One of the hardest parts of being a professional truck driver is balancing the need for miles and the need for time at home. It is really hard to take those three days off when last week’s miles have been low which means that the next paycheck will be low also.
What are ways as a professional truck driver we can get the most miles out of our time out on the road?
Be Productive by Making the Most of Our Hours of Service.
Find out if there is parking at the pickup or delivery and get our break in there. I remember when I brought a load of frozen French Fries out to Atlanta, GA that had an extra day of running on it. I found out there was parking at the delivery so arrived there 30 hours early and checked in. They said “well your appointment is not until late tomorrow so we won’t be able to get you in”. I politely told them that it was ok and I will be parked on the street if they have a cancellation. Six hours later they knocked on my door and put me to a dock. I was unloaded a day early! The reload was not for the next day (since dispatch thought I would not be empty a day early), but I went to the pickup anyway and was pleased to find out that another carrier could not make their pickup so they loaded me right away. Now this will not happen on every load, however, being on the customer site gives them the opportunity to work us in early if other carriers are running late and not making their appointments (and this also makes the GTI team look good).
Another option when running early is to see if dispatch can get our pickup or delivery times moved to help us be more productive. If the appointments cannot be moved, then we can work with dispatch on bringing the load to the yard to drop and roll with something else. If none of that is possible, take advantage of the extra time to get that laundry done, clean the truck, pay bills online, stock up, or just rest up so we are prepared to run hard when the time comes.
We know it is not always possible, but if we can choose when you run to avoid traffic or bad weather we should do so to boost our average miles per hour. We should also network with other drivers to find out places to park other than the truck stop. Many times we choose to park at a truck stop for convenience but end up stopping there for the night after only 10 hours of driving. There could be another (lesser known) parking place another hour up the road and going there will take advantage of our full hours for the day. If you must park at the truck stop, don’t let it become a time waster -- take 11 and get out.
Remember that the 70 hour rule equates to an average of 8.75 hours per day so having a few 7 hour days after a few 11 hour days is not as bad as it seems. We all would love to run our 70 hours out in 6 days then do a 34 but freight rarely works that perfectly. Wanting to take a 34 because we get back “low” hours can actually get you less miles. It depends on what those low hours are. A 34 is a good idea if we are up against our 70 and only get back 3 or 4 hours the next day. But if we get back 5 then 11, get a load that has some time on it. It is better to run with freight we know we have than to take the 34 without knowing if the next load is that perfect 3000 mile load to Florida.
Be Productive by Communicating.
It's imperative to provide the most accurate information to our driver managers so they can convey it to the planners. The system is only as good as the data that is put in. As a planner, I spend a fair amount of time asking for information to be updated or verified. A planner has to put together a big puzzle and many times the pieces keep changing because bad data is being updated and changed. The more accurate and up to date the data is, the more productive everyone will be.
Another thing is to understand that sometimes a planner has to give you that 100 mile load to satisfy customer commitments or to get us to a place that has freight. If that’s the case it is perfectly reasonable to communicate and to ask for a “good plan for after that”.
Be Productive When it Comes to Maintenance.
If the truck needs a service or other work then get it in the shop while you are off on home time. If it cannot (because home is not by a shop) then be prepared to use another truck if additional work is required during the service.
Be Productive When Broke Down.
Equipment breakdowns are a part of trucking and are no fun for anyone. Customers are not happy, drivers are not happy, office people are not happy. The only people who are happy is probably the shop and the tow company! Shops are usually overbooked and repairs take longer than we would like but this is the reality of situation. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be willing to slip seat into another truck to move freight and continue on that road to productivity. It is not the ideal situation for sure but no one wins when we don’t utilize this option.
Be Productive While on Our Home Time.
We should try to be planned with a load coming out of the house before we start home time. This will help us plan our time at home better. Also, having a plan for what we are doing at home helps us to make the most of that home time. If we are home for needed rest -- take it. If it is to be with family then be with them. Get the honey-do list done and tie up any loose ends. It is also important for our counterparts at home to have as much taken care of as they can so when we are home, that home time is quality time. If this means paying someone to fix the kitchen sink so we can relax when at home then do it. This will also prevent a two day home time turning into three or four days. We should try as hard as we can to be in an “I’m at home” mindset and don’t let our heads live in the last two weeks on the road. If we do this then we will be more refreshed when we return to the road and ready to do it all again.
About the Author:
Jim Pitman started with Gordon Trucking as an over the road truck driver in 1999 and worked as a certified driver trainer from 2000-2005. Later in 2005, Jim moved into operations where he worked in various roles including driver manager, customer service representative and regional planner. Four years later, Jim transferred to the over the road (OTR) department where he worked for 2 and a half years. Jim currently works in the refrigerated division as a support shift planner.
While working in both operations and OTR, Jim has maintained his commercial driver's license and works as a casual driver for the company when needed. Jim’s experience behind the wheel and in the office makes him a great mentor to other GTI associates with less experience in the trucking industry.
Be sure to check out Jim's first post from his professional truck driver series, Being a Professional Truck Driver.