Before my first experience riding shotgun with my truck driving husband, I thought like much of the general public seems to think about the trucking business: drivers just drive. By the time I reached the end of my first two week ride with him, I discovered drivers have responsibilities I hadn’t considered. Of course, each trucking job has its own particular requirements, but I’ve listed a
few possibilities here:
1. Some people think truck drivers communicate only by CB and only with each other. While it is true that truckers enjoy shooting the breeze during meal breaks and on their CBs, communication is a much bigger part of their job than one might think. Most every day they communicate several times with their dispatcher by computer or phone to let them know how many hours they can work that day, when they expect to be at the shipper/receiver, when they arrive at the shipper/receiver and if they will be delayed. They also have to listen to and understand their dispatcher when a load is assigned so they know whatever specifics are needed for that particular load such as load number, trailer number, appointment time, etc. Many of them also speak with brokers, shippers, receivers, scale operators and occasionally the law. Basically, when truck drivers don’t get their information correct, someone will probably end up mad.
2. Once a driver has the initial information needed for pick up/delivery of a load, they have to plan their trip. Some people may think the only work involved is typing an address into a GPS. Although a GPS may be involved, there is more to trip planning than that for a truck driver.
First, they have to consider how many miles they have to cover, what timeframe they are being asked to cover it in and how many hours they have available legally to do it. Then, they use math-yes math 🙂 -to figure out if it’s even possible for them to make it happen.
If it’s possible, they plan their route using tools such as an atlas, a truckstop guide, apps and a GPS. As they do this, they have to consider where they will fuel, possible places for required breaks, where to weigh the load, and where/when to end their shift so they can be sure to find safe parking. The main reason they don’t trust the GPS completely is because tractor trailers can’t go just anywhere. There are many roads they’re not allowed on because the roads are too narrow, have bridges that are too low or they go through neighborhoods. Even GPSs programmed for trucks sometimes mislead drivers and can cause them to get tickets, get stuck under bridges or cause accidents.
3. Then, of course, they do the driving part, communicating periodically with their dispatcher about delays or what not until they reach their destination. Once they get there, the driver usually gets checked in at the gate which often times requires paperwork. If the load is a drop and hook, the driver has to park the trailer they have with them in a space designated by the gate personel. This usually requires backing in between two other trailers which is a feat most drivers accomplish several times most days. It’s also the number one reason I give people when they ask why I don’t drive 🙂
Once the trailer is parked, to unhook, the driver has to get out and lower the landing gear 40 or 50 cranks, pull the release on the fifth wheel, unhook the airlines and electrical ‘pigtail’, get back in the tractor, flip the switch to lower the trailer onto the landing gear and
pull slowly away from the trailer.
Then, they find the trailer they’re assigned to pick up and they back up to it slowly until they hear/feel the fifth wheel connect, perform a ‘tug test’, get out of the tractor to connect the airlines and ‘pigtail’, inspect the fifthwheel to be sure the lock worked, and crank the landing gear up. Then, they perform a pretrip inspection to be sure everything on the trailer is in working order.
If the load is a live one, they get out and open the trailer doors and secure them to the trailer sides. Then, they back it up to the assigned door. This is called ‘bumping the dock’.
Eventually (Jeapordy theme here), the dock workers load the trailer and the driver gets the green light to pull away from the dock, close the doors and go back through the gate per the shippers instructions.
This is just a basic rundown of what truck drivers do from day to day. There are other responsibilities not mentioned here and some that only apply to specific types of trucking such as flatbed, tanker or hazmat. So, next time you pass an eighteen wheeler-or one with 40 wheels or more-hopefully you’ll have a little better grasp of what that driver’s day might entail.
Thanks for reading and be safe out there 🙂