Every load and every road will present a set of circumstances that you will have to factor in when planning your route. Each run is unique unto itself. You would not run across I-20 in the middle of summer hauling 10,000 pounds the same way that you would run up I-81 in the dead of winter hauling 46,000 pounds. An experienced driver knows that each load requires its own trip plan. A proper trip plan can help eliminate, or at the very least prepare you for, many of the challenges that you may experience. Too many drivers run without a proper trip plan, which leads to frustration and the potential for finding themselves in a bad situation that need never have happened. In addition to helping to make your trip a little smoother and your truck a little more efficient, getting into the habit of “trip planning” will also help you learn to manage your time better. Consistent trip planning will help you to be more aware of how much time you spend on routine tasks.
Trip planning is necessary for many things including, avoiding late delivery/pickup, providing a more accurate ETA/PTA, minimizing the loss of drive time and productivity, eliminating OOR costs for the driver, avoiding the potential for damage to your driving record, avoiding a lack of fueling options, and preparing yourself for a lack of essential services at the end of your shift.
While avoiding a late delivery or pick up should always be foremost in a driver’s mind, it is usually best to proceed on schedule. Remember that your dispatchers and load planners are basing their next move on your ETA/PTA, and if either of those are terribly off, it can bring the whole plan crashing down. Also, you must take into consideration that some of our shippers and receivers will fine us if we arrive too far outside of our delivery window, whether that’s too early, or too late.
Trip planning is essential to avoid being late on delivery but pick up times are also just as important and you must make every effort to ensure that you pick up on time. Picking up and delivering on time will also help your dispatcher and load planners to accurately and effectively dispatch your truck. The more precise you can be with your times, the more accurate they can be with your reloads.
Trip plans that minimize wasted drive time, will ensure that a driver can utilize their 70 hours to maximum effect. At the end of the day, more effective utilization of your 70 hours puts more money in your pocket. An effective trip plan also helps you avoid potentially costly “out of route” charges and fines/tickets for being somewhere you are not allowed to be in a 5 axle CMV.
You must always be aware of the availability of fueling options. If you are running across the desert there will obviously not be as many fueling options as you might find on a crowded metropolitan corridor. On some routes, you will not hit an approved fuel station for hundreds of miles, and you need to make sure that you are factoring the availability of fuel into your route plan.
One of the most frustrating parts of a driver’s day is…the end. Trying to find a legal and safe parking spot can often turn into a nightmare. A proper trip plan can help you know for certain where you should be at the end of a “day” and in turn, that will help you plan for where you will be parking. This can make the difference between just 80 ft of available real estate, and 80 ft of safe parking that gives you access to bathrooms, showers, fuel and a restaurant.
Some of the resources that will help you effectively plan your trip are company GPS/Directions (phone numbers, comment screen on Driver Tech), a personal GPS, and a road atlas. Although GPS systems are great, never blindly follow any of them. They are just 1 tool of many for you to use. When you make your last stop before arriving at a shipper or receiver, take a moment to review your trip plan and familiarize yourself with anything you will need to remember once you leave the highway.
The proper parts of a good trip plan are:
Establish your expected mileage. This can be found in the “trip info” screen of your Driver-Tech, and on your navigation screen
Check to see if there are specific PU/Delivery times or if it is FCFS. (First Come, First Served)
This can be found in the “trip info” screen of your Driver-Tech, and on your navigation screen
Determine what Hours of Service you have available.
Access your US-8 screen to view your available hours (if you do not have the available hours, notify your dispatcher immediately. If you are running on “recaps” you will need to use your “Logs” screen to determine how many hours you will recap after midnight for the following days, if it is a multi-day run (add line 3 + 4). The best formula to use for determining how long you will need on average is 50 MPH. During the winter months, or on a heavy load in a mountainous region, you may need to factor at a lower rate of speed. If you will be passing through any major cities you will need to factor in extra time for any possible traffic or construction zone delays
Determine which route is suggested to you by the company. Check the weather in the areas that you will be traveling through. This is very important during the winter months. (If you see that you will be running through any severe weather, alert dispatch and ask if there are any other routing options available to you.) Make sure that you have chains on board during the months that most states require them. Better to have them and not need them, then to need them and not have them. Make sure that you have all permits that you are required to have if your route will be taking you through any states that require state specific permits/stickers.
Determine if you will need to fuel before, during or after the trip and whether you will need to scale the load. You will need to make sure that you always factor the weight of full fuel tanks (roughly 700 pounds) into your trip plan if you make a habit of fueling before all your pickups. Full tanks can sometimes cause you to be over gross. If you will be hauling a heavy load, factor in the time you will need to scale and adjust the load accordingly.
Check the address and phone number provided in Driver-Tech. If the address and the phone number check out (Google) always try calling the shipper/receiver for directions. If the address comes back in a residential neighborhood or anything strange, double check the address, try Googling the shipper or receiver as it may just be a mistake with a number. If you still cannot find it, contact your dispatcher and ask for some clarification.
Enter your destination in your personal GPS, Using a truck specific GPS, enter your location and pull up your turn by turn instructions. If both your personal GPS and your company GPS have the same route, you are in good shape, but you are not done just yet. If the two GPS units are giving you different directions, you will need to proceed to the next step. Pull up the destination in Google Maps or something similar. Zoom in on it and check out the surrounding area, look for any signage that is specific to trucks. Look for truck gates, or any detours near the destination. Back track on the map to the point at which you should exit the relatively protected highway. Always check for anything specific to you and map your route from there to the shipper/receiver. If your directions on the driver tech and/or your personal GPS are different from what Google Maps shows you, you will need to check your directions against what is provided in your comment screen/truckers GPS.
Always try to call the shipper for directions whenever possible. If you are unable to get a satisfactory answer from comparing the different routes, always call dispatch to try and obtain some clarification. Sometimes they or customer service will have more information available.