Erich Schmidt is a veteran writer and journalist, formerly with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Citytv, and an award-winning author. He is also a professional long haul truck driver.
The lure of the open road. It’s an ideal that’s pervaded North American society for as long as there have been trucks on our highways and byways. It’s a real thing and a primary reason that many thousands of people choose to become a truck driver. Upon taking the plunge and beginning to learn the ropes of the trucking business, these people begin to discover so much more. Firstly, if they didn’t already know it, they learn that our economy is massively dependent on the trucking industry: namely, the endless throng of drivers that commit themselves to hauling the freight that drives society. There’s simply no overstating the importance of truck drivers and the truck driving industry. Their value may be well summed up in the rhyming motto: “If you bought it, a trucker brought it.”
Truckers don’t simply ‘bring’ freight. This may be tantamount to saying that doctors ‘bring’ babies. There’s an endless amount of machinery – both literally and figuratively – that goes into picking up and delivering freight. From logistics companies and shipping and receiving departments at factories and warehouses to mechanics, dispatchers, forklift drivers, trucking company owners and beyond, millions of folks in North America are intricately involved in the movement of goods.
Truck drivers are the most crucial cog in this machinery. It’s not that their jobs are more important than any of the other roles. The fact is, freight simply doesn’t move without someone behind the wheel. That someone will perform a variety of critical tasks that require training, skill and focus. If performed well and as necessary, these tasks can lead to a less stressed and far more enjoyable drive.
The many tasks that you will perform as a truck driver include:
- Planning your route so that you reach your destination in the safest and most efficient way; this includes the study of maps (including Google Maps), operating a GPS unit, and communicating with your trucking company and/or customers
- Preparing your truck for a multi-day trip, which includes packing your gear (clothing, bedding, food, phone and gadgets, etc.), assembling it in your truck and securing it so it doesn’t move while you drive
- Inspecting your tractor-trailer to ensure that the entire rig is safe to operate and is free of defects
- Safely navigating your tractor-trailer, weighing over 4,600 kg with three or more axles, between various points of departure and points of arrival
- Guiding your tractor-trailer into docks and reversing into parking spaces is the single most difficult thing you will do consistently as the driver of a big rig
- Driving individually, or as part of a two-person team or convoy
- Securing freight as required; this depends on the type of load and who loaded it; for instance, LTL (less-than-load) truckers will typically secure all freight that they pick up at each point of arrival, whereas truckers that pick up full loads typically are not involved in the securement of freight
- Assisting in the loading and unloading of freight, as necessary and as allowed; for instance, directing the forklift drivers where to place freight according to your company’s needs when picking up multiple loads
- Crossing the border and understanding the preparations and requirements for crossing various border points
- Troubleshooting emergency and non-emergency defects and need for repairs; relaying this information to your trucking company, company mechanics, or third-party repair company
- Performing minor roadside repairs – such as applying heavy duty tape – under the direction of your company’s mechanics or safety supervisor
- Signing in upon arrival at a location and relaying information between the customer, the trucking company and any third-parties
- Parking your truck at the end of each shift in a safe environment and ensuring that your rig is ready (free of defects) for the next day’s shift
- Preparing yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally – for the travails that may occur during the course of a day or week of driving a truck; this includes inclement weather, construction, unsafe and distracted drivers, collision/accident scenes, long waiting times at customers, and ultimately delays in returning home
- Communicating as needed with other drivers, your company’s dispatchers and safety department and customers using your cell phone, on-board computer or electronic logs device, or two-way radio
- Completing paperwork as required in assisting your company’s documentation requirements; obtaining special permits or other documentation required for cross-border trips
What is a truck driver?
We all know someone who is driving or has driven a transport truck for commercial purposes. The names commonly attributed to someone in such a role include truck driver, transport truck driver, long haul truck driver, professional driver, big rig driver, semi-truck driver, tractor-trailer driver and owner/operator. These names all refer to someone who drives a full-length tractor-trailer, with or without sleeper cab, up to approximately 74 feet (22.5 metres).
There are many other types of commercial vehicles and many titles given to those drivers. These titles include dump truck driver, flatbed truck driver, logging truck driver, bulk goods truck driver, moving van driver, shunt truck driver and tow truck driver.
According to the Government of Canada’s National Occupational Classification, truck drivers “operate heavy trucks to transport materials over urban, interurban, provincial and international routes. They are employed by transportation companies, manufacturing and distribution companies, moving companies and employment service agencies, or they may be self-employed. This unit group also includes shunters, who move trailers to and from loading docks within trucking yards or lots.”