When I talk with new drivers and hear their stories about their lives on the road, I don’t hear how much they love being a truck driver anymore. All I hear are the stories and comments and complaints about what isn’t working for them. For example, how they aren’t happy with their company or their dispatcher (I think many of you call them DMs, Driver Managers). I hear how the pay isn’t enough for the hours they spend away from home, their hometime never works out, lack of sleep and the list just goes on and on and on.
Now if you don’t already know me, I am an OTR veteran with 42.5 years of driving experience. And yes, I have my whiny complaining moments too, but I also have chosen during my career to step back and take a realistic look at what’s really going on!
I can’t start to disagree with what drivers are trying to say these days. In 2003-ish I began to see a change take place in our industry. There was a huge change in how large carriers started describing their training schools in sales pitches. By this I mean it seemed like they had been taking pointers on building upon the principles used by “puppy mills.”
I watched closely. I began to see 14- to 16-day schools where “You too can become a truck driver in just 14 days.” I wondered why I was still learning – day in and day out – after 24 years at that point, I felt like I was still training. So I’m not sure if I was a little jealous because I had to work harder and longer and they learned it so quickly, or because I knew that NOBODY could learn to safely and competently operate an 80,000-pound piece of iron in 14 days!! (Or change their way of living in two weeks time.)
So began my journey to find out not only the training regime of these new-style training schools, but how were these new drivers going to adapt to not only learning to operate a tractor-trailer, but who was going to explain to them that their life was about to turn upside down!?!
Okay, you want me to get to my point of what is the big deal of life on the road? Somewhere along the way, DMs and others in these companies forgot that new drivers don’t have the tools to survive the lifestyle of being an OTR driver right out of the 14- to 16-day classroom.
I think they probably left their yards after 16 days without a screwdriver and a hammer, let alone with new life skills. You are now reading this saying “HOW HARD CAN IT BE”? Hold up; stop slapping your computer and put yourself in someone’s shoes that came into our industry and had never been around trucking. They have had a career change because they lost their job, or a high school graduate trying to find their way, or a single mom or dad that has to have more money to support their babies, a widow or widower, an empty nester who has to have income in their later years. People from all walks of life, from every state, large city, small town and every level of education become OTR truck drivers.
BUT the day they stepped up into a truck it all changed and many weren’t prepared. They were used to living 10 feet from a bathroom on stomach bug days, 12 feet from a sink and hot shower that they didn’t have to walk through the rain and -0 degree weather to get to and back from. They were used to having a large enough refrigerator to hold a gallon of milk , mustard, mayo, ketchup, pickles, and every variety of ice cream in the freezer. Plus hot water to wash plates, bowls, pan and a real glass. (Yes, drinking out of a glass is like eating on fine china some days when you miss home.)
Then there’s losing closet and drawer space that now consists of two duffle bags to hold seven pairs of socks, seven pairs of underwear, seven shirts, seven pairs of pants and two or three hoodies, if you’re lucky. It definitely becomes a creative wardrobe. You have sneakers, boots and maybe a pair of “just shoes!”
Becoming a truck driver is a learning process that isn’t just about driving a truck. Teaching someone a new way to live in a small space. Many are “moving” from a 2,000-square foot home into 192 square feet.
Now you have an idea of the huge lifestyle change just in daily living. Now add the unknown that they have no control over where and when and how God only knows in this big country. Overwhelmed yet? I’m not done. Meanwhile, new truck drivers are trying to safely continue to learn to maneuver a 72-foot truck and trailer into places they’ve never seen.
They’re also living on someone else’s schedule that changes by the minute and in turn changes their sleeping habits, eating habits, exercise habits and their family time habits. Nothing is normal in this new world they have stepped into and no one told them there were going to be days after days after days like this. Believe me even I ask myself many days “What am I doing? I just want to be normal again!”
I hope you’ve made it down this far to see these ideas. I gave you details that can help you as companies, dispatchers, recruiters, safety, brokers and even other drivers reach out to unsettled and unhappy drivers. To educate new drivers coming into the industry to acclimate easier and understand that it is well worth the adjustments and learning the tricks of the trade so that you too will love being an OTR driver.
To help retain drivers, remember that they miss their families and when they make a promise to their family that they will be there for a birthday or anniversary that you get them there. Because all drivers want to know they aren’t trying to figure this out on their own. That they haven’t been tossed out into the sea without a lifejacket and that there is someone there they can reach out to 24/7 to ask questions. Even if it’s as simple as “How do I get a shower at the truck stop? They say it’s free. Will you help me?”
Read more articles by Ingrid Brown