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On the Road, ‘Time is Everything’

Lessons from a Ride-Along with a Professional Driver

As a technical writer, I spend most days in front of a computer screen trying to find the best words to describe the features of Trimble Transportation’s software.

So, I didn’t hesitate when NFI Industries gave a few Trimble employees an incredible opportunity to spend a day riding along with a professional driver. The day was a masterclass in the daily challenges drivers face. It provided the best possible insight into how our applications can improve a driver's daily experience. 

Getting the Day Started

My day started at NFI’s office in Newark, N.J., at 5:42 a.m. on a Thursday. I was scheduled to arrive at 6, but good thing I was early because Del, my driver with 25 years of experience, was already waiting for me to start the day.

“Time is everything in this business,” Del, a man about my age, said calmly. I liked him instantly.

The task for the day, we learned from dispatch, was a 243-mile route to (1) deliver a full trailer to a distributor in North Jersey; (2) hook an empty trailer and return to Newark; (3) bobtail to a distributor on Long Island and hook an empty trailer; and (4) finally swap that empty trailer for a full one at a Long Island manufacturing site.

Automation in Action

At the start of the trip, I geeked out on how Del used his Trimble electronic logging device (ELD) to enter route and trailer information. He then launched CoPilot GPS navigation to direct us to our first stop. Del knew the route, but he appreciates how CoPilot calculates accurate ETAs so he knows when he should arrive at each location.

Keeping accurate time on the road helps fleets provide quality customer service, and it keeps drivers safe and legal. With his ELD, Del could see in a single display how many hours he had driven and when he was due for a rest break. The ELD gathers information from the truck’s on-board computer, tracks its GPS location, and sends data to the back office. As a result, previously manual tasks such as calculating detention time at a facility can be automated.

It seemed clear that the more tasks that could be automated, the more Del could solely focus on the unpredictable challenges in his day—like rain, traffic and bad drivers. (Pro tip: Get in the right-hand lane well before you approach your exit. Don’t try to suddenly cross multiple lanes in front of an 80,000-pound truck.)

Life on the Road

As the hours went by, Del shared what he likes (the independence) and doesn’t like (traffic) about life on the road. He also politely answered my wide range of questions. “Do you get annoyed when kids ask you to blow your air horn?” I asked.

“I love it,” Del said. “I used to do that same thing as a kid. I’ll blow the horn even if I’m in a residential area. I know it could make that kid’s day.”

Back Home

It was around 4:30 p.m. when we arrived back in Newark to finish the day. I was exhausted, and I headed home with a renewed appreciation for the men and women who keep freight moving in our country—through good days and bad. I also keep with me some sage advice about time from Del.

“Sometimes as a truck driver, and in life, you have to be patient,” he said. “Be patient and good things will happen.”

Back at my computer, the experience will help me better look for ways in my writing to show how our applications can help drivers save time. It's also a great reminder to find ways, in my own work day, to eliminate unnecessary meetings, email messages, and chatter, which all distract from the focus of my job—creating content that supports exceptional customer service.

"I headed home with a renewed appreciation for the men and women who keep freight moving in our country—through good days and bad."
-Chris Johnson