There’s nothing quite like the call of the open road. But long haul trucking isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person to climb up behind the wheel of a big rig and take off for days or even weeks at a time. But even veteran drivers who know and love the unpredictability of the trucking industry realize nothing can substitute for planning in the world of long haul trucking.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
While it might sound tempting to just fire up your truck and head out on the highway, playing everything by ear, that’s a terrible idea. Neglecting to properly plan for a trip can have a ton of negative consequences, including:
- Running out of fuel – In urban areas, running low on fuel isn’t a huge concern, as you can pull up to a roadside station and top off. In more remote areas of the country, where fuel stations may be few and far between, this can be extremely dangerous, or even fatal, depending on the weather and conditions.
- Going hungry – If you didn’t adequately prepare your meal stops, you may find yourself hungry. Studies have shown a hormone released when you’re hungry has a negative effect on decision making and impulse control – two areas where truckers can’t afford to take chances, especially when making unplanned maneuvers.
- Not having a place to sleep – Not having a proper place like a rest area to bunk for the night can be hugely problematic and lead to fines.
- Not having access to repairs – Breakdowns happen, that’s a fact of life. But if you don’t have access to a local repair service, you could be out of commission for much longer than you might like.
So now that you know the importance of planning, what do you do? How do you find the right balance between your lifestyle and the rigors of professional driving? Here’s a checklist of things to keep in mind as you gear up for your next stint behind the wheel.
Plan the Mundane Details
Before you hit the open road, you should have a good idea of where you’ll be stopping for your meals, when and where you’ll stop for the night to stay compliant with rest periods, and who you’ll call if you have a breakdown. If you’re not sure on any of these, you should check with local trucking associations. These organizations have the knowledge and driving experience to steer you to an honest mechanic, a tasty roadside diner or where to park your rig for the night.
Use the Tools Available
No matter how much driving experience, general knowledge and basic skills you may have, you’re missing out if you don’t take advantage of the tools you have available for long haul trucking. Cell phones with GPS, routing software and the internet make planning a commercial driving trip more accurate than ever.
There are a plethora of apps available to make planning a long haul trip more exact. These will help you precisely calculate your ETA, your next time available, your true revenue, and your profit or loss.
And, of course, this isn’t mentioning the impact of laws and regulations. From the moment the ELD mandate went into effect, Electronic Logging Devices have been ensuring road safety by enforcing Hours of Service (HOS) requirements. If you haven’t adequately planned your trip, you may find yourself up against your HOS limit with nowhere to stop.
Don’t Give Yourself an Unrealistic Schedule
Particularly for owner operators, it can be easy to accept a job with a tight schedule. But just because you could theoretically make a trip and stay within your HOS requirements doesn’t mean that’s a possibility in the real world. Traffic, road work, weather and other delays add time that you just can’t make up.
Don’t put yourself in a bind because you over-promised on delivery time. Add in a minimum of 15% more time than you think you’ll need, to ensure you can make your stops on time, as planned.
Don’t Neglect Your Body
Long haul trucking is incredibly taxing on your body, especially for an occupation that’s so sedentary. While you’re out on the road, it’s important not to forget about your health. While it might be tempting to have the blue plate special of meatloaf and mashed potatoes slathered in gravy, if you haven’t gotten much physical exercise that day, a salad might be a better choice.
Some drivers fight the temptation of the roadside diner altogether by meal prepping at home. That way, when it’s time to eat, they have a filling and healthy meal right on hand. This is a good way to keep your weight in check too, which helps fight off one of the most common illnesses of the industry: sleep apnea (a recent study found as many as 85% of truckers show signs of sleep apnea). Diabetes and heart issues are also common in truck drivers, so the better you eat and the more active you are, the better. And it’s easier to both eat better and exercise when you plan ahead.
Keep Your Mind Healthy
Highway hypnosis is a real thing, as any trucker who has worked long, consecutive hours can attest to. And, while you can rely on your driving experience and basic skills to operate your truck, it’s a proven fact that long haul trucking can lead to a host of mental health issues.
Particularly vulnerable are operators who have been involved in an accident in their career. Regardless of who was at fault, being in a wreck – or even seeing one – can cause deep and long-lasting emotional scars.
Operators also need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the time they’ll spend on the road. You need to acknowledge and come to grips with the fact that you probably won’t be there for every dance recital or little league game, and that there will be added stress on your relationship.
Loneliness is also an issue. While you might get some socializing at truck stops, it’s not the same as the daily interaction many people experience. Some people like the solitude, but it’s not for everyone.
Trucker drivers, maybe more than most industries, need to include mental health breaks in their plans. It might be something as simple as daily meditation or prayer, or an annual getaway with family to rest and recharge, but including time for yourself is an important part of planning for any long haul.
Check your rig to keep it up and running
Perhaps the most important thing to check before you set out on a long haul is the condition of your truck. Every day, you should be doing a walkaround check on your vehicle, looking for worn parts in need of repair or replacement. And, when you need a replacement part, be sure to visit your friends at Inland Truck Parts & Service.