Written in response to Kansas City Star's "Dead Tired" series, December 19th, 2001.
Whom it May Concern, Kansas City Star;
Thank you! As an OTR truck driver of eight years, I've become increasingly disheartened by trucking's current state of affairs. I've spent some time in the truck driver training arena as well and developed several driver related web sites. The most successful of them, www.newbiedriver.com, is likely responsible for dissuading hundreds, perhaps thousands, from pursuing an OTR career simply by providing honest information about the trucking industry.
I've kept over a year's worth of journaling about what trucking is really like and this may be found at: http://www.newbiedriver.com/Journal/intro.htm, if interested.
I am particularly impressed because your series hit upon a major contributing factor to drivers' demise that the trucking industry strongly prefers to ignore. Drivers are literally prostituted to the big shippers and receivers. Carriers, operating on practically 0% profit margins will do absolutely nothing that might possibly alienate a customer.
Many shippers and receivers have loading and unloading policies that are nothing less than inhumane. Many make appointments but feel no obligation to honor them. Sometimes a driver is instructed to listen to his/her CB radio until they are called to unload. This may be ten minutes, ten hours or more. Some shippers/receivers will skip that driver if he doesn't respond to the CB radio call. This type of policy makes rest impossible. Many customers do not even offer any sort of facilities, unless perhaps a Kybo.
This is only a lose/lose situation for the driver, but benefits both the shipper and receiver. They know that the amount of time that they tie up the truck will make no difference and there will be no repercussions. If drivers logged their waiting and dock time honestly, it wouldn't take long before freight backed up and carriers saw miles plummet. This might eventually provoke some positive change, but an income sacrifice of this magnitude will never be made by the number of drivers that would be required to make a difference.
So, in order to make a wage to support their families, drivers will continue the self-defeating practice of "covering up" the inefficiency and sloppy shippers and receivers, at their ultimate sacrifice. Carriers and even DOT "look the other way", because, after all, it is simply an accepted practice that nothing "on duty takes more than 15 minutes". It becomes very obvious that they are perfectly willing to "look the other way" when national studies indicate that just the average driver spends 40 hours per week sitting at docks, yet the vast majority of logbooks reflect no more than a couple of hours per week "on duty". Somehow 30+ hours disappear each week, or more accurately, are donated. Is it really possible that D.O.T. simply "miss" this during carrier audits? I don't think so.
It is long past time that shippers and receivers are held accountable for their contribution to trucking's problems. They've enjoyed a cheap ride for a very long time. The carriers have bore the brunt of rising road and fuel taxes, insurance, etc, without passing along higher rates.
Rates must come up, but since many will not raise rates for fear of losing customers, we need government regulation in order to assure an unequivocal freight rate increase. Such regulation bears a strong resemblance to what was once in place: mandatory minimum rates, no hauling at loss or break even rates. Additionally, we MUST establish Mandatory Detention Policies.
Drivers MUST be compensated for the extraordinary number of hours spent on docks and this compensation needs to come from the shipper/receiver. If drivers do not have to worry about losing a day's pay at the dock, a number of improvements will be a natural result:
*Drivers will log on duty time because they will be paid for it. (It would have to be required that the driver log the on duty time in order to receive pay and the pay would have to be sufficient. Offering the driver a couple of dollars per hour sitting is only insulting.) Naturally rules would have to be put in place as to how many hours the driver would first "sit" for free, how much the minimum Detention fee would be, the percentage to the driver vs the carrier, etc, etc, etc. Putting this together could be cumbersome, but well worth the effort.)
*More shippers and receivers would establish "drop and hook" practices to avoid paying Detention charges.
*Shippers and receivers will learn to schedule more efficiently -- or they'll pay extra.
Many see Hours of Service Reform as the answer. The simple truth of the matter is that nothing is going to work, nor is the implementation of new rules going to change anything until we address the underlying issues. Believing and investing in a new Hours of Service plan before repairing the decrepit condition prevalent in the industry is akin to building a brand new home atop a crumbling foundation. If the reasons why a driver "cheats" are not addressed, incorporated and provided for in new rules, the driver will simply adapt and find alternate ways to manipulate the new rules.