Run Wiser, Not Harder

| April 07, 2005

Many safety professionals agree that paying over-the-road truck drivers by the mile can contribute to safety problems. But you don’t have to run yourself to death or dread hefty fines and out-of-service problems at every mile marker if you simply look farther down the road than just your next load.

The answer may lie, at least in part, in learning to manage miles. Jean Ayotte, an owner-operator, says he has changed his driving style over the years. “There is too much law out there to cheat on logs anymore,” Ayotte says. “And I learned to sleep when I got tired and be a little late if I have to rather than push myself and put it in the ditch. You lose a little money up front but it comes back at the other end.”

The smart driver needs to recognize that his livelihood, safety and overall health are in his hands alone. If you are a career professional, you need to start thinking long-term rather than thinking only about the miles you need this week. In the long run you will get more miles and make more money if you stay healthy longer.

One real key to managing your miles is to calculate your miles over your entire work life rather than on a weekly basis. It helps figure out how much money you need now and how much money you need to retire. Running to earn that amount may enable you to slow down and live a little rather than simply running as hard as you can.

Consider this example: If your career is 30 years and you average 2,500 miles for 50 weeks per year, you will run 3,750,000 miles. At 35 cents per mile, you will earn $1,312,500 in your lifetime. At 48 miles per hour, you will run a little more than 52 hours a week, well below the 60 hours in the seven-day maximum allowed by law. You will make $875 a week or $43,750 a year.

But you may spend more than 30 hours of unpaid time on loading docks and you will only be paid, on average, about 92 percent of the miles you run. So you may work well more than 80 hours a week for an actual wage of $815 after throwing out the miles you run for free. You will make $10.15 per hour over your lifetime. But some days you are sitting waiting for a load. So there are plenty of circumstances that make you run 700 or 800 miles a day to get back to average.

Even the smart driver, when faced with the worst situation – personal financial pressures, unrealistic delivery schedules, a log that often creates fatigue rather than eliminates it, employers more interested in productivity than in employee health and safety – will succumb to the daily pressures of the job. Being on the road almost constantly makes most drivers want to use the time to make as much money as possible and get home, which only increases these pressures.

But veteran drivers like Ayotte and owner-operator Chris Lewis know the secret to survival is changing tactics. Lewis says he has mellowed from the days when youth and the hard runner philosophy motivated him. “I wait for good loads now and try to cut my deadhead rather than take the first available load just to get the miles. I sleep the same time every day and still run plenty of miles. I am looking for dollars, not miles,” he says.

Fleet drivers may want to consider this owner-operator’s philosophy. Running for a fleet that pays even a few cents more a mile can relieve some of the pressure to run hard constantly. While job-hopping is a very good way to lose a great deal of money in the course of your career, changing carriers once to get yourself into the right situation can help you find the time to think about your personal health while still making a decent wage. If you do change, consider that, according to The Recruiting Resource Center, “Changing jobs just seven times over the course of a 30-year career versus changing only once costs a typical driver over $100,000.” It is smart to find the right job and stick to it.

To a great degree, managing your miles is a function of working for the right outfit. Choose well and stay with the carrier whose pay scale and log policies allow you to make your own decisions. And put what’s really important to you and your family – your health and longevity – ahead of a few extra dollars a week.


Tips for Managing Your Miles

1. It is tempting, and necessary, to think about today’s miles and this week’s paycheck. But the key is to look at earnings over a career.
2. Don’t allow the log to dictate your sleep time. Let your body do that. Use the log as a fatigue management device.
3. Find a carrier that will not run you to death but still give you plenty of miles. Don’t job hop. Job-hopping will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars over your career.
4. Learn your carrier’s log system and use it to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to ask you carrier how best to use the log.
5. Learn to have a life on the road. Find ways to keep your mind alive and your body fit. Stress management is as important as fatigue management.
6. Don’t depend on a physical every two years to tell you the state of your health. Listen to your body and heed the warning signs of illness. Your good health is a significant key to running high miles.
Remember that obesity puts you at a much higher risk for many diseases. Disease will eventually cut your earnings with downtime and expensive medical bills. u

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