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Commercial Truck Driving and Time Management

Updated on December 2, 2017
Oscarlites profile image

Driving big rigs and operating heavy equipment filled a large part of the authors life, living and driving in multiple states of the USA.

Critical Time Factors in Truck Driver Preparation, Planning, and Choices.

Though a truck driver is challenged in many ways to prepare and deliver his contracted load, one most obvious challenge is budgeting his time, and making wise decisions of when to push and go, or when to slow down and ease along for a safe delivery.

You learn a lot from being on a dedicated haul for a few months. Decisions and choices that were optional and varied when you first started now are automatic, perfunctory, without too much change from day to day. Familiarity and repetition adds up unequivocally to better performance and a better daily track record on the road. Ever heard the phrase “We’re in it for the long haul, baby?" The more you do it, the better you get it done; (but now, don’t take it for granted or it will slap you in the mudflaps!) There is no substitute for experience and if you don’t have a lot of it, then you NEED a few trucker buddies to lean on as you learn:

Logbook Matters

I won't bore you with the standard point of origin, route, layover, destination and back-haul speech you expected to hear, but rather give you a hands on view of trucking operations as I know them. I will refer for a minute to the recent article on hours of operation and the ½ hour legal break; TIME is Critical; it’s what its all about in trucking industries. TIMING is Critical; and the management of time will make or break a company, whether large or small. It also will control you as the truck driver if you do not control your OFF DUTY TIME, your DUTY TIME, your DRIVING TIME, your SLEEPER TIME, and of course your newly imposed Legal BREAK TIME. They must all be logged properly, and must match with fuel tickets, scale tickets, and other paperwork, as well as logged hours versus travel distances and road speeds. They must all be done in accord with F.C. M. S. A. regulations and advisories. They must also meet company imposed regulations and safety standards. So “Live by Your Log” no pun intended towards log truck drivers!

Practice Safety

On the road, in and out of the mills, factories, warehouses and wharves; it is the MAIN THING to get there safely and ON TIME; but never give up SAFETY to gain TIME. See how these go hand in hand! The way you prepare and plan; the way you implement and IMPROVISE, could mean a successful run, or a failed run. There is a reason for D.O.T. patrols, safety inspections and general enforcement. There is also a reason truck drivers call out on their CB’s “full grown” sightings to “warn” other drivers to be on their toes and observe the posted regulatory speed signs as well as advisory signs. They are the ones in yellow or orange, usually in work zones, or designated school and other urban cautionary zones.

Tit for Tat

In making local hauls, or “short hauls” each decision effects the next action; such as "can I afford to stop for a hot lunch? Should I stop for fuel, or is it more imperative to get back up to the mill to get another load, and then take my breaks?" The difference could be that the bins are overflowed in the time lost and other drivers have driven away with “your load”. In the morning when you start up, why would you want to be stuck on the yard getting fuel and taking care of yesterdays “horse”, when you see the other drivers are already rolling and gone? They took care of their ride when they got in the previous evening. So the phrases; “RODE HARD AND PUT TO BED WET”, or “TAKE CARE OF YOUR HORSE AND HE WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU”. The day just goes better when you prepared the evening before, and all you have to do is your walk-around, warm up the big Rig, drop a line in your log to “pre-trip, then up to “driving”, shift the road-ranger into gear, and hit the road with a solid diesel roar!”

Never Saddle a Dead Horse.

Remember this phrase: NEVER HANG A BOLT UPSIDE DOWN! This is a term I learned while working up north. Every thing you do matters while driving a truck. Know your knots, know how to tarp and strap, know how to tarp and un-tarp, and how to stow your gear! Never roll with your load unsecured: this means flatbed, dry-van, chip wagon, log truck, tanker, and any other transport truck. Always fasten up while in the cab. Get yourself a good system, and practice it religiously.. If you do it the same way each time for instance, it will actually “feel” wrong if you skip a safety step. ALWAYS check springs, hangers, tires, fifth-wheel, and running lights when you are stopped. STAY on your toes! Time is wasted when you have to go back and do something the second time because you weren’t careful. Don’t be the driver who said, “maybe it WAS broke already and I didn’t see it!” Be honest in reporting faulty equipment. This practice will save you and your company time in the long run. IF IT LOOKS WRONG OR SOUNDS WRONG, it could well be that DEAD HORSE: Don’t ride a dead horse. It won’t get you there. The bolt will fall out, or the axle will fall off and you will be DITW. (dead in the water). Know what “not to do!” If you are planning to be on the road over 8 hours; then pack a healthy, nutritional lunch, including juice, fruit and protein. This is so you stay energized and alive!


Be quick to spot a bottleneck in your industry, in your daily productivity, and find the right person up-line to report it to if it effects other drivers and other important factors of your operation. Be communicative with information from the origin, or the destination parties of your “haul”. Relate where time can be saved, or alternate return routes to avoid heavy traffic etc. But always stay in approved routes, due to legal liability. Never take unauthorized short cuts. Be aware that when a bottleneck occurs, time is wasted, drivers are backed up and tomorrows goals are being threatened. Something must give and you can be a part of the answer instead of a “dead horse”. Your “dispatcher” is counting on you to be in a certain spot at a certain time and you can help him help you by letting him know what’s out there. Otherwise we are all in the dark and losing time!

The Essence of Time

Time is of the essence, from the moment you arrive at the terminal, through the day, plant operative and loaders will count on you being prompt, and working within their timelines. For instance at state docks they have a union start and stop time that will take most truck drivers by surprise the first few times they haul in the docks. You could be locked in the terminal, or dead-stalled without a load and have to make the drive of shame back home without a load. This will possibly reduce your weekly earnings. How-ever, if your coming home empty is due to something out of your control, Do not be ashamed. It happens to all of us! Tomorrow is another day!

A Drivers Perception

These are all things I have learned from other drivers, supervisors, and of course from first-hand experience. When you know there is a string of traffic lights ahead, ease off a little from the traffic in front of you and time yourself to the “green” light. In doing so you might save yourself from shifting up again and again, as well as save yourself some time. NEVER race another driver back to the Mill. If he happens to slide by you, then that’s just the way its supposed to be. Next time you will be ahead and he will follow. You likely will never make the rainbow end on a pot of gold unless you have watched a few other drivers do it first. Never be hotheaded, jealous, or mean to other drivers. They have the right to drive as well as you. God knows we have all seen when someone just couldn’t back off, roared around us and almost caused an accident with oncoming traffic. In fact one that did it to me, he careened almost literally off of the guard rail trying desperately to get his load back under control. Yes, I would have ate it if he spilled the beans. Overall I appreciate his industry which goes hand in hand with mine. If he doesn’t deliver his product then mine cannot be made. See how it all fits together? humorously, that would make a good argument for those in my industry that starve the injectors by regulated speeds. Throttle/Speed governors are used to save fuel, even if they add challenges to the driver in performing his job of hauling and sometimes costing him time, and in not reaching posted speed limits. Perhaps they keep severity of collisions to a minimum as well but we do not expect seasoned drivers to be in compromised situations. BEING SAFE SAVES TIME!

Maintenance Matters

Time is precious, and it’s important to keep notes on your truck, trailer and gear, and allow time for maintenance to be done. Can you schedule it on your days off? When you have a doctor’s appointment etc? The shop/maintenance dispatcher counts on you to let him know what’s up and what’s broke on your rig. They can’t fix what you don’t write up on a repair log. Just recently I was D.O.T. safety inspected and the official shared with me that they have 33 other factors than basic speeding violations that they are patrolling for. When he inspected my truck and trailer, he found only 2 minor items of concern. One was just a worn spot on a spring hanger, the other was a dangling but working license plate light. I was not wrote up, but told to have the hanger inspected and to secure the light wire. A pleasant surprise was his comment, “I have inspected a lot of your company trucks and I don’t usually find much wrong with them.” This is a good record for a company with million mile trucks in operation, as well as brand new ones in the fleet. So maintaining your truck saves time and money, simply put. Again, the shop cannot fix what you haven’t reported, and being diligent in this area is key to reducing lost time. What if I had not followed through with this and Mr. D.O.T. stopped me again? He would not have been as friendly, and perhaps I would have been his dead horse. **Frances Baily (1797 Journal) said; “a stitch in time saves nine”. Note: when you ARE inspected, it will go a long way if you tell the officer the things you KNOW possibly are in violation, i.e. “Officer, I have the items scheduled for repair this evening.” Being pro-active is a big plus and might save you a written violation.

Minutes Well Spent

Getting ahead in trucking means you have your daily ducks lined up, learning minute by minute how to establish a good routine, and through things "just working out". A “truckers prayer” could be the most important thing we do before starting out on the highway. You never know what you will face in one day of driving. An equipment breakdown might cost you time and frustration. Perhaps a deer will run out in front of you, requiring you to use avoidance procedures; But it also COULD BE that you will have the best day of your life. You might meet an old friend while waiting to load; or make a new friend: Be encouraging to others and see how they respond. Most things in life are NOT coincidences. “There is a time and a purpose for all things.” (Solomon). We are only given 24 hours in every day to produce a life for ourselves, to make a difference for our families, to impact our world, and that’s why it’s important to manage that time efficiently and that’s why it’s important to identify priorities and to set an example for someone else. Since I have been with my current employer, I've had the chance with several drivers to point out their importance as a role model to younger and less experienced drivers.


Let me close by saying you will achieve your highest success as a trucker by managing your time adequately; avoiding the dead horses along the trail, and keeping a sharp clock. As a professional trucker, have you got your time right? Right on, truck driver!

M. O. Jones

**origin of quote corrected

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    • Oscarlites profile image

      Oscar Jones 3 years ago from South Alabama

      Thank you, Kim! Yes, you used a word I can hardly spell when I need it! I earned two degrees simultaneously in Business Management, and Public Management at UAF-Alaska, but so much was going on in my life those two years that I hardly remember all the courses I took; But I've been to at least 7 ARFF/aircraft rescue-firefighting training courses and several airport management/safety classes, and trained as a E.T.T. (trauma technician) at one point, during my years as an airport operator in Alaska. I hardly use those skills now, but hope to write about them as well. We are All students if we are still learning, right? much appreciated!!

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

      I am a huge admirer of truck drivers. In so many ways, their contributions to the management and distribution of goods keep us all afloat and the drivers must endure the bureaucracy which can be a safety measure, but does not always take into account the truths found along the road. Thanks for this hub and look further to reading many more.

      ocfireflies aka Kim

      PS--I also admire your willingness to further your education and do so in such a practical and meaningful way.