A Tidy Track Record

Paperwork.

The very mention of it stirs unwanted memories of classrooms or offices long escaped. But today’s driver has enough of it to make the job tough unless he keeps the books in order. And the key to doing that is self-discipline.

Putting off the paperwork until the last minute can mean trouble. The most obvious example of this is doing the log book. Regulations say log books need to be current within four hours or your last change of duty status. This means that nearly every time you stop the truck you must make an entry.

It is so much easier to draw that little line half an inch long than sit in your truck for an hour trying to remember where you were three days ago. Take a guy like Don Wolford, who runs for TA Bear out of Hagerstown, Md. He logs 130,000 miles a year in a regional operation. “I have a lot of dock time,” he says. “But I keep my logs up to date as much as I can.”

If your company checks logs against electronic transactions it is doubly important to stay current. Put the time of each transaction on a separate piece of paper in case you are running hard and won’t be doing your logs that day. But maybe you’re driving for the wrong outfit if you can’t run a legal log. Even doing your logs once a day is better than once a week. Having a record of those electronic transactions can save you a headache.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to remember and record, unless you are running with a satellite system like Qualcomm, is fuel tax mileage through the states. There is really no one best way to record it. Trying to write down a border mileage while driving is usually not a good idea. But Denise Dolan Poag, a team driver with six years experience, says, “The biggest secret to keeping up is the 3×5 Post It Note. We would tack one on the dash and at the top write our starting mileage and then, as we passed a state line, write the mileage below that. At midnight we would write the mileage down again.”

Remembering it until your next stop is an option, but naturally, a risky one. For the solo driver, a little tape recorder is another solution. When you sit down to do your fuel tax report, you can simply play it back with no problems.

You could also buy yourself a briefcase and a little desk to slide over the steering wheel. True, your stuff tends to slide off the little desk but unless you’ve got a workstation in your condo, it may be the workable solution. You could also take everything into the pit stop and drink coffee as you figure, but many truckers don’t want to take a log book inside.

In order to satisfy your employer you need to get your bills signed. If you are in an operation that keeps you out more than one run, the boss probably likes you to send them in as soon as you get them signed. Many fleets have paperwork delivery systems like TripPak at their disposal. But if you run for a smaller outfit, you may have to find a fax or mail drop. Doing this promptly will put your mind at ease because you won’t have to worry about losing them.

Having a place to keep your paperwork until you put it in the right hands might be the single most significant piece of organization you do. There is nothing worse than stuffing your bills in a pocket, forgetting about them, and losing them when you bend over to throw that last piece of freight onto the dock. Make the effort to put your paperwork away immediately after you get it from the shipper and when the receiver signs it. It is easier to replace a lost log book than a signed bill. Some really organized guys make copies of bills right at the shipper’s office and put them in a separate location to avoid sweat and tears. A good place might be in the side pocket of your driver’s door, the same place hazmat papers are supposed to go when you’re hauling that stuff. The originals belong in your briefcase.

As surely every one of you knows by now, personal receipts are easily lost. If you stuff them in your jeans with your bankroll, they tend to drop all over the floor when you pay for things. An envelope you can fold up and put in your back pocket may be a better solution. Remember too that receipts often don’t say exactly what item has been bought. Diana Alkire, who run teams with her husband for Traverse Trucking of Traverse City, Mich., says, “Personal receipts are the most difficult thing for me to keep current. I have a great program in the computer. The problem is remembering to enter it all.”

Paula Hudson, president/ CEO of Truckers’ Home Office – which offers an organizer to help drivers with their paperwork – suggest an alternative solution: don’t keep your receipts. According to Hudson, IRS Publication 17 states that you can keep a ledger of expenses instead of hauling all that paper around. You can record meals and at least 140 legal deductions including tips, shaving gear, showers, tools, cleaning supplies, and phone cards in your ledger. “Fleet drivers can save at least $3,000 to $5,000, one third of which is money in their pockets,” Hudson says.

The events of 9/11 have made keeping paperwork organized and available a much bigger priority for drivers. According to Lt. Paul Sullivan, executive officer of the Commercial Vehicle Inspection Section of the Massachusetts State Police and president of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Alliance, cooperation between drivers and enforcement personnel has become a matter of national security. Having paperwork in order is a part of that cooperation.

From paperwork inspections at the weigh stations or traffic stops, drivers need to be ready. “When a weigh master calls you in at the scale, he is looking for your registration, CDL, logs, bills, medical card, fuel receipts to verify your log entries, registration, insurance, and proof of annual inspection.” Sullivan notes that professional drivers need to know the details of their registration plan, IFTA (International Fuel Tax Agreement), and annual federal inspection and any permits they might need. As an example Sullivan notes that the annual inspection may be covered by a state inspection if the state meets federal inspection standards. If not, a federal inspection is required as well. The stickers on the side of the power unit and trailer are not required, according to Sullivan. However, not having the sticker makes its more likely that an astute officer will ask for proof of inspection.

Why is all this a matter of national security? Because, says Sullivan, law enforcement is looking for anything that shows a truck does not have the proper authority to be where it is. Paperwork and markings on the truck are a large part of this.

Sullivan also notes, “Carriers have been telling law enforcement for years that drivers are professionals. Now it’s time to prove it,” he says.

There is no apparatus in our industry to relay this information to drivers. You can do the minimum, that is, you can keep your log up, keep track of your bills and let it go at that. Or you can take it upon yourself to be a professional. That may mean calling your state trucking association for relevant information. Staying organized and learning the various laws that regulate the way you make your living can only make you more valuable as an employee and as a citizen. It will also help your paycheck and tax returns look better.

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