Effective route planning is not just important for long-haul truck drivers: it is essential. There are a few core reasons for this elevated level of importance: ELD mandate, route compliance, road restrictions, fuel consumption, and driver well-being. Each of these is discussed further below, with accompanying insight from freight transportation industry executive Gagandeep Baidwan.
The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate limits the number of hours that drivers can perform services for a carrier to 14 hours. The term “perform services” is particularly important to understand because it does not exclusively refer to driving activity. Any service that a driver performs on behalf of a carrier — such as waiting to load or unload or waiting to cross a border — is part of this duration. Once the 14-hour limit is reached (of which only a maximum of 11 can be for driving), drivers must be off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours. And still, more rules must be followed to avoid significant sanctions and fines.
Drivers must take at least one break of at least 30 minutes before eight hours of driving time has elapsed since the end of their last off-duty break (which must have also been for at least 30 minutes). Furthermore, drivers can only stay on duty 60 hours in a 7-day period, or 70 hours in an 8-day period.
“With so many rules to follow under the ELD mandate, drivers need to be meticulous with their route planning, or else they could easily find themselves forced to halt their journey,” states Gagandeep Baidwan. “In our company, we strive to make sure that our drivers understand the importance of effective route planning. It can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful haul, or whether a driver gets to see their family and sleep in their bed, or is forced to spend the night in a motel.”
Even if truckers wisely abide by various rules imposed by the ELD mandate, they can still find themselves facing sanctions and fines (along with their employer) if they fail to heed all route compliance rules. For example, some roads restrict the type of cargo that is being hauled or the time of day/night that trucks can use certain roads.
Unfortunately for drivers, there is no standard set of compliance rules that applies to the entire country. Instead, there are multiple rules that must be followed based on the jurisdiction. Drivers need to make sure that their route plan takes these compliance rules into consideration.
Many roads and bridges were not designed for bigger or heavier trucks. As such, affected drivers must ensure that their route avoids these zones, even if technically traveling on them would not violate route compliance rules.
One of the worst things that can happen to a driver is realizing that they cannot safely navigate a steep bridge, narrow road, or hairpin turn that was not designed with trucks in mind. Avoiding these obstacles is critical to staying on schedule and ensuring customer satisfaction.
Quite often, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, on highways and roads, sometimes taking a more circular route is ultimately going to be better for fuel consumption.
“On a GPS, it is tempting to plan for the shortest route possible,” claims Gagandeep Baidwan. “However, drivers need to remember that steep hills and roads with heavily congested traffic will use up a lot of fuel. As long as it doesn’t compromise their schedule, drivers should plan their routes to maximize fuel consumption and minimize wear and tear on their truck.”
Being a long-haul truck driver can be both rewarding and lucrative. However, it can also be quite stressful at times. For example, drivers must deal with poor weather conditions, distracted drivers, hazards due to falling rocks and wild animals racing across roads and highways. Poor route planning only worsens the pressure and may ultimately force some drivers to take a temporary or permanent break.
“At our company, we are very focused on the wellbeing and safety of our drivers,” commented Gagandeep Baidwan. “We want our drivers to plan an efficient route that enables us to meet the commitments in our service level agreements. But at the same time, we want them to mitigate stress and feel good about performing such a vital job. One way that drivers can enhance wellbeing and limit stress is by knowing where rest stops, gas stations, and other amenities are located on their various routes. Sometimes just knowing that one can take a break and grab a bite at a trucker-friendly restaurant 100 miles ahead can make that leg of the journey a lot more tolerable.”