Tax Advice




Noxious burrito fumes, unwanted preaching 2 of many differences teams must work out

April 15, 2014

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Many people become truckers because they enjoy the independence and the solitude that comes with it. The freedom of the open road can also mean freedom from annoying coworkers and micromanaging bosses. Like a new marriage, it doesn’t take long for the feeling of freedom to disappear when there are two humans sharing the same space.

Even married couples who elect to team may not have fully considered the implications of being stuck together for hours on end in a space that’s smaller than the home bathroom. When total strangers end up in a driving team, there’s a culture shock to be dealt with.

Some issues can’t be solved on the road and are best identified up front. A heavy smoker, for example, isn’t likely to mesh well with a partner who hates the smell of second-hand smoke. Someone who listens exclusively to classical music likely won’t sleep well when the driving partner is playing the latest rap hit at full volume.

Individual values can result in contention, too. A devout churchgoer may not be agreeable to a stop at the topless café, even if they do have a great lunch special. Likewise, one driver may resent another’s attempts to share his or her particular religion. A driver who spends a great deal of time on the phone with family or frequently chats with others on the CB radio may interrupt the team partner’s sleep.

Some carriers utilize some type of questionnaire in an attempt to pair drivers with similar interests, and the process increases the likelihood, but does not guarantee, that the new team will succeed.

When two professionals work closely together, it is to be expected that they learn from one another. That can be a problem, however, if one team partner perceives the other as “pushy” or “bossy.” It’s a mistake to assume that a partner will welcome guidance or criticism, no matter how well-intended. Successful teams approach this subject cautiously, making sure the partner is receptive before offering an opinion.

Other issues are a little more sensitive. Hygiene habits vary among individuals and can be a cause of dissention when new teams are still in the bonding stage. It’s easy to imagine that a driver who is lax about showering could be a cause for dissention, but so can a person at the other extreme. A driver who insists on two showers a day and a wash of the entire wardrobe three times a week can put strain on the schedule.

Modesty means different things to different people, and individual thresholds for what one finds “offensive” can vary greatly. Whereas one team driver may feel comfortable lounging in various states of undress when not behind the wheel, the other may prefer that each be fully dressed when not behind the closed bunk curtain.

In the close quarters of a tractor cab, even such things as what fragrance a person wears, and how much of it they use, can cause problems.

Speaking of fragrances, that bean ‘n beef burrito with salsa one driver had for lunch may be the source of another, less pleasant aroma. Traveling solo, that’s not usually a problem. When teamed with someone who was a total stranger a day or two earlier, filling the cab with a green cloud of noxious vapor isn’t likely to smooth the bonding process. Cracking a window is the merciful, if not polite, thing to do.

Team driving is a great way to get to know another driver and to learn from the experience. By exchanging expectations up front and engaging in open and honest discussion when issues arise, team drivers can minimize friction and enhance their chances for success.

Non couple teams must discuss ticklish topics before they turn into problems

April 1, 2014

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

In addition to work tasks that must be shared in a team operation, there are questions about personal property that should be addressed before problems arise. Teams that are couples outside of the truck may share ownership and use of personal items, but two drivers put together by their carrier will need to sort things out.

Some of the tools used while behind the wheel are costly and require at least a small amount of installation. CB radios, for example, are often installed and wired directly to the tractor’s electrical system. Will the drivers share a CB? When it comes to the microphone, one driver may like having it hang from a cord where it can be easily reached, while the other prefers it on a bracket somewhere on the dash.

GPS units are also commonly shared, but team drivers should decide if both will use one unit or each brings his own.

One of the most common problems faced by teams is sleeping arrangements. Drivers will need to take turns sleeping in the same bunk while their team partner is behind the wheel. No one wants to sleep on the same sheets that a partner with poor hygiene habits has recently occupied.

Some teams agree on some simple rules, such as removing shoes and dirty clothing before bedding down. Others solve the problem with individually owned sleeping bags on top of the mattress.

Many teams agree on some sort of signal to indicate that the off-duty partner is in the bunk. Too often, a driver making a quick pit stop at a rest area or truck stop returns to the truck and drives away, assuming the partner is still asleep behind the curtain. Leaving your partner stranded in the middle of the night doesn’t promote a peaceful relationship. A simple signal, such as keeping the sleeping driver’s hat on the passenger seat is an easy signal — if the hat is gone, the team partner isn’t in the bunk. Others use shoes on the passenger side floorboard or some other signal.

Storage of belongings can be a problem area, so teams should decide right away who gets which drawers or closet space.

Food storage and preparation should be discussed, too. Will the drivers share food, will each bring an individual supply or will most meals be consumed in restaurants? If food is shared, do both drivers have equal space in the refrigerator? Will the drivers take turns preparing meals, or will each prepare his or her own? Can either use the microwave, coffee maker or other appliances? Who is responsible for clean-up?

Hygiene issues such as how often to shower or bathroom use can be difficult to talk about, but are another area that teams must agree on. Some drivers prefer to stop somewhere with real plumbing anytime a bathroom break is needed. Others aren’t as sensitive about the facilities used, stopping to perform “tire checks” as needed. In the sleeper berth, some are OK using a port-a-potty or recycling water or soda bottles for restroom purposes while others object to these practices. The subject is sensitive, but should be discussed before a problem arises.

For a team to succeed, each driver must remember that another person may be impacted by actions that are usually taken for granted. An honest and frank discussion before departing can help smooth the road ahead.

There's a lot more to driving a truck than, well, driving a truck

March 15, 2014

By Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

As any experience driver can relate, there’s a lot more to driving a truck than, well, driving the truck. A driver has many responsibilities in addition to safely operating the vehicle. Inspecting, fueling and trip planning create additional tasks. Customers may require the driver to assist in the loading or unloading process by counting or even handling cargo. For many, a once-a-day phone call to dispatch has been replaced with a list of electronic messages that must be sent at specified intervals. Then, of course, there’s the paperwork, much of which has been replaced by computer work but must be accomplished just the same.

It’s easy to assume that having two drivers to share these duties eases the burden on each, but that’s not always the case. Conflict can erupt when one driver feels that the other isn’t doing their share of the work. Disagreements can occur over anything from which route to take to which truck stop to visit and any other decisions that must be made.

As with duties, responsibility isn’t always divided equally. Some carriers assume that two adults should be able to work together to get the job done and deal with any issues as they arise. Some hold the drivers equally responsible when something goes wrong. Others look to the partner who is behind the wheel to be in charge of the truck and anything that happens during an on-duty period. Still others assign a rank to team partners, such as “first seat” and “second seat.” In this pilot-copilot arrangement, the first seat driver can be held responsible for anything and everything. Training teams often fall into this category, with the trainer taking at least some responsibility for the actions of the trainee.

In any team arrangement, it’s best to clarify responsibilities before turning the key to start the truck. Asking, “whose truck is it?” is a good place to start. Find out who the company will hold responsible for inspections, computer messages, and so on. Is one driver considered a “lead” driver and, if so, does that mean he or she is responsible for the actions of the other driver? Does one driver have a “supervisory” role over the other?

When the carrier expects team partners to handle responsibilities equally, the drivers themselves should discuss and agree on division of duties. Do both drivers communicate with dispatch, or does one of them handle all the communication? Who deals with the customer? Who has the final say over the route, fuel stops, and where to park?

A very important topic of discussion is conflict resolution. When team partners disagree, does one have the final say? Is there a process for deciding non-critical issues, such as which truck stop to visit at mealtime? Something as simple as allowing the team partner behind the wheel to make the call works for some teams. It may seem silly, but a coin flip or even an old fashioned game of rock, paper, and scissors is a better process than a verbal or even physical altercation. Successful teams agree on a method of resolving issues before things go that far.

Professional drivers know that problems are a part of the job. By defining duties and responsibilities up front, team partners can stay focused on the job instead of issues with each other.

 Setting some guidelines, respecting personal space can help ease team in tiny space

March 1, 2014

By Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Those who have seen the 1995 movie “Apollo 13” starring Tom Hanks got a good look at how a team of American astronauts and their earthbound ground crew turned what could have been an epic disaster into a heartwarming story of courage and perseverance.

Viewed from a trucking perspective, however, there’s a different storyline: a three-man team tries to deliver to a destination that wasn’t on the original dispatch in a broken-down vehicle while getting conflicting instructions from the people in charge back in the office, all while freezing in a vehicle that can’t be idled.

The cab and “sleeper berth” of a modern Class 8 tractor are much more roomy than the small space capsule used for that NASA mission. Still, that space can seem very small when two drivers occupy it for long periods of time. That’s a scenario that more drivers are facing as carriers look to driving teams to provide faster transit times to their customers.

For the drivers, there are advantages. Team drivers generally earn higher pay and have the benefit of a helping hand when problems arise and a sympathetic ear when necessary. Team drivers can avoid some of the boredom and loneliness faced by solo drivers.

It’s easy, however, to fall prey to the pitfalls that can rise when two people are stuck in a small space. Even the closest relationships can be strained, and two complete strangers in an arranged team often find that getting to know their new partner can mean learning things you never wanted to learn.

By working together, teams can help minimize the inherent issues. Respecting each other’s privacy is a good place to start. A closed curtain to the sleeper berth, for example, should be respected as if it were a closed door to someone’s room. A knock or announcement before barging in should be the rule, and when the occupant doesn’t want company, those wishes should be honored.

It’s next to impossible for the off-duty partner to conduct a cell phone conversation that his or her team mate can’t hear. But there’s a difference between hearing and listening. Offering commentary on a conversation that you weren’t invited into is a sure way to ruffle feathers.

About those conversations: One team partner may be offended by coarse language while another may resent what is seen as an effort to control speech.

Then, there’s the question of hygiene. If your view of showers is that you take one every month whether you need it or not, you may experience friction from a team partner who showers daily. It may be difficult for either of you to adhere to your ideal shower schedule, but respecting your team partner can be as simple as not stinking.

Bathroom habits have been a problem for many teams as well. One wants to stop at a truck stop every time the urge is felt, while the other has a collection of urine-filled bottles adorning the sleeper. In a mixed-gender team, males need to understand that females probably won’t be comfortable stopping on the shoulder to “cool down a hot tire.”

Sleeping in a moving vehicle is difficult enough. It can be impossible when the team partner has music blasting on the stereo or is involved in a loud CB conversation. Even the choice of music may be objectionable. A person who enjoys a classic symphony and the latest hip-hop artist is relatively rare.

Division of work, both job-related and personal, can be a stress point. A team partner who is always stuck with vehicle inspections or fueling may quickly become resentful. A driver who insists on doing all the route planning may quickly wear on the other driver.        

The same goes for personal tasks like meal preparation and laundry. If those kinds of things are shared between the drivers, clear agreement about who does what is beneficial.

The best way to deal with these problems and many more is to discuss them before they become issues. No team should simply jump in the truck together, assuming that issues won’t arise. Come to agreement on those most important and periodically revisit them.

Even the best of team partners needs time alone at some point. It’s a good idea to build some individual time into the schedule. At the truck stop, for example, one driver can shower while the other visits the restaurant, instead of both keeping the same schedule. A stop at Wal-Mart doesn’t have to mean sharing the same shopping cart. Make it a point to get away from one another regularly, and don’t be offended if your team partner asks for some time alone.

There are many types of driving teams, but all stand a better chance of succeeding if they share mutual respect and strong communication.

 

Discussing who’s responsible for what can help make for much smoother trip

March 15, 2014

As any experience driver can relate, there’s a lot more to driving a truck than, well, driving the truck. A driver has many responsibilities in addition to safely operating the vehicle. Inspecting, fueling and trip planning create additional tasks. Customers may require the driver to assist in the loading or unloading process by counting or even handling cargo. For many, a once-a-day phone call to dispatch has been replaced with a list of electronic messages that must be sent at specified intervals. Then, of course, there’s the paperwork, much of which has been replaced by computer work but must be accomplished just the same.

It’s easy to assume that having two drivers to share these duties eases the burden on each, but that’s not always the case. Conflict can erupt when one driver feels that the other isn’t doing their share of the work. Disagreements can occur over anything from which route to take to which truck stop to visit and any other decisions that must be made.

As with duties, responsibility isn’t always divided equally. Some carriers assume that two adults should be able to work together to get the job done and deal with any issues as they arise. Some hold the drivers equally responsible when something goes wrong. Others look to the partner who is behind the wheel to be in charge of the truck and anything that happens during an on-duty period. Still others assign a rank to team partners, such as “first seat” and “second seat.” In this pilot-copilot arrangement, the first seat driver can be held responsible for anything and everything. Training teams often fall into this category, with the trainer taking at least some responsibility for the actions of the trainee.

In any team arrangement, it’s best to clarify responsibilities before turning the key to start the truck. Asking, “whose truck is it?” is a good place to start. Find out who the company will hold responsible for inspections, computer messages, and so on. Is one driver considered a “lead” driver and, if so, does that mean he or she is responsible for the actions of the other driver? Does one driver have a “supervisory” role over the other?

When the carrier expects team partners to handle responsibilities equally, the drivers themselves should discuss and agree on division of duties. Do both drivers communicate with dispatch, or does one of them handle all the communication? Who deals with the customer? Who has the final say over the route, fuel stops, and where to park?

A very important topic of discussion is conflict resolution. When team partners disagree, does one have the final say? Is there a process for deciding non-critical issues, such as which truck stop to visit at mealtime? Something as simple as allowing the team partner behind the wheel to make the call works for some teams. It may seem silly, but a coin flip or even an old fashioned game of rock, paper, and scissors is a better process than a verbal or even physical altercation. Successful teams agree on a method of resolving issues before things go that far.

Professional drivers know that problems are a part of the job. By defining duties and responsibilities up front, team partners can stay focused on the job instead of issues with each other.