A Trucker’s Life

Unless you have a close friend or family member who is a truck driver, you probably don’t give much thought to truckers or know too much about what they do.  You probably get annoyed when they are going too slowly on the highway and holding you up.  Or going too fast and tailgating you.  Or, you may be one of the many drivers who are afraid of the big trucks on the highway.  Maybe you think drivers are dirty and greasy.  Maybe you think their job is easy – they just get in and drive and go where they’re told to go, and make a lot of money to do it.

More likely, though, you probably just don’t give it much thought at all.  I guess I didn’t.  My husband drives a truck, though, and I know a lot of things I didn’t know before.

My hubby posted the following article on Facebook today.  It’s a good read and says much of what I was going to say in this post (I actually started this post in April!!)

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That truck driver you flipped off? Let me tell you his story.

  • Article by: DAN HANSON

Let me tell you a little about the truck driver you just flipped off because he was passing another truck, and you had to cancel the cruise control and slow down until he completed the pass and moved back over.

His truck is governed to 68 miles an hour, because the company he leases it from believes it keeps him and the public and the equipment safer.

The truck he passed was probably running under 65 mph to conserve fuel. You see, the best these trucks do for fuel economy is about 8 miles per gallon. With fuel at almost $4 per gallon — well, you do the math. And, yes, that driver pays for his own fuel.

He needs to be 1,014 miles from where he loaded in two days. And he can’t fudge his federally mandated driver log, because he no longer does it on paper; he is logged electronically.

He can drive 11 hours in a 14-hour period; then he must take a 10-hour break. And considering that the shipper where he loaded held him up for five hours because it is understaffed, he now needs to run without stopping for lunch and dinner breaks.

If he misses his delivery appointment, he will be rescheduled for the next day, because the receiver has booked its docks solid (and has cut staff to a minimum). That means the driver sits, losing 500-plus miles for the week.

Which means his profit will be cut, and he will take less money home to his family. Most of these guys are gone 10 days, and home for a day and a half, and take home an average of $500 a week if everything goes well.

You can’t tell by looking at him, but two hours ago he took a call informing him that his only sister was involved in a car accident, and though everything possible was done to save her, she died. They had flown her to a trauma hospital in Detroit, but it was too late.

He hadn’t seen her since last Christmas, but they talked on the phone every week. The load he is pulling is going to Atlanta, and he will probably not be able to get to the funeral.

His dispatcher will do everything possible to get him there, but the chances are slim. So he has hardly noticed your displeasure at having to slow down for him. It’s not that he doesn’t care; he’s just numb.

Everything you buy at the store and everything you order online moves by truck. Planes and trains can’t get it to your house or grocery store. We are dependent on trucks to move product from the airport and the rail yards to the stores and our homes.

Every day, experienced and qualified drivers give it up because the government, the traffic and the greedy companies involved in trucking have drained their enthusiasm for this life.

They take a job at a factory if they can find it, and are replaced by an inexperienced youngster dreaming of the open road. This inexperience leads to late deliveries, causing shortages and higher prices at the store, and crashes that lead to unnecessary deaths.

It is even possible that is what led to the death of this driver’s sister.

This is a true story; it happened last week. The driver’s name is Harold, and I am his dispatcher.

Dan Hanson, of Belle Plaine, Minn., is a fleet manager.

Well said, Dan.

We tried the Owner / Operator route for several months, but right now my husband is back to being a company driver.  That means we’re not paying for our own fuel, repairs, health insurance, hotels, maintenance, tolls, payment to lease the truck etc. etc. etc. anymore.  Other than that, though, the things in this article are accurate for him.

His truck is governed to 65 MPH.  That’s mostly done to save fuel, but for safety reasons, too.  So, no, he can’t go any faster.

Electronic Log tracking his every movement?  Yep.  Actually I think they’re good – also for safety reasons and to keep everyone honest.  But it also means that if he’s 90 minutes from home and he only has 60 minutes of legal drive time left today, he’s not coming home.  He’s staying in a hotel.  Now, like I said, in our case the company is paying for that hotel room.  But we are paying for his dinner tonight, his breakfast tomorrow, and his lunch tomorrow — even though we just bought food for all of that at the grocery store.  You should also keep in mind that the majority of truck drivers are Owner / Operators.  And the majority of those have sleepers.  So they’re sleeping in a tiny bunk in that truck cab and showering at a truck stop.  At least my hubby gets a hotel room.  A crappy motel room usually … but at least a bed, toilet and shower!

Yes, he can work 14 hours until he has to have a break, and almost always does.  That’s a 70-hour work week most weeks.  Think he’s getting 30 hours of that in overtime?  Nope.  Truckers that are paid hourly (very few) don’t get overtime until over 55 hours a week.  But, because sometimes he gets paid by the hour and sometimes by the mile / load … he never gets over 55 hours a week in “hourly” pay.  Yep, that sucks.

I’d also like to address a couple of things that Dan didn’t.  My husband drives a tanker, which means there is a tank of 7,300 gallons of liquid behind his truck.  That weighs about 50,000 pounds, making the whole rig weigh about 80,000.  That is 40 tons, my friend.  You think he can stop on a dime when you decide to merge in front of him without yielding (please see my former post re: yielding while driving!  LOL) just because you think he’s going to be slow and you don’t want to get stuck behind him?  He can’t.  Not only can’t he stop super quickly, but if he manages to stop fast by literally standing on the brake pedal, that liquid in his trailer is going to surge forward and push him forward anyway.

A couple of years ago, a guy my husband works with was driving down a road – not like the turnpike, more like a small highway in a town with businesses along the road.  So he wasn’t going 65 or anything.  Maybe 40.  He was going down a hill.  An older couple pulled right out in front of him at the bottom of the hill.  He didn’t even have time to think about stopping.  They were killed instantly.  The driver couldn’t bear to get back in a truck for at least a year.

Also, think about the height and shape of a truck cab and his visibility.  When you pull up alongside him (on his right) – guess what?  HE CAN’T SEE YOU.  They put a little window in the bottom of the passenger door to help with this problem, so if you’re lucky he will see you.  Still.  Don’t be surprised when he hits you.  And certainly don’t act like it’s his fault.

The hours suck.  My husband is a regional driver.  So, unlike most, he’s not that over-the-road guy who is out for 10-14 days and then home for 2.  Technically, he’s supposed to get home every night.  As I’ve mentioned, he doesn’t.  He’s out 2-3 nights a week.  But remember, he only gets a 10 hour break.  So if he’s done work at 6PM, he is available to work again at 4AM.  Here’s what that looks like for us:  He’s done at 6, drives home, gets home around 6:45 with traffic.  He may or may not change his clothes; we eat dinner;  he goes to bed.  In order to get 8 hours of sleep, he should have gone to bed at 6:30 because he has to get up at 2:30 and leave the house at 3:30 to start at 4:00 AM.  So either he’s not home at all or we see him for less than an hour.  It’s quite possible he gets stuck out on Friday night, so if that happens he gets home sometime Saturday morning.  He then has to have a 38-hour break (after 70.)  That makes him available again Sunday night.  Now his company won’t send him out again until Monday morning … but he very well may have to be someplace by 6 or 7 AM … so … he has to go to bed very early again on Sunday.  Nice weekend, huh?

Drivers are more than just drivers, too.  My husband has to do a full safety inspection of his truck at the beginning and end of every day.  He takes about 15 minutes to check 59 things on the tractor and trailer.  Before the electronic logs, he had a mountain of paperwork to complete daily.  Even with them he has a lot.  He has to figure out when to leave and what route to take to get him to his loading appointment on time.  If he is more than 15 minutes early, he is docked pay.  If he is late, they probably won’t load him.  Oh, and his employer doesn’t want him to take toll roads because it’s expensive.  But, you know, he’s not allowed on a lot of roads because of his weight or what he’s hauling.  When he is loading, he has to make sure the truck isn’t over DOT weight limits – both gross weight and axle weight / distribution of weight.  If he gets a ticket for being over weight, he has to pay it himself.  He also has to know what kind of trailer the product he has can go into and to make sure that trailer has been washed thoroughly and by the correct method.

Then he has to do all the planning again to get that load delivered on time.  A lot of the time he’s delivering oil, so he has to drag hoses around (and hopefully he has been provided with the right hoses, the right fittings, and enough hoses), hook up to the pump, pump out the oil, and not spill a drop without a major hazmat incident.  He will get some on his clothes and boots, though, from those hoses, so that’s why he looks dirty and greasy sometimes.

There is more he has to do other than drive, but you get the idea.

Even with all of this stuff … obstacles … inconveniences … crappy hours and schedules … idiotic drivers … truckers are largely polite drivers.  My mom and I drove a U-Haul with a trailer behind it (with our car on it) from New Mexico to Pennsylvania several years back.  Almost every single time I passed a truck, the driver would flash his lights for me when it was OK for me to get over in front of him.  (I was kinda nervous with that car trailer back there!)  Once when I was younger, my mom and I were traveling on the turnpike when our car broke down.  It was a trucker that picked us up and took us to the next rest area.

And all that stuff Dan said about how trucks bring everything to our stores and our houses:  Yeah!  What he said!  Could my husband do another job?  Yeah.  But you need him to do this one.

I’m not looking for sympathy for my husband or our family.  Driving is his job and it is what it is.  But I really think most people don’t know this stuff (why would you?) so, consider it a public service announcement – LOL.

So next time you’re annoyed or aggravated because a truck is slow in front of you, be glad he’s being safe and remember he probably can’t go any faster.  He wishes he could, too.

Truck tailgating you in that middle lane on 95?  Get the hell out of his way.  He has to be someplace by a certain time, and you should be in the slow lane anyway.  Go faster or get over.  And, for God’s sake, don’t get scared and put on your brakes.  And, by the way, he’s not allowed to get over into the fast lane to pass you!  Don’t make him pass you on the right.

Plus, he’s probably tired and hungry and has to pee.

Next time you think about pulling out in front of a truck?  Don’t.  Wait.  Think about that older couple that lost their lives.

Maybe you’ll just scoot in front of him at that merge at the toll booths or in town at a red light?  Don’t.  He can’t see you there.

So, now you know.  Have some empathy for the guy.  Be considerate.  Be respectful.  Be safe.  And enable him to be safe, too.  We need him around here.

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5 thoughts on “A Trucker’s Life

  1. By the way, friends, I’m not at all intending to be condescending to those I know personally!! When I say “you” it’s a collective, public-at-large “you!” I was just following the format of the author of the article. 🙂

  2. Great article. Sadly it is not something I think about when I do get cut off by a trucker. I will be much more aware now and sometimes we all don’t stop to think about the ‘other’ person! 🙂

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