeing, some fishing, some jet skiing, and possibly some golf if we can squeeze in a few extra hours to look for my golf ball in the weeds. We haven’t done anything like this in ages, so we’re both really looking forward to it. 

Now here’s the problem. To enjoy a mini vacation, you need money, right? My week was looking like I was going to have a measly 2000 miles. However, if I could deliver my 700-mile load by Friday midnight, I would jump from a bad paycheck to an excellent paycheck. Only problem was I needed to go 616 miles in 11 hours… in a 64 mph truck… on a Friday… around Atlanta and down to the Orlando area.

No problem since I’m a super-trucker and all. This friend of mine didn’t think I could do it. I told him he should go ahead and wash his feet so they would taste better when I proved him wrong.

Well, I am awesome, so I arrived at 11:30 PM with about 40 minutes left on my 11-hour driving clock. I went into the office, only to find out there wasn’t going to be anyone who could sign for delivery until 4 AM. The dock guy refused to sign the bill.

The questionable choice

Here’s where the dilemma comes in. In order to get paid for a load, my company has to receive my Arrived at Consignee (fancy word for Receiver) and Empty computer messages by Friday midnight. So now what? I reeeeally needed those miles for a good paycheck.

For starters, I had run all the miles, but I had not “officially” delivered the load yet; not without that signature and dropping the trailer. Here’s some other things that factored into my decision. I had been to this place before and knew it was a drop and hook. I could see at least 5 empty trailers from my cab so I knew it wouldn’t wind up being a live unload.

I also knew that a product count was not necessary at the time of delivery. Furthermore, this warehouse opens the trailer doors from the inside, so you can’t even break the seal (that verifies the trailer has not been opened in transit) before backing into the dock. So basically, I knew this drop was happening no matter what. There was absolutely no reason to reject the load. 

So I sent the Arrived and Empty messages and told the gang in the Trucker Dump Slack group about it. For the record, I would not have made this choice if I had been even 10 miles from the delivery. 

That’s when my friend rightly questioned my honesty. His point was that if my company’s policy considered a load to be delivered only after the bills were signed, then it is a lie to turn in that message before that process is complete. Officially, he is 100% correct. He’s also only been driving for a little over a year. I truly believe that just like The Evil Overlord and me, his sense of things will change the further along his trucking career goes.

He was also concerned that it might screw up my dispatcher if they thought I had already dropped the load, when in reality I hadn’t. He thought they might go ahead and dispatch me on another load. He’s also 100% right about that. But I had that problem licked too. I already had my next two loads planned out, so that wasn’t going to be an issue unless dispatch changed something on their end (which I admit is totally possible).

The question of right and wrong

I remember back when The Evil Overlord and I first starting trucking. We went in determined to follow the rules to the letter of the law. We were going to obey all company policies and we were going to run our logbook completely legal. No hot dogging it for us! Oh, the naïvety of the newbie! 

The insanity of the paid-by-the-mile standards

It wasn’t long before we realized that the trucking industry is full of stupid rules. For instance, we discovered right away that we NEVER got paid for all the miles we ran. We were even paid Practical miles at our first company and it still shorted us! It only got worse at subsequent companies when we discovered the Household Mover’s Guide method of figuring paid miles. What a joke! 

For you non-truckers, this method pays Post Office to Post Office, not actual addresses, which we all know is totally doable with today’s GPS technology. Yet most carriers still calculate with this method. Why? Because it generally pays the driver about 10% fewer miles than they’ve actually driven… and because they can get away with it. 

Getting your loads turned in on time

Another example is getting paid for loads. Back when we started, our paychecks were determined by what loads we could get turned in by noon on Tuesday. These were the days when many companies still had you mail in your paperwork before you could get paid! Seriously! Snail mail! Like a caveman!

So we might deliver a load Friday night, but the mail system wouldn’t get it to the payroll department until Wednesday night. How fair is that? That often translated in not being able to make your mortgage payment one week and getting raped by the IRS on the following week’s paycheck.

Eventually, carriers started using electronic methods like Transflo to send in your paperwork. While this was better, it still required you to be at a truck stop with a Transflo kiosk by a set deadline. If you didn’t have a load going toward one in time, you were screwed! Thankfully, Transflo now has a mobile phone app so I can actually send in my paperwork minutes after I deliver. Not that I need to anymore since as I said before, all they need is my Arrived and Empty messages to be sent in on the truck’s communication device. Please keep in mind that each carrier handles this differently. I’m sure there are many that still require paperwork in hand to pay you for the load.

The fudging of log books

And of course, there’s the trucker’s logbook. For you non-truckers, we drivers have to keep a record of every moment of our day. Nowadays it’s all done electronically, making it harder to cheat the system.  But back in the day, we used paper logs.

It was a fairly common practice to fudge paper logs. The Evil Overlord and I never really abused it (possibly because we were a team operation that didn’t really need to), but many drivers used to run two log books. One of the log books would look legal because they would leave out entire trips after the fact so they could log more hours in a week. The other book was so they could keep track of their lies.

In all honesty, we never did that. The most I was ever off was about 3 hours. I don’t even remember the circumstances, but as luck would have it I got pulled into a Kansas weigh station for a paperwork check. The trooper briefly examined my log book and handed it back. How he didn’t notice that I shouldn’t have been standing there for another three hours is beyond me, but I was obviously overjoyed! I never got that far out of sync again. 

But the trucking industry isn’t a perfect world. There were times when you couldn’t find parking and you had to drive a little over your time. We just drove however many minutes less the next day to make up for it. 

Or maybe there was a traffic jam due construction or a wreck that would delay us 3 hours. We’d log those three hours like we took them at a truck stop. According to my paper logs, I don’t think I ever had a delay due to traffic. See how lucky paper logs are?! 

The nickel and diming

The point is, trucking companies don’t succeed by throwing their money away. By and large, the trucking industry works on a small profit margin. Any penny saved is a penny earned. 

Think of all the extra little things that most of us drivers don’t get paid for. Fueling, truck inspections, minor mechanical breakdowns, waiting in line at a customer’s guard shack, getting your truck washed, sweeping out a filthy trailer, sliding your tandems to get your weights legal, sitting around waiting on a load or a message from dispatch, listening to horrible hold music on the phone, and in my case, sitting in an inspection bay line at my company terminal for 2 hours. 

Now as another Trucker Dump Slack member (Kris a.k.a. @Gravy) once pointed out, most of that stuff is figured into your mileage pay. He should know since he owns a small fleet of trucks. I guess I can see his point about sweeping a trailer, fueling, inspections, and common tasks we have to do on a regular basis.

However, I’m not convinced that waiting for 2 hours to get a tire fixed or waiting an hour for a message from dispatch is included in the mileage pay. Heck, I once had a company tell me they didn’t pay vacation pay because it was figured into the mileage! What the heck!? While the pay-per-mile rate was good, it wasn’t THAT good! Yeesh!

The technicalities of trucking

In my point of view, so many of these moral choices we have to make are based on the “spirit of the law” rather than the “letter of the law.” I think we all just have to judge what we’re doing and decide if we’re okay with it or not. 

For example, I’m a Christian who believes in the Bible. It flat-out says that you shouldn’t lie. So was I lying by submitting my load as delivered when it wasn’t officially delivered yet? I honestly don’t know.

To me, this is a technicality. My company has to set a deadline for their company policies. So by the letter of the law, I was wrong to say I had delivered already. On the other hand, I get paid by the mile and I had run all the miles by midnight. I was sitting on their property and there was no chance they weren’t going to accept the load. My conscience is clear on the latter choice. That’s the spirit of the law.

Let’s look at another example of a technicality. My company will only pay detention time (time spend waiting to load/unload) if I send in a detention request before I send my final Empty message. If I send it even 30 seconds before that Empty message, I’m good. But if I forget and send it 30 seconds after the Empty message, they won’t pay my detention time unless I call and pitch a big baby fit. 

This drives me up a freakin’ wall. Why? Because they know when I arrived at the customer and when I left. I always remember to send those messages. Heck, the Arrived call usually pops up automatically when I stop thanks to the magic of GPS! It’s simply a technicality!

And here’s another thing to prove my point. This company policy can be overridden easily if someone decides to do a little computer fixing. It literally takes a few minutes at most. So if they can fudge the system, why can’t I? 

Two wrongs don’t make a right

Now as I was justifying my actions to my friend, he pointed out that two wrongs don’t make a right and that we can only control our actions and choices. Again, wise words that are 100% accurate. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it that way.

As a Christian, I know I’m supposed to “turn the other cheek.” But even Jesus himself didn’t always do that when he was justified in his actions. And if Jesus was doing it, there’s no question in my mind that it was justified. Case in point; he cleared out the temple with a whip and overturned all the tables when people had turned the holy place into a marketplace! I take that to mean that just because you’re a Christian, doesn’t mean you have to get walked on and abused.

Work the system, man (or woman)

Again, all these trucking companies have systems in place so that everyone who works there has a guideline to go by. Sometimes these systems work for you; sometimes they work against you. 

Let me explain one more situation that happened on the same weekend to explain how this system can work on your behalf or against you. 

After my Friday night delivery, I picked up a 190-mile load Saturday morning that delivered the following morning. I drove straight through and got parked by 5 PM Saturday. My delivery was set for 10 AM on Sunday. If you do the math, that’s 17 hours down already. 

My next load was scheduled to pick up anytime after midnight on Sunday. So basically, by the time I could pick up my load, I would have been sitting for 31 hours. Might as well stick around for another few hours and get my 70 hours back. You know how I like to do resets instead of working against my recap everyday, right? 

So I deliver Sunday morning and I receive my new load information. I thought it was a live load, but apparently it is a preloaded trailer. An important point is that I still had 12 hours available to run that day, but I didn’t pick up any hours after midnight, which is why I was trying to do a 34-hour break. The big key here is that the load comments did not say the load was ready. It still showed a pick up time of anytime after midnight. 

Now according to my last podcast/blog, TD129: 4 Ways To Become A More Efficient Trucker, I normally would call and ask if this preloaded trailer was ready early. But I didn’t. Why?

First, because I didn’t want to screw up a 34-hour break. But the main reason is because my company has a policy that I get $75 if I have fewer than 500 miles over the weekend.

Here’s where things get morally sticky

I had only run 190 miles so far for the weekend and I wasn’t planning to drive until the early AM hours of Monday. That means I would only be getting 190 miles over the weekend, which makes me eligible for the $75. 

Now I could’ve called dispatch and they might’ve told me the load was ready to go. I did have hours to run after all. But if I grabbed the load, I then miss they chance of the $75 extra and I also screw up my 34-hour break.

However, if I uncharacteristically act like most truckers do and just accept their stated appointment time as gospel, I can get both the weekend pay and the 70-hour restart.

So there’s the choice I had to make. Play dumb and reap the benefits (like most truckers would in this situation) or by being my normal efficient self, I might wind up screwing myself out of $75 and in the long run being less efficient by not getting my 70-hour reset?

I thought about it for about two seconds and went with playing dumb. I did this for two reasons:

  1. My dispatcher may look at the situation on Monday and decide not to pay me anyway. There won’t be anything I can do about that.
  2. I’ve gotten screwed by this “less than 500 miles” rule many, many times. In fact, they did it to me again in this example. 

Here’s how they squeeze out of paying weekend pay. By the way, I generally like the company I work for or else I wouldn’t have spent 12 years of life with them, but every company has their stupid rules. This is just one of those.

For easy math, let’s say I have a 501 mile load and that’s all the miles I’ve got until Monday morning. I pick it up on Friday afternoon. I run 495 miles on Friday night and I drive 6 more miles after midnight to arrive at my delivery at 12:06 AM Saturday morning. Guess what? All 501 miles are counted as weekend miles because I “officially” delivered on Saturday, despite the fact that the vast majority of the miles were run on Friday.

This can work against me on the opposite end too. Say I’ve been sitting at a truck stop since Friday at 11 PM. I finally receive a 600-mile load at 11 PM on Sunday. You can see where this is going. Yep, all 600 miles counts as weekend miles, even though I may only be able to knock off 60 miles at most.

This is the method they used to screw me this time. I delivered the 190-mile load on Sunday morning and they immediately dispatched me on a 325-mile load, even though the pickup time was set for anytime on Monday. Those two loads totaled 515 miles, as my dispatcher matter-of-factly pointed out when I requested the $75 weekend pay. In my book, those 325 miles shouldn’t count towards the weekend, but they do. It’s just another example of how these companies work the system to their advantage. 

Seriously, receiving weekend pay at my company is about as rare as a porcelain doll that actually doesn’t look creepy after the lights are turned out. So when I have an opportunity to make it work to my advantage, I do. Or in this case, I tried.

Is that morally wrong? I suppose it might be. But again, my conscience is clear about this. All I’m doing is trying to make the system work for me, just like they are doing for themselves. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it does help me feel like I’m getting just a tad bit of the money I’ve been screwed out of over the years. Too bad it didn’t work this time.

One final argument 

Let me present one bit of math to put the nail in the coffin here. Let’s jump back to the Household Mover’s Guide that usually pays 10% fewer miles than I actually run.

I’ve driven for 21 years. Let’s say I averaged 120,000 miles per year (this is a low estimate). Total: 2,520,000 miles. Let’s round down to 2.5 million miles. I got screwed out of ten percent of those miles, so that’s 250,000 miles I’ve never been paid for! I’m guessing I averaged about 45¢ per mile over that 21-year span. Multiply that and now I’m really depressed. Apparently I’ve been screwed out of $112,500. 

Wow. Just wow. I think it’s safe to say that no matter how many times I manage to work the system to my advantage, I’m never going to break even. My conscience is clear. Is yours?

[box]What are your thoughts on this subject. Do you work the system to your advantage? How far do you go? Leave your comments below.[/box]

Podcast show notes:

TD112: Truckers Can’t Read

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Download the intro/outro songs for free! courtesy of Walking On Einstein.[/box]

According to the FMCSA website, “You must be able t speak and read English to drive trucks in the United States (I had linked to the goof, but they apparently fixed it).” You know, I think this is one of those times where the word “ironic” actually works. Notice anything about this sentence? Yep. Our brilliant overseers somehow managed to misspell a two-letter word. Seriously. I copy/pasted it. Click the link if you don’t believe me. Man, I hope they don’t fix it now. You know, it’s time like these that I’m glad my blog is about as popular as a reality show about corporate accountants.

Quite honestly, I didn’t trust my own eyes the first time I saw it; kinda like that time when I was 12 years old and my best friend and I spotted a discarded Playboy in the alley behind our small-town public library. Of course, now this Christian would just keep walking, but I WAS FREAKIN’ 12, MAN!!! AND THEY WERE NEKID!!!!

Okay, let’s come off Memory Lane (or Memory Alley in this case) and get to the point. What the heck is wrong with truckers today? Can y’all not read or what? At least the 11 million or more illegal immigrants (depending who you ask) who come here every year have a legitimate excuse. But I see a crap-ton of cases every day where CDL-holding drivers apparently can’t read. Case in point…

Anyone who has been on I-65 in Kentucky recently knows that pretty much the whole stinkin’ 137-mile stretch is plagued by bright orange Daleks. I’ve been there quite a lot lately and I can tell you firsthand that most truckers can’t read. Either that or they’re just blatantly ignoring traffic signs. But that can’t be right, can it? Truckers would never do that, would they? Apparently, they would.

A big chunk of that road has signs that clearly read, TRUCKS MUST USE LEFT LANE. There are a bunch of them. I wasn’t keeping track, but I bet there’s a sign every 4-5 miles for at least 60-70 miles. I was in the left lane going 55 mph, because that’s how fast the other non-readable signs said to go. That’s when I realized I was the last remaining literate trucker.

I had truckers screaming by me on my right side. Now since I also seem to be the last trucker on the planet that actually obeys the speed limit (Prime drivers don’t count – ooooo, burrrrrrn @DriverChrisMc), I wasn’t surprised in the least that everyone was passing me. What did surprise me is that no one… I mean NO ONE was getting back in the left lane after they had passed. They just stayed out in the right lane! So actually, they were even closer to those LEFT LANE signs than I was! And they still couldn’t read them!

I simply don’t understand why. Like I said, I was the only one in the left lane that was within eyeshot, so it’s not like they had to stay out there to get around other trucks. And of course, the cars weren’t in the way because they were all going faster than the speeding trucks. Can someone please explain the rationale here?

Now you all know how much I loathe the CB, but this is one time I couldn’t resist. I keyed up the mic and asked, “Am I the only one who can read? Or do y’all know something that I don’t?” Crickets. Now normally I’m on Team Trucker, but I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Where’s a cop when you need one?” Yes, I know what most of you are thinking, “You drive your truck and I’ll drive mine.” I hear you. Now shut up. It’s my blog.

This all happened when I was southbound. When I headed back north a couple of days later, I thought to myself, “Surely that was a fluke. I’m sure it won’t be that bad on the way back up.” Well, I was kinda right. I had two other trucks who were content to fall in behind me and go 55 mph in the left lane. I saw a couple of law-abiding south-bounders too, but still, the vast majority of truckers were hammer down in the right lane again.

I thought, “Maybe it’s just a Kentucky thing? Maybe there’s just so much whiskey in this state that everyone is blurry-eyed?” Nope. A couple days later I was on I-94 heading down into Chicago from Wisconsin. The signs there read, TRUCKS USE 2 RIGHT LANES. There were four lanes in my directions and I was in the far right lane like a good little boy. I get a cookie, right? Sure as shootin’, some hot dog trucker comes up in the third lane. He wasn’t going that fast, so why was he one lane left of legal? It was 4 AM, so it wasn’t heavy traffic. There weren’t even any vehicles in the second lane.

Even more mind boggling, when another lane opened up so there were now five lanes, he scooted over one more to where he was now two lanes beyond legal. What the heck?

Okay, fine. I get it. Trucking is hard. Being paid by the mile bites harder than a rabid crocodile. I also understand that you get dispatched on loads that couldn’t deliver on time even if you had a jumbo-sized Tardis. Also, your company’s E-logs give you less and less wiggle room. And of course, you need to speed to make up for the fact that your company’s routing software screws you out of at least 10% of the mileage on every trip.

But maybe the problem is both the carriers and the driver. You say your mileage pay is lower than a snail’s bellybutton? Find a carrier who pays more. Can’t deliver that load on time without speeding? How about telling your dispatcher that their poor planning doesn’t necessitate you risking your CSA points, your CDL, and a handful of cash that your Evil Overlord would rather spend on pedicures than give to some small town Barney Fife. E-logs forcing you to drive faster? Well, get used to it. They’re coming to us all. And perhaps if you don’t like how you get shorted on mileage pay because you can’t fly like a crow, well…  well with that you’re pretty much screwed. Join the crowd.

I just wish that so many drivers out here weren’t hell-bent on giving all us truckers a bad rep. I mean, I know that auto drivers are often as alphabet-challenged as all you truckers, but I can’t help but think that at least some of those Kentucky-bred 4-wheelers saw those signs and were wondering why all the trucks were in the right lane. Or were they? For all I know, they didn’t pass Reading class either and they thought I was the feminine wash bag who was blocking the fast lane. Who knows with them.

The fact remains that you truckers are naughty little lads and lasses. And you know what that means… you’re going to have to wash your stocking the day after Christmas. I hear those lumps of coal can cause quite a mess. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Links mentioned in the podcast version:

A photo of my new house!

Shaun from PowerTrainHorns.com made an infographic out of TD95: 4 Reasons That Trucker Might Be Tailgating You

The folks at Fleetmover.com put the Trucker Dump podcast on their “Best Trucking (and Non-Trucking Podcasts To Listen To On The Road.” Sweet!

I list some of the articles that are in the TruckerMagazine.com that I have been writing for. Check it out.

Buck and Don from The Trucking Podcast have been riding me pretty hard (in good fun) about me wearing sweat pants at work. Buck wrote an article called 5 Acceptable Places To Wear Sweat Pants. Have a read and let me know what you think about truckers and sweats.

Erich McMann has a new Christmas song called, Santa Was A Trucker. Check out the video here.

The FMCSA misspelled the word “to” on their website (broken link). What makes it ironic is the misspelled word is on the page about truckers being required to be able to read and speak English. LOL

I don’t mention this on the podcast, but I link to TD67: The Road To Smutville in the blog post.

I bring out all the stops with two Dr. Who references in one podcast: Daleks and the Tardis. Look at me go!

As so often happens, I mention three listeners today; Greg @RiverRatWA57, Long Duck @LongDuck71, and Chris @DriverChrisMc.

Electronic logs are being forced on all truckers

TD111: Improving Our Reputation As Truckers

[box]Listen to the audio version above and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
Or enter http://abouttruckdriving.com/truckerdump.xml into your favorite podcast app.
Download the intro/outro songs for free! courtesy of Walking On Einstein.
Mystery Feedback Song – Only a cheater would click this before listening to the podcast! You aren’t a cheater, are you? [/box]

Photo by Tom Brandt via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Tom Brandt via Flickr Creative Commons

Sorry to do this to my handful of faithful readers again, but I’ve got a second post in a row that is largely audio. In the previous episode of Trucker Dump, I interviewed my nephew Jared about the time he spent in my truck.

In this show, I was able to take it to the next level when listener Steven Gorman joined me in my truck to co-host the podcast. So please have a listen by clicking the Play button at the top of the page. Also, be sure to let me know what you think and tell us how you try to improve trucker’s reputations by sharing your thoughts in the comments section below or by emailing me at TruckerDump@gmail.com.

Additional links from the podcast version:

@MikeTheDriver got me started on a rant with a tweet about a slow driver.

Stevens Transport

Steven mentions the Smith System, which is a driving safety method for truckers.

Correction from last week, Clive Hammett’s Twitter name is @Clive_Hammett.

Steven showed me a photo of his “Apple” watch. LOL

We discuss the Slushbuster product again that Greg introduced us to on the last episode. Greg is @RiverRatWA57 on Twitter.

Pat Smith @PatSmithF1 wrote me to point out another windshield wiper device called the Wiper Shaker. Here is a video about it.

I mention the podcast/blog post called, “TD95: 4 Reasons That Trucker Might Be Tailgating You.”

I was interviewed by Noah Davis for an article on Road & Track called “A Trucker Explains Your Worst Driving Habits.”

I have been writing articles for TruckerMagazine.com.

In the feedback section:

Greg @RiverRatWA57 sends an audio comment about yet another fuel bay incident.

Long Duck tell us about a fuel bay showdown with another driver.

Shannon @Holden657 gives his audio feedback about the podcast in general.

 

TD108: 4 Reasons Truckers Get The Hazmat Endorsement

[box]Listen to the audio version above and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
Or enter http://abouttruckdriving.com/truckerdump.xml into your favorite podcast app.
Download the intro/outro songs for free! courtesy of Walking On Einstein.
Mystery Feedback Song – Only a cheater would click this before listening to the podcast! You aren’t a cheater, are you?[/box]

I was hammering through a bunch of past episodes of The Trucking Podcast when Buck said something I’ve heard at least 847 times before, “The Hazardous Materials endorsement just isn’t worth it any more.” Okay, that may not have been his exact quote, but it was something like that. So is that true?

Is it worth it to go through the hassle of calling the TSA (1-855-347-8371), finding a fingerprinting location, setting up an appointment, getting your fingers scanned, letting the FBI run your prints and do a background check, pass a written test, and pay $86.50 (at the time of this writing), all for the privilege of being able to haul hazardous materials? And then you get to do it all over again every 5 years?

Well first off, let me start by saying that I’m not singling out Buck. His comment is just what spawned the idea for this blog post. I totally respect Buck’s opinions and insights into the trucking industry. And the more I listen to The Trucking Podcast, the more I realize how truly ill-informed I am of this industry that I’ve been a part of for almost 18 years.

I doubt Buck would claim to be an “expert” in the field, but he’s a regular Stephen Hawking compared to me. I mainly chalk that up to the fact that he likes learning about the industry because he actually enjoys trucking. I, on the other hand, like it about as much as I’d enjoy sipping on a literal Bloody Mary. To me, this is just a job. I have no desire to learn more about it than is absolutely necessary.

So having said that, I don’t think anyone can make a blanket statement about having a Hazardous Materials endorsement (Hazmat). There are just too many different situations to consider. Let’s look at a few of the reasons a driver might want to get the Hazmat endorsement.

1. Not having a Hazmat endorsement might keep you from getting a job

I imagine that the vast majority of current CDL holders studied for and passed the hazmat exam while in truck driving school. I expect the schools have you do this because it makes new drivers more attractive to employers. This in turn, jacks up the reputation of the truck driving school. “Hey! Look at us! 100% of our students find jobs within one week of graduating! Aren’t we awesome!” Yeah. Maybe you’re awesome. Or maybe it’s because the industry is so desperate for drivers that they would hire Helen Keller if she walked through the door.

I know back in 1997 when all the trucking recruiters were coming to our driving school, every single one of them needed you to have the Hazmat endorsement in order to hire you. Now I doubt that’s the case anymore, because it just doesn’t seem like nearly as many carriers are requiring it. I considered calling a few companies and driving schools to verify my suspicions, but in the end that would’ve been like actual research, that quite frankly, I just didn’t feel like doing.

So my advice to newbies is to get your Hazardous Materials endorsement when you first get your CDL, even if the school you’re attending doesn’t require it. As a rookie with no experience, you already have fewer options to chose from. Don’t let the best job you have available escape simply because you didn’t want to jump through a few hazmat-fueled flaming hoops. Just get it. And if you find you don’t need it later, just don’t renew it. Or maybe you’ll have to…

2. The DMV might require you to have the Hazmat endorsement

Recently, I found a local job that would let me sleep in my own bed seven days a week. And it paid more than my OTR (Over-The-Road) job! I knew these jobs existed; one had just never popped up in my neck of the woods. That’s probably because I live so far out in the sticks that we don’t have roads. But guess what? The job was pulling fuel tankers. The problem? I didn’t have my Tanker endorsement.

Now as luck would have it, I talked to the recruiter on a Friday and told him I’d have the Tanker endorsement on my license by Monday when he read my résumé and cover letter. I just so happened to be delivering in Joplin, Missouri just before I went home, so I dropped my trailer at the customer and bobtailed over to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).

But guess what? After I passed the written Tanker endorsement test, the Trooper said, “Do you have your Hazmat endorsement? ‘Cuz you’re gonna need it to get the Tanker endorsement.” As Ace Ventura would say“Reheheheheheeeee-lly!” Since when? Since recently.

Apparently, the great state of Missouri decided that the two endorsements were to be combined. Well, sort of. You can have the Hazmat endorsement without the Tanker endorsement, but you cannot have the Tanker without the Hazmat. No idea why and neither did anyone at the ever-so-friendly and helpful DMV. Call that one a shocker.

Even weirder, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to be hauling milk or flour. If it’s in a tanker trailer, you have to possess the Hazmat/Tanker combo endorsement. At least in my screwed-up state anyway. Hey Missouri! “Show Me” some me reasoning behind this!

Well, as luck would have it, I already have my Hazmat endorsement so I was in the clear. Although the Trooper thought they might need a current record of me passing the Hazmat test. Bummer. So to avoid waiting in a long DMV line, only to be rejected back to the testing room, I sat down for another round of testing. Well, I’m happy to say that I passed with flying colors. Unhappily, that means if I can pass a hazmat test without studying a lick, then I’ve been driving a truck for waaaaay too long. Oh well. It be what it be.

The point here is that if I didn’t already have my Hazmat endorsement, my résumé might’ve been tossed into File 13 before I even had a chance at the job. Before 9-11, this wouldn’t have been any big deal. Take the written hazmat test, pay the fee to add it to your license, and be done with it. But now that the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) have their fingers all up in your junk, it can take up to 30 days to get approved for a Hazmat endorsement. Find out the complete process to obtain your Hazmat endorsement here.

And for the record, I didn’t get the job. I found out afterward that another driver had been talking to a regional manager with the company for over a year, so he was pretty much a shoe-in. Now I’m not wishing any ill-will on anyone, but… oh who am I kidding. I hope he’s a lazy sack of crap that gets fired in the first month! You’ve got my number, Mr. Recruiter! Call me!

3. You could get more loads with a Hazmat endorsement

I have experienced this one numerous times. You see, my company doesn’t require us to have a Hazmat endorsement, but they sure love the drivers who do. I recall many times getting a call from dispatch asking if I had my Hazmat endorsement. “Yepper. Why?” “‘Cuz we need you to cover for another driver who doesn’t have one.” Sometimes this even meant extra deadhead miles!

So, great. The Hazmat-holder gets the worm (I think I screwed up that idiom). But put yourself in the position of the other driver. He was all set to take a load. He started his 14-hour clock and now it’s ticking away because he couldn’t cover the load. I would say I feel sorry for him, but I’m far too busy driving down the road with his load. Yes, my compassion for humanity never ends.

But guess what, there’s an even bigger benefit of me having the Hazmat endorsement…

4. You could get paid more for having a Hazmat endorsement

This is the part that I love more than getting a scalp massage from The Evil Overlord, which I believe I last felt somewhere around the turn of the century. My company pays me 1¢ more per mile for having a Hazmat endorsement. But the even more important fact is that this penny pay raise is for all miles run, even if I’m not hauling a hazmat load.

And here’s the real kicker; I can take off one sock and count the number of hazmat loads I pull in any given year. Heck, I could even lose a couple of toes in a freak rhinoceros stampede and still count high enough! And even on those loads, often times the quantity of hazmat is so low that placards aren’t even needed.

Now you still might be thinking that it isn’t worth the hassle of getting your Hazmat endorsement. Let’s do the math. The TSA fee will run you $86.50 (at the time of this writing), and let’s add on a few extra bucks for gas getting to the appointment, your time wasted, license renewal fees, etc. So now we’re up to, say, $150. But let’s not forget, that’s every 5 years.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.44.21 PMNow let’s figure up how much extra I can make in five years by keeping my Hazmat endorsement intact. According to my last pay stub of 2014, I made an extra $1,258.84 last year. At a penny per mile, I guess that means I drove 125,884 miles. And to think my mother-in-law falls asleep on the 30-minute drive into Walmart. Ah, but wait. We’ve got to compare apples to apples here. The hazmat cost is every five years. If I average the same mileage for the next five years, I will have made $6,294.20.

So is it worth it to have your Hazmat endorsement anymore? Well, maybe you’ve got a crystal ball or you’ve chopped off the head off a live chicken and you are 100% certain that you won’t need your Hazmat endorsement in the near future. Or maybe your company doesn’t pay you extra for having a Hazmat endorsement. If either of these is the case, then by all means, save the 150 bucks. But for me, I’m going to harken back to elementary math class with this simple equation:

$6,294.20 > $150

(Or is that the other way around? That symbol always screws me up.)

[hr]

Additional links from the podcast version:

This is the last announcement for the Trucker Country CD by Erich McMcann. Enter to win 1 of 3 free copies by sending an email to TruckerDump@gmail.com with the subject line: Trucker Music. I DO NOT need your physical address at this time.

Freightliner’s new Inspiration is the first licensed autonomous big rig in the U.S. Link includes a video demonstration.

The Trucking Podcast with Buck and Don is a great podcast that covers trucking and non-trucking stuff. This father-son duo have a lot of laughs, so if you aren’t listening yet, click the link and start doing so.

How to get your Hazmat Endorsement and what the fees cover.

I do a brief Ace Ventura imitation… really poorly.

Missouri is the Show Me state

If you don’t know what a hazmat placard is, well… you will in a second.

In the feedback section:

After much knashing of teeth and numerous recording devices, Greg sends in an audio clip about super truckers. Afterward, I wonder if other drivers consider me a super trucker due to the way I drive on snow-packed roads.

Michael Jackson (no, not that one… he’s dead) listened to TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemisis: Complacency and TD104: Complacency Strikes and writes in to tell us about his squirrely truck.

And lastly, 19-year veteran trucker Sam writes in and we have a discussion about driver complacency, driving in the oil fields, and going the speed limit. Afterward I start whining about how much work it takes to do this podcast. Surprise, surprise.

Sam also makes fun of my singing, so I point to a video of a much-younger me rocking some Led Zeppelin (WARNING: Explicit language) and some more recent (and much worse) singing I’ve done over at SingSnap.com

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TD103: 6 Causes Of Tired Truckers

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DroolingWell that’s just dandy. The entire non-trucking world is already convinced we truckers are all driving around with those gross eye boogers and now we get a high-profile story in the media that confirms their fear of tired truckers.

Now the only way you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about is if you’ve been doing missionary work in the jungles of Uganda. So here’s the basics: a Walmart driver recently slammed his truck into the back of a vehicle carrying comedian/actor Tracy Morgan (30 Rock) and some of his friends. One of them was killed, while Morgan and the others were critically injured. Apparently, sometime before the crash, the truck driver had bragged on Twitter about being awake for at least 24 hours. Brilliant. Juuuuuuust brilliant. Just what the trucking industry needs. Sheez Louise, driver. Why don’t you just tattoo a giant red target on your forehead?

So is it true? Are all truckers driving tired? For the most part, the answer is no. Most of us know when to get off the road before it’s too late. Although clearly, this case proves that there is at least some truth behind the allegations.

Now I haven’t spoken to this particular Walmart driver, but I have spoken to a few others. They assure me that if there is a procedure or a safety device available, Walmart has implemented or installed it. Walmart even made a statement that their electronic logs show the driver was legal at the time of the accident. How can that be? How can a driver be awake for over 24 hours and still be legal to drive?

First off, let me say I totally believe that the driver was “officially” legal to drive. I have an electronic log system in my truck similar to the one Walmart has. Most of the large trucking companies do nowadays.

And for the record, I don’t care what some obnoxious truckers say; if the carrier wants to make their e-logs tamper-proof, they can do it. I can’t edit diddly-squat on my e-logs and according to the Walmart drivers I’ve talked to, they can’t either. So if this guy’s logs say he was running legal, I buy it. But that doesn’t mean he should have been driving. I’ll explain as I go through the…

6 Causes of Tired Truckers (in no particular order)

#1 Cause of Tired Truckers: The 14-hour rule

All truckers must adhere to HOS (Hours-of-Service) rules set forth by the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration), which is under the DOT (Department or Transportation). For the record, we drivers pretty much hate everything about all three of those abbreviations. 🙂

If you want a full, detailed description of the HOS rules, please check out TD94: Understanding the New Hours-Of-Service Rules. That was one looooong blog post and we don’t have time for it here. The rule that is the biggest culprit in making tired truckers is the 14-hour rule.

  • The 14-hour rule says that a driver cannot drive past the 14-hour mark from when they started their day. For example, if a driver started at 8 AM, they must not get behind the wheel after 10 PM without first taking a legal 10-hour break. They can, however, work after the 14-hour mark. So they could fuel, unload a trailer, or replace a tail light, but the trucker cannot drive again without getting that 10-hour break first.

I hate the 14-hour rule primarily because I now feel pressured to drive even if I’m tired. If we truckers want to maximize our time, we often don’t have time to stop and take a nap if we need one. Nor can we pull over and wait out rush hour. Now that’s really stupid. I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing most of the public would appreciate fewer big trucks clogging the highways at peak hours. Derrr.

But you know what? There is a way to extend the 14-hour work day. That’s good for us truckers, right? Well, here’s where we can get into some sleepy-time trouble.

#2 Cause of Tired Truckers: Long load/unload times

There is one exception to the 14-hour rule. If a driver logs a continuous 8-hours in the Sleeper Berth at any time after they start their day, the 14-hour day can be extended.

When a driver uses this 8-hour break to extend his day, we call it “splitting” because we now have to get our mandatory 10-hour break by splitting it into two segments, one of 8 hours and the other of 2 or more. Splitting sleeper berth time sucks for everyone. It’s meant to give us drivers flexibility, but all it does for most of us is confuse us to the point that we have to stop into the nearest Costco for a bulk pack of Extra Strength Excedrin. Bonus! It’s got caffeine!

The even sadder thing about being able to extend the 14-hour period is that is usually doesn’t accomplish it’s goal. The rule makers are willing to let you extend the time because they think you’re sleeping the whole time. Well, they’d be as wrong as a Hindu inhaling a Big Mac. As a matter of fact, here’s how it worked for me when this happened just the other day.

I had slept a full 8 hours of my 10-hour break and I eagerly headed out to pick up my load, which was supposed to be ready any time after 3:30 PM. I did my 15-minute pre-trip inspection and drove 45 minutes to the shipper, arriving at 8:00 PM. Sadly, my good mood is instantly squashed when the security guard said the load wouldn’t be ready until 4:00 AM. Okay. So now what?

Well, I immediately put my stupid electronic log onto Line 3 Sleeper Berth since extending your 14-hour day can only be done if the entire 8-hour break is logged as Sleeper Berth time. Okay. So I immediately go straight back to bed and sleep for 8 hours, right? Uhhh…NO! I just slept eight hours! I’ve got a better chance of becoming the next Pope than falling asleep again.

So instead, I procrastinate writing a blog post by watching some movies and playing QuizUp on my iPhone. By the way, my QuizUp username is ToddMcCann if you’re feeling macho enough to challenge me. So anyway, the time finally passes and I restart my day. So how many hours can I still drive?

Well, I only used 45 minutes of my 11 hours drive time earlier, so I still have 10 hours 15 minutes to drive. But the 14-hour rule also still applies to my new starting time. So I used 45 minutes of drive time and 15 minutes of On-Duty time. That’s 1 full hour of “working time” against my 14 hours, so I have to get the 10.25 hours of driving done within 13 hours.

That all sounds fine, but remember, I’ve already been awake since aproximately 7:00 PM. It is now 4:00 AM, so that’s 9 hours I’ve been awake already. But my logs tell me I have 10.25 hours to drive, meaning I could “legally” be behind the wheel until 5:00 PM if I wind up needing the whole 13 hours available on my 14-hour rule. Since that sentence was about as confusing as a fur coat-wearing PETA member, let me make it easy by saying that by the end of my shift I could have possibly been awake for 22 hours.

So what do you think most truckers do? We load up on caffeine and hit the road, that’s what we do. Remember, most OTR truckers only get paid when we’re moving. Now the smart ones know to pull over when they get too sleepy, but I’ll not lie and say that all truckers know when to call it quits. Clearly Mr. Roper thought his load was more important than his life. Or in this case, someone else’s life. Sad.

Extending the 14-hour rule is a great idea that in practice works about as well as booger-flavored candy. Okay. Bad example there. While grown-ups would hate that, kids would probably make it a best-seller. How about broccoli-flavored candy? Yea. That works much better. Even adults wouldn’t want that; unless of course, you’re a weird adult. And since you’re reading this, I’d say that’s a good possibility.

#3 Cause of Tired Truckers: Uncertainty of our next load

Most trucking companies try to let their drivers know what their next load is before they deliver their current one. These are called “Preplans.” They preplan us for two reasons:

  1. To stay ahead of the game to keep you moving. And…
  2. So that we can truckers can schedule our day to get sufficient sleep.

If you’re still going to have hours to drive when you get unloaded, naturally they’ll try to give you a load that picks up near you ASAP. If you’re nearly out of time, they’ll try to preplan your next load so that it gives you just enough time to take a legal 10-hour break and hit the road again. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

To explain how this can make truckers tired, let’s say you’ve slept all night and you get up and drive two hours to get unloaded. You still haven’t got your preplan yet. Maybe there just isn’t much freight moving. Or maybe your dispatcher or the much-hated planners just dropped the ball. Who knows? Finally, your satellite beeps. You say a silent prayer for a decent load and then mumble a naughty word when you see that it picks up 10 hours from now. Ugh.

Again, you’ve only driven for 2 hours, so you still have 9 hours left to drive. Now what? You can’t sleep because you just slept all night. And by the time you’re getting sleepy, it’s time to go pick up that load that needs to keep moving all night in order to deliver on time. So you won’t have time to get a nap, either. Even if you do have time on the delivery you might not have time due to the retarded 14-hour rule.

Often times, there just isn’t a whole lot us company drivers can do about this. After all, we don’t control what loads we get. But maybe if we had seen the preplan the day before, we could have adjusted our sleep.

For instance, if you knew you only had 2 hours to drive the next morning and then you had a 10-hour wait to pick up your next load, you might have decided not to sleep for 8 full hours. Maybe you would’ve only slept for 4 hours and then gotten up 4 hours earlier than when you needed to start driving. So now after you add your 2-hour drive time, you’ve been awake for 6 hours. Stay up 3-4 more hours and maybe, just maybe you can lay down and sleep for 6 hours or so. While not ideal, that’s usually enough to get us through.

No matter how you slice it though, you can see it will never be ideal, even if we do know what our next day’s schedule is. Now I can imagine what all you non-truckers are saying, “Don’t take the load if you need some sleep.” Yeah. That leads into the…

#4 Cause of Tired Truckers: We get paid by the mile, not by the hour

Unlike our hourly-paid brothers in Europe, we lowly US drivers get paid by the mile. While this is great for incentivizing drivers to work harder, it’s also the very thing that makes us less safe. We truckers don’t get paid big money to do worthless work, unlike so many of the high-level executives who got bonuses for mismanaging their companies to the point of needing bailout money… part of what went for more bonuses. Grrrr.

No, when we truckers get a load that we can legally run, we usually do it. Granted, most of us are smart enough drivers to know when we’re about to see polka-dot pandas floating across our vision. That’s when it’s time to pull over before we ass-end a celebrity’s vehicle and yell for the spotlight operator to shine the light on us.

It’s my firm belief that the vast majority of the problems in the American trucking industry would slowly work themselves out if we were switched to an hourly wage. If the trucking companies had to pay drivers to sit for five or six hours to be loaded, they’d start cracking down on the shippers/receivers. If they didn’t pay attention, the carriers would raise their rates to force them to pull their head out. And if they get their act together, then truckers aren’t in a rush to deliver. Nor are they needing to try to sleep during an unneeded 8-hour break.

The problem with the idea of going hourly is that I’m also just as certain that the hourly rate the carriers would come up with would be so low that it would drive even more truckers away from the industry than are already leaving. But that’s another issue altogether. Basically, we truckers have to move down the road to make money. And that’s what we do. But our friendly Walmart driver has an even bigger problem. Actually two.

#5 Cause of Tired Truckers: Minimal home time

There are all kinds of schedules for OTR (Over-The-Road) truckers, but the vast majority of us stay out for two to four weeks (or even longer) and then only get two or three days at home before we head back out to keep all you fine Americans stocked up on Budweiser and Cheetos.

What this means is that we have to try to get as much out of our home time as we can. You’re only home for so many hours and you’ve got to find time to spend with the spouse and the ankle-biters, fix the shower faucet (again), take the car in for service, and get your laundry done. And oh yeah. You might want to sleep some too… if there’s time.

I don’t know about you, but sleep is not usually my top priority when I’m home. It falls somewhere between fixing that stinkin’ repeat-offender faucet and spending time watching movies with The Evil Overlord or getting killed by the nephews (and every other online player for that matter) in Black Ops II.

The way it works at my house is that I have to conform to everyone else’s schedule. The Evil Overlord and our wallet-sucking nephews stay up really late on the weekends and basically all summer long. But even if they had normal, non-vampirish tendencies, it still wouldn’t matter. If I’ve driven 8-10 hours to get home and they’re all getting ready to go to bed, great; I can hit the sack too. But if they’re just getting up, what do you think I do? Go to bed for 8 hours? No! I stay up so I can be awake when they’re awake.

So maybe I’m shorted on sleep as soon as I get home. Maybe not. But now it’s time to hit the road again. Again, I’m on their schedule. If they’re getting up at 1 PM (not uncommon at all) and I need to leave about that time, everything is peachy. That happens about half the time. But say I need to leave at 6 AM in order to deliver my load on time. That’s about when they’re heading to Snoozville. So what now?

Well, for me that depends on the load. If I’ve got a long 8-11 hours of driving ahead of me, I’ll try to lay down and take a 3-4 hour nap before it’s time to go. But if I’ve only got 3-5 hours to drive, I’ll just stay awake and grab a giant mug of coffee on the way out the door.

It’s possible that this Walmart driver being awake for over 24 hours had something to do with this. He may have wanted to hang out with his family for as long as possible before leaving the house. Can’t fault him there I guess. But you do have to be smart about it and get some sleep even when you don’t want to.

It’s a good possibility he overestimated his machoness. We men tend to do that, you know. At least I think that’s what The Evil Overlord is implying when she calls me an Omega Male. (If you don’t get that joke, tweet me @ToddMcCann and I’ll explain. LOL) But wait. It’s possible that this driver had an even bigger problem.

#6 Cause Of Tired Truckers: Commuting

I’ll admit that for the most part, commuting isn’t a huge deal for truckers. Most trucking companies allow their OTR drivers to take their trucks home, so when they leave their house their logbook starts counting down. But some drivers don’t have that option. Like I said earlier, while Walmart is probably correct in saying the driver was driving “legal,” they may have neglected to mention that Mr. Roper had a commute that makes the Indy 500 look like a go-cart track.

That's one heck of a commute!

That’s one heck of a commute!

Apparently, Mr. Roper lived in Jonesboro, Georgia but worked out of a Walmart Distribution Center in Smyrna, Delaware. As you can see from the map, Google says that’s a 750-mile commute that will take 11 hours and 23 minutes! And from what I hear, most Walmart OTR drivers get home every 6-7 days! So it’s possible that this guy was making this commute each week. And remember, that 750 miles is one-way!

According to the Walmart drivers I’ve talked to, this is a somewhat common practice for Walmart drivers. Granted, the drivers I’ve spoken with had never heard of a driver living this far from his home terminal. Over a Steak-n-Shake sundae, one Walmart driver told me that it’s so hard to get hired that many drivers will take any driving job Walmart has available just to get their foot in the door. Then after a position opens at a terminal closer to them, they transfer locations to lessen their commute.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most drivers. We’ve all heard the stories about how much money Walmart drivers make. Another driver said he lived 3 hours from his terminal. He said he always got to the yard early enough to get some sleep before he had to leave, but I’ll bet that’s not completely true 100% of the time.

Now we don’t know Mr. Roper’s situation. Maybe he had just moved to Georgia and he hadn’t been able to transfer to a closer terminal yet. Or maybe he was tolerating a 750-mile commute just to “get his foot in the door.” We just don’t know. Just like I don’t know if my summary of this tragic accident has a shred of truth. But here goes.

To sum up…

If I had $100 to spare, I’d be willing to bet you that the accused Walmart driver left the house, drove over 11 hours to work, hopped in his truck, and did a full 11-hour shift. That would put him awake for 22 hours. Figure in some pee breaks and moving his crap from car to truck and you could easily see him being awake over 24 hours. Worst case scenario is that he didn’t sleep a full 8 hours before he left the house either. And that’s also a possibility I could easily see happening.

So how could this particular accident have been avoided? Well, I’m guessing like so many trucking companies who punish all their drivers for the stupidity of a few, I’d be willing to toss out another $100 that Walmart will be changing their policy about how far a driver can live from a terminal. There doesn’t seem to be a limit as of now, but expect one in the future.

But this incident is a specific case. So what can be done to stop tired truckers from driving? Nothing really, barring a switch to hourly pay for all CDL holders. That would certainly limit the wasted time at shippers/receivers. But that ain’t-a-gonna-happen anytime soon, if ever.

As bad as I hate to admit it, electronic logs help some, but they can’t control how much we sleep we get before we get behind the wheel either. The HOS rules definitely need some tweaking to add more flexibility too. After all, a driver knows when they need to sleep more than the beaurocrats at the FMCSA.

So it basically boils down to this. Drivers need to know their limits and get off the road before those adorable polka-dot pandas attack. Wow. If I had just said that one line at the beginning, I could’ve saved 3,368 words. Oh well. You know me…

TD101: Stupid Rules That Truckers Tolerate

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Oops. I guess I pulled from the dock too early.

Oops. I guess I pulled from the dock too early.

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.

Dock accidents

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.

  • Photo by Eric Blacker; darkstaff on Flickr,  @darkstaff on Twitter

    Photo by Eric Blacker; darkstaff on Flickr, a.k.a. @darkstaff

    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.

  • Photo by Eric Blacker; darkstaff on Flickr, a.k.a @darkstaff

    Photo by Eric Blacker; darkstaff on Flickr, a.k.a @darkstaff

    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.

Blue is service line. Red is supply (emergency) line.

Blue is service line. Red is supply (emergency) line.

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.

Photo by Hy Ryan

Photo by Hy Ryan

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

One of many stupid customer rules

One of many 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:

  1. A co-driver could be trying to sleep.
  2. I could be either colder than Eskimo snot or hotter than Daisy Duke in a jacuzzi.
  3. 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 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? 😀

[hr]

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!

TD98: 5 Stresses Of Trucking Through The Holidays

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Everyone knows that the months of November and December are probably the two most stressful months of the year. Unless of course you’re Canadian. In that case it’s October and December. Honestly though. What kind of weirdos have Thanksgiving in October? 😉 This extra stress is freely available to both truckers and non-truckers. Now I know this may come off as whining, but honestly, we truckers have a lot to deal with around the holidays that normal folks don’t. So strap on your whine-filtering headphones and let’s get on with this.

Stress #1: Scheduling

Yeah, yeah. I know you non-truckers have this problem too. But scheduling is one of the biggest differences between us truckers and you non-truckers; you cats already know what days you’re going to have available. Truckers don’t. Heck, we rarely know what we’re doing tomorrow, let alone three or four weeks from now. One of the earliest articles I wrote was called, No Guarantees in Trucking. In much the same way The Evil Overlord complains about my inability to actually look under stuff to find something I’ve misplaced, that article title was actually a bit of an exaggeration. Okay. At least part of that statement is true anyway. Seriously though, guarantees are hard to come by in the trucking industry, especially when it comes to home time.

As I mentioned in the article, the only home time “guarantee” I’ve ever received was for Christmas. And actually it was more of a company policy than it was a guarantee. And keep in mind, this policy was not for New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t for Independence Day. Not even Thanksgiving Day gets this policy. Just Christmas. Notice I didn’t say the Christmas “season.” Just the day. The 25th of December. This policy does not extend to Christmas Eve, nor is there a guarantee on how many days you’ll have off. As pathetic as this Christmas home time policy is, at least it exists. Not all the carriers I’ve worked for have been so kind.

So there’s where the stress comes in. You’re trying to schedule things with family, but there are always a lot more of them than there are of you. And as much as we’d all like to think that the world revolves around us, it just doesn’t. Take my recent Thanksgiving. The Evil Overlord was going to be working out-of-town the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after Thanksgiving Day. The Evil Overlord’s sister had to work Thanksgiving Day, but was available later that night. My sister, Angi, was having Thanksgiving with her husband’s side of the family on Thanksgiving day, and she had to leave immediately afterwards for some kind of roller derby camp thing. Yes, seriously. Here’s a couple of short videos of me tormenting her at one of her matches. Hey, what are big brothers for?

Okay. Obviously, the weekend after Thanksgiving wasn’t an option and doing it the weekend before, well, that just doesn’t have the same vibe, does it? So I took a deep breath, cringed, and asked for Wednesday and Thursday off. I asked to be home by Tuesday night just to be sure I’d get there for my mom’s dinner on Wednesday. I should also mention that I put in for this home time two weeks in advance. So everything is set, right? Well, perhaps now I should explain why I was cringing when I asked for Wednesday and Thursday off.

Stress #2: Logistics

Okay. Due to the way my company’s freight moves, it’s extremely hard to get home in the middle of the week. Well, I was sitting right close to home on Tuesday, but I was under a two-stop load that had to be delivered on Wednesday. If they couldn’t find a relay close to home, I was going to have to go 150 miles away to deliver the first stop and then hope they could find someone to take it on from there. Well, to go completely again my blow-hard nature, I’ll give you the short version. Consider that an early Christmas present.

Basically, they couldn’t find anyone to take my load and I was sitting 300 miles away from home on Wednesday evening. Remember, I was supposed to be home the night before. I used the rest of my hours to pick up my load home. But guess what? It had been double-booked and another company had already picked it up. Wouldn’t you know it? Thankfully, they had another load going to the same place that was ready seven days early. Yea. Who says miracles don’t exist?

Anyway, by then I was out of hours and I didn’t get home until Thursday afternoon. So I totally missed Wednesday’s dinner with my side of the family and I barely made it home in time to eat with The Evil Overlord’s side. Then the wench left for work the following morning, so I got to see her for about 20 whole hours. Seven hours of that we were sleeping and the other 13 she was busy shooing me and the nephews out of the kitchen. Now seems like a good time to say, “That’s trucking.” Ugh. Someone hit me with a shovel.

So you can see, even when you have everything worked out, that doesn’t mean your company does. Sometimes they just don’t have people where they need them to be. But say they do. That’s where we run into our next problem.

Stress #3: Weather

Unfortunately, the holiday season falls in winter. And unless you have white hair and your name is Storm, I doubt you have any control over the weather. Now I can hear some of you weather nerds out there, *in my best nasally voice* “Well if you just watch The Weather Channel, you’ll be safe.” Seriously? The last time I checked, most meteorologists are about as accurate as Stevie Wonder shooting a free throw. But for the sake of argument, let’s say the pretty weather girl does get tomorrow’s weather correct.

So now if your dispatcher tries to send you into a blizzard two days before you’re due home, you know to tell him to take the pencil he’s holding and pretend it’s a suppository… in the nicest possible way, of course. But what about a full week before you’re supposed to be home? The weather is fine where you’re currently heading and you should have plenty of time to get back home; right? Well, at a week out even the best of meteorologists…, well, let’s just say old Stevie may as well be shooting from half court. So now you’re facing bad weather on your way back home.

Or maybe you didn’t even come back the same route. Maybe you thought you’d be coming straight back, but instead freight had you jumping 150 miles north and now that storm you figured you’d miss is coming at you like a bull chasing little red riding hood. And suppose this time when you tell your dispatcher to insert his pencil, he tells you that it’s the only load moving towards home. Heading any other direction at this point would guarantee you won’t get home in time. Hey look! I was wrong! There is a guarantee in trucking! That is precisely what happened to me at Thanksgiving.

I was sitting in Dallas on Monday when I got the news. Nothing heading towards home today, but there was a load going that way tomorrow morning (Tuesday-the day I was due home). That load was my only choice. I knew it ran straight up through my house, but I also knew it had two stops that had to be delivered 150 and 300 miles away at the same time I was supposed to be stuffing pumpkin pie down my pumpkin pie hole at my sister’s house. What to do? Well, like I said, that was my only option. And before any of you drivers say anything, I’d like to take a second to address something here.

Some of you drivers are just too freakin’ paranoid. The Evil Overlord was certainly one of you. She always had the idea that everyone at our trucking company was out to screw us. I’ve talked with lots of dispatchers over the years, and trust me; they don’t want to listen to you complain about not getting home. They aren’t sitting at their desk yearning for you to call and ask them if there’s any freight moving towards home… for the eighth time. No; if they had a load that would get you out of their hair, they’d give it to you. So lighten up, guys and gals. Sure, your dispatcher is trying to get the most work out of you that they can, but I think most of them would just rather get you home on time to keep you from whining for the next two weeks. If you’ve got stories that prove me wrong, well that’s what TruckerDump@gmail.com is for. Write in and tell me about ’em.

Okay. I’m done with my rant. Now on to the next stress-causing problem.

Stress #4: Laws

When was the last you non-truckers were told you couldn’t drive to Grandma’s house because you’d be breaking the law? Truckers deal with this all the time, not just during the holidays. But it’s extra stressful during the holidays. Truckers have set time limits we can drive per day and per week. If we break those rules and get caught by the fuzz, it’s a stiff fine. If our company is the only one to catch it, then we can face penalties including suspension for a few days, or worse, having to watch safety videos. Yeesh!

Under normal circumstances, we truckers know how many hours we have and we’ll wield this information when dispatch tries to get us too far from home. But as any trucker will tell you, trucking is anything but normal. There are so many things out of our control. What happens when a shipper takes 4 hours longer to load you than you expected? Happens all the time. What if you needed those 4 hours to get home? Instead, you find yourself taking a mandatory 10-hour break 4 hours from the house. And what are the chances someone who is already busy with holiday festivities is going to drive 500 miles round trip to come get you and take you home? Probably about as good as Stevie making that half-court shot. Poor Stevie. I just keep banging on you. 😉

Anyone got a magnifying glass?

Anyone got a magnifying glass?

How about equipment issues? Take a look at the picture. Can you see a cut in the air line? Yea. I could barely see it too. But the Missouri DOT officer at the chicken coop found it. She shut me down until a repair truck came out and replaced it. If that had happened this Thanksgiving, I would’ve missed both my family gatherings.

Mechanical issues pop up all the time with big rigs. Now if your heater goes out or your oil pressure gauge quits working during the holidays, you’re likely to push on through and get home. But what happens when you have a flat tire? If you’re lucky enough to limp to a truck stop, your wait time could be 5 minutes or it could be 5 hours. And what about more serious issues? My truck lost all power on I-494 in St. Paul not too long ago. I waited on the side of the road for 5-6 hours for a tow truck. Then I spent the next two days in a hotel room and the next two days after that rescuing another truck so I’d have something to drive. What are the chances The Evil Overlord would have time to drive 9 hours to get me and 9 hours back. Poor old Stevie’s had enough. I won’t go there again, but you get the idea.

Yes, you non-truckers could have automobile issues or have a plane grounded, but how often does that really happen? I’ll rest my case on this one.

Stress #5: Shopping

Okay. I’m going to give it to you that the Internet has made this a heck of a lot easier than it used to be. I remember a time when you had to cram all your Christmas shopping into your limited home time. Thankfully, those days are over. But there’s still the problem of what to buy for people. We truckers are on the road so much that it’s hard to know anyone well enough to know what they might like for Christmas.

I love my nephews, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’d don’t have a clue what they want for Christmas. Thankfully, The Evil Overlord knows and she’s in her element when she’s got a debit card in her hand. I’d say she needs a debit card holster strapped to her hip, but it seems unnecessary. Her arms move faster than a hummingbird’s wings when she goes to whip that thing out of her purse. I’m looking forward to the day I’ll have an iPhone with slow-motion capture so I can analyze her technique.

There’s only one thing worse than not knowing what the people in your life want for Christmas; not caring. Here’s something that boggles my mind. Yes, it’s another mini-rant. I’ve talked to a few different truck stop cashiers that tell me that some drivers save up their rewards points all year long and buy all their Christmas presents at the truck stop. Say what? Listen, I know my taste is horrendous, but even I know not to buy Christmas gifts at a truck stop. For one, everything is more expensive there. Secondly, most of the stuff is crap; especially the electronics and elcheapo stuffed toys. Thirdly, I’d be shocked if anyone really enjoyed those presents. And lastly, it screams “I couldn’t bother to go anywhere out of my way to get you something you might actually like.”

Listen, I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this at some point. I remember when The Evil Overlord and I first started trucking, we bought some toy trucks with our company logo on them and gave them to some of the kids in our life. Some kids like toy trucks so that’s probably fine. But I know that we also got other company-logoed merchandise for other relatives. Not good. I remember one Christmas when my sister had started a new job. She bought everyone in the family clothing with the company logo. Now this wasn’t a fashionable company like Coca-Cola or anything. It was a friggin’ financial institution. Talk about plastering on a fake smile.

My sister meant well. We meant well. Maybe you mean well. But do you really or are you just being lazy? Kid’s love toy trucks. Fine. But trust me. If you’ve given Christmas gifts with your company logo on it for more than one year, the people in your life are dreading your gift this year. Don’t believe me? Get them something good for a change of pace and you’ll see the difference on their face Christmas morning. *steps off soapbox* I’m sure someone is going to disagree with me here. Tell me how wrong I am at TruckerDump@gmail.com.

Well, there you have it; the 5 Stresses of Trucking Through the Holidays. The next time you non-truckers feel the urge to whine about how stressful the holiday season is, just be glad you aren’t trying to do it all from the cab of a big rig. As you can now see, we truckers are already stressed out during the holidays, so please remember that as you’re driving around this season. And also a quick reminder that the crap we’re hauling is the crap you’re buying. So please save your middle finger for that soccer mom who just took the last Big Hugs Elmo.

TD96: The Feedback Show


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Photo by L.Bö via Flickr

Photo by L.Bö via Flickr

Long time, no talk, folks. Yes, I realize that it’s entirely my fault that it’s been… wow… has it really been over 2.5 months since my last post? Ouch. Well, my excuses are lame, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. I’ve been extremely lazy lately. There you have it.

First off, I had the worst 3 weeks of my 16 years of trucking. I had more than enough down time to do a podcast, but I just couldn’t bring myself out of the funk I was in long enough to record anything. I’ve been considering doing another “Hell Week”-style post, but it’d probably be so long that I’d have to split it into a trilogy. LOL If you’re interested in hearing about it, maybe I’ll write something up. Shoot me an email at TruckerDump@gmail.com or holler at me on Twitter. I’m @ToddMcCann over there.

As for the rest of the time, I’ve been busy with a couple of other projects, but if I’m completely honest, I’ve had enough time to squeeze in a podcast. But I didn’t. Sorry about that. I actually almost did it once, but it was like 500 degrees when I turned off the truck, so my good intentions quickly got tossed out the window. So enough with the lame excuses.

Today’s shows will hopefully get me back into the swing of things. And it will also solve a problem too. Do you remember when I first announced this podcast that I said I was going to hold back some of blog comments in anticipation that you peeps might not write in enough? Well, I was wrong. REALLY wrong. I’ve been swamped with it and I’m waaaaay behind now. So today’s show is going to be nothing but feedback.

Now don’t think this lets you off the hook. Remember when @DriverChrisMc corrected me on some of the answers I’d given? Well just think how much correction is going to be needed after a whole episode of feedback? LOL So get out your pen and paper and get ready to jot down my errors.

As for my readers, sorry, but you’re crap-out-of-luck this time around. This one is only available in podcast form. So if you’ve never heard the podcast before, maybe today is a good day to try it out. Just click on the PLAY button above and have a listen… and then subscribe (it’s free). You know you want to. And for the record, most of my podcasts are under 30 minutes long. This long john is an oddity.

TD94: Understanding The New Hours-Of-Service (HOS) Rules

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Confused over the Hours-of-Service rules

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Unless you’ve just beamed in from another planet (or you’re a non-trucker), you’re probably aware of the new Hours-of-Service rules that are looming. But do you understand them fully? From some of the feedback I’ve been getting on Twitter and the blog, I’d say there’s still some confusion out there. The Bible flat-out says that all Christians will be persecuted. Well, I’m pretty sure some Bible-thumper at my company has been Skyping with God on my behalf. You see, my company recently decided that I would be one of the lucky ones who got put on the new Hours-of-Service rules a few weeks early. You know, just to try it out. *sigh* Well, I guess this kind of persecution is better than being around when Nero was kabob-ing Christians to light his garden parties. So thanks for that, God.

But before we get into it, let me issue a warning to my non-trucking peeps. This post will likely only be understood by truckers, so feel free to beam yourself back up to your planet if you don’t mind missing out on my exquisite writing style and tasteful wit. And to the rest of you, like I said, the length of this couldn’t be avoided. When it comes to this technical stuff, if you don’t explain everything in full, you actually raise more questions than you answer.

So my first question was, “Is this even legal?” I mean, how could my employer make me adhere to rules that hadn’t even gone into effect yet? So of course, I called my safety department. I wound up talking to my least favorite safety person. For starters, she’s in charge of e-log training and new implementations such as this most recent one. So there’s strike one against her. Strike two, three, and four came at different times when I called in to question how the e-logs were set up. Each time, the conversation started fine, but ended badly after she basically said, “Well, this is how things are. If you don’t like them, I guess that’s too bad.” You can imagine how well this went over with me. It got to the point where the safety director told us not to speak anymore. If I called in and got her, I was to give her my name and she was to immediately transfer me to someone else. That worked fine up until this latest thing, because like I said, she’s the one who was implementing this new program.

Thankfully, she didn’t get snotty with me this time, even though I did question the legality of making me follow rules that weren’t even in effect yet. Well come to find out, all these new Hours-of-Service rules have actually been in effect since the beginning of the year. They just aren’t going to be enforced until July 1. She said there are quite a few small trucking companies that have been following the new rules since the beginning of the year. So there goes that beef with her. So for now, let’s get on with understanding these new rules. We’ll come back to Hitler’s granddaughter at the end where she’ll answer a few more questions I had.

First, what Hours-of-Service rules are not changing?

The 11-hour rule – You’re still allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours before you’re required to take a 10-hour break. Be thankful for this one. The proposed rule was to take us back down to 10 hours of driving like it used to be. Whew! Dodged that roadkill!

The 14-hour rule – You still have a 14-hour window to work after the start of your day. Thank God they didn’t get the hard 14 passed that would’ve kept us from extending the work day with an 8-hour sleeper berth period. I don’t use this extension much, but it’s come in handy a few times. Any rule that takes away flexibility is a bad thing for a trucker.

The 70-hour rule – You can still work up to 70 hours in an 8 day period. I wish they’d raise this limit, but quite frankly, I’d have better luck getting my nephews to quit “nutting” each other. Yes, that’s precisely what you think it is.

10-hour breaks – You still need to get a minimum 10 hours of off-duty and/or sleeper berth time to reset your 11 and 14-hour rule. This can be all off-duty, all sleeper berth, or a combination of the two.

Split breaks – Although I hate having to do split breaks, it’s sometimes necessary to deliver your load on time. In order to split, you have to have a minimum of 8 hours in the sleeper berth. The other 2 hours can be all sleeper berth, all off-duty, or a combination of the two.

Over all, I’m happy that none of these rules changed. These five rules are the ones we deal with every day and are thereby, the most important. While I’m not entirely pleased with the new rules changes, at least the biggest changes aren’t something that will affect us every day. Well, one will, but it’s not too bad.

So what are the new changes/additions to the Hours-of-Service rules?

There are three new rules changes that will start being enforced on July 1, 2013. Let’s start with the easiest of the three.

The 30-minute rest break – This new rule states that a driver may only drive when less than 8 hours has passed since the end of your last off-duty and/or sleeper period of at least 30 minutes. My company even says that you cannot use personal conveyance during this 30-minute break. After all, the whole idea is for you to be taking a break from behind the wheel. As many of you know, my company has a reputation for being super-strict on this kind of stuff, so I’d be sure to ask your company about it. Luckily, my e-log unit is set up to warn me when my 30-minute break is due. It will warn you 1 hour before and then again 30 minutes before. Once the legal break is logged, it’ll start the count over. You can also find this countdown in the Driver Log section of the e-logs. Check out the picture below to see how this looks on my system.

A picture of how the PeopleNet e-log unit keeps track of the 30-minute rest break.

The PeopleNet e-log system keeps track of when your next 30-minute break is due. It issues a warning 1 hour and 30 minutes before.

So anyway… I have to admit that this rule is a bit more complicated than I originally thought. I thought, “8 hours of driving, take a 30-minute break, then finish your day.” Easy squeezy, right? Not so fast, Hot Rod. First, the 8-hour thing includes any on-duty, off-duty, or sleeper berth time under 30 minutes. So if you fueled for 15 minutes, that on-duty time counts towards the 8 hours. But what if you pull into a rest area and show 15 minutes in the sleeper berth while you make your cup of ramen? Yep. That counts towards the 8 hours too. But if you extend that for 15 more minutes, it counts as the 30-minute rest break. That’s great, right? Well, maybe. That all depends on when you took the break.

Did you know that if you aren’t careful as to when you take your 30-minute rest break, you may actually have to take two 30-minute breaks in one 14-hour day? This will be most likely to happen if you take your break before the 6th hour. Let’s walk through an example. Say you start your day at 10 AM and you take a 30-minute lunch break 6 hours later at 2 PM. This break qualifies as your 30-minute rest break. But it also restarts the 8-hour clock. So you go back to driving at 2:30 PM. At 10:30 PM (eight hours later and still within your 14-hour day), you need to take another rest break. So if you want to avoid wasting an extra 30 minutes per day, try to remember not to break the first 6 hours of your day!

1 AM to 5 AM requirements on 70-hour resets – This is exactly what it sounds like. In order to restart your 70-hour work week, your 34-hour break has to include two periods of 1 AM to 5 AM (home terminal time). For full details on how this rule has been affecting me, check out my blog post called, TD91: Bungling the 34-Hour Rule. And for the record, I’m aware that I got the time wrong in the article. I’ve gone back and fixed it, so don’t be buggin’ me. Anywho, the worst part about this specific time-of-day requirement is that we drivers usually can’t control when we start these breaks nor when we have to come off them. For instance, one of my breaks that I talk about in Bungling the 34-Hour Rule was 44 hours and it still didn’t count as a legal restart. I was so stunned I had to triple-check it to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. But it’s actually worse than that. If you start your break at 2 AM (just one hour after the 1 AM requirement), your break will have to be 51 hours to count. Yea. I see a lot of dispatchers working with us that. Not. But it gets even worse. Yes, another level of worse.

Only 1 restart per week (168 hours)- Self-explanatory, right? When I first heard this, I thought, “Well who cares? No one is going to be getting even one 34-hour restart; let alone two in one week.” I even said as much in TD82: Are All These Changes Good for the Trucking Industry? Once again, I was as wrong as a loogie milkshake. This new rule puts even more time restrictions on the already nearly-impossible new 34-hour rule. And I think it’s going to affect the regional drivers who are home every weekend even more than us peons who are stuck out here for weeks on end. How so?

Because the one restart per week is based on when you started your last 34-hour break. This is most easily explained in an example. Say you get home at 7 AM on Saturday morning and you get a legal 34-hour break in. Now say the following weekend you get home at 11 PM on Friday. Under the new rule, you can’t start counting your 34 hours until 168 hours after the start of your previous 34-hour break. So in this example, that would be last week at 7 AM on Saturday morning. So even though you got home the previous night at 11 PM, you can’t start counting until 7 AM the following morning. Screwy, huh? That’s 8 hours that can’t go towards a restart. And that 8 hours would’ve even met the 1 AM to 5 AM time restraints. Grrrrr.

Now if that isn’t already weirder than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, there’s another aspect of this that seems even more bizarre. Now let me state right out front that I may be wrong about this. I spoke with my safety person about this, so if I get it wrong, blame her. And then write in and and tell me how this really works. Okay. Here we go.

So back to your situation. We’ve established that this week’s restart doesn’t start counting until 7 AM on Saturday. So if you get home next weekend at 2 AM on Saturday, you still have to wait 5 hours until you can start counting towards your 34 hours. But what if you get home after 7 AM on Saturday? Let’s say you have to stay out to do one more load and you don’t get home until 10 PM on Sunday night. Great! You can start your 34 hours immediately because you’re well past the 168-hour mark.

But what about next weekend when you get home on Friday night again? Your last restart started at 10 PM on Sunday night, so now your 34 hours isn’t up until some time on Tuesday morning. So do you see what’s happening here? It seems to me that if you ever want to get another 34-hour break, you’re going to have to get home on Sunday night again. So much for the weekend. And what if dispatch is shooting to have you home Sunday night but you’re delayed until Monday morning?

I’m really hoping someone will tell me how wrong I am here. But the way I see it is that you can never move the 34-hour start time backward; it can only be moved forward. I don’t see how that can possibly be a good thing for you drivers who are supposed to get home on the weekends. Does that mean you’ll have to stay out for two weeks in order to set yourself up for weekend home time again? Some of you regional drivers write in and tell me how you think this will work in your situation. I’d love nothing more than for you to tell me I’m a moron.

A picture of how the PeopleNet e-log unit keeps track of the 34-hour break.

This shot was taken the morning of June 14. The 34-hour break start time shows a later time because my last 34-hour break started at 15:56 on June 7 (168 hours prior).

Again, thankfully those of us on e-logs don’t have to figure a lot of this stuff out. As you can see from the photos, the e-log system keeps track of all this for you. In the first photo, you can see it lists the earliest time I can start my 34-hour break and the time it will end. In this example, I took this snapshot the morning of the June 14. But notice the start time is listed as 15:56. That’s because the last 34-hour break I started was at 15:56 on June 7 (that’s 168 hours prior). Notice also that the end time is for the 16th at 0500. That’s because of the new 1 AM to 5 AM time constraints. So in this case, if I wanted to start my 34-hour break, I’d have to be down for just over 37 hours.

A picture of how the PeopleNet e-log unit keeps track of the 34-hour break.

This was taken at 22:30. Notice how the 34-hour break start time is the present time. Also the end time has changed from the previous picture.

This next shot was taken at 22:30, which just so happens to be the exact time the 34-hour start time shows. That’s because I’m now past the 168-hour window. This start time now moves with me as time passes. Notice the end time now shows 08:30. So if I were to start my 34-hour break right then, I’d only have to be down for 34-hours to get a legal restart. Sweet!

Time to wrap this puppy up. When I had Fräulein Hitler on the phone, I asked how she thought these new rules would affect drivers. She said there was actually some poor sods at our company who’ve been using the new rules since April. And I thought I was on the crap list! She said about half of the 34-hour attempts were registering as legal 70-hour resets. What she didn’t say is how many of those 34-hour restarts took longer than 34 hours. According to my unscientific tests, the number of acceptable restarts is more like 1/3, and remember, I wasn’t even taking into account the 168-hour limitations when I did my study.

Well, at least there is one ray of hope in all this. History has taught us that Nazis always think they’re right, but it’s been proven that they’re often wrong; big time. So maybe my safety lady and her fellow FMCSA Nazis will accept defeat and back the heck off. Then again, Hitler didn’t really give up did he? He more or less self-destructed. Great. That sounds like a lot of fun for our immediate future.

*Are you dreading the new HOS rules or do you think they won’t affect you much? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Yes, I realize you’ll have to do a little math to complete the task, but that’s what calculators are for, right? ;-)*

TD86: Guest Post: Benefits Of Semi Truck Weight Compliance. By Noble McIntyre

Hello, one and all. First, a quick update on the status of the new Web site. Things are coming along slowly, but surely. I recently fixed a major problem I’ve been having; so that’s good. But I’m still missing a major component, so you’re gonna have to control your giddiness. I’m sure you’ll manage somehow. Still, I have a feeling that I’m eventually going to have to crack this sucker open to the public with a few lingering quirks. It’s like choosing someone to marry. If you’re waiting for perfection, you’re never going to do it. The Evil Overlord is the exception to the rule. She really hit the jackpot there.

So what’s this about a guest post? Well, if you remember correctly, I told you in our last visit that I was working on providing a couple of guest posts to fill the Sandra Bernhard-sized tooth gap between the posts I’ve written.

[box]Listen to the audio version above and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
Or enter http://abouttruckdriving.com/truckerdump.xml into your favorite podcast app.
Download the intro/outro songs for free! courtesy of Walking On Einstein[/box]

Today’s treat is brought to you by a gentleman named Noble McIntyre. Now I’m not positive, but I think Noble may be a bit clairvoyant. A while back, I began playing with the idea of asking for submissions for a couple of guest posts to fill in the gaping hole that the blog was becoming. Not long after, I received an email from Noble asking if I accepted guest posts. I’m telling you people… clairvoyant. I’m guessing that skill comes in handy with his day job. You see, Noble is an attorney. That’s gotta be pretty darn handy to get into the minds of the opposing counsel. And before you say it, yes, I know it’s hard to believe a lawyer was perusing my blog, but that’s just further proof that I rock. I’ve been telling people that for years, but no one ever listens.

So let’s get on with today’s submission. Afterward, I’ll be back to share my thoughts on the subject. Here we go. And oh yea. You ladies may want to check out Noble’s picture at the bottom of the post. He’s a handsome devil, he is. Hands off though, ladies. He’s already been snagged off the market. Sorry to disappoint.

Benefits of Semi Truck Weight Compliance

By Noble McIntyre

It’s human nature to want the most benefit for the lowest cost. It may seem more efficient to load a semi truck to maximum capacity—or more—in order to transport more merchandise in fewer trips. That works in theory, but not always in practice. I’ve taken on semi truck cases that came about when someone was injured due to some sort of negligence on the part of a truck driver or a trucking company like, for example, overloading a truck. And accidents involving a semi have the potential to do much more damage when the truck is heavier than is legally allowed.

Surpassing truck weight limits can also cost more in fees and fines when trucks don’t pass inspection at highway weigh stations. But additional costs in fuel, maintenance, and safety must be considered as well. Here are a few of the ways ignoring trucking weigh limits can increase costs, and affect the safety of not just the truckers, but passenger vehicle drivers.

Road Fatigue

Highways are built to withstand a lot of wear—vehicles driving over them, harsh weather, heat, cold. They’re also constructed with certain weight limits in mind. When those limits are surpassed, the road suffers and begins to wear down more quickly than planned. This not only makes for uncomfortable driving, it increases road maintenance costs for the states the highways run through, and those costs are passed on to the taxpayers. By complying with weight limits, truckers and trucking companies can help roads last longer, and reduce maintenance costs, thereby saving states money that can be put toward other public needs.

Wasted Fuel and Time

It comes down to simple power-to-weight ratio—the heavier a truck is, the more power required to propel it. When a truck is loaded over its maximum weight, it will require more fuel to travel the same distance at the same speeds as a lighter truck. In addition to wasting fuel, this will also translate to higher costs for the trucking company because of the need to buy fuel more often. It also means lost time to stop for those fueling needs. Those costs are most likely passed on to the consumer. By adhering to weight limits, truckers can save time and money both for the trucking company, and for the people who buy the products being transported. For those of us concerned about the effect high food costs have on our communities, it’s frustrating to know that some of those costs could be more reasonable if weight limit regulations were strictly followed.

Safety

When loaded to maximum weight, the stopping distance for semi trucks is roughly 40 percent greater than that of regular passenger vehicles. This is assuming fair weather and road conditions. That distance will increase when roads are wet, for example, or when the truck is traveling above the speed limit. Now imagine how the stopping distance is affected when a truck is carrying more than the allowed maximum weight. Even in good weather, the distance is increased, not to mention, a heavier truck will do more damage to other vehicles and to property should an accident occur. Weight compliance promotes safety for the truck, its driver, and other drivers on the road. I would be more than happy to accept a reduction in the number of clients I have if it meant fewer people were being injured in trucking accidents due to poor practices.

The trucking industry remains the most effective tool in transporting goods from one location to another. There is plenty of room for improvement, to be sure. But until technological and mechanical advances come about that improve efficiency, current safety standards must be maintained. The benefits simply outweigh the costs.

Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law, a firm staffed by experienced Oklahoma City truck accident lawyers.

 

 

Good stuff, Noble. Thanks for entertaining and informing the peeps. Now from a trucker’s view, let me add a few thoughts of my own.

For quite a while now, my company has been sending out a satellite message about once a week reminding us to route around the Pawtucket River Bridge on I-95 in Rhode Island. It seems that about once a week one of my highly intelligent co-workers gets a ticket for crossing the bridge. You know, the bridge that has been marked as truck restricted since 2007. The one marked by those bright orange signs that are really hard to see. Yea, those. I just don’t get it. If a bridge is clearly marked as illegal, why would anyone cross it? Why not take the marked route? It’s not that far out of the way. Yet the coppers in Rhode Island have been picking trucker’s pockets clean for years. These fines aren’t cheap either. We’re talking maximums of $2000 plus. Ouch-a-mundo! But then there are times when things aren’t quite so clear-cut.

Now there isn’t a trucker out there who hasn’t come across a situation that can’t be avoided. Sometimes by the time you see the weight restriction signs on the bridge, you’re already crossing it. Oops. But hey, when you looked at the trucker’s atlas during your trip planning, the road was clearly marked in orange! For you non-truckers; roads highlighted in orange are supposed to be open to trucks. Most of the time, they’re right. But some of the time they neglect to mention that it’s okay to run the road, providing you’re under the weight limit. That would be the weight limit that isn’t posted anywhere in the atlas.

Other times, you find yourself stuck between an FMCSA rule-maker’s head and a hard place. There you sit, staring at a weight-restricted bridge in the dead of night. You followed your company-supplied directions to the letter. Yet there you are. You’ve got no place to turn around. What now? I wrote about this exact scenario in a blog post called Trucking in the Northeast. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I find that prayer helps.

But what about running with an overweight load? Truck drivers do it all the time. But why do we do it? Because your dispatcher says to do it? Sorry dudes and dudettes, but that crap ain’t gonna fly here. Drivers, you’ve gotta think about this. It’s your license. It’s your ticket. It’s your money that’s gonna pay the fine. It’s not a point of pride to say, “I can find my way around any scale.” Okay great.

What good does it do? It takes more fuel to go around the scales. The back roads always take longer too. So why do we do it? Yeah, it’s a pain to take the load back to the shipper for reloading. Yes, it’s annoying to stop five times to fuel in a 600 mile trip just to keep your load legal.

But notice I kept saying “we” truckers. Yes, @DriverChrisMc, I just called myself a trucker again. Mark it on the calendar. The thing is, I’ve done all this myself. I routed around all the weigh stations once a long time ago. I found it stressful and never did it again. Sort of. What I will still do is route around ONE scale if I know I can burn off enough fuel before I get to the rest of the chicken coops (weight stations–a little trucker-speak there). But why even do that?

Well, I know why I do it. Because the places where I load, you either take that load or you sit and idle your truck until you burn off enough fuel to run the load. I’ve asked the company to cut the load. They won’t. I’ve asked to deadhead to get another load. Nothing else in the area. That’s not hard to believe when you’re in the wasteland known as North Dakota. And this is why I NEVER fill my fuel tanks any more. 3/4 max for me. Less if I’m anywhere in the vicinity of one of our 46,350 pound sugar loads.

I guess if you’re an owner/operator, I can maybe see the point of dodging all the scales on an entire trip. Maybe it was “take the load or don’t get paid.” That’s your choice I guess. Just remember that not only are we all breaking the law, but we’re also defying every reason that Noble just laid out. And shame on us all for dissing the Noble.

Photo by Linda N. via Flickr