| June 07, 2008

How to keep things civil when you’re sharing a truck cab.

Going from solo driving to team driving is a decision not easily made. Even if your team driver is a dear friend – or spouse – sharing the cramped quarters and taxing responsibilities a rig comes packed with can test the bounds of your relationship and your ability to be civil. Both drivers have a period of adjustment, in which they have to figure out (and live with) the other’s quirks and habits.

Without the opportunity to walk away from an argument, learning how to fight and communicate is one of the most important lessons learned out on the road. Most veteran team drivers say they don’t let an argument pass beyond one day, something more stubborn sorts may have problems with in the beginning.

The good news is once drivers pass the hurdle of the first few months (or years, in some cases), it’s often smooth sailing for both people involved. Getting to the point where drivers work together like a finely oiled machine takes dedication and teamwork.

Before the team has too many hours under its belt, the two drivers need to establish such things as where and how they’ll stop and eat, what sort of shower rules they’ll use and how they will divide up the work – will it be a simple, even split or will one do the paperwork in return for the other always doing the fueling? What if one driver wants to do a laundry while the other wants to make miles and money and views doing laundry as a waste of time? Negotiate.

“I think negotiation is the right word,” says Willard Yocum, of Nauvoo, Ala., who with his wife Judy has hauled a dry van across the country since 1986. “Whatever it is, we just talk about it until we have it figured out. You’ve got to have that bond.”

And then there’s the need to agree on just how many miles vs. how many home-time hours is the right mixture for your team, says Emerson Trucking Driver Relations Manager Steve Patterson.

“You also have to negotiate how you will handle the unexpected, say another week out when you thought you’d be home, or how to alter your shift work arrangements if someone doesn’t feel well or wants to change,” Patterson says. “It’s not a good idea to try and change things out in the middle of a run if you don’t have ground rules.”

Beth Zelten, 47, and her husband, Ken, 56, are team drivers for FedEx Custom Critical, and Beth admits it wasn’t easy team driving at first. “The first six months we set boundaries,” says the Menominee, Mich., resident. “You don’t ask questions – you have to set the boundaries to keep the peace.”

Sue Langley, a team driver with Southern Cal Transport out of Birmingham, Ala., agrees. She’s been team driving with her husband, James, since 1994.

“The first five years [team driving] I didn’t think our marriage would survive,” she says. “I learned by the book, and he’s an old-fashioned driver. The real battles were during the first five years. I learned how to back off. Compromise is the key. We’ve finally gotten to that point.”

Argue the right way
Sue Langley says with exhaustion and stress weighing heavily in the cab, she or her husband will eventually snap. That’s when she has to choose her words carefully. Learning when to speak and “when to keep your mouth shut” is important when partners are together day in and day out, she says. Often small problems can turn into big ones if they’re not talked out to a compromise.

The first few months may seem extremely stressful as each person adjusts to the other’s personality and ways of doing things. It may feel like one person is driving the other crazy, but all our sources say talking about problems or irritations is the only way to solve them. Ignoring behavior can only last so long, and letting something go on and on will only make it worse. Communication here is vital to have a healthy working relationship.

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