A truck driver’s work and life can be full of inefficiencies. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re losing time and energy because you ended up doing things in the wrong order. Sometimes other people’s schedules don’t match yours. Inefficiency can be annoying, but it can also waste resources like time, money, and fuel. Improving truck driver efficiency means saving more time, money, and energy by doing things in more optimal ways. You’ll feel more productive and get the sense that you’ve hacked some mysterious way of the universe. Here are three simple ways to become a more efficient truck driver.
1. Attempt early pick-up and drop-off
Every time you get a new dispatcher, find out when the load picks up and delivers. This is important because sometimes they’ll ask you to drive a very short distance to pick up a load, but the pick-up time is five hours away. Let’s say you’re only 70 miles away from the pick-up and expect to be there by 1:00 PM. But dispatch says that pick-up time is 5:00 PM, which means you’ll have arrive four hours early and will have extra time to kill. Or you may find yourself arriving at the delivery location several hours early as well.
Yes, you can take a break during this time, but if you’re interested in efficiency you won’t like that option. Instead, always find out if you can load or deliver early.
Your documentation will usually have some notes on this sort of this, but it isn’t always 100% accurate. If you have the shipper/receiver’s contact info, call and ask whether it is an option to load or deliver early. You’d be surprised how often the shipper wants to send out the freight quicker and how often the customer wants to receive is sooner. If you don’t have their contact info, you can contact your dispatcher and ask them to make the same inquiry. Yes, your dispatcher may get annoyed if you do this repeatedly. But remember that it’s part of their job to manage efficient fleets. A few instances of successfully changing to an early pickup/delivery time will remind your dispatcher that this is possible.
2. Keep everyone updated on available working hours
By now you’re aware that your ETA and PTA times are important to remember and communicate with others. But wait, what are these again?
ETA means estimated time of arrival and PTA stands for projected time of availability.
To make things more confusing, some people might use ETA for estimated time of availability. This is completely different and is more like PTA. What’s the difference? Your estimated time of arrival (ETA) at the receiver location may be 2:00 PM, however you won’t be available right after. It’ll take the customer an hour or two to unload, so your projected time of availability (PTA) is closer to 4:00 PM. But if either the customer or your dispatcher is using ETA to mean the other thing, then they’ll be confused and believe you are free at 2:00 PM instead of 4:00 PM. If you arrive at the customer location the previous night and don’t unload until the morning, there may be a twelve-hour difference between your ETA and PTA! Make sure your shipper, receiver, and dispatcher are all kept up to date on your ETA and PTA. More importantly, coordinate to see if they are all using those terms in the same way. Otherwise your schedule and route will become very confusing!
3. Plan your route and truck stops
You’ll find trucking to be easier once you have a tentative idea of where and when to stop instead of playing it by ear.
When you do close for the day, consider stopping at smaller or independent truck stops instead of the big chains (Pilot, Love’s etc). Parking fills up quicker at the nationwide chains and it can be difficult to find a spot.
The reason for this is that most trucking companies are getting fuel discounts from the big chains, so they become required fuel stops for drivers. While there is no requirement to park there for the night, most truckers will do so because they’re already there! Parking spaces at smaller truck stops won’t fill up as quickly—you could easily refuel at a chain and then go elsewhere to park for the night. That being said, if you’re looking for laundry, showers, or other amenities, then the chains are your best solutions. It all depends on your needs for the day. Some of the bigger stops have laundromats. If you run into these wash your dirty clothes even if you have plenty of clean clothes. These premium stops are few and far between, so it’s most efficient to utilize them whenever you find them.
How are you going to know your options for stopping, fueling, or parking? Sure the dispatcher has some information, and you have a handy GPS app, but are those enough? Every trucker knows that both dispatch and GPS will fail them sooner or later. Build redundancies by picking up some essential books. The National Truck Stop Directory is an essential guide to the truck stops you’ll hear about, and more importantly, all the ones you won’t hear about. Another gem is The Next Exit, which documents every exit on Interstates in the country. Finally, the Rand McNally Road Atlas is a fantastic guide to turn to when your GPS provides sketchy directions. Planning your route and schedule through these resources will help you locate where you should stop at the end of your day.
The trucking job and lifestyle usually has many competing demands to juggle. Trying to tackle them all without a method can lead to losing time, money, and other resources. Try out some of these methods to maximize your schedule and route efficiency. You may find that using route planning resources, communicating about available working hours, and trying for early pick-ups and drop-offs will make you a much more efficient truck driver.
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