Risky Business: The lost art of trip planning

by Rick Geller

Hours of service regulations continue to be a challenge for a good number of carriers. Some wage war with HoS regulations, looking for exemption loopholes. Others abdicate the responsibility and make it the driver’s problem to manage. The common theme amongst these carriers is they remain convinced that they cannot make money if they run legally.

For these carriers, HoS violations become a vicious circle that is an incredible profit drain on the company. Aside from the obvious fines incurred, there are unscheduled delays, utilization inefficiencies, and increased driver turnover.

According to a recent ATRI study, violators experience a crash rate that is 83% higher than the total carrier population.

Inevitably, their HoS violation rate attracts unwanted attention from either a regulator or an insurer, and their response is to deal with the symptom and provide the driver with refresher training and/or discipline while ignoring the disease.

Most HoS issues can be attributed to a lack of proper trip planning. For several reasons trip planning seems to have become a lost art. Some of the factors include depending on technologies like dispatch software programs that provide pre-plan routing and scheduling, over-reliance on the re-start provisions, and, at the street level, swearing by GPS technology that provides a one-dimensional look at the trip.

When I talk with carriers, invariably their trip planning consists of allowing drivers to max out their hours and then use the re-start provision. Most will acknowledge that they have a lot of drivers who get part way home, use the re-start, and then are prevented from using the re-start at home because they do not have the requisite 168 hours between re-starts.

Others acknowledge that crashes happen because the shortest/fastest route identified by the driver’s GPS system included topography that they would have avoided.

I continue to be surprised by the number of carriers that do not know the number of hours required for a common trip that they run. It is not uncommon for me to hear that the company expects drivers to complete a 1,500-mile trip in less than 48 hours!

Over-riding all of this is a lack of communication between the driver and the operations staff after the load assignment has been provided to the driver. The complexity of HoS rules, coupled with the road and traffic conditions routinely encountered, dictate that carriers need to provide additional trip planning support for their drivers. The days of firing up the truck, heading out and then figuring it out as you go are long gone!

If you really want to gain better control over HoS and reduce the associated profitability drains, consider the following:

Provide all drivers and operations staff with trip planning training. Operations staff cannot provide guidance to the drivers if they do not have the information themselves.

Develop a means to assess each driver’s proficiency in trip planning. Then tailor the level of support provided.

Manage your customer’s expectations. Become more realistic in your fleet’s ability to provide service.

As a rule of thumb, use 23 mph when dispatching single drivers and 45 mph for teams. This will give you the total drive and rest time needed to complete the trip legally.

Develop a trip plan agreement between the driver and the dispatcher. Have a mechanism in place to ensure adherence to the plan. If, for example, the company expects the driver to leave at 9:00 AM, follow-up to ensure he departed.

Implement a policy requiring the driver and dispatcher to discuss trip segments on a daily basis. When the driver calls in the morning, determine where they currently are, where they are headed for today, where they plan to take their 30-minute break, where are their fuel and meal stops, etc.

If drivers are not going to be able to make delivery, you want to learn that early so you can consider alternatives.
Hold operations staff accountable for adherence to trip plans and avoiding HoS violations.

Don’t tell drivers “do the best you can.” Operations own the responsibility to have freight delivered on-time and damage-free. Drivers are entitled to better guidance and instruction.

In the majority of cases, it is the profit drain associated with HoS violations that causes people to believe they can’t make money running legally. Eliminate the bleeding and watch what happens!

Rick Geller, CRM, has been providing innovative and cost-effective risk management solutions to the trucking industry for more than 30 years. He serves on the board of directors for both the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) and the Professional Truck Driving Institute (PTDI). He is also the incoming chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Fleet Safety Council, as well as an executive committee member for both the Ontario and Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships.

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  • Apparently Mr. Geller lives in some fantasy world and has zero real world experience! A trip from Toronto to Calgary/Edmonton would take 5 days using his trip planning methodology. Guess that’s great if a driver’s a paid tourist but we’re paid to produce.