Drivers: Communication is Crucial

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Got a call the other day from an owner-operator chum who was wondering what the great minds at Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation were up to. He told me that he’d heard from another driver who had talked with some “highly placed MTO official” who said Ontario was about to allow LCVs to operate on Highway 401 between the Ontario/Quebec border and Windsor. “Could this be true?” he asked. “They can’t be serious.”

Same guy, same phone call: “I also heard MTO is going to ban four- and five-axle trailers, and instead make carriers use tri-drive tractors to pull the extra weight,” he said. “I ain’t buyin’ no [expletive deleted] tri-drive tractor.”

I get lots of calls like that. Drivers and owner-ops calling about something they’ve heard out on the road, perhaps more than once from different sources. Sometimes I get several calls in close succession claiming to have heard [insert outrageous claim here] from a guy who knows somebody who goes to the same barber as… well, you get the point.

Got one recently about FAST cards. The caller said he had heard that the U.S. was going to make it mandatory for all drivers entering that country to have a FAST card, and that if you couldn’t produce one, you weren’t coming in — and he said he’d read it in highwaySTAR, Today’s Trucking’s sister publication! Umm, I don’t think so.

There aren’t many ways of dealing with the bad information that’s circulating out there — around truckstops and over the CBs — except to take the time to explain the truth to folks. And I’ll bet that many fleet owners have similar difficulties, albeit on a smaller scale. I know it used to be an issue when I was driving.

A couple of drivers are going down the road together some night. One notes that she’s seen a drop in her miles of late. The other agrees, suggesting that he’d heard the fleet had lost a few strategic customers. Some other fleet had cut the rate and they’d all soon be looking for new jobs.

Then on a sinister note, one driver adds, the loss in volume meant the fleet could no longer pay some of its creditors, and the repossessions would be starting any day now. It’s amazing how rumors start, and more startling still how they spread and morph into misleading and frightening gossip.

That’s a pretty destabilizing environment to work in. Poisonous in fact, because unless the rumors are quashed PDQ, the result could be an exodus of good drivers wanting to be the first out of the ‘failing’ carrier, and the first to land new jobs.

One place I delivered to regularly had a scale house where all the drivers reported prior to making their deliveries. The chap who worked the scale dutifully reported everything he’d heard from the last dozen drivers to visit the place. If you took the guy at face value, you’d be a mess.

It’s easy to see how rumours get started, but it’s a heck of a lot harder to quell them.

I recently spent a few days doing fuel-economy seminars for a major fleet. I attended several driver meetings as part of the floor show, and I was invited to sit in on the rest of the meetings. I witnessed what I’d call a very progressive approach by the general manager. He stood in front of the room and told the drivers and owner-ops exactly where the company was in terms of business lost and gained, why they had lost or gained certain routes, projections of revenue from various sectors of the operation, and what the future held in terms of workload.

The drivers left the meeting with little doubt where they’d be next month, next season, or next year. For drivers who work mostly in isolation, it’s comforting to know what’s going on behind the glass of the dispatch window. That manager probably saved himself the trouble of hiring a dozen new drivers who might have left not knowing that the current slack period was just a lull before the storm.

While we can’t do much about what some big guy’s barber tells his driver customers, it might be helpful to share some information about the operation with your drivers so at least they know where their next load is going to take them, if not how many axles will be under the next trailer you buy.

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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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