Veteran Guidance

By Randy Grider
[email protected]

I often get calls from people wanting more information about the trucking industry. They want to know about getting started – truck driving schools, equipment, regulations, companies and, of course, earning potential.

They ask good questions, and I try my best to answer them or to point them in the right direction. That’s the easy part. What many newbies, as some like to call freshman drivers or wannabe truckers, don’t ask is about the day-to-day realities of trucking. Some get off on the right foot and do well. Others don’t fare as well because they were unprepared to adapt to a career on the road.

Many veteran drivers complain about new drivers who don’t adhere to the rules of the road. They’re not talking about the new federal regulations for new driver training that went into effect in July. These deal with training for entry-level drivers in four areas – medical qualification and drug and alcohol testing, hours-of-service rules, and wellness and whistleblower protection.

The rules of the road they are talking about are the practical rules that have caused what was once a close-knit fraternity of truckers to evolve into a fragmented society of workers who just happen to all drive a truck. “The community of truckers has gone down hill,” says Darryl Breeden, an owner-operator from Unionville, Ind. “A lot of today’s drivers just aren’t as professional as they used to be.”

New drivers are going to make mistakes, but mistakes shouldn’t become habits that divide the trucker pool into professionals and Rambos. Some practical advice early on in your career could help you fit into Group A. If you have already initiated yourself into the Billy-Big-Rigger class, it’s not too late to change.

I collected the following tips from a group of veteran drivers that includes trucker James Heaton of Mattoon, Ill., and Gordon Alkire, an owner-operator from Riley Kan.:

In the beginning

  • Ask lots of questions. From day one to retirement, continue to learn about the industry.
  • Find yourself a good quality driving school with plenty of hands-on experience.
  • Do not get into a hurry. Take the time to do it right the first time and every time. When a driver starts taking short cuts or simply rushes what he is doing, he gets into trouble.
  • Regardless of the stories you hear from drivers, run legal and log it like you run it. Forget about even trying to learn how to cheat on your log books. If you cannot make a living being legal, then you need to either find another company or another career.
  • Learn how to budget both your time and your money.

On the road

  • Don’t tailgate four-wheelers or other tractor-trailers.
  • Don’t use profanity on the CB when dealing with other drivers or especially with customers. Respect goes both ways.
  • Don’t try to impress anyone with how many gears you can get without banging ’em. Other drivers don’t care if you have a 9-speed or a 13. Drive slow, and you will not get into trouble.
  • GOAL – “Get Out And Look.” It is OK to take several pull-ups but it’s not OK to not GOAL and hit a mirror, or worse, a fender or hood.
  • Pull to the fuel island slowly and get your fuel. But don’t go inside for coffee, food, to take a shower, to do your paperwork or make phone calls and leave the fuel island blocked. After you fuel, pull out of the way and then take care of your personal business.
  • The little window on the passenger door is not a trash gauge. It is there for you to see the curb or someone by the door. If you have a trashy truck, enforcement officials see it, too, and figure your paperwork is just as messy.
  • Walk to the building to use the restrooms, not the parking lot.
  • If you want to be thought of as a professional, you must dress and act like one.
  • If you make a mistake, own up to it and learn from it.

Now there is some good solid advice that new drivers, as well as some seasoned truckers, can take on the road and to the bank.