Professional truck driver Todd McCann explains how truckers often get caught in the middle of everybody’s different regulations.
There is a constant unseen battle going on in the trucking industry. It’s like the movie “Alien vs. Predator,” only with two more factions that rear back their butt-ugly heads and roar. Perhaps someone should make a massive online video game about it.
It could be called Truckers vs. Cops vs. DOT vs. Carriers. I’d ask all the geeks to play as the Trucker faction. That way the proper groups would receive the bloody slaughter that they deserve. Let me explain what brought this blog post to fruition.
I was sitting at a truck stop in Birmingham, Alabama when it all started. I had arrived there on a Saturday night and was still 150 miles away from my delivery location. The load didn’t have to be there until Monday at midnight.
I could have had the load to the receiver by 9 AM on Sunday, but I was planning on delivering it by 9 AM on Monday. Now why would I do that? My trucking readers already know the answer, so let’s get the unwashed masses of non-truckers up to speed.
Truckers can only work 70 hours within an 8 day period. This is called the 70-hour rule. This includes driving, loading or unloading, fueling, inspections, dropping and hooking trailers, etc. Anything that takes up time to do your job goes against the 70 hours. Enter the 34-hour rule.
The 34-hour rule says that if a trucker is down for 34 straight hours (either off-duty, in the sleeper berth, or an uninterrupted combination of the two), they can reset their 70-hour work week. But why is this a good thing? Because after 7 days of driving, we only get back the hours that we ran a week ago. So if I only ran 3 hours last Wednesday, that’s exactly how many hours I would have available to work this Wednesday (providing I max out my hours every day). It’s a bit more complicated than that, but you get the gist of it.
Every trucker and dispatcher knows that the week before Christmas is busier than a Las Vegas pimp. There are lots of dropped loads, relaying with other drivers, and cancelling or switching of loads, all in the name of getting the driver home for Christmas. Seeing as how this all happened the week before Christmas, I wanted to be able to run as hard as possible that week. And that’s why I elected to do my 34-hour restart instead of delivering ASAP.
That’s when my Qualcomm beeped at me (that’s the satellite communication thingy-ma-bop; yes, that’s the technical name). Weekend dispatch had a preplan for me and needed me to call in. After viewing the load on my Qualcomm, I figured up my logs and realized that I couldn’t finish my 34 hours and still deliver my current load and pick up the preplan on time. I’d have to leave at about the 32 hour mark to do it legally.
I called in and asked if I could finish the 34 hours and pick up the preplan 1-2 hours late. Some customers allow late pick ups, but of course, this wasn’t one of them. I was told that the 34-hour restart is a luxury, not something that is required. He was right and I knew it. Still, most dispatchers would work with you. He said I was the only one in the area that could do the load. Yea, I know drivers, we’ve all heard that a million and one times.
I accepted my fate and figured I’d go ahead and deliver ASAP instead of waiting. That way I could deliver, drive to the pick up point, and get in a 10-hour break before my appointment time. Once loaded, I’d have a full 11 hours to run. That was my plan anyway.
After driving 3 hours to deliver the load, I heard another beep. Assuming it was my load information for this all-important, cancer-curing, God-ordained preplan, I eagerly read the message, only to find out the load had cancelled. I mumbled something not print-worthy, took a few deep breaths, and called in again.
I was told that the load had been double-booked. This means that two drivers had somehow managed to be issued the same load. When I expressed my frustration of being pulled off a 34-hour restart to cover the load, all I got was, “Sorry.” Being the completely unselfish guy that I am, I asked why I was pulled off the load instead of the other driver, to which I got the intellectually-stimulating answer of, “I don’t know.” Good answer, Crap-for-brains.
Now to find a parking spot. There was only one tiny little truck stop with no real parking, and it was already jammed with trucks. I pulled out of the lot, hit my flashers, and pulled onto the edge of the road. Keep in mind, this is a side street, not a major corridor. Seeing as how my Qualcomm doesn’t work when the truck is moving, I had to stop to send a message relaying my intention to drive to the next town to look for parking.
I had been there for approximately one minute (no exaggeration) when a car pulled up with it’s headlights pointing at me. As I hadn’t blocked the driveway, I figured the guy was just being a jerk. I went about typing my message. When he continued to sit there I began to wonder if it was a cop. No lights or any decals were visible, but just in case, I held up my keyboard to show him what I was doing. He continued to sit there.
Just as I was ready to get out to see if it was a cop, he pulled around to the driver’s side, got out of the car and yelled, yes, yelled at me, “You’re parked in the street!” I said, “My keyboard doesn’t work when the truck is moving. I was just sending a quick message and I was just getting ready to leave. I’ve been here less than a minute. My brake isn’t even pulled.” He yelled yet again, “Why didn’t you move when I was sitting there?” I said, “You were pointed straight at me with your headlights on, you’ve got no lights on the hood or on your dash, and no visible decals. How was I supposed to know you were a cop?”
That’s when he got the look. It reminded me of Martin Lawrence as he’s about to go into his, “Is this because I’m a black man?” tirade that is present in everything he does. Again, a yell. “Give me your license!”
I handed it to him and he got back in his car. He immediately got back out and yelled again, “Get out of the street!” “Where am I supposed to go!” “I don’t care! Just get out of the street!” He followed me as I pulled around to the fuel bay and within 10 minutes he was back at my door with a ticket in hand. Once I figured out I was getting a ticket, I figured, what the heck Todd; give him a piece of your mind.
In a calm voice I said, “You know, I have a lot of appreciation for the job you guys do, but clearly you don’t have any appreciation for what truckers put up with. I’ve got all these guidelines to follow and no one cares as long as I’m following theirs at the moment. My load unexpectedly cancelled and I was looking for a place to park. As you can see, there aren’t any spots here. Since I can’t drive around without telling my company what I’m doing, and I can’t use my satellite unless I’m sitting still, I pulled to the side of the road. Yes, I know I should’ve pulled back into the fuel bay, but I was just going to be there for a minute or two.”
He said, “That’s not my concern and as far as the rest of these truckers, I’m fixin’ to go move them too.” What a set-up he had just provided. I said, “There’s another thing. DOT has regulations too. If you wake those drivers up and make them move, most of them will be violating the DOT rules. But why would you care about that? If they get caught driving illegally, it’s their license and money that’s in jeopardy. But again, that’s not your problem, is it?”
By this time, he was getting quieter, but he managed to say, “That doesn’t change the fact that you were still breaking the law.” I responded, “Yes, I admit that. But you could have just as easily considered that I was only there for a minute and let me off with a warning. But no…”
He handed me my ticket and told me there was a small place to park about a mile up the road. Being the snarky kinda guy that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to say, “Gee. Would’ve been nice if you’d told me that BEFORE giving me a ticket. I would’ve been happy to move. That’s all I was looking for was a place to park.” I confess that I was overjoyed when I managed to kick up a bunch of dust on his car as I left.
So that’s the battle. The Cops, the DOT, and Carriers all have guidelines that Truckers need to follow. Each thinks theirs is the most important. As long as the driver is complying with their rules, the world is a happy land of fluffy bunnies and chocolate streams. And why not? The driver is the only one taking the risk. Things are just as they should be.
To end this on a somewhat happy note, I called the Chief of Police the following morning. I explained that the officer hadn’t identified himself until he pulled around. I then relayed the rest of the story and asked if I was supposed to be able to read the officer’s mind. He chuckled. The chief realized that I had a good point. He apologized for the incident and asked if I would mind paying court costs if he could have the ticket reduced to a non-point violation. Of course, I agreed. Nevermind that the court costs on a $30 ticket are $101.50. Sheez Louise. Are these people cops or robbers?