Martin Cassidy has a pretty diverse background. He’s served in the Army, been a policeman and a fireman, and now he’s come to North America to drive a truck. Did I mention he’s originally from Aberdeen, Scotland? Well, he is, and he and his girlfriend have driven commercial vehicles all over Europe, and they happen to think driving in North America is awesome.
Martin met Veronika Lengvarska in Germany in 2009, where she says he talked her into getting a commercial driver’s license. They have since driven independently and in teams in Germany, France, Holland, the UK and Spain, and I’m sure I’m missing a few other places. Suffice it to say, if there were a European version of “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man,” Martin and Veronika could sing along.
We met the couple during a 10-hour break in Limon, Colo., and they were kind enough to sit with us for an hour or so after their evening meal to answer questions about the differences (and similarities) between driving here and in Europe.
They’re currently on a two-year work visa with an outfit from Calgary and hauling oversized loads in separate trucks, convoy style, into the United States and back out again. They were headed to Texas from Calgary when we crossed paths. Martin drives a Pete, Veronika a Freightliner. They’re company trucks, and the couple says the company is well above standard and treats them (and the trucks) very well.
My first question was about the hours of service. With the ELD mandate on the near horizon, I was curious as to how they tracked their hours of service, and what they are allowed to drive. For some reason, I expected Europe to be behind in the technology — I fully expected paper logs and manual calculations. Turns out, we’re the ones behind in our technologies.
When you start your pre-trip in Europe, you have a credit card with a chip that’s inserted into the dash of your truck and records everything, down to the minute. These are your logs. You have four and a half hours to drive before you take a 45-minute break. You’re then allowed another four and a half hours of drive time before you have to take a nine-hour break. There’s no such thing as moving to a safe haven; there’s not even one meter you’re allowed to move before you’re fined, you are parked or you’re in trouble. And parking is a problem.
Says Martin, “You will pay sometimes in upwards of 50 euros a night to park with no facilities in the UK. The parking in America is comparatively superb.”
There is also no speaking to the officer who is checking your logs. They simply take your card, insert it into a reader and go from there. You don’t get to plead your case; it’s all cut and dried on the screen. If the officer is checking load securement, he or she takes a picture of the load in question, feeds it into a computer program, and is told by the computer whether or not the load is properly secured. There’s no making adjustments on the side of the road – you’re fined and you have to fix it before you go.
Here are some important things to consider while mulling these numbers over in your head. Drivers in Europe don’t get paid by the mile. You are salaried or hourly. Also, the Europeans don’t enjoy the freedom of the open highway like we do; their infrastructure is such that a 300-mile day is a good day. Road and traffic conditions make mileage a moot point when driving for a living across the pond.
They say the trash is worse and the showers are awful (when there actually are showers). Veronika related a story of having to huddle in a men’s bathroom in a fetid bar in Romania while Martin guarded the door so she could get a shower. There are few rest areas and fewer public bathrooms along the way. We’ve got it good when it comes to safe places, specifically for trucks, to park. And the actual driving we do here is “wonderful” compared to the stop-and-go they’re used to.
We also drive fast, according to their standards of 56 mph, which is where most commercial vehicles are governed in the UK. And once again, our technology is behind theirs. Average horsepower is 500-700, and they’re getting 9-12 miles per gallon. They’re using disc brakes and the commercial vehicles have sensors that kill the motors when certain safety parameters are crossed. The trucks are easier to drive, but their qualifications are much stricter than ours for obtaining a commercial driver’s license.
It was great to hear them both say how nice the majority of Americans they’ve met have been to them. It was also funny to know the similarities between us, when they started talking about people who sit on the fuel isle for hours at a time.
Says Martin, “Being able to open the truck up and drive has just been wonderful, and most of the Americans we’ve met have been spot on, really nice people, but I’ll never get the fuel isle thing.”
Martin, if it weren’t for your accent, you’d fit right in. Neither do we, and we live here.
Be safe, friend.