Give Ps a chance

| January 03, 2006

The million-mile, accident-free goal requires a long-term commitment to safety, and patience is the key. The pros all say that means slow down, and Vinson, who comes from a family of truckers, says the pros are right.

“The biggest thing that helped me out is my family members are drivers,” he says. “Between my dad and my uncle, that’s about 40 years of experience right there.

“My dad stressed patience all the time. He also said slow down. Speed won’t do anything but get you in trouble.”

For accident-free million milers, late is better than never, but sometimes it seems dispatchers and driver managers don’t agree. “The company might give you a ‘hot load’ and tell you it has to be there,” Vinson says.

But knowing to slow down or shut down for bad weather or fatigue is part of a professional trucker driver’s job description.

“I have a philosophy,” Vandenburg says. “If my head starts nodding even just a little bit, I pull over, and I never pull a load if I can’t deliver it in the time they give me. If there’s not enough time between pickup and delivery, I question it,” he says.

Ironically, new drivers, who are more likely to mismanage fatigue and bad weather conditions, also haven’t learned to say “no” and ask questions. “The only dumb question is the one that’s not asked,” Vandenburg says.

“Rookies don’t need to be driving in bad weather,” Rouse says. “When I was a beginning driver, the company I drove for would give me that ‘hot load’ stuff, but that doesn’t work anymore.”

“If I’m with a company that wants me to drive overnight and fatigue myself, it’s bye-bye,” Vandenburg says. “They might have a million dollars of insurance to replace the cargo. But if I fall asleep behind the wheel or have an accident when my logbook is falsified, I’m going to the graveyard, the hospital or the jail, and the dispatcher gets to go home.”

Professionalism includes good communication. In a situation where you are too tired to drive, don’t leave the company hanging.

“It’s better talking to them,” Vandenburg says. “Tell them, ‘hey, I’m not going to make it.’”
If a driver feels forced to drive in unsafe conditions, the company’s safety director wants to know about it. “If the shipping manager or the driver manager gives the drivers a hard time, then they get mad and want to get revenge on somebody,” Thayer says. “The drivers will get mad at somebody else.”

Thayer knows timeliness is important, but safety concerns trump all others. “You have to be on time, but you have to be safe,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you have to lay over. A driver has to be able to say, ‘No. I’m tired. I can’t do it.’ If he can’t say no, then they will keep running him and running him, and he won’t get his sleep.”

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