TD120: Truckers And Exercise

Truckers and exercise. Talk about two words that sound weird together! I think maybe the words “chicken” and “Q-tip” might have more in common. Heck, I’m guessing I’ve already lost half you readers simply by uttering those two words in the same sentence, which is really sad because if there is a group of people who need exercise more than truckers, I can’t think who it is. Crap. I used those two words together again. HEYYYYY! COME BAAAAAAAAAACK… !!!!

For those of you who follow the Trucker Dump podcast/blog or my Twitter feed, you’ll know I try to keep in shape as best as I can. I admit I suck at it though, primarily because the frequency of my workouts are nearly as consistent as a narcoleptic drum major.

So although I’m about ready to embark on an epic blog post about truckers and exercise, please know that I’m not a trained fitness expert, nor am I a doctor. So be forewarned and think about what you’re doing before you start on any kind of exercise program. And obviously, the worse shape you’re in, the more careful you should be. Sorry; no way to make a disclaimer fun. Wow. That almost sounded like I was going to convince even one trucker to start exercising!

Here’s what prompted this blog post. I got a question about truckers and exercise from listener Jeremy back in July of 2016. In record turn-around time (for me), I’m finally answering him 7 months later! I was getting ready to explain his email, but why don’t I just share a snippet of it to give you the gist of it (read in full in the podcast version).

Jeremy says: Hello, Todd. I just started watching your podcasts (he meant listening) and I purchased your Kindle book as I am seriously contemplating being a truck driver.  I’d love to hear you address or maybe even dedicate an entire podcast to the subject of health and fitness vis–a–vis OTR drivers. As you probably are well aware of, finding the time and the initiative to exercise on the road can be difficult. I watched a short video where you demonstrate a dumbbell workout in the confines of a tractor cab.  I have a ton of questions and I don’t want to go overboard, anyway, I think a podcast about being a trucker and staying healthy would interest quite a few people out there. I heard one of the big reasons the trucking industry has such a high turnover rate is not just because of a lack of home time but also because people are concerned about their health and what’s to become of their health over their trucking career.

Well, I hate to raise your opinion of me, but I actually did get back with Jeremy the very next day (hey, at least I did something right) to ask him what sort of questions he had. Jeremy did not disappoint. So although after seven months he may already be a trucker, but I’m going to  answer his questions anyway. Let’s take them right from his follow-up email.

Question: My first question is, when is the best time(s) for an OTR driver to exercise? Obviously anytime you are at a truck stop with showers available would be ideal. In your experience, is waking up early before you trip plan and do your pre-trips a good time to exercise or is nighttime before you bed down best?

Well Jeremy, the best time for an OTR trucker to workout is whenever he can fit it in. I realize that sounds like a total cop-out, but it’s true. It largely depends on your schedule for that day, where you’re at, and what type of workout you’re doing.

For instance, I find my best energy, and therefore my best workouts to happen in the middle of the day. I am a morning person, but I somehow never feel like crawling out of bed and immediately working myself into a lather. However, at the end of my 11-hour driving shift I usually don’t have the motivation to do anything more than toss a TV dinner in the microwave and watch an episode of Criminal Minds before showering and hitting the sack.

That is why ideally, I can work out sometime in the middle of the day. Problem with that is, there’s this little thing called the 14-hour workday. Basically, once we truckers start our day we cannot drive after 14 hours. So if I started my day at 6:00 AM, I cannot drive after 8:00 PM.

Now doing some simple math, I can legally drive 11 hours so that leaves three hours to workout, right? Maybe. That depends on lots of factors. The first 15 minutes of your extra 3 hours is taken by your pre-trip inspection. If you have to fuel that day, there goes another 10-30 minutes (usually takes 15 minutes) depending how busy the fuel bays are.

Next, most carriers make you log at least 15 minutes at both sides of your delivery. So if you’re picking up a load and delivering same day, there goes another 30 minutes. Now you’re down to 2 hours. But wait, you have to take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving, so now you’re down to 1.5 hours to workout. Plenty of time, right?

But where your day can really be sabotaged is at those shippers/receivers. Not only do you lose 30 minutes of log time, but it also rarely takes 15 minutes to load or unload. At best, it’s 30-60 minutes per stop. At worst, it’s 4 hours (although any driver will tell you their horror story of 12-hour unload times). And heaven forbid you have extra stops in-between!

So now you have to choose. Workout in the middle of the day and lose money because you’re eating into your driving hours, or skip the workout to maximize your next paycheck? Guess which usually wins for this cheapskate?

I guess the best thing for your wallet is just to do your workout before or after your driving shift. After all, you’ve got 10 hours of down time to kill.

If you’re a morning person, it might be best to wake up an hour early and get at it. But maybe you didn’t sleep well the night before because of the barking dog in the truck on your left and/or the reefer revving away on your right.

If you’ve got the energy to workout after a long day of driving, then more power to ya. If I can’t manage one in the middle of my workday, I always have good intentions to do it afterwards. I convince myself to do it about half the time. The rest of the time Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie and my pillow wins out.

Question: How about getting in micro-workouts when your trailer is getting loaded or unloaded?

Earlier, I mentioned the type of workout and where you’re at matters too. I prefer to workout in the shower rooms where it’s usually nice and air-conditioned. I’m also guaranteed a hot shower right afterwards. Obviously, I can’t do that while loading at a customer. Nor do I have the desire to lay down or do push ups in a filthy parking lot.

Sure, instead of my normal HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workout, I could do something like my in-cab dumbbell workout that you mentioned earlier. But I often don’t.

That’s because I really don’t like to sleep in nasty sheets from going to bed sweaty. If I’m delayed at my loading/unloading point so long that I’m starting to think that I have time to squeeze in a workout, then that means I’m most likely going to want to make the most of my driving shift when I finally break free.

That could mean I spend the night at a rest area or at my delivery point to make the most of my hours. No showers there. Basically, if I’m not 100% sure I’m going to get a shower before bedtime, I skip my workout. I’m sure many of you wouldn’t be such pansies about this, but that’s just how I roll.

This is where it comes down to willpower. I’ve had drivers email and tweet me saying my working out is an inspiration to them. Don’t. Just don’t. I’m truly not deserving of it. I’m more motivated than most drivers, but there are far better role models out there. For example…

I once saw a driver exercising beside his truck like he was competing in a CrossFit contest. He was going all out! All the drivers at our company terminal were watching him and some of them we trying to talk to him while he was clearly focused on his workout.

For the record, this is why I hate exercising where people can see me. When I was in my jump-rope phase, I always went behind the truck so people weren’t gawking at me. And it’s also why I figured out a way to lift weights inside my cab with the curtains shut. Every time I tried to do it beside my truck, some fat trucker would come up and start talking to me about how he should start working out. Well get out of my face and go do it then, man! Sheesh!

Anyway, when this driver finally finished, I found out he was an ex-Marine that stubbornly refused to let his body go. He was sweating like a preacher with Tourette’s Syndrome so I asked about his workout. He said he did HIIT occasionally to keep his heart rate up, but he preferred running. He said he’d take off running any time a shipper told him he had 30-60 minutes to wait. I commented on his sweating and asked what he did about a shower if he got stuck at a shipper. That’s when I saw real motivation and willpower.

This dude kept 10 gallons of water in his floorboards and would pour them over his head for a makeshift shower if he wasn’t going to make it to a real one. Seriously! Right there at the shipper in front of everyone! Obviously he still had clothes on, but still! Talk about dedication!

So if you truly want to work out, you can do it when you’re loading/unloading, before your day starts, when it ends, or any time you can muster up the energy. Mustering the energy is the hard part.

One more thing to keep in mind is a trucker’s wonky schedule. If you’re running hard, an OTR driver will likely have varying work hours. Are you a morning person? Sometimes a trucker’s morning starts at 7:00 AM. Sometimes it’s 7:00 PM. Morning is whenever you come off a 10-hour break, so your circadian rhythm is likely going to mess with you, especially for new truckers still getting used to the crazy hours.

Question: Have you every had a gym membership with one of the large national 24-hour fitness chains? If so how did that work out? I’ve seen several rookie videos of new drivers that have the idea that they would plan their trips around 24-hour gyms in order to get in an hour workout every day. That struck me as unrealistic and naive on their part, am I wrong?

Jeremy, you nailed this one like a Gabby Douglas dismount. No, I’ve never had a gym membership of any kind, but “unrealistic and naïve” is exactly right. I guess these newbies think they are going to have more control over their schedules and routes than they actually will.

As a company driver, you are basically at the whim of your employer. They tell you where to go to pickup and deliver and many of them even determine the route you take and the places you fuel.

Now it is true that a driver can usually decide where to stop for the night, but honestly you’ve got a better chance of accidentally swallowing a bowling ball than being close to a 24-hour fitness club on a regular basis.

Look at all those TA and Petro StayFit locations!

TA (Travel Centers of America) and Petro are trying to change this with their StayFit program, which has “workout options include FREE indoor fitness rooms, outdoor exercise areas, walking/running trails (maps available at each location), basketball hoops, bean bag toss, and horseshoe pits at many of our locations network wide.” If you look at the map, it looks like you’ll have no problem finding one of these locations every night, but that would be a rookie assumption. You’re just going to have to trust me here. If someone reading this is actually getting to one of these StayFit locations every night, please email me at TruckerDump@gmail.com. I’d be interested to hear how you’re pulling it off.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say you can stop within 5 miles of a nationally recognized fitness club every day. That brings us to your next question:

Question: What about parking? Big rigs are notoriously hard to find parking for and I would be concerned about theft while you were in the gym, so… what if anything can be done to mitigate that possibility if you did decide to visit a gym for an hour-long workout?

Don’t worry about theft. I’m sure stuff gets stolen out of trucks all the time, but you rarely hear anything about it. If I’m worried about leaving my tractor in a busy parking lot, I simply close all the curtains to make it appear that I might be inside. But seriously, don’t worry about this because you’ve got a better chance of being stalked by Reece Witherspoon than finding parking for a big truck at most of these gyms. Ah… but what about a bobtail (a truck without a trailer)?

Question: What about the DOT Personal Conveyance regulations that state a commercial driver can only drive bobtail and be in off-duty driver status? How often is an OTR driver going to find him or herself without a trailer, empty or otherwise?

I see you’ve been doing your research, Jeremy. Yes, there is something called Personal Conveyance that allows a trucker to drive while being in the Off-Duty status. You don’t have to be bobtailing to do it though. The problem with Personal Conveyance (PC) is that each company sets their own rules. Unsurprisingly, my company has the strictest guidelines on PC time of any I’ve seen. It’s so restrictive in fact, that it’s nigh impossible to use it.

For instance, I cannot use PC when I’m under a loaded trailer. So no dropping a loaded trailer at the truck stop and bobtailing to the gym. I’m also not allowed to use it if I’m out of driving hours, even though I will officially be Off-Duty at the time.

As an example, if I pull into a truck stop a few miles away from a fitness club with only a few minutes left on my electronic logs, I can’t legally use PC time to drive anywhere. I have even crazier rules that I’ll spare you from, but these are the two that would keep me from bobtailing to the gym.

By the way, if you’re thinking you’ll just find a company that still uses paper logbooks, that may work for a while, but eventually all trucking companies will be running elogs. So you may as well not plan on that for a long-term solution.

Are all companies as anal as mine when it comes to Personal Conveyance? According to the drivers I’ve talked to; no. The thing is, if you have even the slightest hope of using PC time to drive to a Gold’s Gym, you’d better know every detail of a carrier’s PC rules before you commit to drive for them.

You also asked how often a driver is without a trailer. Not often. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m bobtailing less than 1% of the time. A company isn’t making any money if you aren’t pulling a load. And even if your company allowed PC driving while under a dispatch, they would likely frown on you for leaving a loaded trailer alone in a truck stop parking lot. Not to mention the truck stops don’t usually care for it much either.

Question: A question about space, I suspect the space both vertically and horizontally is limited inside the cab of most tractor cabs. Are bodyweight exercises like crunches and push-ups an impossibility? How about the use of smaller barbells like an EZ bar, would they be out of the question?

If you want to work out inside your truck, you must drive a mid-roof or condo semi. Anything shorter than a mid-roof means you can’t stand up. And as you saw in my dumbbell video, any exercise where you have to lift the weights over your head have to be done sitting down if you’re in a mid-roof tractor. You also need at least at 60″ sleeper cab to pull off the exercises in my video.

If you aren’t seriously overweight, crunches and push-ups are totally possible inside a cab. Even if you are pushing maximum poundage, you can still do these exercises on the bed. Obviously they won’t be as effective on a soft surface like that, but any exercise is better than none, right? If you’re a normal size guy, along with my dumbbell video, I also have a companion video explaining how I do crunches, push-ups, planks, and more inside the cab of the truck.

You could probably make an EZ bar work, but I think you’d be better off sticking with a set of dumbbells. Even an enormous set of adjustable dumbbells like the Bowflex SelectTech would work better than even the shortest barbell.

Question: Equipment: Off the top of my head I was thinking an adjustable dumbbell set would be perfect. A jumping rope for outside, perhaps a thick rubber mat to lay on the urine-soaked truck stop concrete would be a good. Shadow boxing resistance bands? Mini stair-stepper for cardio? A weight vest for jogging might be great too.

As I just mentioned, an adjustable dumbbell set would be ideal, but I started with 20-pounders and worked my way up to 25 and then 30-pounders. Probably not the most economical way to do it, but it worked for me. I only keep one set of dumbbells in my truck at a time, too. All the exercises shown in my dumbbell video are done without switching weights between exercises.

A jump rope will wear you out faster than a rabbit humps and it takes up very little space… as does a humping rabbit I would guess. Same for resistance bands. Unlike dumbbells, you can actually use resistance bands in a limited way as you’re driving down the road. They also easily fit inside a bag if you plan on working out in a shower room.

Let me take a second here to explain myself. I’ve mentioned twice now that I prefer to workout in the shower rooms. I’m sure there are some pissed-off truckers right now seeing as there can sometimes be a shower wait. I have one rule here that I believe everyone should abide by:

  • I skip my workout if there is a shower wait. I try to live my life by the golden rule and I know I’d be pretty cheesed if some guy’s exercise time was holding me up. Time is money after all.

I’ve never used a mini stair-stepper, but it looks like a perfect device for a truck. You might want to leave the curtains open in your truck though. Otherwise, everyone who walks by will think you and your lady are doing your own rabbit humping. Seriously. That rhythmic stepping will have every trucker in the lot giggling like a school girl.

The weight vest I’ll leave to you. My worst fitness level is endurance. I can manage to jog from the far end of a parking lot to the front door of the truck stop without passing out, but just barely. Yes, I know that’s pathetic. That’s why I’ve switched from weight lifting to HIIT workouts. Doesn’t matter how good your big muscles look once you’re laying in a coffin from a heart attack. And lastly…

Question: Would a company driver have to remove all this stuff whenever he/she was away for home time? Or would it be okay to leave your stuff on the truck?

This all depends on your company. Most OTR drivers take their trucks home nowadays, therefore you can leave anything you want in your cab while you’re at home. I unload most things of value (computer bag, TV, cooler, freezer), but leave stuff like my dumbbells, jump rope, microwave, and my el cheapo piece of crap CB. Heck, I’m kind of hoping someone will steal that hunk-o-junk.

Now if your company requires you to leave your truck at your nearest terminal, then you need to ask them if you need to clean it out. Some only want you to park it there to ensure the truck is safe while you’re at home. Others will want to put another driver into it while your gone. In that case, you may or may not get the same truck when you come back to work. By and large, this “slip-seating” is reserved more for local and regional drivers.

Well, that answers all of Jeremy’s questions and hopefully some of yours. I was planning on running you through some good workouts for truckers, but I think I’ll have to save that for the next post. After all, in today’s age where we all have the collective attention span of a cucumber, I figured a 3400 word post was pushing it harder than Salt-N-Pepa.

So how’d I do? Are you a trucker who works out a lot? Am I totally off base here, or what? Leave your thoughts, suggestions, and outright insults in the comments section below or shoot me an email at TruckerDump@gmail.com.

Podcast Show Notes:

TD119: Winter Driving Tips With An Alaskan Trucker was the last show. If you missed it, go back and check it out. It’s got some great tips for driving in the snow and ice!

My website domains and hosting fees are coming due! If you’ve enjoyed the show over the last few years, please consider donating some spare change via the donation button in the side bar of the blog. Or if you want to get something for your money, consider purchasing Trucking Life, which includes a free 9.25-hour audiobook version. Check out the free samples wherever you buy your ebooks!

If you’re a trucker who likes discussing Apple products and services, please consider joining the iTruckers Slack group by downloading the free Slack app and requesting an invite at iTruckers@iCloud.com.

If you’d like to join the Trucker Dump Slack group, please send your invite request to TruckerDump@gmail.com.

Follow me on Twitter

The Trucker Dump podcast was named in not one, but TWO lists of best trucking podcasts to listen to. Thanks to both!

Trucking Podcasts: Better Than the Radio from AllTruckJobs.com

Best Trucking Podcasts to Follow from Kabbage

I added a nice list of APU Weight Exemptions By State to my blog post courtesy of TrackYourTruck.com.

Special segment from Randy Byers, Executive Director of Shelly Truck Driving School in York, PA entitled Producing A Confident Truck Driver With A Driving Simulator. There is a video to watch too!

I have a few comments on a TruckersReport.com article called Watchdog Group: Get Uber Self-Driving Trucks Off The Road.

I also comment on Judge Increases Walmart Driver Payout To Over $60 Million which also comes from TruckersReport.com.

Believe it or not, a Personal Injury Law firm called Craig, Kelly, and Faultless LLC are trying to raise awareness of the challenges of driving around tractor trailers with a special website. But this time they’re on our side! Yay!

BeSpecular is a free Android and iOS app I’ve been using to help blind people see. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I heard about it from the Nosillacast podcast.

Links in the blog post:

Follow me on Twitter

Trucking Life on Kindle

TD81: How To Do A Full-Body Workout Inside The Cab Of A Semi

HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)


StayFit fitness from TA and Petro. Check out the map with all the locations.

Links in the feedback:

Krys bought Trucking Life and wrote in to thank me for it. I find out she’s an author too. Check out her role-playing game book called Scrolls of Destiny.

Scoobie tweeted me to bring a funny video to my attention. Brad James sings a song to the tune of Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay, called Detention (You Ordered It, You Unload It). Every trucker will totally relate. LOL

Zachary writes in to find out the real rules about pre-trip and post-trip inspections.

Show info:

You can email your comments, suggestions, questions, or insults to TruckerDump@gmail.com

You can find me on Twitter @ToddMcCann.

Join the Trucker Dump Slack group! Download the free Slack app and email me for an invite at TruckerDump@gmail.com.

Got a second to Rate and/or Review the podcast in iTunes?

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?

TD113: The Feedback Show #2

Well, I managed to come up with jack squat for a topic this time, but that turns out to be a good thing since I’ve been behind on my feedback from listeners for quite some time. So I’m turning my writer’s block into a positive thing by catching up on feedback. Lemons to lemonade, man. In other words, there’s no legitimate blog post today. But if you’re interested in what we talked about in the podcast version, check out the links below.
Photo by Ognian Mladenov via Flickr Creative Commons

Podcast show notes

I was a guest on The Trucking Podcast. We had a blast talking about all kinds of stuff, so please check it out. Look for episode 108. Who doesn’t like to hear about another person’s aches and pains? No one… right? Right? Tough noogies. I open the show with my kidney stone woes. Good times. More in the complaint department, I whine a bit about the crappy Internet at my new home. Of course, everyone loves to hear a trucker bitch about trying to get home. Well I don’t disappoint with the story of my emotional rollercoaster ride trying to get home for Christmas. I’m also looking for listener’s input on whether being called a “Trucker Dumper” is insulting or just plain funny. I ask because Buck and Don over at The Trucking Podcast are having a heck of time finding a name for their audience that doesn’t piss someone off. Listener Trucker Bob and I recently announced a new Slack community called iTruckers. It’s basically a place for Apple fanboys (or fangirls) to get together online to talk about their love of Apple gear and services. So if you’re a trucker who owns an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, iPod, or maybe you want to own one or have questions about them, please click the link to read about joining the iTruckers Slack group. Or you can email Trucker Bob directly at iTruckers@iCloud.com to receive an invite. Truckers or related fields only please! I mention current iTruckers members @holden657, @darkstaff, and @driverchrismc.

In the Feedback section:

Greg @riverratwa57 sends another audio comment about how he stays safe in the truck. He mentions his wife carries a lipstick body guard and a flashlight stun gun with spikes. Ouch! If you’re interested, I shared my thoughts about carrying weapons in the truck back in TD110: Jabbering With Jared. Lester @amishtrucker shares a quick thought about the stuff I talk about on the podcast. Long Duck @longduck71 listened to TD108: 4 Reasons Truckers Get The Hazmat Endorsement and disagrees. Denver left a comment on my Jobshadow.com interview asking for some general advice on getting into trucking. If you don’t want to read the article, I turned it into a podcast in TD102: What’s It Like To Be A Trucker? Another audio comment from Greg @riverratwa57 discusses technology in trucking and I out The Evil Overlord as being horrible with location awareness. I also share my skepticism about dash cameras. What’s your experience with dash cams? Write in or send an audio comment on the subject to TruckerDump@gmail.com. An anonymous emailer read TD57: Really? A Good Dispatcher? and leaves a smart aleck remark. Because that’s what annoying people do. Chib is a non-trucker who listened to TD95: 4 Reasons That Trucker Might Be Tailgating You and had a few thoughts to share about why I’m wrong. I also point him to TD66: Truckers Go Turtle Racing to prove to him I’m not part of the problem with slow truckers trying to pass other slow trucks. Vic writes in to try to enter the Trucker Country CD giveaway courtesy of Eric McMann @erichmcmann, but he was a bit too late. He did suggest some future topics and according to his email, he’s probably a trucker by now. Yeah! Ken listened to TD109: Coping With Rookie Truckers, but it was talking about electronic logs in the feedback section that prompted him to weave a tale about a trucker and big brother. Long Duck @longduck71 tells a tale of his truck breaking down and he talks about blind side backing. Isaac works for an insurance company and read either TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemesis: Complacency or TD104: Complacency Strikes and asked three questions to get a better understanding of the trucking world. The R & J Trucker Blog was kind enough to include Trucker Dump in their list of 10 Trucking Blogs Every New Trucker Should Read. Roger hops on board with his pet peeve about 4-wheelers. Lastly, J went for a new world record for shortest Trucker Dump comment. He wins.

TD112: Truckers Can’t Read

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!
Photo by MIT-Libraries via Flickr Creative Commons

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

TD109: Coping With Rookie Truckers

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There are approximately 3.5 million truckers in the US, so naturally that means we can’t all be seasoned veterans. We drivers probably encounter at least one trucker per week doing something that would only be done by a rookie. We shake our head in disgust, but what do we do about it? From what I’ve seen, the vast majority of us do absolutely nothing… or worse.

As is typical with the Trucker Dump blog, most of my ideas come from things that have recently happened to me, which begs the question how long I’ll be able to continue doing this blog if I can ever escape the trucking industry like I’ve been trying to do for the last decade. But I guess we’ll cross that crusty, old, underfunded bridge when we get to it. But for now, let’s continue with the story that prompted this post.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in Fort Smith, Arkansas wondering how my company was going to get me home. I’ve been working for this company long enough to know that they didn’t have much freight moving north from there, so things were looking about as good as a naked 80-year old. Luckily, this was a Thursday and I wasn’t due home until the weekend, so at least they had some time to work up a miracle.

Still, I was flabbergasted when I got a message telling me to pick up a load in Joplin, Missouri, some 140 miles away. The sucky thing about it was that I would be driving right past my house in order to go pick up the load. Isn’t it funny how trucking companies don’t have a problem eating the costs of 140 unloaded miles to pick up a load, but they’d rather put live kittens in a blender than to deadhead a driver home at half the distance. Well, at least that’s the way my company is anyway. Quick! New subject before I get pissed.

The other annoying thing about it was that the load didn’t pick up until the next afternoon and the guy who would be relaying it from me wouldn’t come off his 10-hour break until late that night. Oh well. This happens sometimes, so I’m used to it. Yes, it blows chunks to sit at a truck stop less than 50 miles from your house for half a day when you should be home, but it’s the price you pay for living out in the boonies. Well that, and the whole lack of indoor plumbing thing.

So anyway, I picked up the load and nabbed a spot at the Flying J in Joplin. After a quick call to The Evil Overlord, she had grudgingly decided to get out of bed and meet me in Joplin so we could hang out in town instead of me spending all day in the truck. Luckily, she didn’t need to after all.

The relay driver called me shortly after and told me he’d be there within a few hours. This made The Evil Overlord especially happy because she wouldn’t have to crawl out of bed in the middle of the afternoon; heaven forbid. Apparently the driver’s satellite hadn’t updated in quite a while, which lead my dispatcher to believe that the driver was in the middle of a 10-hour break, when in fact it was almost over. Sweet!

Actually though, the relay driver said “I think my break is almost over.” You think? You think? How does a trucker not know when their break is over? This was my first indication that I might be dealing with a rookie. But I let it slide and asked him to get there ASAP.

Well, he showed up about two hours later than what he said he would so apparently he had figured something wrong, which is odd considering my company uses e-logs. I’m guessing he must have been doing an eight-hour split sleeper berth, because otherwise the e-logs are very good at telling you when your break is over. Ours still suck at splitting though. Still, I wasn’t going to complain about his tardiness since I really hadn’t expected him to get there until late that night.

Further evidence pointing to him being a rookie came almost immediately. He rounded the corner and stopped when he saw me. I waved to let him know it was me he was looking for. He then started to do a blindside back directly across from me! What the…?!

Now had this been late at night I might have thought he didn’t want to risk losing the parking spot by driving around the lot to set up a proper driver-side back. But the lot was only about three quarters full! There were lots of places where he could’ve found an easier backing job, including one just a few spaces past me. I honestly don’t understand this. When I was a rookie, I’d have rather licked a leper’s sores than do a blindside back! I simply cannot imagine anyone doing one unless they had no other choice. And there is almost always a choice not to.

But instead he went ahead and got himself all jammed up between me and the spot he wanted. He got to the point where he could barely move. It reminded me a lot of Austin Powers trying to turn around in that little cart. LOL As soon as I had enough room to escape, I went ahead and pulled out from my dropped trailer so he’d have some extra room to maneuver, which was exactly what he needed to get back into the spot. By the way, I’ve done this for experienced drivers too. It takes less than a minute for an experienced driver to drop a trailer and the gesture will always be appreciated.

Now I will admit during this whole time I was sitting in my driver’s seat watching this train wreck happen. What I should have done was get out and help this poor guy. But how exactly do you help in this situation?

Personally, I have never been a fan of getting out and helping a driver back into a spot.

I have been known to be an extra set of eyes if I see someone really struggling, but I’m really not a fan of the type of driver who stands there and tells the driver which way to turn his wheels. This is mainly because there are more than one way to do a proper backing job. And I have no idea what this guy is going for. More on that in a bit.

As a side note, if you’re a driver trainer, don’t do this to your student. I’ve watched countless times where a student is looking at the trainer while backing instead of watching what the truck and trailer are doing. You aren’t teaching them anything! Except how to watch you maybe. We learn best by trial-and-getting-stopped-by-trainer-just-before-error, you know.

Well all said and done, this whole backing and swapping process took about 20 minutes. While he was unhooking from his trailer, I walked the paperwork over to him and told him I had expected him to get there a couple of hours ago. No, I’m not a jerk (well, not in this case anyway), I said this all in a teasing manner. He looked at me sheepishly as I asked, “Are you new?” “Yep.” “New to this company, or new to trucking?” “I’ve been out of driving school for one month. My trainer just dropped me off and I just got my truck.” Wow. If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to remember what that’s like, isn’t it?

He then started fumbling about as to what satellite messages he was supposed to send after doing a relay and asking what paperwork he needed to send into the company. I explained all the procedures to him as quick as I could since I was eager to get home. I then hooked up to the empty trailer, got back in the truck, and looked over at the guy awkwardly hooking up his gladhands. Remember when gladhands were hard, drivers? Now I think we can do them in our sleep, which is something I’m pretty sure I’ve done before when The Evil Overlord used to wake me up to do that kind of stuff. Frankly, I’m surprised we didn’t regularly drop trailers to the ground with the landing gear still up!

I think God must’ve spoken to me at that moment, because although I was itching to get moving, I felt a bit more compassion for this guy than I normally have in my cold, dead heart. I sighed and stepped out of the truck. I walked over, and with a friendly smile said, “Hey, man. I’m not trying to be a know-it-all, but can I give you a couple pieces of advice?” I’m sure some arrogant rookies would have passed, but to this guy’s credit, he smiled and said, “Please.”

I began, “First, don’t EVER EVER EVER do a blindside back unless you have absolutely no choice. At a truck stop, always drive around the lot until you can line up a driver-side back. And if you’re trying to get to a customer’s dock off a street or something, circle a couple of blocks if you need to. Listen; you will have to blindside back sometime in the future, but it’s always dangerous (even for experienced drivers) and the more you do it unnecessarily, the more chances you have of hitting something. You really don’t need that this early in your career, do you?” He replied with a truly grateful, “Thanks. I’ll remember that.”

I went on. “Now see that Werner truck up there between those other two trucks? (Picture back-to-back  parking where the two trucks facing us are one spot apart and when you look between them you can see the back of the Werner truck facing the other direction.) Don’t EVER try to nose in between two trucks like that to park where Werner is right now.”

I went on to explain that no matter how far he got over, he would be extremely lucky if he could pull that maneuver off. It can be done, but it fails more often than not. I explained to him that I had been delayed for a whole hour one night at that very location watching a guy who got himself all jammed up trying to do that. In that particular instance I had actually broken my normal practice by getting out and telling the flustered driver which way to turn his wheels to escape the situation. To be quite honest though, it had less to do with me being a super nice guy and more to do with him blocking the way out for me and about five other trucks. And again, I was trying to get home, so I was pretty motivated that time too.

In the end I had to wake up the driver next door and ask him if he’d mind dropping his trailer and moving his tractor so the guy could go ahead and pull through. At first he was acting like he wasn’t going to do it, but he changed his mind after I said, “Listen man. This guy is freaking out over here. He’s been stuck like this for an hour. You can either drop your trailer or you can have your fender ripped off. Your choice.” I even told him that if he would pull his trailer brakes I’d be happy to unhook everything for him. He took me up on it, so the lazy bum never even had to leave his cab. So that is eventually how we got out of that Lindsay Lohan-sized mess.

So anyway, back to our current rookie. Before I left I made sure that he understood that he could rescale the load for $2 with the weigh ticket I had given him, as long as it was within 24 hours and it was the exact same location. I assured him that they never check to see if the truck number matches. All they need is the reweigh number on the ticket. I thought he probably knew this already, but I was wrong. He was grateful for the advice (and saving him $8.50) and I pulled out ready to head for home. In hindsight, had I chosen to keep my advice to myself, I wouldn’t have a second half to this story. Oh well. Nice guys finish last.

Just as soon as I pulled out feeling all good about myself, another driver down the way had just started to back into a spot. It was two spaces wide so I figured it would go pretty quick. As The Evil Overlord likes to tell me so often, “You’re wrong.” And just as often, she’s right. Just as I was this time.

Well, I watched that driver trying to back in for 10 minutes. Forward. Reverse. Forward. Reverse. Often with very little change in what he had done before. He started with a wide-open driver-side back and kept going until he eventually ended up in a blindside back. I’m still not really sure how he managed that. Every time he’d try to back in, the driver next to him would lay on his horn, which naturally brought him to an abrupt stop. I could see this was going nowhere good and traffic was backing up behind me, so I hopped out, signaled the other waiting drivers what I was doing, and walked over to scope out the situation.

The guy had gotten himself into a 45° blindside back. His trailer tires were already between the lines and the doors had already cleared the mirror, but he was crooked. I could see that he could probably make it with one little correction. I walked over and told the honker dude I thought the guy could make it if he would quit honking at him. The guy yelled at me, “He’s going to hit me!” I said, “Well I don’t think so, but if you’re convinced of it why don’t you go over and pull your mirror in so he won’t.” The hothead shot back, “I shouldn’t have to do that! He should pull out of the spot and go find someplace else to park!”

Well, I confessed to him that he was probably right about that, but I also explained that at this juncture it wasn’t really an option with all of us blocking him in. He had nowhere to go. I’ll have to admit that the stuck driver (which I found out later was in his first year of driving) wasn’t letting Sir Screams-A-Lot affect him. He was smiling at the whole situation, even though he probably shouldn’t have been. I kinda respected the guy for not letting old weiner head get to him. Still, he was stuck and he knew it. That’s when he pointed at me and then to his tractor. In broken English he said, “You do?”

Okay. Now before you old-timers tell me how stupid this is, let me say that I’m well aware. If I hit someone, he could blame me. And I’m sure the little green lizard’s employers would have a field day with it too. But hey, I wanted to get home. Besides, Captain Crabby Pants had finally gotten out of his truck to make darn sure no one was going to hit his precious mirror. So into the cab I climbed. Thankfully, I’m not a germaphobe, else I’d have been freaking the heck out. That truck was nastier than a Nicki Minaj video!

Anyway, He-Who-Must-Be-Paranoid seemed a bit more confident when I got behind the wheel. Still, he insisted on directing my every move. He had me turning my wheels this way and that with about 4 pull-up adjustments. At that point I stopped, looked at him, and said, “Oh come on, man. I can’t even see that side, and I can tell I’m nowhere close to your truck!” I knew that if he’d just hold his tongue for a second, I could swing the tractor back under and finish the job. But I admit that it would’ve meant that the front of the trailer wouldn’t crossed into his “no-zone” for a brief moment. So instead I chose to let Mr. Alpha have his way. We did get the job done, but thanks to him being a complete anus, it took about three moves longer than it should have. Oh well. Like my trainer taught me, “A good back is one where you don’t hit anything. Doesn’t matter how long it takes.” Wise words. So naturally, you know they didn’t come from me.

So here’s the thing, drivers. You have experience. Great. But let me take a second here to remind you that there was a time when you were a rookie too. We all were. Not one us had a grip on the air-powered umbilical cord as we floated from 4th to 6th gear into this world. Even if you did learn to drive on the farm when you were twelve, I’d be willing to bet you screwed up a time or two… or fourteen. And before you make that claim, give me your dad’s phone number. I’ll get the real story.

So what say we remember that the next time we’re confronted with a rookie who is having a really crappy day? The last thing they need is some irate driver screaming at them or belittling them. Nor do they need to hear your snide remarks on the CB. What they need is tolerance. What they need is a helping hand. What they need is an extra set of eyes. What they need is a driver who’s willing to offer some friendly advice. And if you’re not willing to give these rookies what they need, then what those rookies really need is a set of brass knuckles to punch you right in the kisser. Now let’s see you try to scream at him with a mouthful of broken teeth.

*So how do you treat rookie drivers? Why? Got any good stories about it? Please share your thoughts below.

Additional links from the podcast version:

Check out fiverr.com for all your little needs. I’m betting someone over there can help you for $5.

The Trucker Country CD by Erich McMann winners are SFC Sapper, Kevin I., and Eric M. Check out the 5:25 min video showing how I chose the winners using Random.org, a random number generator.

If you didn’t win you can always find out more about the Trucker Country CD on Facebook, the iTunes Store, or Google Play. And don’t forget to follow him on Twitter.

Short clip of Austin Powers in his cart. LOL

In the feedback section:

Brian from Australia chews me out about being lazy

Long Duck is back after listening to TD96: The Feedback Show, but before that he totally grosses us all out.

Finally, Justin shares his thoughts on TD106: How Will Amnesty Affect The Trucking Industry. And he does it in our favorite form; a rant.

You can email your comments, suggestions, questions, or insults to TruckerDump@gmail.com

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TD104: Complacency Strikes

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Complacency. I know. You’re thinking that word sounds familiar. Where have you heard it recently? Right here, ya big dummy! Back in TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemisis: Complacency!

To recap; something really bad had almost happened, so I wrote about how a trucker needs to keep their guard up when it comes to driving safely. I also told you how we experienced drivers can struggle with complacency. And since I was clueless how to keep complacency at bay, I asked you good folks to write in and tell me how you did it, especially you drivers with those snazzy 3-million mile safety stickers on your trucks.

Well, no one wrote in except @DriverChrisMC, who wrote a blog post of his own about it. So the complacency incidents I’m going to tell you about today, I blame entirely on all of you who didn’t write in with your tips. And Obama. Because that’s just what Republicans do. 😉 And before you Democrats say anything about that, let me say one word: Bush. How soon we forget.

Okay. Now that I’ve pissed off at least half my readers, let’s move on to the part where complacency strikes… twice.

Let’s set the stage. This one happened back in October. After finding out my upcoming Halloween home time was only going to be 34 hours long, I was grumpier than a ballerina with bunions. Now 34 hours off wouldn’t be too bad if I had been out one week instead of 3.5 weeks. So yes, that’s a whole crock of crap my company was dumping on me. I’m totally aware of that. I’m also aware that I know this is part of what I signed up for. It’s also part of the reason why I probably make more money than you do.

About 90% of the time, I get 2-3 full days off, but every once in a while I get the Washington Monument-sized shaft. That’s just the way my company works. We get however much home time our load allows. That’s why I always hope to go home empty. Even when I don’t, there’s usually plenty of time to get sufficient home time. But it wasn’t looking good this time. I don’t much like this about my company, but clearly I’ve decided that money is my priority.

So anyway, I wasn’t in a great mood, but I hadn’t lost hope. If my next load was ready early, I might be able to get home early. Luck was not on my side, so I parked for the night and focused on I Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Yeah. I pretty much failed at that. Hey! We Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven!

The load was ready the next afternoon as scheduled. When I pulled the trailer from the dock, I couldn’t get the doors closed because some long metal rails were sticking out past the end of the trailer. Now I won’t say the name of the shipper, but they are the overhead door company that everyone’s heard of *wink, wink*. I had to back up to the door again and get a loader to rework some stuff. This shouldn’t been my first clue, but I’m often about as bright as a Bic lighter in a cave. Forty-five minutes later, I was finally ready to go.

As I said, the freight was all the way to the rear of the trailer, but nothing looked particularly heavy. Just some of those light railings and some cardboard boxes that were haphazardly thrown on. The way they were stacked, they looked fairly light. The paperwork said the load weighed 38,000 pounds. Now I regularly haul loads of pallets with similar weights without a problem, so I knew exactly where to slide my tandems. Or so I thought. This is where the complacency set in.

There was a public scale at a little trucking company just a couple of blocks away. Oblivious to my complacency, I drove right past it, as I did the CAT scales at Love’s in Aurora, Nebraska and the Petro in York. The weigh station just east of Lincoln was open, so I rolled onto the scale and stopped as instructed. I then got the green light to continue, but just as I started to roll off, the red light came back on. I sat there for 30 seconds wondering what I should do. No one was giving me verbal instructions. No one was coming out either, but the light remained red. Finally, I was told to pull over and bring my paperwork in.

Now this is odd for my company to get pulled into a weigh station, so I didn’t have a clue what was coming. You see, my company has a great safety reputation and the DOT knows we run electronic logs. Usually when I get pulled in, it’s because an officer needs to do one more inspection to meet his daily quota and he wants to do it on a truck and driver he’s fairly confident will pass with flying colors. Seriously. I’ve been told that more than once.

For what happened next, I wish I had video footage. I went inside with a friendly smile and asked what the officer needed. He asked to see all the normal stuff (registration, insurance card, and IFTA, or International Fuel Tax Agreement) and then dropped the bombshell, “You’re 5,000 pounds over on your trailer tandems.” I was stunned into silence. I don’t know how long I stood there before I realized my jaw was hanging open. That’s why I’d like to see the video. I must’ve looked like I’d just seen my mom naked.

When I could finally speak again, I asked if he’d let me try to get legal. He said he would, but I’d still have to pay the $373 ticket. Nuts. I’d just had my life insurance renewed and the $670 premium was due any day. Now this. Unfortunately, I was so perturbed that I dropped an F-bomb on the cop, which is something coming from a guy who’s nephews call him out when he says “dadgummit.” To his credit, and my luck, the cop took it in stride. Good thing, cuz he could’ve pulled off a Lurch costume on Halloween. This guy was a monster. As in HUGE!

I called my company and thankfully they paid the ticket. Well, sort of. They agreed to deduct it in installments out of my next four paychecks. Fair enough (although I didn’t think so at the time, but that’s another story altogether). I slid the tandems all the way to the rear, rolled across the scale, and got pulled in again. Still 1600 pounds over! Ugh. Feeling guilty, I apologized to Lurch for my pissy attitude and he accepted, saying he’d be pissed too if the shipper had loaded it that poorly. He then called the weigh station on the other side of the highway to let them know I’d be heading back to the shipper for reloading.

Back at the shipper, the loader wasn’t surprised to see me. He said the guy who loaded my trailer earlier that day loaded them wrong all the time. The guy was lazy and since they hand-loaded everything, he saved all the heavy stuff for the back so he didn’t have to carry it so far. I asked why he didn’t bother to mention that fact earlier when I had him moving some stuff around to get the trailer doors closed. Amazingly, I did it without getting snotty, even though he would’ve had it coming. He had no answer.

He went on to say that the bad loader used to be a night shift supervisor, so no one had the nerve to tell him a lot of his trailers were being returned for reloading. Fabulous. You know, sometimes I forget how awesome it can be to have a job where I don’t have to deal with co-worker’s incompetence. There. I found something to be thankful for in this whole mess. Now that’s how you practice that I Thessolonians passage!

I told the guy to take at least 1700 pounds off the rear, preferably more. He pulled off about 1500 pounds of those cardboard boxes, which turned out to be about 50 pounds each. Another wrong assumption! I told him 1500 pounds wouldn’t be enough but I didn’t argue much since I new there was a scale nearby. I drove over to the scale and grabbed my jar of coins for the self-serve scale. Great. It didn’t take coins and I didn’t have enough cash. Out came the debit card. I was still 200 pounds over, so back to the shipper I went. He sheepishly took off some more freight as I smugly watched. Back to the scale and I was finally legal with the tandems all the way to the rear. Thankfully Nebraska and Iowa don’t have bridge laws to speak of.

Okay. So how was I complacent in this? Well, I acted as if all 38,000 pound loads are the same when I know they aren’t. A full load of pallets that all weigh the same is different from a load of mix-and-match loaded pallets, boxes, crates, railings, and assorted crap thrown on. I know this. I truly do. But I was in a rush and I was too confident in myself.

To add insult to injury, I realized the next day that I’d left my jar of coins on the top of the money machine at the scale. I had about $20 of change in it, but by the time I realized it I was too far away to go back. Even more frustrating, I’d left it there on my first trip to the scale and didn’t see it sitting there when I returned less than an hour later. Grrrr.

Now on to part two of this complacency saga.

I needed a haircut and I went to Walmart. Okay. That’s a lie. That wouldn’t be complacency anyway. That would be called stupidity. Well, at least if you’re a metrosexual like me. I didn’t use to be this way, but The Evil Overlord has changed me so much that I actually used the words “my hair stylist” the other day. She found that hysterical, the heartless wench. I’m quite disgusted with myself really. Anyway, part two seriously did happen because I needed a haircut.

Guys, if you haven’t been to Sport Clips yet, give it a try. The place looks like a locker room and there are TVs everywhere. Thankfully, it doesn’t smell like a locker room. The ladies there specialize in men’s haircuts and I’ve never had a bad haircut yet *knock on wood*. You can get the MVP package that includes a hot towel, a head massage, and a back massage (with an electric massager), all for about $20! The Evil Overlord and I made the mistake of taking the nephews there and now they won’t go anywhere else. The brats. If anyone knows of a good place to dig shallow graves, let me know.

Anywho, I was in Abilene, Texas and found a Sport Clips nearby with my iPhone. Using Google Maps, I used the Satellite view to see if there was a place to park a full-size big rig. Sure enough, there was a hotel right next door with a large dirt lot around the back. Man; how did we ever survive without smartphones? The only problem with Google Maps is that you’re looking down from above, so you can’t truly know what you face until you get there.

As I was turning into the parking lot, I noticed that it had a large hump at the entrance. I paused for a minute and thought, “I just went over some railroad tracks that were steeper than this. I shouldn’t have any problems.” Well guess what? I didn’t. I pulled right in, parked, asked the manager if it was okay to park there briefly, and ran over to Sport Clips for my free MVP.

That’s one more cool thing for OTR truckers. Every time you go to a Sport Clips for the first time, you get the MVP (hot towel, etc) for free. I get them free all the time because I stop in so many different cities. One more thing, Sport Clips will give you free neck trims between haircuts. And trust me guys, some of you dudes really need this. Too bad they don’t do ear and nose hair. They could make a fortune off truckers.

So I wasn’t complacent, right? Not so fast. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I didn’t give it a second thought. If I had gone over that hump once, surely I’d roll right over it again, right? Wrong. I high-centered the trailer on the landing gear (see photo above). I hit it just hard enough to wedge it in there good. And before you ask, yes, I had the landing gear all the way up. I may be complacent sometimes, but I’m not an idiot.

For the record, I see this particular bit of compacency all the time. As I sit here writing this, I can see three trailers with the landing gear only partially jacked up. Bad plan guys and gals. You may know your route well and know there aren’t any steep railroad tracks or driveways along the way, but what happens if you hit a detour that puts you on the back roads? Sure, if you’re just moving a trailer a few hundred feet, you might not bother being so thorough, but you’ve got to be careful with that too. Before I got smart, I almost high-centered a trailer pulling one out of a steep dock area. Better safe than sorry. Jack that sucker up!

Well, I tried putting stuff under the tires, but I couldn’t get enough traction. I turned on traction control. No dice. I turned on my differential locker thingamabob. Noper. A guy in a 4-wheel drive pickup even hooked up a chain to the rear bumper, but quickly gave up when he had all four tires squalling without budging it an inch. Even the heavy-duty tow truck had to hook up both cables to pry it off that stinkin’ hump. I’m guessing that $250 tow truck bill will be coming out of my safety bonus. I won’t be mentioning that to The Evil Overlord. And now I’m grateful that she doesn’t read the blog.

Yep. Complacency. And I’ve got no excuse either. I know that you can hit the same bump at different angles with different results. I learned this in my ’68 Firebird way back when I was 17 years old. You see, our local McDonald’s had a wicked-steep driveway. If I hit it one way, I’d strape the crap out of my traction bars and look like a dork. But if I rolled in at a different angle, I’d remain the cool dude that I am.

So I ask again, how do you drivers out there keep from getting complacent? Or do you?

First off, let me say that I don’t think it’s possible to keep complacency at bay 100% of the time. I’ve spoken with two 3-million milers and both admitted that they’d had things happen that should’ve been counted as a safety incident, but neither were. Both of their safety directors said the same thing, “Let’s not ruin a perfect record over something so trivial.” To be fair, neither incident was any big deal, but still, average drivers like you and me wouldn’t have gotten away with it.

In @DriverChrisMC’s blog post, he said that he wakes up every day and assumes he doesn’t know everything about trucking and that helps keep him alert. The thing is, I’m well aware that I don’t know everything either, yet I still fall back into complacency when things are going well.

He says he also keeps the Smith System’s 5 Keys in mind as he drives, but exactly how does that happen? When I’m driving, I’m listening to podcasts, music, or thinking about how I’m going to spend my Mega Millions winnings. And no, I wouldn’t be safer in silence because I’d be asleep and drooling on my steering wheel. Sure, I think more about safety when I’m in heavy traffic, but what about when I’m not? Neither of my recent incidents involved heavy traffic, nor was I listening to anything to distract me. I was just doing routine stuff every trucker does.

Chris is undoubtedly better at warding off complacency than me, but even he admits in his post that the main reason he doesn’t get as complacent as some of the rest of us is because he’s a trainer who usually has a student in the truck. I can totally see that. But quite honestly, I’d rather go back to that Nebraska weigh station and kick Lurch in the nads than put my life in the hands of a student driver. Ya know what I mean, Vern?

*Okay. I’m asking again: How do you keep complacency at bay? Got any tips or tricks? Or maybe you’ve failed in the complacency department too. Please write in a tell your story so we can all learn from it… and perhaps laugh at you a bit.*

Additional links from the podcast version:

The Evil Overlord (wife and ex-codriver) recently had neck surgery. Check out the photo of her neck scar.

The Trucker Dump podcast is now part of the lineup on BigRigRadio.com, an Australian-based 24/7 Internet radio station that focuses on the transportation and mining industries. Check it out!

@DriverChrisMC and his blog post about complacency

My failure in regards to I Thessalonians 5:18

My podcast/blog post about Sliding trailer tandems and bridge laws

The first of many podcast/blog post about electronic logbooks

IFTA (International Fuel Tax Agreement)

If you don’t know who Lurch is, check out this video clip

My podcast/blog post called What Makes The Evil Overlord, Evil?

Dudes; check out Sport Clips for your next haircut

Photo of my trailer high-centered

Smith System 5 Keys to Safe Driving

Know what I mean, Vern?

Listener Buck writes in to comment about his love of flatbedding and I wonder why. His latest podcast is called The Trucking Podcast.

New listener Dave listened to TD41: Trucking In The Northeast and tells us a similar story.

Check out BigTruckGuide.com for a help figuring out stuff about truck weights, including each state’s bridge laws.

New listener Paul writes in and tells us that big rigs didn’t used to have front brakes and he points us to a cool video with a two-stroke diesel at a tractor pull. Saaaa-weeeeeet!

Got a second to Rate and/or Review the podcast?

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?

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…

TD102: What’s It Like To Be A Trucker?

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Snowy RoadWell, I’m doing something a bit different today. I’m not writing anything here. I’m simply linking you to another bit of writing I did a while back. This was an interview I did for JobShadow.com. It has produced a lot of good comments from the readers so I’d thought I’d share it with those of you who are just too stinking lazy to go over there on your own. So if you want to know what it’s like to be a trucker, click here and enjoy. Or if you’d rather listen to the podcast version, which includes a lot of the comments and the answers I’ve given, just click that big ol’ Play button in that big black bar at the top of this post.

Click here to go to the JobShadow.com interview.

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

Photo by jonny goldstein via Flickr

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? ;-)*

TD93: The Driver’s Seat Phenomenon

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The truck driver's seat

Look at them butt-prints!

If you’ll remember from the last podcast called Honor Among Truckers, I mentioned that if you were to drive around a truck stop parking lot, you’d see lots of drivers sitting in their driver’s seat whiling away the hours. They’re talking on their phones, doing paperwork, people watching, playing with their laptops, turned around at an awkward angle watching their TV, or even weirder, staring off into space with a blank expression. I just don’t get it. And since the word “phenomenon” makes anything sound more mysterious than it actually is, I’ve chosen to call this one “The Driver’s Seat Phenomenon.”

Here’s the thing I just don’t get. The average solo trucker drives approximately 120,000 miles each year. I actually ran about 127,000 last year. All of those miles are done while sitting in the driver’s seat. Yes, the driver’s seats in these trucks are highly adjustable to make the long hours of driving tolerable. Yes, they have air-ride suspension to keep you from feeling like Superman punched you in the tailbone every time your load takes you on US69 near Stringtown, Oklahoma. But even with all that, why in the name of Zeus’ hemorrhoids would you want to spend even one more second in that seat when you don’t have to?

Now sure, I understand that team drivers have more of an excuse to be welded to the driver’s seat.

Maybe your co-driver is getting out of bed and you don’t want to see his great-hairy-chasm-of-a-butt-crack sticking out of his tidy-whities. Can’t say as I blame you there. Or maybe your co-driver is your wife and you actually do want to see her backside, but she’s meaner than a giraffe with strep throat when she first wakes up; meaning you’d have a better chance of getting lucky with said giraffe than with her. Not that I have any experience in this whatsoever. *clears throat* Anywho…

Another scenario when you might need to occupy the driver’s seat is when you’re shut down and your co-driver is trying to sleep. Since The Evil Overlord and I always tried to keep on a set schedule, this used to happen to us a lot, especially when the economy took a kamikaze-worthy nose-dive in 2008. I used to put my TV in the passenger seat and sit sideways in the driver’s seat for hours while playing video games on my Playstation 3. After all, the giraffe… errrr, wife needed her sleep if I were to keep her from waking up tired and smiting the world with her mighty hand. I tried to be super quiet up there, but even with the curtain closed The Evil Overlord would often wake up when she’d hear me cussing under my breath or feel the truck moving as I shook my controller in frustration. LOL Hey, what can I say? Some of those games are friggin’ hard! Still, I didn’t sit in the driver’s seat because I wanted to. Like I said, I had the fate of the world in my hands.

Now that I’m a solo driver, I’ve got absolutely no good reason to sit in the driver’s seat when I’m shut down… therefore, I don’t.

When I start my day, I do my 3 B’s (breakfast, Bible, and bended knee) in the bunk area, where I’ve got a nice little desk to eat and read on. The bed makes an excellent place for the bended knee part, too. If I stop for lunch, I hop in the bunk area and eat back there if I have time. If not, I make my traditional peanut butter and jelly sammich and then eat on the run. If I’m picking up or delivering a load, I vacate the driver’s seat and go lounge on the bed with my feet propped up. At the end of my driving shift, I’m required to log a 5-minute post-trip inspection. A walk-around inspection only takes about 2 minutes, so I just do paperwork or hop on Twitter for a few minutes. But once that 5 minutes is up and hit the button on my retarded e-log unit, I’m outta the driver’s seat and sitting on the nice soft bunk while I make yet another bowl of soup while watching a DVD and ignoring the fact that I have a podcast due.

The fact is, I spend waaaaaay too much time in the driver’s seat already. If you want a really good look at the shape of my butt (and who wouldn’t), just look at the driver’s seat, because there are some super-lifelike butt-prints there. Good thing butt-prints aren’t like fingerprints, else there’d be a heck-of-a-lot of identity theft in the trucking industry. LOL And by the way, if you’re sniff-testing your newly-assigned truck for hidden cigarette smoke, I’d advise against putting your nose right up against the driver’s seat. Anywhere but the driver’s seat. You have been warned.

So what’s up with this obsession of the driver’s seat?

Why do so many of you drivers choose to spend your off-duty hours sitting in a seat where you already spend so much time? And why the heck are you all staring into space? These are serious questions that I really want to know the answer to. I think about it every time I walk into the truck stop and see drivers sitting there and watching the world go by. What is so stinkin’ fascinating about seeing me walk into the truck stop or watching the guy down the way back into a parking spot? I just don’t get it. And lastly, why on earth would you spend even one extra second in a seat that’s been farted in more times than OMG has been texted by teenagers?

*Please help to ease my troubled mind. Leave your excuses for living in the driver’s seat below.*