Dealing with the messiness of the human condition

by Al Goodhall

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 snowstorm 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 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, which in turn challenge 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 driver’s 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, such as me, are fortunate enough to have had a good mentor in the first six to 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 form 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 and 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 within the smaller family-owned businesses. 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 (ELDs) as it request its carrier members to lobby provincial transport ministries in support of the recent Transport Canada mandate to implement ELDs. This appeared in the CTA’s newsletter under the title, Let’s get ELDs 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.”

If drivers are happier and safer as a result of using ELDs, it is a direct result of the individual drivers and their commitment to learning and skills development as they adapt new tools to the challenges they face 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 ELDs, 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.


Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.

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