My initiation into trucker e-logs under fire and my acceptance…

To truckers who fear electronic logs or e-logs as they are called, I quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

I write this but must admit I was apprehensive, to put it mildly, myself until maybe just a little less than 24 hours ago. And I do not yet have the thing mastered, but I did use an e-log for a run up to Portland, Or. and back to my home base in Redding, Ca.

(My pre-trip training into e-logs was little more than here it is, go for it. But along the way I got a lot of help.)

Upon my return the shop foreman asked me how I like the new system (he has to deal with them at least as far as installation and upkeep and when they move the trucks around the yard).

My response was something like this: at first I hated it, then I began to like it, then I hated it again, and finally I liked it again and accepted it. If you want to drive the big truck nowadays you have to accept reality and do the best you can — that is all anyone can do (despite tight restrictions on movement enforced by law enforcement officers that can run counter to the demands you get from dispatch and shippers and receivers and your own need to make a living).

But in going back over my initial experience, which was something akin to a baptism under fire, I realize that it was no different from several I, a baby boomer, have had in my lifetime — and I survived.

My first experience with new technology was when I was still in the newspaper trade and we moved from typewriters to video display terminals (actually computers — forerunners of the desktops and laptops, and tablets, and let’s add the now do-everything cell phone of today — even if I am still using the flip phone — I am planning to upgrade as soon as I can, though).

I remember it well. I had quit one job in disgust and took another one, and the new place was on these new video display terminals — no more copy paper, no more ink-stained hands from changing your ribbon, no more pencil marks on all your copy to correct your typos (I made a lot of them), spell check (gosh could it get any better?), search and replace, and much more.

The new boss gave me quick verbal instructions on how to operate this new-fangled electronic typewriter that was far more than a typewriter. There was no instructional manual I was shocked to learn (or if there was there was none for me).

So, using old-fashioned terminology I know, I typed in a story (should I say keyboarded?). I loved the way I could correct my errors or rewrite and see what I was doing right on that TV screen (well it looked like a TV). The story was long. I was proud of it. And then it disappeared before my eyes never to be seen again, at least in its original draft. I did not know how to save it on the computer (there was no save icon or button then).

I sat in front of that thing for a day or more not able to get anywhere while my computer-experienced co-workers keyboarded away, seemingly oblivious to my plight. I finally told my boss I did not think this was going to work for me. But he asked one of the reporters to help me. The guy suggested I keep a notebook and jot down everything as I learned it. You have to realize that back then we had to input something called formats, which were unintelligible letter and number codes. But anyway before long I was keyboarding my stories in just like the rest of them.

Then years later came the cell phone. Actually at that time they were easy, and my favorite true story about the cell phone (I know I began talking about e-logs for trucks, but this all ties in) goes like this:

I made a career change from journalism to trucking in my mid 40s. I was brand new and team driving. I and another driver, both of us based on the West Coast, were on the East Coast wanting to get a new dispatch to head back home. But we were always in competition for loads with our fellow drivers in the same company. One or the other of us would need to get out of the truck and go over to the pay phone and make a call to dispatch. But we saw one of our fellow company drivers already headed that way. Drat! he’ll get the next load and we will be left sitting. I looked at my co-driver and said: “watch this”.

I had one of the original bag phones (you know in a canvas case, looking like an old army field phone without the spool of wire).

I placed a call to dispatch and beat the other driver who had not yet reached the pay phone. Technology was our friend.

In the interest of space and time I will leave out some of the other technological breakthroughs I overcame (well there was the shift — play on words here — from manual shift trucks to automatics — best move ever!).

Now as I said, I have not yet bought a smart phone. I am one of the few (I know, though, I am not alone) on the planet to still be using a flip phone). But learning how to do the e-log is no more complicated that using that new smart phone I am sure — maybe less so from what I have heard. Or probably about the same.

So now the concern is will I as a driver (and I am talking about everyone’s concern not me personally) be able to do my job and make enough miles (long-haul is paid by the mile) with that darned e-log tracking every second (no more “adjusting” your paper log to make it all fit)?

The answer: either I don’t know or something has to give. There is already a driver shortage and drivers are not going to accept a pay decrease (not for long anyway).

A driver shortage works in our favor. The industry it seems to me will have to get more efficient and cut down on those waiting times and make more sensible dispatch decisions. And I do not mean to criticize dispatchers (cardinal rule for truckers — don’t make your dispatcher unhappy). I even sympathize (to some extent) with shippers and receivers (some of them). I know the complexities of logistics (after 22 years being involved in it). There is lots of traffic on the road, a drastic shortage of parking spaces to take our rest breaks, bad weather, and ever-tightening hours of service regulations in the name of safety. And with all of that is the demand for “just-in-time” delivery. No one wants to or can afford to keep huge inventories, so it is like next-day delivery or as-soon-as-you-can-possibly-get-there delivery. Also I haul a lot of produce. Shelf life is short on most of it, so it is a rush to get it there while it is still good.

But something has to give.

As drivers paper logs were our best friend and our enemy at the same time. They forced us to fudge (cheat some people call it) because our bosses knew we could and expected it but took no responsibility for it, and we wanted to (had to) make money (who doesn’t?). Also, writing (and rewriting) paper logs is time-consuming and risky (two-thousand dollar and more fines — possible loss or suspension of driver’s license). Not to mention making one feel he or she is a criminal.

Even though I am a newby on e-logs (and I am not ashamed to say I am sometimes technology shy) I realize it is a new day. At 68 years old I just have to go with the flow or get out of the stream. I’m going to give it a go.

There is the conundrum of what do I do when I am at a shipper or receiver and my time runs out and my unforgiving e-log won’t let me “adjust things”. I’ve already had that happen and I won’t go into detail — a kind of Fifth Amendment thing.

Until there is some workable provision in the law to deal with getting caught over hours and no place to park (some think there is but in my reading there is not) all I can figure is I have to cut back on dispatches I will accept. If it even looks like it will run me over time I might have to decline — and that hurts because it means less money and maybe I don’t start heading for home as soon as I would like or maybe I get caught in that approaching storm over the mountains because of the delay. And besides I feel like I am not helping the company who is the source of my livelihood.

Even though I am on a more flexible schedule (fewer miles), voluntarily (I asked for it), due to my age and the fact I am on Social Security, I do not intend to work for less money for what I do. Something has to give. And I am sure that drivers out there who have families to support do not intend to work for less, regardless of hours of service restrictions and electronic surveillance (what it really is).

Something has to give.

p.s.

Make no mistake about it, all of this is just an intermediary step to driverless trucks, which will replace probably not all but a vast amount of the national fleet. But this is today and we have to live with today’s challenges. But for young people: I’d look for a different career — unless you want to train in computers and logistics or repair of the systems used. I’m sure we will always need what we today refer to as “mechanics” or “technicians” — but they will need more and different skills than required in previous times, plus some of those old skills.

 

 

 

 

 

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