On today’s show, we’ll be continuing the series where we highlight unique trucking jobs. This time Joshua Knode will tell us about expedited trucking and how it differs from a typical truck driving job. Lots of great information and fun stories in here, including rock bands, mercenaries, and a late night talk show host!
But before we get to that, we’re going to learn about a new trucking podcast, truck-only lanes, truck-only tolls, dangerous parking, and an early roadcheck safety blitz this year.
We’ll also hear about a new trade agreement, ELD yard moves, internet scams, 18-year-old truckers, trucks with no drivers, and how $50 and some elbow grease could save your life.
And we’ve got a few quick emails about recruiting and of course, tailgating.
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.
Disclaimer: When searching online for a subject to write about, I kept coming across people asking why truckers tailgate cars.
The intention of this article is not to say it’s okay to tailgate other vehicles. I’m simply answering the question “why that trucker might be tailgating you.”
P.S. For the record, when I speak of “tailgating” throughout the article, I’m talking about being approximately 2-3 car lengths back, not riding another vehicle’s bumper. Just close enough to wake them up to realize they could be commiting one of the four reasons listed below.
We’ve all seen it: A car in the fast lane with a semi truck so close to its rear bumper that it looks like a Saint Bernard is getting ready to get jiggy with a Chihuahua. Or a car creeping along in the slow lane with a rear-view mirror full of truck grill.
What possesses a trucker to tailgate a car like that? Well let’s step back a second and look at that. But first, let’s examine what tailgating actually is. Not just trucker tailgating… anybody tailgating.
For those of you in third-world countries who have yet to discover the wheel, let me explain this concept. Tailgating is when one vehicle is close to another vehicle’s rear bumper. But the question becomes, how close is too close? I think that really depends on the individual.
Some drivers might not mind a truck following them at one truck length, while another thinks they can detect diesel fumes breathing down their neck at that distance. Someone else thinks that a 2 or 3 second following distance is okay. Maybe it depends on the type of vehicle you’re driving too? I know I’d probably be more nervous being tailgated by a trucker if I were crammed into a new Fiat than if I was man-handling the road in a 1-ton F-350 pickup.
And then there are the folks who think that all trucks should have a 6-7 second following distance. For the record, this is what most trucking companies and safety organizations recommend. Now I’m not trying to say that a 3-4 second following distance is safer than a 6-7 second distance, but have you ever actually tried to follow someone at 6-7 seconds? It’s a loooooong stinkin’ distance.
If you want to get an idea of your following distance, here’s how to do it.
Pick out a vehicle that’s ahead of you in traffic.
When they pass a landmark, e.g. an underpass, a billboard, railroad tracks, etc; start counting off the seconds.
Stop counting when you reach that landmark.
Look at your raised fingers and count them (oh c’mon – you know you were doing it). That’s how many seconds following distance you have.
Now I’d be willing to bet that the number you come up with will be far less than you think it’ll be. If so, then the next time pick a vehicle even farther ahead and try it again. For a real challenge, try not to use your fingers when counting this time. Yes, it’s possible. And hey, did you know you can read silently without moving your lips. It’s true. Okay. Did you find a car that was 6-7 seconds ahead of you? I told you. That’s a long friggin’ way from that other car’s rear bumper, isn’t it?
I’ve been arguing since way back in driving school that a 6-7 second distance isn’t even possible at times.
Seriously. I got into a discussion with the lady that taught defensive driving at my truck driving school. We had just moved back from Dallas and I remember The Evil Overlord and I laughing when the teacher said we should leave a 6-7 second following distance. I asked her if she’d ever driven in Dallas. I said, “As soon as you open up a spot between you and the car in front of you, someone jumps into it and you’re back where you started.”
She responded by saying that a trucker should go 5 mph slower when in traffic, that way as soon as the passing car gets in front of you, they’ll open up a 6-7 second following distance faster.
What she neglected to take into account is the fact that the passing car isn’t the only car on the road, so the gap behind them fills up too. And perhaps even more importantly, since when has going slower than the flow of traffic ever been a safe practice?
So what to do? Well, as every trucker has learned, driving school is one thing; real life is something altogether different. The fact is that there are times when a trucker needs to or is forced to tailgate. Let’s take a look at that. So in no particular order, I present to you the four reasons that trucker might be tailgating you.
Trucker Tailgating Reason #1: Drivers Going Under the Speed Limit
I know this might be a shock to some of you 4-wheeler drivers, but even the truckers who love their job don’t do it for giggles; they do it to get paid. And the vast majority of us over-the-roaders don’t even get paid unless we’re moving down the road. So when some safety-conscious do-gooder decides to go under the speed limit, well you’re affecting our paychecks.
Listen, I understand that you fantasize about dropping your boss into a pit full of pissed-off scorpions, and therefore, you’re not in any rush to get to work. I can also understand that you missed taking advantage of the Cash For Clunkers program by one stinkin’ day and your car may have trouble reaching the speed limit. If that’s the case, that piece-o-crap shouldn’t be on the road. In either case, you’re holding up progress.
My feeling on this is that if you’re going slower than the speed limit and you don’t have a dang good excuse for it, you shouldn’t be surprised when you are tailgated.
I’ve got crap to do, appointments to be made, and an Evil Overlord to appease come payday. So when I get closer to your bumper than you’re comfortable with, you can fix that by getting the heck out of my way. Understood, Gordon Lightfoot?
I know what you’re thinking, “The speed limit is an upper-limit. I can go slower if I want to.” Yes, legally you’re correct as long as you’re going above the minimum speed limit on an interstate.” But just because you can go slower than the posted speed, doesn’t mean you should.
You know how angry you get when you’re in a hurry to make it to work on time or get your kid to gymnastics class and something or someone is standing in your way? Well, welcome to the life of a trucker. We don’t drive those big rigs for pleasure, you know. We have a job to do.
Trucker Tailgating Reason #2: Wishy-Washy Drivers
For us truckers, the only thing more frustrating than a slow driver is a driver who can’t make up their dad-blamed mind. And as any trucker can attest to, this goes for truckers as well as 4-wheelers.
Listen, we drive these heavy suckers for a living, so we understand that a truck can’t always maintain a steady speed. But in my ever-so-humble (but totally awesome) opinion, this should only be happening in hilly terrain. A fully-loaded big rig can weigh up to 80,000 pounds (even more with the proper permits), therefore, even the slightest change in the slope of the road can cause massive fluctuations in speeds.
But what’s your excuse when you’re on flat ground? I can tell you that about 90% of the time when I see a car or a truck varying their speed, it’s because they’re paying more attention to their cell phone than the road.
Well, I guess I should say that’s 90% of the vehicles I actually manage to get around. I honestly don’t get to see the culprit for the vast majority of fickle-footed drivers. That’s because they eventually notice me getting a bit too close for comfort and they wake up long enough to pull their head out of their ass…ssassins Creed cap and hit the gas pedal.
While that is frustrating, at least they’re out of my way. And you know how much I like for people to be out of my way. (Sorry, but only my podcast listeners are going to get that little joke.)
As you can see, the first two reasons truckers tailgate are simply to bring the driver back to reality so they can hopefully start paying attention to their driving. The third reason, however, is a direct result of the first two.
Trucker Tailgating Reason #3: Preparing To Pass
If it weren’t for you folks out there with gaspedalaphobia, there’d be no need for a #3 on this list. But since you do exist (much to the chagrin of all society, including your mom), this gives us truckers yet another possible reason to tailgate.
For you brainiacs out there who haven’t thought of this, a truck takes a lot longer to get up to speed than a car does. When a car wants to pass another vehicle, they just mash the gas pedal to the floor and they’re around a 70-foot truck in less time than it takes Sheldon to knock 30,000 times on Penny’s door while wearing his Flash Gordon costume. But when the roles are reversed, passing is a major ordeal for the trucker.
I remember way back in the summer of ’84 when my high school driver education instructor, appropriately-named Mr. Lane, taught me how to pass. Even in a car, he told me to get right up behind the slower driver, or in other terms, tailgate him. When the coast was clear, he said, Step on it!”
Well, I put my foot down, but I wasn’t aware of that “passing gear” mode past what I thought was “all the way to the floor.” Thankfully, there was just enough time for me to figure it out while he yelled at me. Now let’s look at doing this in a truck.
We use reason #3 and we tailgate the speed-challenged car. Sorry, but if that didn’t happen, we’d never get around anyone. Next, we wait for an open spot big enough that even Superman couldn’t see an oncoming vehicle and then we mash on it… and then we pretty much get nothing in return. You see, it takes a long time to get these heavy suckers up to speed.
Downshifting helps, but isn’t always effective when you’re going 60 mph. At least it isn’t in my run-of-the-mill 10-speed company truck. The best case scenario is that the slower driver doesn’t feel like dying, so they back out of it and lessen the time we’re required to be out in the opposing lane.
Thankfully, this usually happens. But I’ll bet I’m not the only trucker who’s had to back out of it and duck back behind to escape a game of chicken because of some stubborn, trucker-hating jerk who refuses to help us out.
Personally, I’ve never understood this. If they aren’t in any hurry in the first place, then why are they so opposed to letting off the gas pedal for a few seconds to help us complete the pass quicker? I just don’t get it.
And of course, remember that it isn’t always a 15-foot long car we’re passing. Other times it’s another 70-foot long truck. There are certain carriers out on the road that you see from a distance and you know you’re gonna have to pass them eventually.
Once again, we have to get right up on their bumper to set up the pass. I like to use their shiny trailer doors to check my teeth for spinach chunks while I’m waiting for an opening to pass. Once clear, you launch your attack and pray for a cooperative trucker. For more on the challenges of speed-limited trucks trying to pass each other, check out one of my favorite blog posts I’ve written called TD66: Truckers Go Turtle Racing.
I should also point out that tailgating to set up a pass is necessary whether you’re on a 4-lane freeway or a 2-lane country road. On the 2-lane, you need to close the gap for time’s sake. On the 4-lane, you want to avoid jumping out and slowing down traffic while you’re still three truck-lengths back.
Because if you do that, you can almost guarantee some Fast-and-Furious wannabe will come screaming around you on the right and attempt to squeeze back in front of you. And by the way, if you’ve ever done this, please reach into your silverware drawer, grab a fork, and jab it in your forehead. Thanks.
Trucker Tailgating Reason #4: The Trucker is a Jerk
There is no getting around admitting this. Just like the few truckers who refuse to bathe give us all a bad rap, there are also a few chronic tailgaters. These are the drivers who are tailgating a car, despite the fact that the car is going 75 mph in the fast lane.
Yes, Mr. Studmuffin Trucker, it’s nice that you can bury your speedometer needle past your 100 mph gauge. Yes, we can see how fearless and skillful you are because you can ride 5 feet off some unfortunate dude’s bumper. I’m sooooo impressed. Not.
So what I want to know is why these truckers do this? You see, when I use the word “tailgating,” I’m talking about following at two or three car lengths… for a brief period of time. The way I see it, no trucker has any reason to be close enough to a car that you can’t see the entire vehicle above your hood. Even that’s too close at highway speeds. And I’ve seen some of these miscreants stay that close until they’re out of my vision. Uncool, man. Uncool.
So why exactly are you pushing that car down the road? What’s your excuse? Your load is late? Is your load of dill pickles really so important that you’re willing to put people’s lives at risk? Is there some kind of pregnancy convention going on that will cause mass water-breakage if you don’t show up on time? Sorry, driver. I’m gonna need more convincing.
What’s that? The car driver flipped you the bird earlier? Well clearly you can quell his road rage by tailgating him and raising his stress level. Brilliant, Sherlock, just brilliant. Just try to remember this when you’re tailgating so close: if he taps his brakes and you hit him because you can’t see his taillights, you may just be in jail soon. And if that happens, I for one hope that it’s your turn to get tailgated.
So there you have it, four reasons for a trucker to be tailgating you. What do you think? Are these legitimate reasons to be tailgating (well #1-3 anyway)? Or do you think there’s ever a good excuse to tailgate? Don’t be stingy. Share your thoughts below.
Despite the fact that I’ve been driving for 13 years, I made a bonehead rookie mistake yesterday. It was especially unfortunate since it probably would have been covered if it didn’t coincide with my first day running with e-logs. But first… what are e-logs?
E-logs are electronic logs. For more details, you may want to jump on over to a previous blog of mine before you read on. I gave it the appropriate name of, “Fear and loathing of electronic logs.”
As my truck was getting e-logs installed, I was taking a class on how to use them. I went in grumpy and hating them. Four hours later, I came out with a slightly less grumpy disposition and a lower hate factor, but I’m still not doing round-off-double-back-handsprings. And thank God for that. I wouldn’t want you to see my cheerleading panties.
One thing I knew going in was that each company can set up e-logs according to their own guidelines. This is something that @DeanAllen2006 had informed me of in the blog post mentioned above. Knowing my company, this was what I was most worried about. My worries weren’t unfounded.
For example, Dean’s company has their e-logs set up where he can creep along (7 mph or less) in rush hour traffic and still be on the “On-Duty, Not Driving” line. My company has it set to go to the Driving line after a half-mile, no matter what your speed is. It used to be set at 1 mile, but they decided that was waaaay too long. Grrr. Keep this under your hat, but I think mine is still set at 1 mile. Shhhhhh.
When they mentioned this in class, all three of us drivers started talking at once. Our concern was this. Many times we’ll be parked at a shipper/receiver waiting for a dock. Or maybe we got there the night before. Either way, if it’s going to be a while, we’ll start our 10-hour break. At some point, we’re going to have to wake up and back into a dock. Now there are a lot of massive warehouses out there. Some of them even have off-site buildings. Many of them will require us to drive over .5 mile to get to the dock. That will effectively break our mandatory 10-hour rest period.
The company is aware of this and is looking into it. For now the fix is to call in to the Safety Department and let them know what happened. If they can verify you never left the property, they’ll fix it. While it’s good that they’ll do that, it’s a big fail in my book. Still stranger, I’m thinking they wouldn’t even have this problem if they’d just left the 1 mile limit in effect. Although that still wouldn’t fix the off-site problem…
Next, I asked about a situation that happened to me not long ago. I had enough hours to get to my delivery location, but they didn’t have any parking. My plan was to park at a nearby Lowe’s that I had been parking at for years. Since I didn’t have enough time to fit in a 10-hour break before my delivery appointment, I was just going to drive the 5 miles from Lowe’s to the customer and show on my paper logs that I had been at the delivery point all night. Illegal? Technically, yes. Done frequently by truckers? Definitely yes. Able to do on e-logs? Nope.
That was my plan anyway. What actually happened is a tow truck driver knocked on my door and told me he was instructed to tow any truck that wouldn’t leave the Lowe’s parking lot. Naturally, I left. Here’s the thing though. I was about 7.5 hours into my break. If I had been down 8 hours I could have used it as part of a split sleeper berth, moved, and gotten my other 2 hours somewhere else. Since it wasn’t, I moved, pretended I didn’t, and delivered my load on time.
But that was only possible because I was on paper logs. I asked the trainer about this scenario and was told that since I didn’t have any hours available, and I had to move before my 10-hour break was completed, I would be charged with a log violation. She did say that the company would note the situation along with the violation so that it could be seen that I had no choice in the matter. While this sucks more than a dehydrated mosquito, that’s not the worst of it.
Since I had moved before completing my 10-hour break and I hadn’t even gotten 8 hours in to set up a possible split sleeper berth, I would now have to start my break over. So now my mandatory 10-hour break has just turned into a mandatory 17.5 hour break (that’s my wasted 7.5 hours that didn’t count, plus my new 10-hour break). Furthermore, I’m sitting 5 miles from my delivery point, but I now can’t deliver because I don’t have any driving time. In this situation, another driver would have to come and deliver my load.
The trainer said the fix for this problem was to plan ahead. If you know that a receiver doesn’t have parking, tell your dispatcher how close you can get and they’ll find another driver to relay the load. This is going to lead to a LOT of relays, especially since my company doesn’t always know which customers allow parking, and which don’t. Even crappier is that many times you can get within the same city as the receiver, you just can’t park at their facility. Since my company doesn’t pay a dime for local runs (within the same city), many of these runs won’t pay anything except for the miles it takes you to get to the relay point.
While all this sounds easy enough, what about those situations like the one I was in? I’d been parking at that Lowe’s for years. How was I to know they’d change the rules all of a sudden? Or how about those times when you park somewhere questionable because you’ve run out of driving time? Truckers are forced to move all the time for reasons such as this. Who gets stuck with the log violation, the ticket if we get caught, and possibly a service failure if the load can’t be delivered on time? Once again, it all comes back to the driver.
Here’s the next thing that didn’t make sense. Any calls to breakdown must be done during On-Duty time. So say you pull into a truck stop, do your walk-around, and notice a flat tire. You call into breakdown while you’re still On-Duty, then you check into the shop at the truck stop. They say it’ll be about 3 hours before they can fit you in. That’s fine, I’ll just go to sleep until then, get my 2 hours of my split sleeper berth in, and finish the other 8 hours after I’m out of the shop. Right? Wrong. The new e-log rules say that when you are awaiting repairs, you have to log it as On-Duty time. So not only are you wasting time that could be going toward your 10-hour break, you’re also using up your hours on your 70-hour work week. Can someone please explain to me how this is any different from moving on a customer’s property to bump a dock? Cuz my e-log trainer couldn’t.
One thing I was anticipating was for them to say how much time e-logs would save me. It came as expected. She said, “Using paper logs, you have to log 15 minutes for fueling, even if it only takes you 5 minutes. Now, if it takes you 5 minutes, it saves you 10 full minutes of driving time!” To which I responded: “But isn’t logging 15 minutes for fueling a company policy?” It was. “Federal guidelines say that anything under 7 minutes doesn’t have to be logged, other than flagging it. So, in essence, we’re losing 15 minutes, because under DOT rules, we wouldn’t even have to show fueling if it only took 5 minutes.” No good answer followed.
Next was the mandatory Pre-Trip Inspection. 15 minutes minimum is the standard for both carriers and the DOT. As I happily pointed out, “Here’s another 15 minutes lost. Before, I could log my PTI when I fueled, no matter what time of day it was. Now you’re telling me I have to do it at the beginning of the day, and it can’t be combined with any other activity.” Again. No explanation.
Now back to my rookie mistake. I got my load information and wrote it all down. For some reason, my brain decided that my delivery time of 1300 (1 p.m.) was actually 3 p.m. I don’t know how that happened. I’m guessing the “3” in 1300 stuck in my demented brain. Anyway, here’s how e-logs affected this situation.
Since I got this load information the day before and I didn’t want to sit around and wait, I had already asked if I could deliver early. No one would respond to my dispatcher, so I never got an answer. Now if I had been on paper logs, I no doubt would’ve taken off extra early and tried to deliver before my appointment time. If the customer would’ve taken me early, all would be well. If they wouldn’t take me until my appointment time, I would’ve simply showed taking off a couple of hours later on my logs. Again, illegal? Yep. Done by truckers every day? No doubt.
Instead, I waited until the very last minute to take off. I knew that the second I rolled out, my 14-hour clock started ticking. If I rolled out too early and couldn’t deliver, I’d have burned all that time while I sat waiting on my appointment. I wasn’t going to do that. The problem was, I only left in time to deliver by 3 p.m. When my dispatcher called to ask me why I wasn’t heading toward my delivery, I knew I had screwed the pooch. I had planned on rolling in by 3 p.m. Now I was going to be 2 hours late.
Luckily, I have a cool dispatcher who knows I don’t make rookie mistakes like that very often. It was also lucky that there was heavy fog out that she could blame my lateness on. I’m telling you folks, I’ve got the coolest dispatcher. Still, if everyone on e-logs is trying to maximize their time, it seems to me that it will put a whole lot of truckers in a race against time. Does anyone think that’s a good idea?
So now that my first day with e-logs is completed, here’s my initial impression. They are fairly easy to learn and use. It has some cool features that I didn’t have before, such as a running total of my hours, always knowing what city/state I’m in, and it automatically knowing when I arrive at a customer.
While all of that is great, the ability to search and read messages while I’m driving is my favorite feature. My old Qualcomm unit wouldn’t let me read a message unless I was at a complete stop. They say that I still can’t type while I’m going down the road, which is to be expected. Again, I think they forgot to disable this feature in my unit, because I’ve tried typing while going down the road and it works just dandy. Of course, I’m not planning to abuse this, but still… shhhhhhh. Check out the videos to see how these things work.
I’m convinced that the trucking industry is going to have to change if e-logs are going to work. Shippers and Receivers in particular are going to have to start caring about a trucker’s time. And if some of the new proposed rules, such as the hard 14-hour workday take hold, it will be even more necessary. I just don’t think e-logs are quite ready for the weird situations that truckers find themselves in every day.
To sum up, I think the key isn’t the e-logs themselves. The key is how they’re set up. E-logs can be as flexible as a double-jointed gymnast or as rigid as an Eskimo’s clothesline laundry. Here’s to hoping that trucking companies prefer leotards over stiff boxer shorts.
Please leave a rating and post a comment with your concerns or experiences with e-logs.