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The secret to success - learn it backwards


If you are considering a career in trucking, you might be wondering what you need to know once you are behind the wheel of a rig at your first driving job.


The best learning shortcut life offers is hindsight.


But unless you have a functional flux capacitor, you can't apply your hindsight to something you haven't experienced.


But there is a solution - instead of learning as you go, learn it backwards.


Here's how - look to others who are farther down the path than you and make their hindsight your foresight.


At CDLU of Oklahoma, we have the knowledge and experience to teach you what you need to know your first year on the road.


In the rest of this post we share some of our hindsight lessons that can become your foresight. Read on . . .


The First Year is the Hardest One


You need to know that upfront, so you can be mentally prepared.


A career in trucking requires life adjustments, and making those adjustments can be a trying process. It will take time for you to become accustomed to your new job. It will take time to become familiar with the truck you will be driving, and it will take time to adapt to the lifestyle of a truck driver.


The Origin and Destination Challenge


You have to pickup the freight, and you have to deliver the freight. That's the job. Navigating the highways, freeways, interstates, and tollways can be a formidable task in its own right, but finding the places where you will load and unload will most certainly, upon occasion, be a stressful endeavor.


You will encounter narrow streets and low bridges. You will have to find locations that are not in your GPS. You will have to back into docks that are in tight spaces and surrounded by obstacles.


The best advice for avoiding the city driving pitfalls is to simply make a call. Do not trust your GPS. Do not trust the directions given to you by your company. Call the place where you are going to load or unload and ask for directions. Those companies have a vested interest in making sure trucks can navigate to their place of business. Often you will be directed to a prerecorded message. Listen carefully and write down every detail. Once you have good directions in hand, you will feel less pressure and less stress, which also makes you a safer driver - and that is very important!


Good Loads and Bad Loads


When you get paid by the mile, all loads are not created equal. Some pay well and some do not. The primary factors that affect how well a load pays are distance, drive time, and down time. Distance has two components - loaded miles and unloaded miles, often referred to as headhaul/backhaul miles and deadhead miles. The pay structure at most companies has a reduced rate for deadhead miles.


Just because loads have the same number of miles does not necessarily mean they have the same drive time. Routes that have ongoing construction projects or major cities (especially if those cities must be traversed during peak rush hour) can take many more hours to drive, and longer drive time means you will be unable to haul as many loads, which equates to less pay.


Down time also has two components - the time you must wait before your loading or unloading appointment and the time the actual loading or unloading takes. Some dispatched loads will require you to wait several hours or possibly even a day or more before your appointment time at a shipper or receiver. This is great if you want to sightsee but not if you want to make money. Similarly, some truckloads can be loaded and/or unloaded within an hour while others can take several hours. And the less time your truck is running down the road, the less dollars that will be flowing into your account.


Driver managers and dispatchers know which loads pay well and which loads do not. When you are a first year driver, you can expect to get many of the loads that do not pay well. This is because driver managers and dispatchers have a job to do, and that job is to move the freight. The pressure they experience to do that job makes them migrate to the more tenured drivers that they trust and have an established working relationship with.


So if you want better paying loads, take the lesser paying loads without complaining and be on time for your appointments. This will quickly build the trust and confidence you need to be put in line for the good loads.


Avoid Accidents


While that may sound obvious, the truth is accidents are very common among first year drivers, which is why the insurance rates on new drivers is so high.


And here is another bit of truth - most of them are preventable and unnecessary.


And one final truism - they can cost you your driving job or worse your driving career.


Here are two very simple rules that will help make you a safer driver.

  1. Go Slow! - Not slow in the impeding traffic sense, but you should definitely proceed with caution when entering and exiting truck stops and customer facilities (especially if it's your first time), backing into a dock, or looking for a new shipper/receiver location. You will undoubtedly find yourself under time pressure during your first year of driving, which makes slowing down the best advice you can follow for preventing accidents.

  2. Be Thorough - Be thorough when you do your pre- and post-trip inspections. Be thorough when you do your trip planning. Be thorough when you check your blind spots. Be thorough when doing anything safety related, which is almost every aspect of your job as a truck driver.

The FMCSA website is an excellent resource for safety prevention ideas.


A career in truck driving is exciting and rewarding. The first year is hard. Learn from the experts at CDLU. We will share deeper insights on these issues and many more.


Let our hindsight be the foresight that makes you successful from your first day on the job!

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