I am a truck driver. This is my life;
I am exempt from the Fair Labor Standards act. This means that I am not required to be paid minimum wage, I am not required to be paid overtime. Most truck drivers are paid either by mileage or a percentage of the rate the load pays, with no provisions to be paid for time spent loading or unloading, or for delays caused by weather or traffic conditions. Bad accident in LA on the 405? You just volunteered a couple of hours. Roads closed because of weather? Find a truckstop and lay over for a day or two, trying not to eat too much because you will have an even smaller than usual paycheck coming. My personal record is arriving at a shipper at about 10 AM on Wednesday, and finally leaving at 6 PM Friday. No way to take a shower and either a taco truck or vending machines for food. My total wages for those days was zero.
Add to this the Federal Motor Carrier Administration Hours Of Service regulations and you have an even stronger recipe for poverty. The FMCSA says you can be on duty for 14 consecutive hours and drive for 11 of those before taking a mandatory 10 hour break. If you are delayed at a shipper or receiver those hours come out of your 14, even if you are in the sleeper taking a nap. The same is true if you are delayed by an accident or weather. You can't stop for a healthy meal, you need to use all of your 11 hours of drive time, take your 10 off and get behind the wheel again as quickly as possible. Drivers end up getting whatever kind of fast food they can find, wolfing it down behind the wheel and dealing with obesity, heart disease and diabetes as a consequence. In my own efforts to maximize my productivity & earnings I regularly skip meals or grab junk food from a truck stop, drive into inclement weather that I would really rather sit out, and plunge into the worst traffic, knowing full-well that I am wasting fuel and adding to the congestion. All this in the name of safety.
I am also prohibited from being on duty more than 70 hours in an 8 day period. If I use up my 70 hours in less time, I must then wait to gain back the hours I worked on the 8th prior day or take 34 consecutive hours off duty to “reset” my logbook and give me a fresh 70 hours to work with. That's why I spent last Christmas camped out in a truck stop in Roseburg Oregon. My 70 hours ran out on Christmas Eve and I would gain back only about 4 hours to drive on Christmas Day, about half of what I needed to get home. So I spent most of Christmas Eve and all of Christmas Day, huddled in my cold truck, eating Arby's (The only food available) and waiting for 2 AM on the 26th to arrive so I could finish my 34 hour reset and start driving. I experience variations on this situation regularly. The load that my carrier normally gives me to get me home runs me out of hours when I am 5 hours from home. So, I sleep for 10 hours in my truck without a shower when I could be getting a home cooked, nutritious meal, a hot shower and resting in my own bed. Instead of a full two day weekend, I get a day and a half before I have to deliver and start a new week on Monday morning. I wish someone could explain to me whose safety is being enhanced by all this.
If the above is not enough the government now wants to require that all trucks be equipped with electronic devices to record the speed and location of the vehicle. Several large fleets have already equipped their trucks with Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBR's). One friend of mine has reported being called by his dispatcher who demanded to know why he was parked when he still had time left to drive that day. He explained that he was merely taking a break & he was planning to finish out his 11 hours of driving shortly. Instead of using EOBR's to increase safety, fleets will use them to harass their drivers into driving when they don't want to or don't feel it's safe. What little control and independence was left for drivers is fast disappearing.
The inflexibility of the Hours Of Service regulations interacts with many other facets of a driver's daily life as well. I always seek to maximize my productivity by getting as close to the location where I am delivering as possible before I shut down for the night. Doing so gives me a full 14 hours the next day to deliver, reload and get as many miles behind me (Remember, I only get paid for actually driving) as possible the next day. Unfortunately, in recent years many municipalities have made it illegal for trucks to park in the very industrial and commercial areas that they serve. I operate in the western part of the country, California has become horrible for this, I have the parking citations to prove it;
A $125.00 ticket for parking in the far corner of Home Depot parking lot in Fontana CA. The store would not unload before my appointment time, I was out of hours when they were finished. There wasn't a four-wheeler parked within 100 yards of me, either when I went to sleep, or when I woke up to find the ticket on my window.
A $147.00 citation for parking on the street in an industrial area of Anaheim CA, on a side street just around the corner from a lumber yard. I have delivered to this location several times over the past 20 years & have never seen any parking prohibitions posted on the route to there from the freeway. There are never any cars parked there when I arrive and I leave before any of the employees of the businesses on the block arrive for work.
My personal favorite is the $68.50 ticket for parking on the street behind a Home Depot in Burbank CA. The officer was thoughtful enough to give me a second citation, for another $68.50, for my trailer. The officer was with the Glendale PD, I was sure I was in Burbank, and the posting for no truck parking was a full block further down the street towards Glendale. I tried to protest, got nowhere & paid both citations.
Of course, employers do not pay for their drivers parking or traffic citations, so all of these came out of my pocket.
It seems positively Orwellian at times. The law essentially forces me to park in a location knowing that the law will then fine me for parking there. The amount of fuel wasted and traffic congestion created by trucks in order to deal with parking restrictions, with shippers who have a scale, but refuse to axle weigh your truck, and to comply with nonsensical Hours Of Service regulations doesn't seem to matter at all to the authorities or the public. They just want to have their stuff delivered, and then have the trucks (and the drivers) disappear.
States and municipalities seem to regard trucks as 18 wheel ATM machines. They know they can cite a driver for whatever picayune violation they can find and the chances of them taking the time to travel from their home back to contest the citation is almost nil.
My current situation is actually a bit different that what I've outlined above. I am currently an Owner/Operator. That is, I own my truck and lease it to a carrier. I pull their trailer and haul their freight, paying them a percentage of the revenue for each load. I'm both lucky and wise. I have been around trucks all my life. I know how to perform the due diligence required to ensure that I choose a good company to lease to. I'm lucky in that the carrier I chose has continued to treat me fairly. Many do not, instead exploiting their lessee's and relying on a constant turnover of uninformed new Owner/Operators to take the places of the ones who just left or failed. The largest carriers are notoriously ruthless in this, offering their drivers lease-purchase plans in which they lease the driver a truck and contract the driver to haul for them. This saves the carrier a great deal of money, as the drivers are no longer employees and also allows the carrier to profit on the truck lease as well. The carrier effectively has total control over the truck and the driver without incurring any payroll costs and shifts the liability for the operation of the truck on to the driver. Drivers are commonly lied to or coerced into the arrangements and the failure rates or huge. It's no wonder that experienced drivers call them “fleece purchases”.
My biggest current personal concern is The California Air Resources Board. CARB Has decreed that all trucks traveling in the state must meet 2008 emissions standards as of next year. Even though my truck is licensed in Oregon, even though only about 30% of my total miles are spent in California, I still have to meet the California standards. My truck is a 2005, to bring it up to 2008 standards will cost me about $15,000. For that cost I will get about one mile-per-gallon less in fuel mileage, which will increase my fuel cost by about $1,000.00 per month. My engine will lose about 100 horsepower, which will decrease my productivity. My maintenance costs will increase and the life expectancy of my engine will be shortened. The only alternatives to this scenario are to go even deeper in debt to buy an emissions compliant truck or to move to another state and find a job that will not require me to operate in California.
It's worth noting that the ultimate effect of this law is a transfer of wealth. Trucking has long been means for those with few assets to move further up the socioeconomic ladder; Get your CDL, spend some time learning the business while you save up some money to buy an inexpensive used truck to start your business. If you cared for and improved the truck you could get years, even decades, of service from it after it was paid for. With no payments and the lower license and insurance costs associated with an older truck an owner/operator would have profits from the business to invest in a home, college for his children, a retirement account, or any number of other possibilities. With owner/operators now forced to purchase newer, emissions compliant equipment this will no longer be possible. The monies that once could be saved or reinvested will now flow to the manufacturers of the new trucks, the lenders who finance them and the dealers who perform the complex repairs on the notoriously unreliable engines. Since the emissions compliant engines frequently get much poorer fuel mileage than their earlier counterparts, the oil companies profit as well. The owner/operators are left with huge truck payments, higher operating costs, and a declining standard of living.
The largest trucking companies, aka mega-carriers, see all of this as a wonderful opportunity. With their cheap borrowing costs and massive buying power they can buy new equipment and fuel at huge discounts relative to what small carriers and owner/operators must pay. They ruthlessly exploit their drivers by not paying them overtime or minimum wage, not paying them for time spent loading or unloading, or for waiting time. Many large carriers have driver turnover rates exceeding 100% while they survive on razor thin operating margins.
It's small wonder that many truckers hold some truly reactionary political views. Every portion of their working life is micro-managed by government regulations, many of which are contradictory, ineffective, and just plain non-nonsensical. Drivers are, by government regulation, prevented from spending time with their families and loved ones, forced to drive into unsafe/unproductive situations and engage in personal behaviors inimical to their physical and emotional well being.
A few simple acts of legislation, such as the following, would go far to improve the lives of all drivers, save precious energy, reduce traffic congestion and improve safety. I call the following The Truckers Bill Of Rights;
1. Drivers need to be covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
2. Truckers need a law permitting them to park safely in commercial or industrial areas for a period of up to 11 hours in order to fulfill federal Hours Of Service requirements. The combination of municipal parking restrictions and Hours Of Service rules waste enormous amounts of fuel, and add to traffic congestion and pollution while limiting productivity.
3. There needs to be some flexibility in Hours Of Service regulations. The current rules actually force drivers to drive when fatigued and to drive into adverse traffic and weather conditions. They mandate that drivers must spend time sitting away from home, thus depriving them of time with their families and loved ones. They add to traffic congestion and waste precious fuel.
4. Electronic On Board Recorders should not be mandatory. They are an outrageous invasion of privacy, and there is no evidence that they improve safety in any way. Instead they give companies a way to even further micro manage the behavior of their drivers, including forcing levels of productivity that may not be safe for the driver in question.
5. Driver training standards need to be improved. The current practice seems to be to give a CDL to almost anyone, offer them minimal training, and then enforce performance and safety by attempting to micro-manage their every action and behavior. Everyone would benefit if much more rigorous training and licensing standards were put in place and drivers were allowed more flexibility in their actions.
6. An effort needs to be made to educate automobile drivers about truck safety. An awareness campaign as simple as explaining the blind spots in a truck drivers vision and the stopping distances required for an 80,000 pound truck would certainly decrease accidents. The majority of accidents between a truck and a car are found to be caused by the driver of the car. The public needs to understand that everything they have, eat or use in their daily lives was brought to them on a truck.
Hug a trucker, We're way cuddlier than trees.