One of the things I enjoy most about trucking is the time you have to spend with yourself.
That probably sounds a little strange, but that’s what I equate with the freedom of the open road. You’re free from interference, restrictions, and external authority. You’re independent. Many drivers would say that our freedom and independence is under threat from unnecessary rules and interference from government and special interest groups.
I wouldn’t say all rules are unnecessary and I’m not big on conspiracy theories, but I do think our independence has been compromised because of the universal controls placed on our time. By imposing change through legislation rather than through ongoing training and professional development, how can drivers not feel their independence is under threat?
Each individual driver needs the flexibility to plan their own time in order to meet all the demands placed on them while obtaining the required rest to operate safely. Drivers wonder among themselves why this basic tenet of safety is so difficult to comprehend outside the driver pool?
So as I’ve been writing about the trucking lifestyle and driver health issues over the course of the past several months, I’ve been searching for the common denominator we all share. What is the key issue that affects the well-being of all drivers? It’s been in front of me all along and that is the issue of ‘time’ itself. Within the industry, time has morphed into an economic factor over the past few decades to be managed by companies as a means of controlling costs.
In fact, time is the lifestyle factor that affects every aspect of a driver’s health and well-being. Time is now the primary stressor that impedes a driver’s performance rather than the enabler it should be. Look at just a few examples and it becomes obvious how time impacts driver lifestyles at every turn.
First, look at the issue of income. In the past, drivers have enjoyed an above average income for the work they have performed. This has allowed a driver to step away from the truck for a period of time when the demands of family, fatigue, and the simple need for leisure time required it. But that is now a thing of the past. Income has not kept pace with the cost of living and now drivers work continuously to maintain the standard of living they have enjoyed in the past. Drivers now are required to work at their performance peak continuously. The result is a constant state of burnout and low morale. It has become increasingly more difficult to look after ourselves, to put ourselves before the demands of the job.
Second, look at the HoS (hours-of-service) issue and the related issue of EOBRs (electronic on-board recorders). Look at all the research that has been performed in the past and continues today in relation to sleep science and the effects of fatigue on drivers.
Drivers get it. This information goes to the core of coping with and managing fatigue as drivers go about their daily duties. But was this data presented as an enabler to improving the lifestyle of the individual driver? No. It has been wrapped in a legislative blanket that stymies performance and in many instances leads to situations that incite fatigue and push drivers beyond their comfort zone.
Third, look at the issue of driver training and retention. In the past, independent truckers made up the majority of the driver pool and the development and mentoring of drivers was a part of daily life on the road. Now we have safety departments with a focus on compliance over training.
The time that is needed to invest in driver training and mentoring has been cut in the name of cost reduction and the trucking industry has built itself a precarious house of cards. With an aging demographic and a lackluster attitude towards developing professional drivers over McTruckers, it is no wonder that many industry managers and owners now share a genuine concern that the industry is facing a perfect storm when it comes to this issue.
What is the bottom line here? Our industry is all about service. Corporate profitability is dependent on a driver’s performance and well-being. Drivers need to operate in an environment that feeds their sense of independence and freedom in order to enjoy their work and in order to attract new blood into the industry. Cutting into a driver’s time may have showed short-term gains on the bottom line of many corporate operating statements but we are now left with a lingering long-term malaise as a result.
It’s time for the industry to reinvest in its driver pool by providing adequate rest time, taking a fresh approach to fatigue management, and providing ongoing and professional driver training.