When it comes to essential skills for trucking, trip planning is almost as important as knowing how to drive your truck. Taking the time to make a detailed plan about your days driving will more than pay you back for the time invested. Proper trip planning will help you drive more efficiently, safely, and save you from making a lot of mistakes that can ultimately cost you time and money.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILED TRIP PLANNING
Driving can be very unpredictable from day to day. Any unforeseen issue can throw off your ability to get to your delivery point on time. Construction delays, bad weather, or running into a traffic jam are all things that can happen to a driver who isn’t planning where they are going. There are only so many variables you can control when you are out on the road, things are still going to happen no matter how carefully you plan. However, minimizing the risk to your schedule as much as you can will give you the best chance possible to pick up and unload on time.
BETTER TRIP PLANNING MEANS MORE MONEY
Time is money in trucking, no questions asked. One of the biggest gripes truckers have about their industry is a prevalence of driver detention at loading and unloading, and few shippers that pay detention time. Even for those that do, it usually only kicks in after a couple of hours. You aren’t earning unless your wheels are turning, as they say.
However, even if your wheels are turning, poor or non-existent trip planning can hurt your ability to earn. At its most basic, effective trip planning is about choosing the fastest way to get from one place to another. When you are lucky to get 5 mpg fully loaded, even shaving a few miles off your trip here and there can quickly add up.
Sometimes, the best way to get from one place to another isn’t the shortest. In addition to distance, things like road conditions, speed limits, terrain, truck stops, and other available services make a huge difference to your efficiency. Taking a route that shaves miles off your trip but takes you through the mountains might cost you in the long run. All these factors need to be accounted for and balanced against one another.
Even knowing exactly where the scales are on a route can make a difference. If your load is pushing you to your max GVW, something as small as having too much fuel in your tank can push you over the edge. If you fueled up right before running into an unexpected scale, it can cost you time while you sort everything out.
EVEN MORE ESSENTIAL IN THE ELD ERA
With the new ELD requirements in place, a trucker’s hours of service are being much more closely monitored than in previous years. Truckers who exceed their hours of service are no longer going to be able to fudge their books to get around them. Previously, most trucking companies considered getting the load delivered on time to be their most important priority. If that was impossible to do within their allotted hours of service, they would often make changes to their log books to make them comply with the hours of service requirements. Now, with ELDs making such practices impossible, truckers are going to be out of options when they cannot deliver on time without violating hours of service. Putting the effort into calculating your time on the road to account for these possibilities is more important than it has ever been.
HOW TO PLAN YOUR TRIP
Perhaps by this time you have been convinced that trip planning is important and something that you should do. How do you go about planning your trip? Thankfully, there are a lot of resources out there for a trucker looking to get started; but here are a few tips to get you on your way.
1. Figure out your actual mileage. Punching in two locations into your GPS can give you a pretty good estimate of how far you have to go, but extra driving to truck stops, rest areas, and other service locations will all add up as you drive. All those things need to be expected and accounted for.
2. Plan the exact route you are driving, including where and when you are stopping for fuel/food/breaks/etc. You don’t want to skip stopping for gas and find yourself sitting at empty and stuck in traffic 30 miles from your next fuel stop.
3. Determine how many miles you can travel per day, giving yourself a buffer for unforeseen circumstances. Flat tires, wrecks creating traffic situations, and scale backups can burn precious hours that will even throw off the most meticulously planned trip. Scheduling everything down to the wire with no room for error is a recipe for hurting your driver rating or ruining your reputation as a company.
If you are comfortable with technology, there are a lot of apps and software that can help you as well. Besides your GPS, you can find apps and services specifically built for trip planning that include important information like rest areas, gas prices, and parking information. Some of these services are free, but many of them are not, requiring a monthly subscription. However, a paper road atlas can still be a great tool to help you find the best way from point A to point B, especially when confronted by extended construction delays or terrible traffic. Not to mention, you never have to worry about your road atlas running out of batteries.
Trip planning can be a lot of work, but it is really an investment into your business. Taking the extra time to carefully plan your trip each day will help you maximize your profits, minimize your delays, and make the most of your time on the road.