Oh boy, down time!

| April 01, 2006

Because dropped trailers can pose a security risk these days, it’s harder to leave a truckstop and find outside entertainment.

It’s all about attitude.

Downtime far from the house just doesn’t seem fair. But it is inevitable. It is as much a part of the trucking life as loading, route planning, driving and pulling into scales.

There is a pop psychology refrain that goes something like this: If you think something is going to be unpleasant, it probably will be. So the way you look at your downtime on the road may just be the single biggest factor in determining whether that time is “good” time or “bad” time marked by rising frustration, discomfort, boredom, tension and the like.

Truckers mostly don’t like downtime because they’d rather be home or making money. But a bad attitude about it can cost even more when it causes your blood pressure to climb. Trucking companies don’t like downtime because sitting trucks hurt the bottom line. But hours of service regulations say no. And even the most meticulously managed freight logistics system will have gaps that spell downtime for drivers.

“Sitting is a bummer. It’s something every driver doesn’t want,” says Ohio Northern Transit driver Harold Allen of Cleveland, Ohio, while spending his Sunday at a truckstop in South Florida. “It can’t be avoided: not over the weekends when it’s tough to get loads out of some places.”

Handling downtime is a hot issue among drivers. It’s not always easy to stay comfortable, relaxed and upbeat in a situation that will feed on the first signs of a bad attitude. After seeing constantly changing scenery for days, staring at the same old things – especially the inside of a cab or a truckstop – for even a few days can present a challenge, especially far from home.

But downtime is part of the job description. Handling it effectively and professionally is the best approach. A wise driver will try to see the bright side and make the best of it. If you see it as time and money lost, you’re bound to feel frustrated and trapped. But if you anticipate it, prepare for it and think of it as a natural part of the job, you’ll be free to relax and maybe even have fun.

A layover of a few hours or even 34 hours can give you time to catch up on sleep or paperwork, unwind from the stress of the road, chat on the phone with your family without interruption, read your favorite magazines, watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see, or clean the truck.

Relaxation is not a natural asset, such as breathing or eating. It’s not something we do automatically, without thinking. Many people find it hard to relax, and some never manage to do it. Waiting at a truckstop doing nothing is not the same as relaxing. But waiting at a truckstop with the right attitude can bring relaxation. And with it comes a lowering of your levels of stress, anxiety, frustration and anger.

In other words, your downtime – the same downtime as the unrelaxed driver in the truck parked next to you with the black smoke of frustration pouring out of his ears – is beneficial, not destructive, to your physical and emotional health.

Like Allen, Dave and Rachel Brown are spending their weekend more than 1,000 miles from their home in Denver. The Browns accept downtime as a job-related task and handle it the best they can.

“Driving is more than a job,” says Dave, who’s been driving “off and on all my life” and now hauls for Western Distributing Transportation in Denver. “It’s a lifestyle. A lot of guys want to be home on the weekends, but truckers can’t be home on weekends.”

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