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Patience Pays: The lives of exhibition freight drivers

On the surface, it may seem like an oxymoron for a tractor-trailer driver to deliver freight for the time- sensitive exhibition industry.

Due to the sheer size of these vehicles, they may not be the fastest. And aside from trying their hardest to stay out of the blind spots of tractor trailers, many an exasperated motorist has sped from behind these large vehicles to cut them off. We’ve all seen it numerous times when the lone tractor-trailer is left in the dust of compact and sub-compact sedans. Perhaps, we’ve even been the driver of one of those sedans.

At times, it seems like large truck drivers must have the patience of a saint to do their jobs. While they probably no doubt have that, chances are if they managed their time wisely and followed U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations and state laws to the letter, these drivers will have no worries about checking into a convention center’s marshalling yard on time.

The marshalling yard itself is a true test of patience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Picture you’re at the Sands [Expo Center], and there are 100 trucks checking in at 8 a.m. They have to decide who checks in first. When it’s your turn, they call you on your cellphone,” stated Rick Watts, Las Vegas city manager, Sunset Transportation.

When Operations Manager Dave Turner finds himself in the marshalling yard, he has been known to pass the time by reading or mingling with other drivers.

“There could be about 50 drivers waiting outside for their turn — in 100 degree heat if you live in Las Vegas,” added Turner. “You need to have patience. It is hours waiting to be called to unload your freight due to exhibits having to be moved into [the convention center in] a specific order.”

Driving across country requires even more patience for tractor-trailer drivers.

According to Turner, it’s all about planning cross-country trips accordingly and having good time management skills.

He noted that for experienced drivers, such as himself, this isn’t a problem. Driving professionally in the U.S. Army in 1978 and outside the military by 1985, Turner understands the issues other drivers face when he electronically monitors their logs via XRS software.

Estimating the software to be about 95 percent accurate due to its operating off cellphone towers, Turner stated that if a glitch occurs with XRS, it’s usually due to human error. XRS logs include information about drivers, such as their name, their current location and the speed at which they are traveling. This type of monitoring ensures drivers stay within legal and DOT guidelines.

Drivers are restricted to being on the road for 14 hours a day and no more than 70 hours a week. They are also allowed to take 30 minute breaks every eight hours and are aware that lengthy breaks not only cut into their daily drive time, but could mean delaying an exhibition shipment.

“If they don’t manage their time well, they could end up with a violation for driving past their time, or they may have to pull over to the side of the road to avoid driving, which isn’t recommended either if it isn’t a designated rest stop,” Turner explained.
When transportation companies and their drivers plan their time and routes for tradeshows, they also must consider that drivers have to rest for 10 hours after their arrival, so this too must be painstakingly calculated and stay on target.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALuckily for drivers, when they do get a chance to rest, most likely they don’t have to worry about checking into a hotel thanks to sleeper trucks. Many sleeper trucks are outfitted with all the comforts of home, such as beds, satellite TVs, mini fridges and microwaves. No shower? Don’t worry – the truck stop has one.

When drivers hit more than one city, this is usually when their observation skills come in handy.

“Sometimes drivers will have freight from the same client but going to different locations. Drivers have to be involved in the loading of the freight and watching the labels. You can’t stand by idly when you’re a driver,” Turner stated.

Drivers can deliver between 9,000 to 15,000 pounds of freight, according to Watts, and they must make sure it’s secure and that it doesn’t get damaged. Usually secure within crates, the client’s product could also be pad wrapped and restrained inside the vehicle with logistical straps.

Sunset Transportation has drivers ranging from age 25 to 81. The company ensures drivers are experienced – and, of course, have patience. It also complies with the U.S. Department of Transportation regulation that drivers get medical exams every two years to make sure they are healthy and fit to drive.

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