Seven Oaks




 

 

 

Team driving entails a lot more than just two drivers taking turns behind the wheel

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Once the connection has been made and you’re teamed up with a partner, the real work of driving as a team begins. It’s easy to think that team driving is as simple as two CDL-qualified drivers taking turns behind the wheel, and it is — and it isn’t. While it may be true that the number of available driving hours is increased, there are other benefits that can only be reached when team members work together.

When a pickup involves loading, securing or protecting freight, two sets of hands can make the work go faster. The same goes for tasks at the delivery point. When it’s time to put away straps, tarps or other equipment, it goes faster with two.

Some common sense rules apply. For example, no one would interrupt a partner’s 10-hour rest break for help rolling up two van cargo securement straps. When schedules align, however, such as when one partner is due to start a rest break while the other goes on duty at a pickup or delivery point, working as a team is optimal.

Every person has strengths and weaknesses, and each partner can have knowledge and experience that the other doesn’t have. Those are areas where teamwork can benefit both partners. 

For example, if one team member has problems with a part of operating the vehicle, such as backing, the partner may be able to share knowledge or use coaching techniques to help strengthen those skills. Resist, however, the temptation to have the team partner who’s best at a certain task be the one that always does it. A team member who is weak at backing, for example, won’t get any better by always letting someone else do it.

As each driver racks up miles, knowledge about certain roads, customers and other subjects is also gained. Such knowledge, when shared, helps each team member better plan and execute assigned trips. Pickups and deliveries are less confusing when the driver knows where to go and who to see, especially when the customer has unusual requirements. Trip plans can be adjusted for poor road conditions, fuel availability or other factors. Even knowledge about operation of the equipment can be shared. That’s especially important when one team member is new to the type of trailer hauled or the cargo in it.

Each carrier is different from others in the way it operates, and that’s another area where one team partner’s knowledge can help another. A partner with experience dealing with the payroll, maintenance or benefits departments, for example, may be able to offer valuable guidance.

A word of caution is necessary, however. Make sure that any guidance offered is welcome, and is presented in a way that doesn’t seem condescending to the other driver. No one likes a “know it all.” Neither does anyone like to be “corrected” by a peer who is supposed to be an equal. Team partners should be respectful of one another’s dignity and should discuss how guidance is offered before the event comes up.

When an opportunity to share information presents itself, ask if the other person is receptive to offered help. Ask, “Would you be interested in a suggestion that might help?”  Avoid confrontation, as in “Who taught you to do it THAT way?” That type of question quickly closes the door to learning and can cause irreparable harm to the relationship.

When disputes arise, and they will, each partner should be ready to back away and let the other do it his or her own way, unless a serious safety concern exists. Fatigue, stress, and other factors can lessen a person’s receptiveness to perceived criticism. If the issue isn’t a critical one, being right may be far less important that preserving a good working relationship, and a discussion can take place at a more opportune time. 

Looking in mirror is helpful: You’re 50% of team but 100% responsible for your actions

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

If you’re considering teaming up with another driver to take advantage of the enhanced earning opportunities, you’ve probably given some thought to your future team partner. Of course, you hope the person you team with has values that are similar to yours, along with other qualities. Nobody wants a bad team partner.

It might be more productive, however, to take a long look in the mirror and spend some time thinking about what kind of partner you will be. Like the old saying goes: “After the third divorce, you’ve got to start thinking that maybe you are part of the problem.”

You’ll be 50 percent of the driving team, but you’re responsible for 100 percent of your actions. Making the decision to be a good team partner is as important as finding the right person to team with.

Good communication between partners is vital, so make sure that you’re easy to communicate with. Be open to discussion, and even criticism. An attitude of anger may cause your co-driver to back down, leaving the issue to smolder until it’s too late to fix it.

Planning involves communication, too, so make sure you and your team partner are on the same page. Decide together when or where you’ll stop, when possible. Agree on a method of determining when you’re in the sleeper, so your partner doesn’t drive off and leave you at the rest area. Leaving your hat on the passenger seat or your shoes in the passenger floorboard when you’re in the sleeper is a good practice. Your co-driver knows that if the hat is gone, you are too.

Remember that you’re sharing space, so leave the space you use in the same condition that you’d like to find it when you return. If your partner has to clean up the bunk before climbing in, you can be sure resentment will follow. When you leave the driver’s seat, throw away your trash and make sure cup holders are ready for someone else’s coffee.  

Be respectful of your co-driver’s rest time. Music, audio literature and talk radio can help fight boredom and make driving hours pass quicker, but they can also disturb your partner’s rest. That means that when your shift is ended, you’ll be climbing into the sleeper behind a driver that isn’t well rested. Keep the volume down.

Your phone can be an issue, too. Of course, you should never dial a call or send a text message while behind the wheel, but if your phone announces every new message with a loud beep or an annoying “whistle,” you’ll be keeping your co-driver awake without even using it. If you choose to receive calls while behind the wheel (and if your carrier permits it) use a quality hands-free device that doesn’t require you to speak loudly to be heard.

Driving defensively not only increases your safety — and your team partner’s — but also helps your co-driver rest. Following too closely often results in hard braking or sudden swerves because there’s less time to react to conditions ahead. By staying back and allowing more space, your driving will be safer and smoother.

If you’re choosing your own route, consider the type of road as well as its condition. A shortcut may save a few minutes, but stopping and starting frequently makes sleep difficult.

When issues arise, and they will, remember to attack the issue rather than your team partner. Calmly and rationally explain your concerns and ask for your partner’s cooperation. There won’t be much progress if you make your partner feel defensive.

Finally, have a plan in case things don’t work out. Suddenly taking your things and getting off the truck is the wrong answer, unless your personal safety is in danger, and could leave your ex-partner to report something you don’t want, on your termination record. Call your fleet manager and discuss if a load is available that gets you to a terminal.

Before you choose a company to run team with, find out what their policies are if you need a different co-driver. Some carriers may require you to find your own partner and may not be able to dispatch you until you do. Other carriers allow you to utilize their team matching program to find another partner, and can provide some solo runs for a limited time to keep you earning until you find a co-driver. Covenant Transport falls into the latter category. It’s always best to ask during the recruiting process.

 

September 1, 2014

Not all ‘team’ carriers created equal; ask right questions to avoid problems down the road

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

If you’ve made the decision that driving team is right for you, as increasing numbers of drivers have, you can expect to begin receiving the benefits as soon as you start the truck. But, whose truck will it be? The carrier you choose makes all the difference.

Nearly every carrier has at least some “team” freight, and many of them advertise for teams. Unfortunately, hiring teams and being “team friendly” are two different things. To make sure you’re considering a carrier that can help you realize your earnings potential, you’ll need to get specific with the recruiter you talk to.

But, first, a disclaimer: Your humble correspondent has managed the recruiting departments of two well-known carriers prior to coming to The Trucker. I’ve been on both sides of the job-search coin: recruiter and recruited. The experience helped me to acquire valuable insight into the process which I hope that you, the reader, will benefit from.

One of the first things you’ll want to know about the company you’re considering is whether they are a company that hires teams, or a team company. There’s a difference. Some carriers hire a few teams, both to increase opportunities to current and potential drivers and to handle loads that can’t be delivered on time by a solo driver. Hiring teams, however, does not make a carrier a team carrier. Team carriers purchase equipment, solicit freight and train sales and management personnel to handle the unique characteristics of team operations.

One key question to ask is whether the carrier has separate load planners and fleet managers for their driving teams. Dispatchers who manage both solo and team trucks may not differentiate between the unique needs of each. It’s easy to assume that shorter mileage loads go to solo drivers, while longer runs go to teams, but that can result in daily team runs of 700 miles or less. When divided by two, that’s not an attractive income option for team drivers.

Covenant Transport is one carrier that made the decision to focus on team drivers and freight. According to Covenant’s recruiting director, Rob Hatchett, the company has made a shift in recent years away from a mix of solo and team freight. “We still run a few solos,” he said, “but they’re mostly current Covenant drivers who have temporarily lost a team partner to a family issue, illness or something similar, and a few that are actively seeking new partners. However,” he continued, “everyone we hire runs team.”

Covenant’s focus on team freight helps the company make decisions that are best for its business and for the team drivers.

Every company can throw around numbers for average length-of-haul, average miles per week, and so on. The recruiter should have specific numbers, taken from actual company data that provides specific detail about average miles for teams. Don’t accept answers that begin, “somewhere in the neighborhood of ... .” And forget about comments that begin, “Our top team earned ... .” For all you know, the top team is the owner’s son and his girlfriend, dispatched by the owner’s nephew. Ask for the actual average for all team tractors at the company. If it’s a true number, it will seem low, because it includes tractors that broke down, drivers on home time, and drivers who aren’t as ambitious as you are.

The carrier’s ratio of team tractors to solo tractors can be important, too. Carriers train their sales staffs to solicit freight that is a fit for their fleets. A salesperson representing a company with 95 percent solo trucks isn’t likely to push for team-friendly loads. Look for carriers with a reasonable percentage of team tractors in a division that operates independently of the solo division.

Equipment is another topic to discuss with the recruiter. Does the carrier use the same equipment for both teams and solos? Teams may require more storage space and more options for privacy; ask the recruiter to detail the differences.

When it comes to pay, carriers generally have different plans for teams. Pay in addition to mileage pay can become an issue after employment starts, so be sure to ask questions about layover, detention, breakdown or other accessorial pay. Are both drivers compensated, or only the driver who is on duty? If pay for these items is split between partners, is it equivalent to what a solo driver gets? How are bonuses for safety and/or performance calculated? If one driver has an accident, does the other forfeit a safety bonus?

Clearing up questions like these can simplify the decision of which carrier to work for and prevent misunderstandings down the road.

August 15, 2014

Not a ‘date’ but partner for ‘long-term success’

More resources than ever available to help find right team partner

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

In our Team Topics series of articles, we’ve presented a lot of information about some of the benefits and pitfalls of driving as part of a team. It’s difficult to benefit from the information, however, without a compatible partner to team with.

Not everyone is fortunate to have a spouse, relative or friend with a CDL and the will to drive as a team.

Choosing the right team partner is more than an exercise in finding someone to work with. Safety is a major concern, and that includes more than the risk of someone else’s unsafe driving. Nobody wants to team with someone who may be prone to abuse of any kind, or doesn’t respect the property of others. The right team partner, on the other hand, can be a benefit when help is needed and can provide another set of eyes and another perspective when safety questions arise.

Fortunately, there are more resources now than ever before to help find the right partner. And many carriers are moving toward larger fleets of team drivers for the gains in equipment and productivity they provide.

“The secret to teaming successfully,” says Covenant Transport Recruiting Director Rob Hatchett, “is to find somebody that you want to make good money with for a long time.” According to Hatchett, about 80 percent of drivers recruited at Covenant don’t have team partners when they arrive. “Drivers know that they can make much more money as part of a team,” he explained, “but they don’t know anyone to team with.”

The company’s proprietary team-matching service begins with a 20-question survey. Drivers who participate are provided with the profiles of three Covenant drivers who most closely match and can contact them through the system. It isn’t necessary to provide personal phone number.

According to Hatchett, providing three potential matches increases the likelihood of finding the “right” partner.  “We’re looking for long-term successes,” he said, “not ‘first dates.’”

If a driver loses a team partner or isn’t happy in a current team arrangement, they can use the service to find another partner, Hatchett said.

Through its MPACT Military Placement Program, Covenant also offers recently separated or retired military veterans a way to quickly kick-start a new career as a professional truck driver with high earning potential.

Veterans can take advantage of their GI Bill benefits for up to a year while training at Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Covenant, which has a VA-certified training center.

Other resources used by drivers looking to team include placing local ads on Craigslist. The service is free and the advertising areas are somewhat localized, helping to ensure that respondents live in the same geographic area. And, the poster can specify that respondents reply through the Craigslist system, so it isn’t necessary to include private phone numbers or e-mail addresses. A drawback is that the ad is available to anyone, even those that aren’t interested in trucking.

Internet trucking forums can be a resource, too. Some allow for communication between members without disclosure of personal contact information, while some do not. The posting can be seen by anyone on the site, however, including those that aren’t interested in teaming.

A better option may be websites that offer team driver matching services, which operate in a manner similar to online dating services. Two of these are findacodriver.com and drivermatch.com.

Both are free to join and match drivers by their “profiles” created from answers to a series of questions. Both allow anonymous communication between “matched” drivers. These sites may do a better job of getting a posting in front of the right audience than other methods.

With so many options available, drivers who want to take advantage of the benefits of team driving don’t have to be thwarted by not having a team partner.   

 

August 1, 2014

Resolving conflict necessary part of team partnership; a few rules apply to ease the way

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Drivers who team together can come from many different relationships, all the way from two complete strangers assigned to the same truck to permanent couples. Regardless of their relationship, all have something in common other than their driving profession. Every team driver experiences conflict with his or her partner at some point. How they handle that conflict is critical to the success of the team and sometimes more.

Most conflict resolution strategies begin with communication. Talking it out is necessary to make sure both team partners fully understand and appreciate the other’s position. There are, however, some rules to making the communication effective.

It’s best to minimize or eliminate emotion from the discussion, especially if that emotion is anger. Displays of temper, especially those that involve raised voices or threatening gestures, create a barrier to communication. Both team partners should be calm when the discussion is held, even if it means delay until both deal with their emotions.

Important discussions should never be held when one driver is behind the wheel. When possible, the partners should talk outside of the truck. A stop for a cup of coffee or even a break at a rest area table is an environment more conducive to a good discussion, and dedicating time to solving the conflict reinforces the importance of the issue and demonstrates a desire to solve it peacefully.

Remember to attack the problem, not the other person. That’s true even when convinced that the other person is the cause of the problem. Beginning with a compliment is a good way to start, but be careful not to sound patronizing.

Problems are easier to resolve if both parties work together, so approach the discussion as if you need the other person’s help to solve a problem rather than as a competition.

Work towards a win-win solution. The best result is one that benefits both partners and each may be more agreeable to a potential solution if it appears that the other person cares about more than winning an argument. Even a partial victory is better than none at all, so give in on the points that you can. It helps to make it clear that both team partners are working toward a solution that benefits both.

Be assertive, but not aggressive. No one thinks well while on the defensive. Clearly state your position and offer a potential resolution, without assigning blame, if possible.

In communication, listening is as important as speaking, if not more so. Make sure you clearly understand your partner’s rationale, and propose solutions that accommodate it, if you can. Ask questions and provide feedback to the partner to make sure your understanding of the other’s position is correct. And, don’t assume you know what the other person is thinking or feeling. If you aren’t sure, ask.

Don’t dredge up the past unless it has a direct bearing on the current issue. “Piling on” is a sure way to convince the other person that you aren’t interested in a solution so much as you simply want to get your shots in.

If the issue can’t be resolved, you’ll have a decision to make. In some cases, if the problem is minor enough, you may choose to simply let it go. If the issue is one that involves safety or puts you at risk of involvement in something illegal, you’ll need to share your concerns with a supervisor or someone at your carrier. No one likes to get another person in trouble, but protecting your partner at the risk of harming someone else isn’t ethical, and could make you an accomplice. If you think you may be in physical danger, get to a public place and get out of the truck. Call your carrier to explain, and call 911 if it becomes necessary. You can deal with the explanations later, after the danger has passed.

Hopefully, the conflicts you experience are small ones. When team partners work together to solve them, the job becomes easier and more enjoyable for both.  

 

July 15, 2010

Team driving: Intensely private people or those who don’t play well with others need not apply

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

There’s a lot of discussion over the benefits of team driving, but none of that matters if operating as a part of a team isn’t for you. The industry is filled with independent minded people. In fact, that’s what attracts many to trucking in the first place. If you’re a person who doesn’t play well with others, the idea of working solo with minimal contact with anyone resembling a supervisor is appealing.

Differences in the decision-making process can be an issue when two individuals are working together in such close proximity. When it comes to values and ethics, if you’re a by-the-book person who prefers to err on the side of safety and legality, it may be difficult to work with someone who’s willing to bend or ignore the rules to save some time. If you prefer to do things your own way rather than tow the company line, you won’t mesh well with someone who thinks the company way is always best.

In the trucking world, decisions must be made as to where to stop for the night, where to eat and where to shower. The non-trucking citizen who returns to a home when the work day is over doesn’t often think of these things as decisions that must be made, since those are often associated with the home.

Hygiene can be a major issue with some drivers on either end of the cleanliness line. If you prefer to shower, use deodorant and put on clean clothes every day, a partner who doesn’t do these things, especially if body odor is a problem, isn’t going to fit well in your world. On the other hand, if you have a lackadaisical attitude about cleanliness, a cleanliness nut in your tractor can be annoying.

Some drivers simply can’t cope with the idea of another person sleeping in the same bunk, even when different bed covers or sleeping bags are used. Those who are meticulous about keeping the tractor spotless don’t like the idea of another person’s clothing, personal items or trash lying around.

Even when neatness isn’t an issue, some people find it difficult to sleep while the tractor is in motion. The problem is exacerbated when the person behind the wheel is listening to music or talking on the phone or the CB radio. The condition of the highways doesn’t help, either.

Privacy is a concern for some drivers, too. A truck that stays in motion a majority of the time makes it difficult to have a private phone conversation or engage in any activity that doesn’t need an audience. The thin curtain that separates the sleeper berth from the tractor cab may provide some privacy, but that curtain doesn’t do much to inhibit sound and it provides nothing in the way of security if your team partner wants to open it.

Some people are particular about their personal possessions, too. Having two of everything in the truck simply isn’t practical, and drivers may be particular about sharing a refrigerator or another person speaking into his CB radio microphone.

Possessions aren’t all that are shared, either. Two people working so closely for such long periods of time often get to know a lot about each other’s personal business, either from conversations between them or from listening in on phone conversations or other means. If you’re an intensely private person, having someone else know that much may not be very appealing to you. At times, family members can resent the team driving relationship, especially if the two drivers are of different genders. That’s another issue that team drivers must deal with.

As discussed in other Team Topics articles, communication is a key to performing well as a team. For some drivers, however, no amount of communication can overcome the discomfort of sharing such a small space with another human being.

If you’re a person who prefers to do things your own way, an intensely private person who doesn’t want others to know your business, or simply an individual who prefers to be alone, team driving may not be for you. The training experience can provide an education on sharing the tractor, even if those lessons aren’t formalized. For many, the benefits of team driving outweigh the negatives and they learn to cope with the drawbacks. For those who can’t, or simply don’t want to, choosing a solo career might be a better option. There’s plenty of room in the trucking industry for both.

 

 

July 1, 2014

Driving team can provide opportunities to do some sight-seeing, sun-bathing or boating

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Driving as a part of a team can provide many benefits, including better pay, reduced workload and shared experiences. All of those experiences, however, don’t necessarily have to be related to work.

Drivers have been heard to jokingly refer to fleet managers as “travel agents” or even to themselves as “paid tourists.” The truth is that professional drivers have opportunities to travel to areas of the country that many people only dream about. The catch is that most drivers want or need to spend their time off at home, usually with family. But, teams who are also personal friends or couples or who don’t need weekly contact with the folks back home can take advantage of their constant travel to see much of the country, and at much less expense than others pay to see the same sights.

When drivers take their “home time” near their latest delivery point, carriers and driver managers can save the trouble and expense of routing them to their homes for time off, so everyone wins.

In some metro areas, truck stops or parking areas are within a short cab ride, if not walking distance, of attractions. Much can be seen in Nashville, Tennessee, for example, without spending cash on hotels or parking. Any metro area has something to offer. A little time on the Internet can turn up attractions, shows, restaurants or other things to see and do.

At times, a local rental car can offer greater travel range, and some rental vendors even bring the vehicle to you. Online discount vendors such as Expedia or Priceline often offer deals as low as $11 per day. Weekend deals are often available and weekday rentals can be even cheaper.

Teams who prefer a back-to-nature approach can find national and state parks just about everywhere, many of which offer campsites or other amenities at low prices. Many of these parks offer hiking, fishing or other outdoor activities, and a sleeper berth makes an adequate camper, with the carrier’s permission, if necessary.

Some drivers would consider a lakeshore weekend much more relaxing than a truck stop parking lot, especially when evenings are topped off with a campfire and some marshmallows.

If you can arrange time off near the ocean, a lake or a substantial river, activities can range from boat or jet ski-rental to dinner and show cruises to simply sitting on the beach. Some areas offer fishing, whale-watching or sightseeing charters.

If you enjoy gambling, there are numerous options as many states allow casinos or gaming boats. Many of these even offer free truck parking to attract more gamblers. Even the non-gamblers can find a good time, as many casinos offer various shows and other entertainment, and some have excellent food choices at economical prices. In some areas of the country, gambling can even be found at the truck stop.

With notice, some carriers will work with you to find loads in the direction of events you want to attend, like sporting events, concerts, truck shows or festivals. Loads aren’t always available, and not every event is held in an area that fits the carrier’s running area, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. In some cases, it may be easier for the carrier to get you close to something you want to see than it is to get a load near your home.

Even without advance planning, team drivers can take advantage of shorter periods when a dispatch isn’t available. A 34-hour restart can be much more enjoyable seeing a few sites than watching truck stop television. Ask truck stop employees where they go on days off. At a minimum, they’ll know about local attractions such as zoos and botanical gardens, and may be able to provide more information than you’ll find on the Internet.  

 

June 15, 2014

Communication vital to protect your record from teammate’s errors

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Many drivers go to great lengths to keep their driving and employment records clean, knowing that both are important when applying for the next job — or keeping the current one. When teaming with another driver, it’s easy to assume that the other driver is as careful to protect those records as you are. That assumption can be a big mistake.

Another mistake is to assume that law enforcement authorities will know, or even care, which driver is responsible for anything that happens. It isn’t hard to identify the person behind the wheel as the one responsible for breaking the speed limit. It’s a little more difficult to identify the owner of the illegal substance under the mattress in the sleeper berth. Unless the guilty party ‘fesses up, the possibility exists that both drivers will be charged.

The best protection is strong communication with your team partner. Before leaving on the first dispatch, clearly outline what isn’t acceptable to you and obtain agreement from your partner.

If you suspect your team partner of possessing or using something that could ruin your record, confront him or her as calmly as possible and do it when the truck isn’t in motion. Respecting one another’s privacy is important, of course, but no one has the right to use that privacy to conceal an action that can put the team partner or the public in danger.

If the situation can’t be resolved, be prepared to leave the truck. It’s better to take a bus home than to have a drug or alcohol arrest on your record. While you may be acquitted in court, your employer knows you were arrested and may end your employment. Worse, if they share that information with other carriers who want to hire you, it may be difficult to find another driving job. And, while no one relishes informing on a coworker, keep in mind that drug or alcohol use around a vehicle can put lives at risk. Don’t allow a tragedy to occur because you were protecting your partner’s reputation.  

Other items that can cause trouble include weapons, child pornography, stolen property and drug paraphernalia. 

Legal violations committed by one driving partner can impact the other as well. An unauthorized passenger in a commercial motor vehicle is cause for automatic termination of employment at many carriers, regardless of whose girlfriend she may be.

Simple driving infractions can create issues, too. If you’re behind the wheel on a road where commercial vehicles are prohibited, it won’t matter that your team partner chose the route. If you should be involved in an accident or any damage occurs to the vehicle while you’re there, your employer will likely hold you responsible. Even parking can be an issue if a citation is issued for illegal parking or if, for example, someone hits your poorly parked rig.

Keep in mind that your CSA record, reported to prospective employers in the Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP) report, can reflect infractions that you didn’t commit. If an inspecting law enforcement official notes a violation as the reason for stopping your truck, that violation as well as anything the officer identifies in the inspection can end up on your report. Your future employers may see violations such as speeding, following too closely or driving too fast for conditions on your report, even if you weren’t behind the wheel. The FMCSA has made a few changes to reduce some of this inaccuracy, but it still exists. In the meantime, drivers continue to be denied employment due to inaccurate PSP reports.

Finally, if you or your team partner decides to leave your current carrier, do it in a way that doesn’t harm your employment record. Stories abound of team drivers who dropped a partner off at home for some time off and then abandoned the truck. Worse, less-than-honest drivers have obtained cash advances from both their own and their team partner’s fuel card before abandoning the truck. At best, the remaining driver may have some difficult explaining to do. Worst case, both drivers are blamed for misusing company funds and abandoning equipment, both of which make getting the next driving job more difficult.

The vast majority of team drivers never deal with issues like these. However, knowing your partner, communicating, and telling someone when things don’t look right are steps that help protect your record.

June 1, 2014

Bringing own food, skipping truck stop fare can help teams have fatter wallets

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Just as team driving presents unique challenges, it also presents unique opportunities, including the chance to earn more money. Team drivers often earn more per mile than their solo counterparts and road expenses can also be shared.

In many cases, those road expenses make all the difference when it comes to how large a benefit can be received from team driving. A young couple, for example, can easily save enough cash to purchase a home without financing in less time that it takes to earn an associate’s degree at a college. Home ownership without the obligation of a mortgage payment each month is a great head start for a family.

By teaming together and staying on the road, expenses like rent and utilities can be avoided entirely, allowing that cash to be banked. Automobiles and insurance costs can be avoided, too. However, if the money saved from rent payments is spent at truck stops along the way, the bank account will grow very slowly, if at all.

One area that is a magnet for the money in every trucker’s wallet is food. A sit-down dinner at just about any truck stop will cost the better part of a $20 bill, once the tip is calculated. Spending $50 a day for five days a week adds up to more than $13,000 in a year’s time. That’s not healthy for a driver’s budget OR waistline.

Some drivers try to live on a diet of bologna sandwiches while on the road. This other end of the dietary extreme isn’t healthy, either.

By finding the right mix, however, trucking teams can keep expenses to a minimum. Stocking the refrigerator with healthy foods purchased at grocery stores can reduce the meal budget significantly.

Snacks and drinks are much cheaper when purchased in quantity at the grocery store than when bought individually at truck stops or convenience stores. The same goes for cleaning supplies like window cleaner and paper towels. 

Appliances are available for cooking while on the road, so the diet isn’t restricted to sandwiches and chips. Grocers sell many microwavable, ready-to-eat foods, many of which don’t require refrigeration. Many tractors sport power inverters and small microwaves, and small coffee makers can save a ton of money over buying individual cups.

Most of the truck stop chains offer rewards programs that award the driver “points” for fuel purchases. These points can be spent for the occasional restaurant meal or other needed items — even clothing at some truck stops.

It’s nice to get out of the truck occasionally, and a day or two off spent at an inexpensive hotel provides a pleasant change without breaking the budget. Car rental companies often offer multi-day deals and trucking offers an opportunity for seeing parts of the continent that many people never see, while you’re being paid to travel there. State and national parks abound, and historic places can be found in every state. Save the trip to the Bahamas for later, if you can. Find local attractions, rent a cheap car, and take lots of photos.

Finally, chrome and other decorative items might look nice on a truck, but don’t add miles or get extra business for you or your carrier. Truck stops are filled with these items and other gadgets that separate drivers from their money. Buy only items that are necessary, and bank the extra cash. 

Regardless of whether you’re saving for a better future or just trying to take home more to your family each week, holding down those road expenses can mean the difference between a lucrative driving career and another job that doesn’t pay enough.

May 15, 2014

Asking right questions about pay, miles, equipment helps teams choose carrier that’s good fit

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Teams have many choices when it comes to carriers, and more to consider when making the decision.

While many carriers will hire or lease teams, not all of them have freight lanes or operations that provide the miles that teams need. After all, the benefits of running as a team fade quickly when neither partner is earning the paycheck expected.

Make no mistake, not every team wants to run a lot of miles. Some teams, for example, are more concerned with spending time together than with big paychecks. Large numbers of miles may not be attractive to teams that prefer to be awake during the same hours.

Training teams are another example of teams that may benefit from reduced miles. After all, it can be difficult for any training to occur while the trainer or the student is asleep in the sleeper berth.

Some carriers ask drivers to team up for a specified period after the official training period has ended. While many drivers become anxious for training to end, looking forward to the day when they are assigned their first solo tractor, others appreciate sharing those first critical months of the driving career with another driver close by. Such an arrangement is a great way for a driver to give team driving a long enough trial to form an opinion about whether it’s right for the future. 

For those that want to maximize earnings, however, the carrier’s freight mix is critical. While an average length of haul of 500-600 miles is fine for solo drivers, there must be enough loads of 1,000 or more miles to keep a team rolling. Coast-to-coast runs are desirable, because even with a team driving 1,000 – 1,200 miles per day there are some days when a delivery or pickup isn’t necessary. It’s still possible, however, to accumulate miles without hitting either coast.

Delivery times are crucial, too, since a 1,000-mile trip with a 48-hour trip time still averages only 500 miles per day.

During the recruiting period, applicants should ask for the average length of haul for teams specifically, as well as average weekly earnings. Any recruiter should be able to describe the carrier’s running area. Those that run primarily east of the Mississippi River may have a difficult time providing the longer hauls that teams need.

Recruiters can also provide examples of origins and destinations of frequent loads without giving away company secrets.

Ask about the carrier’s dispatch system, too. Are teams assigned to driver managers that handle teams only, or dispatched by managers that handle both solo and team trucks? What about load planners — do they clearly understand the differences between dispatching teams and solo drivers?

It’s important to understand the carrier’s pay system for teams, too. Do team drivers split a set amount per mile, or is each compensated individually based on his or her own experience and other factors? Is pay calculated based on the miles driven by each driver, or by the total number of miles the truck runs? Is accessorial pay, if offered, split between the drivers or paid to the “on-duty” driver? Do both drivers submit individual pay sheets or envelopes, or is one sheet adequate for both?

Carriers handle pay in different ways, so it’s best to ask before issues arise.

Equipment is important to many drivers, and that’s another area where carriers can differ. Some companies provide the same type equipment to solo drivers as well as teams, while others spec’ certain trucks for teams only. The average age of tractors in the fleet is important since, theoretically, trucks driven by teams will accumulate miles twice as fast as those assigned to solo drivers.

Additionally, trucks ordered specifically for teams may cost more to purchase, providing an incentive to hang onto them a little longer. It’s not uncommon for a two-year-old team tractor to reach the half-million-mile mark. If the higher mileage results in more frequent breakdowns, two drivers will be sitting while repairs are made.

By asking the right questions and clarifying expectations before taking the wheel, driving teams can help make sure they choose a carrier that helps them succeed.

May 1, 2014

Driver communication is key to matching record of duty status logs

Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

No driver needs to be told that Hours of Service regulations are tougher — and more complicated — than ever. When two drivers share a truck, however, further complications can arise. Good communication is necessary to ensure that both members of the team are in full compliance.

The first thing that every driver should understand is that the record of duty status he or she completes is far more than a convenient way to keep track of working hours. Whether done on paper or electronically, the information recorded is evidence that can be used to obtain convictions against the driver and civil judgments against carriers when things go wrong.

When two drivers team, the “evidence” factor increases because each driver’s record of duty status can be compared to that of the other driver to identify inconsistencies. Most electronic logging systems present a mixed blessing in this area. Some can identify, for example, periods when both team members claim to be driving, but drivers must make sure the system is recording the right driver’s activity. If a driver change is made and that information isn’t input, the system can incorrectly track hours for both drivers.

Regardless of the logging system, team partners must make sure records match. Arrival and departure times and locations must add up and, of course, one driver can’t log time inspecting the vehicle while the other is driving.

Confusion can exist when truck stops or customer locations are located between cities. Drivers should agree which city or point to use in the record of duty status, so that each doesn’t record a different town on the duty record.

When it comes to inspections, both drivers are not required to log a pre- or post-trip inspection. However, teams must make sure that at least one does. Carrier requirements can vary, too, and the team should make sure they comply with company rules as well.

One critical HOS area is the location of the non-driving partner when the vehicle is moving. Drivers have long questioned the logic of a rule that, generally, prohibited a driver from logging off-duty while the vehicle is in motion. It’s never been realistic to expect one driver to remain trapped in the sleeper berth while the other pulls an 11-hour driving shift, but more than a few drivers have been surprised with a citation for the infraction of not logging on-duty while sitting in the passenger seat.

The FMCSA saw a glimmer of the light in the last HOS update, but only a glimmer. Drivers are now allowed to spend up to two hours of a 10-hour rest break sitting up front. Although the new rule is better, it still defies logic, especially since there’s no requirement to actually sleep, as long as the driver is physically in the “sleeper berth.” Unless and until the FMCSA comes to its senses on the rule, however, team drivers must make sure to comply.

Recording fuel stops is another area that can trip up team partners. If drivers leave fuel cards where both can find them, one driver may inadvertently use the other’s card at the fuel pump. The result is that the receipt and electronic transaction record shows that the driver purchased fuel while the same driver’s record of duty status shows an off-duty or sleeper berth status. To prevent explanations later, it’s best to make sure each driver uses the assigned fuel card.

Some tasks are made easier when two drivers work together, but when it comes to logging, there’s more potential for error, too. Teams who communicate well can avoid the pitfalls of logs that don’t match up.  

 

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.