Once you’ve landed yourself an OTR (long-haul) truck driver job, your schedule is up to you. No instructor. No trainer co-pilot. Just you and the open road. It’s your responsibility to get the freight from the shipper to the consignee.
For rookie OTR truck drivers, creating your own schedule can be overwhelming. But a good schedule can keep you on the road and earning money.
Here are 9 tips to get you to your destination on time.
1. Plan Your Trip.
Your trip is more than just the route you take be taking. You need to consider your breaks, where you’ll eat, sleep, and stretch your legs. Go online and look for truck stops along your route. Check out the ones that fit in with your schedule for size, parking, amenities, and so on.
Make lists of all planned stops, maintenance, and loading/unloading times. The better you plan your trip, the less stressful your job will be. Many OTR trucking jobs provide in-cab GPS and route planning, but they don’t provide a schedule other than where you should be and when.
2. Expect the unexpected.
No matter how carefully you plan your trip, there are often these little road blocks that pop up when you least expect them. Flat tires. Traffic. Weather. Road construction.
Give yourself some extra time in your planned schedule in case you run into an unforeseen obstacle. If you do hit some unexpected problem, don’t get discouraged.
It happens to every OTR truck driver, no matter how well you plan your trips.
3. Research Your Destination.
A smartphone is an OTR truck driver’s best friend. Not only is it your link to the outside world, it’s also a GPS and mapping program.
A smartphone is even capable of giving you a bird’s eye view of where you’re going. Why is this important? Because many shipper or delivery points aren’t clearly marked on the roads, and many delivery points have several entrances. An aerial view can save you from having to make an unwanted U-turn.
4. Admit You’re a Rookie.
Don’t think you can hit the highway and run the same miles as a veteran OTR truck driver. Working 14-hour days with 11 hours behind the wheel takes adjustment. For your first year of driving, it’ll take you time to get used to the hassle of finding a parking spot just to grab some sleep.
You have to plan your trip in a way that you can minimize potential problems, like when you don’t find any parking at a truck stop where you wanted to grab a bite to eat. You may not always get breakfast at 7 AM, lunch at noon, and dinner at 5.
Time management is a skill. You’ll learn more about how to plan your meals, stops, and driving time with experience.
5. Avoid Traffic (Especially in Big Cities).
What would you think about a delivery in downtown Atlanta scheduled for 5:00 PM? Or a pick-up in Phoenix at 7:30 in the morning? An experienced driver would think one thing: Rush hour.
There’s not an OTR truck driver in the world that wants to be in a major metro area during rush hour. When your wheels ain’t turnin’, you ain’t earnin’!
Don’t be afraid to call ahead to the consignee or shipper and see if you can juggle your appointment time to avoid potential traffic problems. Be honest. Tell them you would like to avoid the traffic if possible.
Keep in mind what Ben Franklin said, “Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar”. Basically, be friendly and nice. You might also ask if the shipper or consignee will allow overnight parking on their site.
6. Early to Bed, Early to Rise.
Provided you have some flexibility in your load or unload schedule, consider a routine where you start your day earlier and get off the road earlier.
You have a much better chance of finding a parking spot at a truck stop or rest area at 6:00 PM than at 9:00 PM. And if you can manage it, 5:00 PM is even better!
Less time spent finding a parking spot means more time driving for you.
7. Don’t Push Yourself.
Part of time management is knowing when not to run. Safety is the most important part of this job.
An exhausted OTR truck driver is a highway hazard. Of course, an exhausted four-wheel driver is also a hazard, but he or she isn’t running 40 tons down the road.
Far better to miss an appointment and get there late than not get there at all. Death is forever. Enough said.
8. Use the GPS Intelligently and Consult Multiple Routes.
The GPS is generally reliable, but at times it can be your worst enemy. Without doubt, the GPS is an awesome device. It shows you your route, where to turn, highway numbers, street names, truck stops, rest areas, and it even tells you when you’ll arrive at your destination.
But a regular GPS doesn’t show you if the road you’ve chosen is okay for trucks. Even the GPS units designed specifically for truckers are not always accurate.
Instead of relying solely on your GPS, consult a motor carriers’ atlas. And, for good measure, also consult your cell phone with the same route as you’ve got in the GPS.
Remember that most GPS units need updating to keep current. The better units offer lifetime maps and traffic, and these can be updated about every three months. Some other GPS need to be updated with a disc in your computer. Smartphone maps generally get updated about once a month.
9. Make Friends.
If you pick up from the same shipper or unload at the same receiver, make friends. Get to know the people that work at the dock. You might be surprised how much time this can save you when you’re taken to the front of the line.