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How much do you really know about your drivers’ daily challenges?

hours-highway-truck20090206_0124At the 2016 CCJ Fall Symposium in November in Scottsdale, Ariz., we sat down with two exemplary company drivers for a panel discussion on driver challenges – Danny Smith, Truckload Carriers Association & Randall-Reilly’s Company Driver of the Year and driver for Big G Express; and David Green, longtime driver and trainer for Werner Enterprises. In addition to their careers over the road, both men are captains for the American Trucking Associations’ America’s Road Team, a national outreach program of 19 professional drivers who advocate for highway safety and industry image.

Speaking to a ballroom full of fleet executives, both men listed detention time as a top challenge they and other drivers face on the job. Although this is hardly a new issue, so often I hear fleet owners talk about detention time in terms of productivity and profitability losses. But to hear Smith and Green tell it from the driver’s perspective, “You’re sitting there worrying about, ‘I have a mortgage payment and insurance payment to make, and I’m sitting here not making any money,’ ” said Smith.

“It wears on you,” added Green.

A recent survey of 482 company drivers and leased owner-operators by Randall-Reilly’s Overdrive and Truckers News shed some light on another problem: fleet respect for drivers, or more specifically, the lack thereof. Unlike truck parking and detention time, this fortunately is an issue that fleet managers and executives can directly control.

In the 2016 What Drivers Want survey, respondents were asked what one thing drivers most disliked about their jobs. The No. 2 response was “it’s a thankless job – nobody respects truckers or appreciates what we do” at 19.5 percent, behind only “regulations make it harder to work and make a living” at 45.0 percent. Further down the list was “I’m not making enough money,” “my family life is strained because I’m never home” and “I’m not getting enough miles/loads.”

Survey respondents also cited lack of respect as a top-three response as reasons fleets are having a hard time finding and retaining drivers, or reasons they or others would consider changing jobs.

“Working for a guy who has never been a driver, it does make the job a hell of a lot more frustrating,” said one respondent. Said another: “All the fleets that I’ve driven for, I’ve felt somewhat like I was merely a warm soul in the seat.”

Dave Jackson, president and CEO of Knight Transportation (CCJ Top 250, No. 24), readily admitted his lack of experience and knowledge of what it is like to pick up and deliver freight every day. So he took matters into his own hands, hopping in the passenger seat alongside longtime Knight driver Allen Reeder for a 33-hour ride-along – hooking up and sweeping out a trailer, performing pre-trip inspections, eating at a truck stop, hanging out in drivers’ lounges, sleeping overnight in the bunk, waiting for unload – to get a better understanding of the challenges the company’s nearly 5,000 drivers face on the road.

“Industry-wide, there is a fundamental problem, and that is the level of engagement between professional driving associates and the companies they work for,” said Jackson. “There’s a whole lot more to being a truck driver than driving the truck. There are a lot of little pieces that have to go right, and some of those you control, but most of those you don’t. This has been an eye-opening experience for me,” he said of his ride-along.

Unless you started your career as a driver or owner-operator, chances are good your eyes are closed to the daily strains on your workforce. Hearing drivers complain about their challenges is one thing, but it is entirely another to see them firsthand. As Jackson learned, gaining that valuable experience can only help soothe the frustration that often occurs between the corporate offices and the roadways.

7 comments
Paul Johnson1
Paul Johnson1

Good Morning to all my fellow transportation professionals, I have been in the transportation business since 1979 as a  truck driver, a driver trainer a dispatcher and a safety director and have experienced the industry from many sides. Most of my experience comes from being a driver who has moved almost every type of freight, from flatbed, drop deck open and covered, tankers, bulk, baffled and non baffled. van, and reefer. I have hauled haz-mat products, frozen, canned and fresh foods, parts of parts for other parts of many types of equipment. Each driver has many tasks that he or she must preform every day before during and even at the end of their day while working and it doesn't matter if they are OTR, regional or local just to stay in operating order. If drivers were paid like doctors for their expertise in their field, the cost would destroy America due to over inflation. If a driver made a company sit for 2 to three hours after their scheduled appointment time people would be furious and probably would not use that carrier again and they probably would charge that carrier for its down time due to the lateness of the load if it caused lines or a plant to shut down. And unfortunately the transportation industry doesn't have malpractice insurance to protect itself from such losses or even suits. Most of the time the driver takes the fall for late deliveries and pick ups weather it was their fault or not. The driver is constantly under the magnifying glass from citizens to government officials watching them and harassing them for doing their job. One of the most stressful professions in America is a professional freight relocator, because the driver has more regulations to follow than 98% of the working force. A driver is a person with very big shoulders a big heart and cares about everyone and does everything in their power to make sure everyone is safe happy and healthy. So in short without truck drivers the world would stop, there would be no electricity gas food automobiles toys homes or anything else you can think of because everything you touch or use has been on a truck at least once. So as a former truck driver and now a safety director and a citizen I think everyone should be thanking the truckers of this world for taking care of their needs and wants in their everyday life. As for the owners of all the companies out there should be happy that the drivers have worked very hard to make their company a success. As for the police they should be thanking the drivers for keeping the roads open and safe for travel. As for the citizens they should be thanking the drivers for putting food on their tables and fuel in their vehicles and bringing toys and treats for their children and putting roofs over their heads and keeping them warm at night. Now for all you drivers out there that work long hours away from their families get paid a very little for the work they preform, Thank You. Remember a driver its not all about the money its about making people happy, safe, warm, full of food and healthy. So when you come right down to it a driver is a gear that makes the world run smoothly. As a driver you should not expect a lot for the work you do other than the gratitude of knowing you are keeping everything working and people happy in every home. As for the people who deal with drivers every day should find ways to show appreciation to them by finding ways to load and unload freight faster as for the citizens they need to realize that drivers of the freight have certain times to be somewhere so that others can keep working and give them that courtesy to make it from point A to B without any problems. So to keep inflation down the companies need to quit taking for granted the drivers generosity and kindness and get him or her on their way as quick as possible so there is no need for detention pay.  

RLDV9
RLDV9

@Paul Johnson1 Well you might  have a few good points. I really don't think people became truck drivers to help do the things you say. I would say they are drivers to make a living ,may be they got it driving because their father was a driver,over the last 12-15 years they may have got in it because they couldn't find a job in the field they went to college for, or may be they just like driving. They shouldn't be out here expecting thanks from every body, they are doing a job they chose to do ,just like every body else chose to do the job they are doing. Drivers do get screwed a lot more than other jobs. If these people wanted to really thank drivers,they should treat them better,like loading and unloading them faster and not treating them like 2nd class citizens.  Driving is about the money,that is the whole point,doing things the right way is just part of it. Every body is trying to make a dollar off the driver. Have you noticed how the news talks about how bad truck drivers are, and then when people want to make money for schools or any charity ,where do they go to sell their cookies,candy, or what ever,a lot of the time it is at truck stops. 

Wayne Ellis
Wayne Ellis

I disagree that fleet managers have no control over detention time...they have FULL control, but they refuse to exercise it. if every company in trucking refused to deliver loads unless fair detention was paid, I assure you companies will begin to change their procedures regarding unload times. They would also put the responsibly squarely upon those responsible. Not wanting to pay these fees, companies would develop new procedures for their managers designed to move product faster. What is happening now is drivers are being used as "free storage" while they wait to get around figuring out where to put everything. Why is this the driver's problem, except trucking companies see us as expendable...they get paid their nice salaries regardless how long the load sits. We have power, force drivers to absorb the "Cost of Doing Business" is unfair and within the power of companies to change...LITERALLY over night 

David McQueen
David McQueen

@Wayne Ellis Trucking companies have to compete with other trucking companies.  If one company charges a customer a detention fee, then the customer may just hire a different trucking company.  It doesn't matter what the managers and executives get paid (unless you're a Democrat).  What matters is YOUR pay and you are free to do what I did years ago:  you don't like the miles, the equipment, the routes, the pay, then look for another job.  I made good money trucking, but not EASY money.

2010CascadiaOwner
2010CascadiaOwner

Makes me Wonder...

Is The Comming Generation of Truckers, GOING TO SURVIVE LIFE?

NANNY STATE TO THE RESCUE! To Solve All these ISSUES!!!

ELD, because you can't WRITE or DRAW STRAIGHT LINES.

GPS, because you can't READ A MAP and follow it.

RADAR, on Trucks, because you can't STOP FROM SMASHING THE VEHICLES your following.

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES, because you can't HOLD A STEERING WHEEL.

WAKE UP PEOPLE, PUT YOUR DAMNED "PHONE,COMPUTER" DOWN AND DO THE JOB.

YOU KNOW, The job that says your a PROFESSIONAL!

Pull your Big Boy Panties UP!!!

32 Years so far!!!

AS a Company Driver THEN AS an Owner Operator.

MULTIPLE MILLION MILE SAFE DRIVER!

IT CAN BE DONE!!!!

YOU JUST HAVE TO WANT TO.

IT IS JUST THAT SIMPLE.

Jeff Crissey is the Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. In his role, Crissey is responsible for maintaining the excellent print editorial product, improving online audience development and increasing CCJ readers' knowledge of business and safety-related industry issues. Crissey holds a Bachelor's Degree from Auburn University and has been a member of Randall-Reilly Publishing's editorial staff for 14 years, where his coverage of industry topics has earned numerous regional and national awards over the years.