Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Complacency


Trucking is a fun occupation despite all the oppressive rules and regulations because the fact still remains that the driver gets to travel the country and see the wonders of North America while getting paid for it. Once the luster of seeing your favorite iconic city skyline wears off and the horses running through the prairies at sunset no longer keep your attention, you might find yourself becoming bored. This is where complacency sets in. And this is where a ritual of safety is so important. Oh sure the word ritual might conjure up images of goat headed men in cloaks circling a pentagram, but in this instance, it is actually essential in maintaining a culture of safety.

Developing safe rituals starts in training. Then after training, you are set loose to develop your own style and practice. This is where you start to hone your skills. During this time you are learning the ropes the hard way using what little training the schools have provided and applying it to the actual scenarios that you are faced with from backing into small docks, to navigating city streets, to deciphering local laws and regulations.

Then comes the trucker lifestyle of chatting up the other truckers and learning the ins and outs of the industry.  Learning about the best truck stops and the best companies to work for.  Learning about the other types of trucks and trailers.   Learning about starting your own business.   After all of this newness has worn off, you will be faced with complacency.  And it is deadly. 

Once you start thinking that you know everything there is to know or that the road ahead is predictable so you don’t have to focus that much or pay attention, you are entering into a situation where you no longer belong behind the wheel of a semi-truck.  It can happen to the best of us out here.  It can happen at any time.  The only thing you have to fall back on is your training and knowing the basics. 

Everyone has been driving down the road and lost focus for a minute or two.  Everyone has mentally drifted off for a few seconds.  But in a semi-truck, a few seconds could mean life and death for not only the driver of the semi-truck, but those around the truck.  Even more so than a small 4 wheeled vehicle, a semi-truck can plow through buildings, cars, and trucks.

Complacency kills.  It’s as simple as that.  As a professional driver of a 40 plus ton vehicle, you simply cannot afford to be complacent.  Many drivers do all sorts of things to placate complacency from listening to audio books to taking numerous breaks from driving to stretch their limbs.  When an operator has successfully completed a year of safe driving around the country, they have come face to face with a situation where complacency has been a factor in their operation. 

Complacency isn’t just not paying attention, but not actively thinking during mundane processes that you have already performed countless times before.  An operator can’t depend on the last glance in the side view rear mirror.  No chances can be taken.  Once your attention is taken off the mirror, someone could walk behind your truck or something could happen that you didn’t notice because you are being complacent causing a potentially life threatening situation.  Many a pedestrian has been killed walking between the back of a trailer and a dock or even another truck. 

Complacency is dangerous in trucking because every day something new is being introduced into trucking, be it a regulation or a product.  If you aren't paying attention, you will miss important changes.  Even the best of us our here on the road find ourselves behind in the latest news and changes.  Reading the latest news and updates will help you fight complacency.  Fighting complacency will keep you and those around you safe and happy.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Trucker Stereotype

What do you think of when you hear that someone is a trucker?  

When I was a kid, I had a friend who didn't have a good opinion of truckers.  His father didn't like them, so neither did he.  I never found out why he didn’t like truckers, but to my knowledge he never even knew a trucker.  This is a stereotype.  Judging a book by its cover is not a healthy practice and neither is perpetuating stereotypes.

Before my time in trucking, the truck stops were small, independently owned, and there were prostitutes, drugs, outlaws, and generally seedy characters who frequented the parking lots.  At least that is what I am led to believe.  How would I know?  It was BEFORE my time. 

This is what I know after 17 years out here on the road:

-There are virtually NO prostitutes in any of the truck stops.  I can count on one hand how many truck stops I have seen prostitutes in and I wouldn't even be using all of my fingers.
-There is practically NO drug use.
-Most, if not all, of the drivers I have known are hardworking people who are trying to fund retirement accounts, feed their families, and stay out of trouble.
-Their sole priority is to be safe and professional at all times.
-The average age of a driver is 50.
-The average new driver has come from another industry.

The fact is, truck drivers are under so much scrutiny these days, that there is no room for screw-ups anymore.  The CSA, HOS, FMCSA, DOT, and a bunch of other letters from the alphabet are on watch and have just about completely cleaned up the industry.  Apparently it used to be a bad place to work!  No more.  If you are thinking of getting high, frequenting houses of prostitution, or being free to do all sorts of mischief around the country, you might consider another line of work.  Trucking isn’t for you.  You won’t last very long and you will probably cause all sorts of accidents.  It won’t be long until you are in jail. 

These days trucking is about staying busy and managing your money.  I'm not saying there aren't those types of people still coming into trucking, those looking for these things and who will find them, but you are more likely to find fuel tank polishers in a truck stop parking lot than anything else.  So feel free to enjoy the few videos you will find on YouTube of two or three lot lizards climbing in and out of trucks.  You'll find more businessmen, college students, and other travelling professionals frequenting the Asian “spas” that are open until 5 AM, than you will if you combined all the truckers paying lot lizards for their services.

One last thing:


The truckers of today are on watch and keeping an eye out for trafficked women in truck stops.  They even have a website dedicated to it:


Truckers Against Trafficking

This is a relatively new effort, and it's working.  The more truckers know, the more they step up and help.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fixing Health Care

This post is a reference to a very interesting CNN movie we recently watched entitled Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare.

The problems this documentary highlights have been escalating since the 1970's, throughout several Presidencies, and is now a national epidemic regardless of politics.

According to the documentary, the average doctor isn't interested in helping the patient solve the cause of the health problem but instead, making money off a procedure that the patient may not need. 

I don't know first-hand of any doctor doing this, but I do know that I believe in healing yourself through healthy eating and moderate exercise. 

The highlights of the documentary are :
- Poor attention by health care providers towards the lifestyles of patients in regard to the cause of their ailment
- Inexpensive unhealthy fast food that is readily available everywhere
- The culture in the health care profession toward prescribing procedures which generate revenue vs. solving the patients' actual problem.  (smoking, drinking, high sodium intake, lack of exercise, etc.)
- Over-prescribed pain medications and lack of alternative pain reduction methods such as acupuncture
- The negative effects of stress and the positive effects of stress reduction

The documentary states that if our culture doesn't change, the average US citizen will be obese by 2030. 



Sunday, March 3, 2013

Picking Loads


Picking the right load is important because it will determine how much money you make.  Not all loads are picked based solely on the money.  Sometimes there are loads that are more interesting than your standard load of toilet paper.  For instance, sections of the buildings from 9/11 were transported out of New York City by various carriers and for many of the drivers it was not about the money.  There are even carriers that move food for charity and bring supplies to the people who are in need because of natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. 

Since this is not about operating a truck for charity I will explain some of the other factors in finding loads.  Every type of trailer is used for something and every type of truck is used for something.  For instance a day cab truck with a 600 HP engine and a 150,000 lbs. capacity trailer will need to find loads that pay more per mile because they will have to deadhead hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles.  A 500 HP truck with a van trailer can make less per mile because there are plenty of loads and they are close together. 

Loads are usually concentrated based on a number of factors such as where the carrier has its customers, where the freight for the type of trailer you have is located, and how often it needs to be moved.  After you have figured all of that out, the next step is to figure out if you can make a profit moving the freight.  Most of the people in the US live east of the Mississippi river so a majority of the freight is also east of the Mississippi river.  Since we are only talking about one truck and not a fleet of trucks, your needs are simplified as you only have to find enough freight to keep one truck busy.

You might find that one carrier has all of its loads out west, in Texas, or in Wisconsin.  Most carriers will have a hiring area where they can get you home on a regular basis because that is where their freight lanes are.  In order to be profitable you must stay where the freight is and keep from buying too much while out on the road.  The longer you are away from home, the more it costs to operate.  There used to be constant freight in and out of Detroit for the auto industry that made many drivers very profitable.  The internet has opened many doors for people that they otherwise wouldn't have access to. 

Simple math is used to find loads as well.  You must get the rate per mile and compare it to the other freight out there.  Then you must figure in the deadhead miles to get the load.  Then you figure the fuel costs and then figure in the time needed to complete the entire load from deadhead to delivery.  Then you see if the area that the load is going to is going to require you to deadhead a long distance to get another load.  You also see if the loads out of where the load is going are paying well or not.  Some areas are considered to be back-haul areas.

A back-haul is where you make good money going there, but then take a back-haul which barely covers fuel to get you back to a good area.  I don’t believe in the back-haul system as it cuts rates and that back-haul is someone else’s front haul.  I rarely haul anything that is considered to be a back-haul.  These loads typically pay little, weigh a lot, and come with demanding customers who want far more than they are paying for.  If you are going to work, then make sure you are working smarter not harder and make sure that you are getting paid for your time.