Friday, 17 August 2018

Driver Training is the Key to Improved Safety and Fuel Economy

This post was originally published in the August 2018 edition of Truck News

Twenty percent. That’s the impact on fuel efficiency that can be attributed to a drivers actions behind the wheel.

The thing is, we don’t invest twenty percent of our training time and training dollars teaching drivers to be fuel efficient. This is short sighted because the benefits of training drivers to be more fuel efficient goes beyond simple cost savings.

A search of “fuel efficient driving techniques” on the internet will bring you a host of results with five techniques being predominant. I found this list on the Government of Canada, Ministry of Natural Resources website. (

1.       Accelerate gently
2.       Maintain a steady speed
3.       Anticipate traffic
4.       Avoid high speeds
5.       Coast to decelerate

Any professional driver will recognize that this list of techniques is directly related to another list of techniques, the Smith System of Defensive Driving. Ninety five percent. That is the percentage of collisions attributable to driver error.

1.       Aim high in steering
2.       Get the big picture
3.       Keep your eyes moving
4.       Make sure they see you
5.       Leave yourself an out

A defensive driver is a safe driver is a fuel efficient driver. So why don’t we focus more training time on this relationship? It doesn’t require any capital investment in additional equipment or technology. All it requires is the will to spend more time with the people that matter, drivers.

When we spend more time with drivers we discover that professional drivers understand the techniques and possess the skills. Knowledge isn’t the issue.  The real challenge is getting drivers to buy in. Because fuel efficiency and road safety is far more about the right attitude behind the wheel than it is about skills training.

So what affects our attitude as drivers? I know my fellow truckers can list off dozens of hard issues that affect our mindset as we navigate our rigs down the road but if I were to single out one factor that we all share and has the greatest impact on our attitude behind the wheel it would be time.
Time comes in to play in every aspect of a driver’s day. Drivers are judged on how efficiently they make use of their time for pick-ups and deliveries. A driver’s time is governed by roadside enforcement and internal audits. Drivers can be penalized if they do not take the time to chart their time accurately throughout the day. Time is a source of pressure and anxiety for truckers. Time is something truckers never have enough of.

It is the time crunch we face behind the wheel every day and its resulting anxiety that fuels impatience. It’s that lack of patience that leads to speeding, following too closely, hard acceleration & braking, distracted driving (multi-tasking while driving), and aggressive driving to “make up” some time.  Road rage is a direct result of a driver’s lack of patience that leads to anger and the resulting disregard of all the techniques that support road safety and fuel efficiency. So you see the paradox. On one hand drivers are expected to slow down and take the time to do the job right but on the other hand drivers are expected to hurry up and be cost effective. Messaging is mixed and inconsistent depending on who is doing the talking. Enforcement, carriers, shippers, and receivers all have a different stake in the game. They all need to focus on the fact that their common denominator is the driver.

It makes me crazy when I read op-ed pieces about improving fuel efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving road safety that only give professional drivers a cursory mention. Collisions are a result of driver error 95% of the time. A drivers actions affect fuel consumption by 20%. Drivers should be the primary focus of industry training but we are not. We need a fresh approach.

Is it that difficult to understand how important it is to invest in deep training for drivers?

Examining the Reasons We Began Our Trucking Careers

This post was originally published in the July 2018 edition of Truck News

My wife and I were having a conversation about retirement & income planning the other day and the conversation turned to my job and the amount of time I spend away from home.

“I never fully understood what attracted you to truck driving. I never saw it as something you would do. What made you do it?” she asked

“We needed the money” I replied

My wife simply nodded her head in confirmation of the fact. Since that conversation took place between us I’ve been spending a lot of mental energy thinking about those four simple words – we needed the money – because it’s what propelled me to spend the last two decades in the cab of a truck. I did not have a master plan or boyhood dreams of driving a truck for a living. My wife and I had plans and dreams but they were dashed twenty years ago. We were sinking. We had folded up our retail business in the spring of 1998, our funds were exhausted, and we needed the money. There was nothing sexy or exciting about my decision. We needed an above average income and we needed it fast. Truck driving kept jumping up in front of me as I searched for a source of income.

So here I am, almost 20 years of driving under my belt, and I think my story is repeated more often than we like to think about in this business. The one constant over the course of my career is that carriers never stop looking for qualified drivers. I think this is why we always talk about truck driving as a lifestyle choice because if it’s not in your blood you simply don’t survive for any length of time. Driver turnover is a constant as new drivers to the industry discover they simply don’t have the mental stamina or patience to deal with the constant demands a driver faces living on the road. For some people no amount of money is worth the emotional roller coaster that is a truck driver’s life. Of course, if it’s in your blood, if you’re born into it, you probably wonder why anyone would not want to enjoy the independence this work offers.

Think of trucking on a scale of 1 to 10. If you enter this business solely for the money and driving is just a job, a means to an end, then you would be a 1 on the scale. If all you ever dreamed about is driving a truck and everything trucking is what you live for then you would be a 10. Most of us that have been driving for any length of time fall somewhere in the middle to upper middle of that scale. Anyone that scores under 5 rarely makes it past the first year.

The big problem the trucking industry is facing is that the business does not attract potential drivers that would score 8-10 on my theoretical emotional scale. Those drivers are grown organically. They are the product of family trucking businesses. I believe that is where the driver lifestyle is formed. Many of those family businesses are being absorbed by larger corporate trucking businesses and that source of organic growth is drying up. A dying breed? Perhaps. That’s just my feeling as a long time driver not a definitive fact.

The late Stuart Mclean of CBC radio fame used to say of his show, “The Vinyl CafĂ©”, that it celebrated the importance of the unimportant. The little things in our lives that really matter to us. For me those little things revolve around family. Being separated from family is my biggest challenge as a driver. That separation triggers all kinds of emotional issues for me especially since grandchildren have come into my life.

Money was the motivation that opened the door to trucking for me but it’s my carrier that recognizes the importance of the unimportant that keeps me here. We need more of that.

Don't Underestimate the Power of the Driver

This post was originally published in the June edition of Truck News

Perhaps we have everything backwards. For years we have been taking responsibility away from commercial drivers and putting our eggs in the technology basket. Everything from trailer tails to electronic logging devices have been attached to the truck in the belief of productivity gains, cost savings, and road safety. All of this technology flows from and is controlled (mostly) by the front office. But what drivers know and what they are proud to take ownership of, is that improved productivity, reduced costs, and road safety reside in the driver’s seat.

Let’s look at electronic logging devices and how they are used by the driver. I’ve made it no secret that I’ve been using this technology for years and that I prefer it over paper logs. The only reason I feel that way is because the carrier I work for has installed it as a tool I can take advantage of and not a means of monitoring my performance and controlling what I do. In the truck I’m the decision maker. The carrier I work for trusts me. It’s that simple. I would bet that other drivers that endorse the use of ELD’s work for carriers with a similar ethos. Drivers that don’t see any value in ELD’s are having it imposed upon them in a manner that strips them of their dignity and effectively disempowers and demoralizes them.

The general impression I get as a full time driver is that the industry is pouring a disproportionate amount of time and money into training employees that don’t have any practical experience at the point of contact where it really matters, the cab of every truck. Drivers are the single human resource that has the greatest impact on productivity, safety, and profitability. Technological tools are just that, tools. Drivers should be able to employ them not be controlled by them. Why do so many carriers not recognize the simple fact that empowering their drivers is the key not controlling their actions? The treatment of drivers is at the core of the driver shortage problem. You only need to talk to a large cross section of drivers to understand this.

What about attracting millennials to the industry to solve the driver shortage problem? First we need to solve the problem I outlined above because millennials are savvier than the trucking industry gives them credit for. We won’t attract them with shiny technological baubles. Millennials are the most highly educated generation we’ve ever produced. They care deeply about social issues, they want to impact the world they live in in a positive way, and they want to be empowered to use their skills & education that adopt new technology to make those changes. The transportation industry needs to do an about face in how it is treating its drivers if it wants to attract millennials. It’s time for a culture change.

Millennials care about issues such as job creation and climate change. These are the areas the trucking industry should be looking at if it wants to attract millennials into the fold because they are also areas that benefit the trucking industry.

As far as job creation goes we have openings in abundance in our industry. But they are not enticing at this point. Empowering drivers is the path to getting more millennials in the driver’s seat. We need to be seen as an exciting opportunity to create change and make a difference in our world.
Climate change is something we don’t pay enough attention to. The transportation industry is one of the largest emitters of pollution. This is an area that we should be focusing on as a means of attracting millennials. Their education, skills, and enthusiasm can have a huge impact here. We can all win on this file.

The transportation sector is always putting forward the idea of recognizing drivers as skilled professional’s not general labourers. That means treating drivers as such and putting the responsibility for productivity, profitability, and safety where it belongs, in the driver’s seat.

Dealing with the Messiness of the Human Condition

This post was originally published in the May 2018 edition of Truck News

As a truck driver you may wake some mornings to blinding sunshine under brilliant blue skies but you may end the day in a blinding snow storm unable to see more than a few truck lengths in front of you. On some days you may be straight lining across the country and on others you may be doing multiple pickups and/or deliveries. At the same time you may be feeling healthy and happy or you may feel under the weather and blue. You may have to alternate between working a late shift and working an early shift at the drop of a hat in order to accommodate dock appointments that in turn challenges your ability to manage your time and compliance with laws governing when and how long you can work each day.

There is truth in the truck drivers’ axiom, “if you think you’ve seen it all and learned it all then it’s time to hang up the keys”. Truck driving is a profession in which you will experience a new twist on the same practice, day, after day, after day. Some drivers, myself being an example, are fortunate enough to have had a good mentor in the first 6-12 months of their career. Many drivers receive much less in the way of mentorship. For the most part we are left to our own devices. We are our own teachers, learning on the fly, sifting through the truck stop wisdom of our peers as we grow in the job. Experience on the job is the ultimate teacher but for some it comes at a high cost in the way of fines for infractions, or worse, collisions.

The basic skills of the job are picked up quickly but it’s adapting to the “lifestyle” of the profession, maintaining a mindset of curiosity & commitment, and operating with integrity every day. That is the real challenge. Unlike most workplaces there is no supervisor, manager, or experienced lead hand to watch over you and prevent you from taking a misstep that may be catastrophic. In the past organic growth within smaller carriers provided a failsafe in this regard. Training may not have been formalized but there was a natural state of mentorship in the smaller family owned business. That still exists today but continues to shrink as mega carriers grow through acquisitions, gobbling up the smaller fish in the pond.

Take a look at how the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) views the use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELD’s) as it requests its carrier members to lobby provincial transport ministries in support of the recent Transport Canada mandate to implement ELD’s. This appeared in the CTA’s newsletter under the title, “Let’s Get ELD’s on Trucks Across Canada Soon!”

The long awaited announcement will lead to a decrease in fatigue and distraction related collisions and violations. Experience shows they also make drivers happier, safer and dramatically reduce supply chain demands to push the limits of compliance. – CTA

If drivers are happier and safer as a result of using ELD’s it is a direct result of the individual driver putting her commitment to learning and skills development to use as she adapts new tools to the challenges she faces every day.

As far as improving safety by reducing “supply chain demands” that “push the limits of compliance”, let’s just say it was jaw dropping for me to see that in print. In other words it removes the ability of the system to download inefficiencies to the driver where they have been absorbed at a high human cost in terms of health and wellbeing for years.

There remains a lack of insight on the part of the trucking lobby to the complexity of the challenges drivers face day in and day out. Legislation for ELD’s, speed limiters, sleep disorders, and drug testing is far easier to implement than dealing with the messiness of the human condition. That’s where safety resides. That’s where efforts should be focused.

Increased Artificial Intelligence Won't Benefit Drivers

This post was originally published in the April 2018 edition of Truck News

The greatest challenge we face as drivers at the present moment is adapting changes happening across the trucking industry. What really drives me crazy is how little input drivers have in the design of the systems we use every day. Some days I feel like a piece of equipment and not a human being. Some days I feel like there IS a grand conspiracy to replace drivers as quickly as possible with technology driven by Artificial Intelligence. (AI)

I know that sounds a little bit nutty. But at the same time we all receive constant messaging about the strength of our economy and positive economic growth but sprinkled throughout this messaging are news articles such as the permanent layoff of 48 workers announced at the Goderich rock salt mine on February 21 of this year due to the implementation of “continuous mechanized mining”.  The news release from Compass Minerals that owns the mine states, “It helps improve efficiency and increases our competiveness in the market and, more importantly, it creates a safer work environment for our employees and contractors and reduces our environmental impact”. It’s easy to stay safe when you don’t have a job.

So we have a problem, and the problem is a societal one not just a trucking industry one. We need to redesign the workplace. If we continue down a path of constant layoffs because of improved efficiency when does that economic model fall apart? No work means no money which means no consumers at the checkout.

As drivers, coming to terms with what is happening all around us when our services are still in high demand is easy to ignore. Every trucking company needs qualified drivers. The industry can’t get enough of us behind the wheel. So we’re safe from the layoffs that are happening all around us. We have to realise that this is not a long term position that we are in.

Based on what we know today I don’t think that it would be unreasonable to forecast that in 20 years’ time the trucking industry may require 50% less drivers to move the same amount of freight we are moving today if implementation of AI continues at its present pace. In fact it may be an overly conservative estimate. Given that AI is projected to reduce collisions by as much as 95% think of how that would affect the people working in the claims department at all the insurance companies. Think of how that would affect the people that repair all that damaged equipment. Think of how that affects the truck stops that have 50% less drivers coming through their doors. There is a waterfall effect.

Going back to the rock salt mine in Goderich, what will the impact of losing 48 permanent full time jobs have on the residents of this small city? How do they benefit from this improved efficiency and competitiveness in the global market?

I believe there is great value in the hands on work that I perform as a driver. A great value to my own wellbeing, mental health, and the financial security of my family. As I finish writing this column I am in Winnipeg and the city is in a mess from, hopefully, the last winter storm of the season. I can’t imagine how a truck equipped with AI would manage the extreme weather I have had to deal with in the last 24 hours. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. In fact it’s becoming increasingly possible with each passing month.

As drivers we have an opportunity to attend Truck World this month (April 19-21) at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. It provides us with the chance to talk directly to all the exhibitors - carriers, OEM’s, media, enforcement – about our rapidly changing workplace.

I believe technology can improve our work environment but at the same time let’s keep in mind those 48 laid off mine workers. Are their lives better today?

Reality Show Paints Trucking in Bad Light

This post was originally published in the March 2018 edition of Truck News

The first time I watched an episode of “Heavy Rescue: 401” I remember thinking to myself, this isn’t the image we need to project of trucking in Ontario. If you’re not familiar with the show it is a reality cable TV show focused on the 400 series highways in southern Ontario and the challenges faced by tow truck operators, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to keep the high volumes of traffic moving. It’s a program based on the philosophy of “if it bleeds it leads”. Truck wrecks are the focus and it doesn’t paint commercial truck drivers in a favorable light. The show is trending towards becoming a media arm of the OPP and MTO commercial vehicle safety enforcement divisions.

As a commercial truck driver I have a lot at stake as to how my profession is portrayed in the media so my opinion could be construed as anything but objective about safety issues on the 400 series highways. I believe the majority of truck drivers are professionals that share the same safety objectives as the enforcement officers tasked with managing the high volumes of traffic on our roads. We’re on the same side. What I disagree with is the approach to how we reduce and prevent truck crashes on southern Ontario highways.

I’ve always advocated more training and certification of professional drivers. This is the route we should be pursuing to address the root causes of poor driving actions within the trucking sector in my opinion. The approach of the OPP and MTO is to hold individual drivers to account and “Heavy Rescue: 401” is proving to be an effective approach in conveying that message to the public.
My wife has a sign that she hangs in the kitchen every Halloween. Under a skull and crossbones is the message, “The beatings will continue until morale improves”. This is the same message truck drivers are receiving from enforcement agencies in southern Ontario.

So my argument isn’t that truck drivers should not be held to account for their actions. What I support is ongoing training and recognition of our profession as a skilled trade. We have an attitude problem more than we have a lack of skills problem. We’re not facing up to that challenge.

If you do a search online of the most dangerous jobs you will find that truck driving is consistently in the top 10. It’s interesting that first responders don’t appear in that top 10 list despite the dangerous nature of the work that they do. Why is that? I believe it is directly related to the quality and the quantity of the training first responders receive. First responders are directly involved in their training with attention being payed to their mental health as well as their physical well-being.

Now look at the quality and quantity of training professional truck drivers receive on an ongoing basis. It pales in comparison. Even within our own industry safety professionals in non-driving positions receive far more hands on safety training than the drivers that operate the heavy equipment on the front line and deal with the anxiety directly related to life on the road.

There is much debate in the trucking media of late between the OPP and the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) when it comes to statistics and how they are interpreted. The OPP state that truck collisions are on the rise and truck drivers bear an increasing responsibility, the OTA argue that truck drivers found at fault in collisions continue to decline. But statistics don’t resolve the root cause of collisions. The physical injuries, the post-traumatic stress issues, and the loss of life that result within the truck driving profession are not being addressed in the most effective manner.

Most truckers have impeccable safety records, love what they do, and spend weeks away from home keeping our economy humming. We’ve lost sight of that.

Finding the Right Carrier

This post was originally published in the February 2018 edition of Truck News

The trucking industry as a whole doesn’t display much empathy for its drivers. Drivers are about the passion for what they do day in and day out. Corporate trucking is about profit. The ground between these two poles is a no man’s land at present when it should be seen as fertile ground on which to grow common interest.

It is a challenge that isn’t unique to the trucking sector. We are facing divisive issues between large corporate interests and their employees & independent contractors across our society. In fact I would say that entrepreneurs, small & medium businesses, along with employees share many of the same concerns when it comes to dealing with and competing with the global titans of the business world.
On one hand we (individuals, small companies) have no choice but to adopt new technologies. This, at first blush, may seem detrimental to our well-being both financially and logistically.  On the other hand we can find the silver lining and flourish in markets Trans national companies are simply too large to be responsive to. In fact many large companies can be a lucrative source of partnerships for this reason alone.

If you’re a driver that holds a passion in your heart for driving. If you value your independence & freedom but still desire to work in an atmosphere that will provide you with a sense of security in return for your commitment & loyalty, then allow me to recap yet again a few things I’ve learned working for a family owned trucking business.

First let’s set the stage. You need to do your homework as a driver. Companies with a fleet that is operated by employees and not owner operators are far more likely to be empathetic to your needs as a driver. These companies may be easier to find in the private fleet sector but are certainly not limited to it. I work for a common carrier. As a driver you need to a recruit a carrier to work with you as much as they need to recruit you to work with them. Honesty and integrity are at the heart of everything that transpires between the owners and drivers where I work. With the founding family’s same passion for trucking that I share there is always fertile ground for both parties to grow and prosper.

As an employee, not a contractor, (owner operator) my employer has made a large commitment to me from day one. Our relationship is symbiotic not parasitic. My employer is in tune with my needs as an employee. Things such as family time, job security, steady income, and so on are a priority to them. In turn I am in tune with their needs. Meeting customer service, operating, and safety standards are important to me. I know I will be rewarded further for my ability to deliver above the expected standard. My employer is in touch with how I feel about what I do. This is incredibly important.
The result of this relationship is a team approach as we compete against those titans of global business I mentioned above. Working together we are able to respond far more nimbly to the needs of our customers. Just as my employer is empathetic to my needs I as a driver are far more in tune with the needs of the company as they respond to a rapidly changing business environment.

The rollout of electronic logging devices (ELD’s) is a great example of our relationship. It was a non-issue for either party. I was able to depend on them to plan years ahead for these changes and they were able to depend on me to adopt new technology and provide critical feedback well in advance that enhanced their competitive ability.

We spend far too much time working against one another rather than with one another. Drivers and employers are partners, not competing interests.