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Show some Respect for the Driver Delivering your Freight

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Driving a transport truck is one of the most prevalent jobs in North America and throughout the world. There are about 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States; the comparable number for Canada would be in the range of 350,000 people. Truck drivers are mostly men who like a life on the open road, crisscrossing the freeways and city streets of America. These are folks who are away from home for long stretches of time, as they go from state to state, province to province, sleeping in cheap motels or in their sleeper cabs, eating unhealthy meals in Truck Stops and spending long, lonely hours driving their rigs.

Young people seeking to enter the profession need to take a set of courses so they learn safe driving techniques and how to manage their rigs. For those individuals who wish to run their own businesses, they can become owner-operators. They can work for themselves or for one of the thousands of trucking companies throughout North America. This can include working for a for-hire fleet or for the private fleet of a manufacturer or retailer.

Despite the relative ease of entry into the profession, there is a shortage of truck drivers in North America. Driving a truck is a tough job. Bad weather, traffic, and road conditions create difficulties on a daily basis. A lack of investment in infrastructure throughout North America creates congestion and impedes productivity. Driving a tractor-trailer unit with a 45,000-pound payload requires full concentration throughout the period they are on the road.

For many people, being away from home for blocks of time is not glamorous or fun. For someone with a young family, missing family occasions and their kids’ baseball or soccer games does not help maintain positive personal relationships.  While much has been done to raise the quality of the profession, truck driving does not command the respect it deserves; it remains a relatively poorly paid job.

A lack of respect from trucking companies and shippers

Drivers face difficulties both from their employers and from the customers for whom they pick up and deliver freight. Drivers are pressured to maximize their productivity while observing speed limits and hitting appointment times. The low pay and abuse they receive helps explain the turnover ratios that average in the range of 100 percent annually. When they arrive to make their pickups and deliveries, they often face a backup of trucks, freight, and paperwork not ready and the indignity of not being able to use the rest room that is onsite. Recently, several changes have been implemented to provide better structure to their lives.

Regulatory Changes

The driver’s Hours of Service regulations were implemented to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue. This is accomplished by limiting the number of driving hours per day, and the number of driving and working hours per week. Fatigue is also prevented by keeping drivers on a 21- to 24-hour schedule, maintaining a natural sleep/wake cycle. Drivers are required to take a daily minimum period of rest, and are allowed longer "weekend" rest periods to combat cumulative fatigue effects that accrue on a weekly basis. These regulations, that are in place in Canada and the United States, are also designed to protect drivers from abuse from the company’s management. The other side of these regulations is that they put pressure on employers to maximize driver productivity and performance during their allowable work hours.

Similarly, electronic logging devices that are being introduced throughout North America are intended to help create a safer work environment for drivers, and make it easier and faster to accurately track, manage, and share records of duty status (RODS) data. An ELD synchronizes with a vehicle engine to automatically record driving time, for easier, more accurate hours of service (HOS) recording. This technology, while placing more discipline on driver documentation, also places constraints on driver availability. This will also put pressure on driver productivity.

The eCommerce Effect

Another major change over the past decade has been the rapid growth in eCommerce. Anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone can go online, 24/7 and place an order for almost any product. Of course, someone must deliver the products from manufacturers to distribution centres and/or retailers and/or directly to a house or apartment building. Ecommerce and omni-channel distribution are fundamentally changing the nature of trucking, in terms of types of trucks, drivers, pickup and delivery requirements. In other words, the driver world is becoming much more complex.

What is the Future of Truck Driving?

Rarely a day goes by without a story on electric vehicles and autonomous (driverless) or semi-autonomous trucks. There are host of companies looking at an array of technologies to allow trucks to operate with no or minimal driver involvement. While there are a range of technological, regulatory and safety hurdles to overcome, the technology is there. The question is more an issue of when rather than if this will happen. This begs the question of how many of these 4 million jobs will be required when these new trucks will be “ready for prime time.”

Summary

It is fair to say that while truck drivers will be around for the short term; the medium and long-range future is uncertain at best. The strong economy and prospects for tight capacity and driver shortages are encouraging carriers to seek rate increases. Shippers seeking to maintain the viability of their supply chains are well advised to start thinking more carefully about the trucking companies and the drivers that deliver freight to their companies. Motor carriers throughout North America are taking a close look at the “carrier friendliness” of their clients. Shippers that make life difficult for their drivers by poor freight management and administrative processes will be facing higher than average rate increases.

Similarly, carriers with abusive dispatchers, poor driver management practices and lower than standard driver wages will also pay the price with high turnover, high driver training and high wage costs. Drivers perform a very valuable service that is essential to the smooth functioning of our economy. They deserve our respect, in words and action.

 

To stay up to date on Best Practices in Freight Management, follow me on Twitter @DanGoodwill, join the Freight Management Best Practices group on LinkedIn and subscribe to Dan’s Transportation Newspaper (http://paper.li/DanGoodwill/1342211466).

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