For many, the allure of the open road and the ability to set their own schedule, be their own boss, and rely on specialized know-how are the key driving factors behind the decision to become a long haul truck driver. While many of us envision a life chalked full of quintessential trucker stereotypes, we often neglect to realize the extent of the welcome responsibility and daily checklists that truck drivers must undertake to ensure the successful delivery of their loads and the safety of themselves and other drivers.
In this post, we asked our very own Driving Instructor Resource Manager, Cindy Brewer, about all the ins and outs of long haul trucking runs to formulate a definitive guide for prospective drivers.
The First Run
"After completing all required training with a reputable driving school, life can wind up very different from what most truckers think it will be," says Cindy. What drivers are trained in school aren’t always the most practiced agendas on the road. Long haul truckers are trained to be safe, and what they should look for to stay safe - but in the real-world, it can seem rushed, and for new drivers, it can all be a bit confusing as to what are acceptable practices.
"Normally a first driving job would include some sort of on-the job training. For me, knowing ahead of time going into my first driving job, I made sure to take the time to do a proper pre trip so I felt that I was driving safe equipment and that the truck doesn't have to be new to be in good working order," says Cindy.
"My first run out began by being in the yard for 4 am to meet with the owner. We were going on a run across the US border to deliver a load. I arrived an hour early to make sure I was able to do a proper pre trip inspection without the added pressure of being in a rush to get out of the yard. Of course, it was a much different truck and trailer than I was used to at the driving school, but one thing my instructor told me was to not learn the pre-trip by memory but to see and learn during every inspection… That worked great considering the oil dipstick was on the other side of the motor and the washer fluid was at the firewall and not by the coolant tank… and there’s nothing like fumbling on the highway for a wiper switch when you don't know where it is. Even air horn cords are in different places depending on the make and model of the truck."
Cindy stressed the importance of good paperwork practices to us as well, noting that as a driver you’ll need to keep track of insurance, registration, and CVI paperwork - as well as a "cab card" which indicates the states and provinces you are insured for as well as the IFTA (fuel) paper and any permits that may go along with the unit and loads you are required to carry.
Trailer insurance and CVI papers are typically located securely on the trailer somewhere, and it’s incredibly important to know where all of your required papers are prior to turning the truck ignition. If you’re ever pulled over for a roadside inspection, it’s critical to know where your papers are.
“By the way,” laughs Cindy, “make sure your inspection decals are valid and match the paper work! The driver is responsible in the end, we must ensure the equipment is safe for the road.”
What to Bring With You On Your First Long Haul Trip
As a general rule, try to make sure you're over-prepared, rather than underprepared. There's no harm in packing a few extra items for a long haul truck run, at least until you're comfortable with ruling your things out once you begin to understand what you use and what you don't.
Start by packing a carry bag with gear designed to help your job run as smoothly as possible.
- PPE tracker (Personal protective equipment)
- Safety vest
- Hard hat
- Safety boots
- Safety glasses
These items are to help you complete your run with any/all the safety gear you’ll be required to wear on a yard. For example, you don't necessarily require steel-toe boots to drive, but you won't be able to get out of the truck in a yard without them.
“I was always advised to carry at least one change of clothes even if you are only running local,” says Cindy. “That’s come in handy, especially when you get soaked to the skin - nothing worse than having to sit in wet clothes all day. Grease gets on everything so, have a spare hoody or t-shirt.”
Have a basic bag of tools to help you get out of impromptu jams or roadside mishaps. Even having some equipment to cobble together a temporary fix can come in very handy in an isolated location. It’s these tools, coupled with creative thinking that can get you out of a bind. “My father always said you can't go wrong with bubblegum and duct tape to fix an air leak,” laughs Cindy.
- Brake tool (“We use ball joint pullers, as they have a nice short handle and resemble a tuning fork.”)
- Small wrench set
- Tie wire
- Electrical tape and connectors ends
- Zap straps
- Side cutters
Always ensure you carry a few jugs of spare windshield wiper fluid and other spare fluids like oil and coolant - of which your company will likely supply.
Food & Water
"I cannot express enough the need to take lots of water," says Cindy. "If you're the ‘lucky' one to be doing flat deck duty, it's a lot of work - you'll need water to keep hydrated or you could pass out. Usually, I packed food snacks like granola/protein bars, cut up fruits and veggies, some canned instant-meals in case I got stuck somewhere. Remember a spoon and can opener if the can doesn't have one of those pop tops. For long hauling, we had fridges supplied in the truck which came in really handy, if crossing the border make sure you're allowed to bring those particular food items across."
As a general tip, feed your body well. Eating roadside processed and fast foods for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on your body and your health. Drink water instead of sugary drinks like cola or energy supplements to keep hydrated, and try to consume a balanced diet as best you can.
You can purchase just about any type of truck-centric appliances from coffee makers to toaster ovens these days, but keep your selections simple so to not accumulate unnecessary baggage. Having handy wipes and paper towels on hand can prove useful for everything from cleaning your dash to washing your face.
Pack your applicable identification before you leave the house and make yourself a package of required ID and paperwork so everything is in the same place. Bring your valid driver's licence, some cash in the appropriate currency, a passport and/or other documents for crossing the border, and a debit/credit card to keep you afloat.
“The first year of trucking isn't always the most lucrative, and if you are in a training program or being trained by another driver, the training pay usually isn't great. I avoided eating in the restaurants my first year because I really couldn't afford it, and truckers deals for meals aren't exactly healthy.”
What to Expect as a First Year Driver
“I thought I was ready [thanks to my training]. Well, I soon learned that I didn't know squat about squat,” confides Cindy. “Socialization is very important in your first year. Going in for a meal once in a while is good for your soul, and keeps you in contact with other drivers; helps you to understand that you may not be the only one having struggles out there. I wasn't shy about telling other drivers I was new at it.”
You don't know what you don't know, as the old saying goes, so listening to experienced drivers is a valuable form of informal education. Use your best judgment and take what you think is good information, and never take chances - double check everything, from following a map to backing up the truck.
"As a female driver, I was very cautious of my surroundings and aware of everything. Personal safety should always be number one," says Cindy. "For the most part, staying on main major highways is the way to go, however, there is always the delivery that takes you to some remote little place on the back-roads somewhere, kind of unnerving as you're always questioning whether or not you're on the right road. Rand McNally Road Carrier maps were my bible - that book has all the scales, truck routes, low clearances, road limits, axles weights, amongst a whole list of necessary information. Before I left on a run I would map it out, then follow the GPS if I had one but at least I kind of knew what to expect before hitting the road.”
Cindy notes that the best thing to do during your first year as a long haul truck driver is to do your homework. Check your respective employers and their companies out, and ensure that a reputable company is going to provide you with proper training and will be paying attention to your safety. The safer and more cautious you can be with respect to experience and learning, the less chance of sustaining an incident that could follow you on your record and tarnish your driving or claims history. New drivers need to keep those records as clean as possible.
“It doesn't take long to get experience, and every driving position will give you a different perspective. Companies don't seem to like to take on new drivers in the winter for obvious reasons, so if you can get on with someone before the weather changes and do a few runs up and down the mountains they will have more faith in your ability - and it’s a great way to build your resume. Some companies don't like to hire new drivers for in town work either because there are many tight areas, a lot of backing up - and let's face it - backing skills are something that comes with time. Take the initiative and ask the boss if you can come in here and there for a few hours to learn to back up better, they'll appreciate your attitude and will be more likely to help you out with some training.”
It may not be for everyone, but for those dedicated to putting in their time and asking plenty of questions, long haul truck driving can make for a rewarding and prosperous career full of excitement, freedom, and fun.