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Professional Truck Drivers: Solving the World's Worst Word Problem

Blog by:  Mike Hammond General Manager RGL Neenah

Last Wednesday I went on a road trip with one of RGL’s finest professionals: Bruce Eastman. I’ve spent almost 20 years in Truck Load Operations, but every road trip is equally educational; time well spent.

This time, the road trip entailed servicing customers in our immediate region: Neenah, Chicago, Green Bay and Appleton. We were on duty for just over 13 hours, breakfast and lunch was served cold out of a brown bag rolling down Hwy 41 and we took time for only two (very) short bathroom breaks. All said, I came away with a reinforced and refreshed appreciation for professional truck drivers.

First, consider that the average work day for a truck driver is 12 to 14 hours. Every day. Almost every week they work they are required to work the maximum allowed by the Federal Government. QUESTION: What other industry in North America is known for complaining that it's best professionals can only work 14 hours a day and 70 hours a week? ANSWER: NONE.  In my opinion, no industry should complain that the Federal Government restricts it's best and brightest to a mere 70 hour work week. Like I said, that's just my opinion. 

Here’s my point: professional truck drivers are forged from an unbreakable work ethic.    

A second thing to appreciate is the rigor of the work. Professional drivers aren’t just holding on to a steering wheel. Professional drivers are literally certified professionals who must continually meet and exceed numerous regulatory obligations. The regulatory requirements of a professional driver include (but are not limited to) the following Federal mandates: physical fitness qualifications; vision and hearing qualifications; ongoing driving skill assessments; random drug and alcohol screening; and verbal and written qualifications. Anyone who believes that achieving professional truck driving certification to is easy is sadly mistaken.

But so much for the easy stuff. The third thing to appreciate about professional truck drivers: the mental demands they perform under. For example, simply being responsible for yourself and others while driving a big rig requires acute mental focus all day. The average weight of non-commercial vehicles (cars, SUV’s, and pick-up) pretty much range from 3,000 to 7,000 pounds. Yet, a commercial tractor trailer commands up to 80,000 pounds; over ten times the weight of the vehicle most of us drive. And, relative to a standard personal automobile, navigating a tractor trailer combination is beyond comprehension. If you’ve ever attempted to back a trailer on a boat landing, then imagine the following: a) increasing the length by 300%; b) increasing the height by 100%; c) shrinking the boat landing down to a space 10 feet wide; d) add traffic and poor lighting; e) and time yourself because the unloading crew is waiting for you to back in to their dock. Meanwhile, you get paid to drive miles from point A to point B and your timeclock is ticking. Mental focus and stress management is a must.

But wait, there’s more; much more to the mental demands of driving a tractor trailer for a profession.

Each day professional truck drivers wake up to solve the World’s Worst Word Problem, ever.  The WWWP goes something like this: “If you report to work this morning at 2:45 a.m. and your 70 hour recap reflects that you have worked 54 hours in the last four days since your 34 hour rest; and your federal regulations state that you may be ON DUTY 14 total hours a day, 11 of which can be driving, and a 30 minute break that must be taken at least every 8 hours. And if the empty trailer you need is 25 miles (HHMG) from your start location; and if the shipper is yet another 15 miles away and the live load will take approximately 60 to 90 minutes. And if the delivery is in downtown Chicago with a length of haul of 188 miles. And if the live unload at the consignee takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes and the load back to WI must be picked up by 1000 another 30 miles away on the other side of Chicago. And if that live load will take approximately 45 minutes.describe the image And, if the load is supposed to deliver 194 miles away in Appleton by 3:30 p.m. And if your average rate of speed is 45 mph, how many hours will you have left on your ON DUTY time if you try to return to your park location 22 miles from the last delivery location? What is your estimated arrival time to the second delivery (Appleton)?  Will you have enough on-duty time to fuel up, do a post trip inspection and be ready to go again tomorrow by 2:00 a.m.? If so will you also have enough hours on your recap to do a full 14 hours worth of work tomorrow?”

Did I mention that the WWWP is a timed test? You must find the correct answer fast because you get paid by the mile; not to do solve WWWP’s. Furthermore, your Federally regulated 14 hour work shift started 15 minutes ago when you began conducting your mandatory pre-trip. 
But, despite the clock ticking and your earnings being at risk, you must solve the WWWP correctly.  Because if you solve the WWWP incorrectly then you will run out of hours before the job is done, end up sleeping somewhere at a truck stop and miss your daughters dance recital tonight.

In summary:

To be a successful professional truck driver, one must be a master of planning, highly stress tolerant and have zero allergies to hard work. For most, the WWWP changes every day due to changing traffic flow, driving conditions, construction projects and customer requirements. Yet every day, this enormous responsibility is successfully shouldered by hard working professional truck drivers; trained and certified professionals who possess the physical and mental prowess to do it right every day. 

CS Lewis once penned these words: “We meet no ordinary people in our lives.”  My hope is that this article serves any reader the same way my recent road trip served me; as another reminder that “We meet no ordinary truck drivers in our lives.”

To Bruce and the other 3.5million professionals on the road today, we hope you know that we appreciate you. Be safe, have a great weekend…and consider inviting someone along to take a road trip with you.

Topics: Trucking Industry Transportation driver recruiting Transportation in NE Wisconsin