Saturday, August 28, 2010

Legal in Canada

A couple of uneventful runs passed by this week, and I was wondering what to write about. Perhaps I should devote a blog to how bizarrely complex the paperwork is, considering we live in an electronic age…and I will sometime because it is all truly odd but another issue overtook the mental ramblings in the end and that is the insane hours truckers are expected to work. I don’t think of myself as lazy, but yesterday’s 16 hours seemed excessive, even if it is legal in Canada.

The rules go; you can work for a shift of 14 hours at a time, so long as only 11 of those hours are actual driving. In the US that is. Over here, 13 hours out of 14 can be behind the wheel. In effect, what with loading, unloading, vehicle checking, strapping things down and fuelling etc, it’s not easy to drive for 13 out of 14 hours, which is just as well, one needs to get out and jog round the truck from time to time just to keep the blood pressure up.

However, in Canada, you can extend your work shift to 16 hours if you take 2 hours off for rest sometime during the day. Or, you can pretend to. This is how the day went…

I got back to dispatch on Thursday at about 4 in the afternoon. I was quietly hoping there would be no work for me on Friday, quite often there isn’t. I’d been up since 4 that morning, just the 12 hour shift, and wanted a decent night’s sleep.
“There’s a load for you leaving at 2 in the morning.”
“What? I can’t do that, I need to sleep.”
“There’s no-one else, and your log finished at 3, so you can drive from 1, you’ll have had your 10 hours.”
“Legally, but not really. I’ll not get home til 5, I need to do laundry, sort out the cats, buy food…”
“That’s trucking.” My dispatcher says that a lot. It makes him feel clever.

They called the customer and got a delay on the delivery time, so that I could start 2 hours later. Gee, thanks. I dashed home, showered, made an omelette I didn’t really want, ate half of it and headed for bed about 7, to try and get some sleep before getting up at 3 in the morning to start driving again at 4.

It wasn’t a bad start to the day. I’d pushed the start round to after the 3 in the morning dip that everyone gets, and only drove a couple of hours in the dark. I always perk up when dawn begins and it turned into a happy enough drive to the same suburb of Detroit I’d been to last week. The one with the nice guards, the handy loos and the easy docks. Knowing where I’m going does help significantly with the anxiety levels, I found it, parked up an hour early and looked forward to a nice drive back in the daylight. I called despatch when I was unloaded and they sent through a drive round Detroit to a more northerly suburb to collect a load to return with. Excellent. Half an hour to the next customer, an hour to load, on the way home by 11 in the morning, an early finish. I looked the new place up on the map, plugged it into the GPS, decided I liked the route the GPS had chosen and set off.

Of course, some familiarity with Detroit would have helped. The route Betsy selected for me took us around a ringroad that wasn’t quite a freeway, it had lots of lights, lots of traffic and lots of road works. Lanes were coned off and shifted about here there and everywhere, cars and bikes were weaving in and out around me and the drive got a little stressful. All of a sudden the satellite went off and started making urgent beeping noises. We’re not supposed to read messages while driving so I left it. Then my cellphone went off as well, someone wanted me urgently. I picked up the message at a set of lights (still illegal but at least I was stopped) they had changed their minds, someone else was going to the customer they’d sent me to and could I pull in and call for a new assignment. Well the short answer was, no I couldn’t pull in. I was in the middle of Detroit in road works. You can’t just park a truck, it’s illegal and dangerous.

The only way I could stop was to find the nearest freeway, head out of town until the traffic thinned a little and pull onto the shoulder of an off-ramp. It’s still illegal but less dangerous. Michigan police patrol the roads very efficiently, I wouldn’t have long but I pulled over a junction past someone broken down with a patrol car in attendance, hoping their attention would be held by the ‘bear bait’ for a minute or two.

I had no idea where the new destination was, no time to look it up properly, so I punched it into Betsy with fingers crossed, she may not take me the best way round but at least she’d get me there. Of course, first I had to turn round and go back the way I’d come, and I’d driven quite a long way out of town to find a stopping place, so I was looking at another hour at least.

I don’t think, judging by the number of ‘Michigan turnarounds’ I ended up performing, that I took the optimal route. But perhaps it was a classic case of ‘if I were you I wouldn’t start from here’. The Michigan turnaround is an over-complicated way of turning left, that involves driving past the turning you need, taking a filter lane into a small u-turn crossing in the median, coming back the way you came and turning right instead. It’s not so hard in a car. Most of the little u-bends are built so that trucks can just about make it round but you have to be spot-on, remember to take up a lane and a half to start with and ‘bend the traffic’ as you complete the turn. All very well when you know where you’re going, but lost, late, sweating and trying to quell the panic, they are no fun at all.

I found the new shipper just as they went to lunch. There were two trucks in front of me waiting to be loaded. It wasn’t going to be quick, although in a way that helped me with backing into the dock. It was a setup where the docks are under cover, which means that although the yellow reflective marks which delineate the dock edges are there, you can’t actually see them until you are under the roof. When it’s too late to use them.

I called despatch.
“I’m waiting for them to finish lunch and load 2 trucks in front of me, it’ll be at least an hour.”
“That’s ok, we don’t need the load back until 9 tonight.”
“But if I don’t leave by 1 I’ll be out of hours, I started at 4.”
“You gain 2 hours when you cross the border, cross at Sarnia, you’re only an hour away, then you can drive 2 hours longer.”
“I can drive for longer but my shift won’t extend unless I take 2 hours off.”
“That’s trucking.”

In the end I left at 1.30. I could just make it if I made no stops and had no delays at the border. But Detroit had other plans for me. Betsy directed me, via another half-dozen Michigan turnarounds, to the freeway which would take me to Interstate 94 and the border. Road works had closed the ramp from one road to the other, and tiny orange detour signs funnelled everybody off onto a small local road to pick up the Interstate about 10 miles further north. It took an hour and a half to get round the detour and onto the Interstate. By which time the Friday afternoon tourist traffic had piled up heading for the border. I finally crossed into Canada at 4 in the afternoon, with two and a half hours driving to get home, and only two hours left in my shift.

Fortunately I’d wasted so much time driving round in circles in Detroit that I could rewrite my driving log and pretend that I had had two hours off in the middle of the day without making my driving hours conflict with the distance driven. Thus, suddenly, a 16 hour shift became legal because I’d crossed the border.

I delivered the load at 6.30, drove back to the yard, dropped the empty trailer, parked the tractor, finished off my paperwork and delivered it all to dispatch at 8 in the evening, having started work at 4 that morning. Maybe I’d have felt better if that mythical 2 hour snooze had been real. This is in no way remarkable, it’s the standard expectation. Now, I’m doing this for fun, out of interest, because I can and until something better crops up or the book is finished (whichever happens first) and I’ll survive it if I can and stop if it looks like my health can’t take it…but people do this for a lifetime’s work. These people work bloody hard and think nothing of it. I’m tired and I’m in awe. Off for a nap.

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