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Are Heavy Hauler Truck Drivers Unionized?

Some heavy haul truckers are union members and some are not. Those that choose to do so are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). Some of the largest trucking companies are unionized, along with smaller trucking businesses. Truck drivers who are classified as independent contractors can’t join the union.

Truck Drivers

Labor unions in the U.S. date back to the 18th century. They’ve been a driving force for better wages, benefits and working conditions. The IBT was officially formed in 1903 to represent horse-drawn team drivers, along with stable hands.

The history and nature of unions has been a rollercoaster ride since Congress passed the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. It deregulated the trucking industry and allowed more low-cost, non-union carriers to enter the industry, which decreased the power of unions.

Combined with that have been the union busting efforts of state governors to strip power from unions and private sector workers, along with bans against deducting union dues from paychecks, and prohibiting unions from participating in collective bargaining.

Current estimates are that only 2 percent of 3.6 million truck drivers are unionized, excluding government workers. Some trucking executives see unionization as the gateway to higher wages for truckers and lower profits for the company. Management of trucking companies say they’d rather take a “relationship building” approach with truckers.

For unionized long-haul truck drivers, the benefits can be worth the dues they pay. They include medical, vision and dental coverage, along with life insurance and long-term and short-term disability. Other heavy haul drivers prefer to negotiate for jobs and terms on their own.

Labor unions have been a topic of continuing contention in all industry sectors. There are some unionized individuals that have given away benefits, while others turned down unionization. Their rationale is that if they don’t have access to those benefits, other drivers shouldn’t either.

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Why Was DOT Created?

Established in 1966 by an act of Congress, the Department of Transportation (DOT) became operational in April 1967. The stated purpose was to ensure “…a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people,” according to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

DOT

It was first under the pursue of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation. It’s now headed by the Secretary of Transportation and encompasses a variety of agencies and departments that includes the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, Urban Mass Transportation Administration, and Federal Railroad. The DOT is responsible for aiding in the development and maintenance of the nation’s transportation system and the infrastructure to support it.

Former President Woodrow Wilson was the first to propose such an agency in 1921. The DOT grew out of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944. The Act was designed to improve highway systems across the nation to facilitate and expedite the transportation of defense materials and resources during World War II. However, no funding for the initiative was approved. It wasn’t until the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1952 that funds were allocated specifically for construction of the interstate highway system.

The importance of the highway system received new attention by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Cold War. Routes of primary importance to the nation were identified, along with those connecting the U.S. to Canada and Mexico. The highway system was seen as an essential element in urban planning and contributed largely to social and economic change.

Today, the DOT is responsible for planning transportation projects, providing funding for them, and maintaining transportation infrastructure. It sets safety standards for all modes of transportation and regulates mobility and transportation along interstate highways. It also oversees and sets rules for air and rail traffic.

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5 Important Safety Checks Before Hauling

Safety of other motorists and the cargo are primary concerns for heavy haulers. There are dozens of potential problems that can delay deliveries, damage the load, and lead to dangerous accidents when drivers don’t perform pre-trip checks. Here are some important safety checks.

Safety Checks

Tires

The tires on a heavy hauler don’t just go flat like they do on passenger vehicles. They split apart, with bits, pieces and chunks flying off in all directions. Everyone has seen remnants of large tires littering the highway – those are truck tires. If one of those fragments impacts a car, it can result in damage to the vehicle, cause the driver to lose control, collide with other drivers, or run off the road.

Lights

From changing lanes on the highway to making turns, the lights on a heavy hauler do more than illuminate the road. They also have “runner lights” on the trailer that help other motorists know the proportions of the trailer and its positioning. In the event of in climate weather or other roadway problems, emergency flashers are essential.

Tie Downs

Heavy haulers transport a variety of heavy equipment and machinery. The cargo must be secured in prescribed ways to prevent it from moving or coming off the trailer due to sharp turns, steep grades, or the need to stop quickly.

Brakes

Few motorists think about the extra distance that heavy haulers require to stop or turn. It’s common for drivers to pass and quickly cut in front of a truck on the highway or even follow too closely. It’s critical for drivers to ensure all braking systems are working properly, including service, emergency and parking brakes.

Trailer Coupling

The coupling may appear secure, but doesn’t mean it is. A faulty coupling is an invitation to a disaster. The trailer must be attached securely to the cab. That includes mounting brackets, locking pins, locking jaws, nuts and clamps to ensure the trailer doesn’t become detached and freewheel across roadways, into a ditch, or into buildings and other vehicles.

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Do Heavy Haulers Cause Air Pollution?

A battle over viewpoints has been going on for decades over the amount of air pollution that heavy haulers and ordinary tractor-trailer rigs add to the environment. Multiple studies have been conducted and the answer is yes.

It’s inevitable that the trucking industry would add to air pollution. Even though the trucks require diesel rather than traditional gas, they still have engines that create emissions when they burn fuel, just like passenger vehicles, trains and buses.

Heavy Haulers

A 2018 study conducted by the University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering concluded that large diesel trucks were the greatest contributors to black carbon emissions near major roadways. The study indicated that the type of vehicle matters more than traffic volume in near-road pollution.

Another study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that people living in low-income and BIPOC communities experienced 28 percent greater exposure to nitrogen dioxide(N02) emitted by heavy haulers than those in higher income areas. The affected neighborhoods are often near trucking routes. The study indicated that diesel trucks were the biggest emitters of NO2. What wasn’t mentioned is that production plants, factories and even power plants emit significant amounts of CO2.

A 60 percent decrease in heavy haulers trucking on weekends during the energy crisis between 1973 and 1979 resulted in a 40 percent pollution inequality. Those levels also declined during the pandemic when fewer trucks were on the road and a variety of production facilities were shut down.

NO2 aggravates the respiratory system and it also combines with other chemicals to create ozone and particulates. The compound interacts with oxygen, water and chemicals in the environment to produce acid rain.

The simple answer to the question is yes, heavy haulers and tractor-trailers contribute to air pollution, but so do many other industries ranging from those that provide electric power, manufacture clothing, and preserve food. It’s not just a single industry that’s responsible.

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Why do Bigger Trucks Take Diesel Gas?

Heavy haulers are required to transport items that are extremely heavy and that can include over hilly or mountainous terrain. Unlike passenger vehicles, tractor-trailer rigs don’t use regular gas. They require diesel fuel for a very good reason. Diesel gas has higher compressive resistance than regular fuel and releases more energy. The more energy that’s released, the greater the torque, which means more power to move the truck along.

Diesel Gas

Compression Rate

Car engines have spark plugs that ignites a mixture of fuel and air in the cylinder. Diesel engines rely on a high rate of compression. Diesel engines compress the air until it attains a high temperature so fuel ignites as soon as it’s injected into the cylinder.

Cost

While diesel fuel is typically more expensive than regular gas, it packs a bigger punch in terms of the energy it produces. That makes it more cost effective for heavy haulers that transport heavier loads.

Torque

The energy produced by diesel fuel is known as torque and is measured by the twisting force exerted on the engine. Torque is required for the force behind the engine. An engine may have a significant amount of horsepower, but without torque, it won’t have the power needed to get up to speed, maintain a steady speed, or pull a trailer and cargo.

Less Maintenance

Diesel engines are built to tougher specifications than gas engines. The engines are more reliable and require less maintenance than an ordinary gas engine.

Fuel Efficient

Diesel engines are actually more fuel efficient than the average passenger vehicle, relatively speaking. A fast car is rated in horsepower and is able to attain higher speeds in less time. Diesel engines are designed to produce enormous amounts of power to haul the heavy loads that heavy haulers are required to transport, while being able to maintain steady speeds.

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How to Calculate a Safe Speed with Your Heavy Haul

You often see heavy haulers on interstate highways and the speed at which they’re traveling can be a mystery for other drivers. Some drive the speed limit or more, while others are driving at a more sedate speed. There are actually calculations that are used to determine the speed that a heavy hauler travels.

Safe Speed

Rule of Seconds

Tractor-trailer loads require more time to stop than other vehicles and use the “rule of seconds” in terms of time to govern their speed. If you’re moving at 40 mph, you need to maintain at least 1 second of distance for every 10 ft. of your vehicle length. If you’re driving over 40 mph, you need to add at least 2 seconds and the seconds increase depending upon the length of your vehicle. For instance, a 60 ft. tractor-trailer traveling at over 40 mph should add 7 seconds of distance for every 10 ft. of vehicle length.

Application of the Rule

It can be difficult to judge speeds of other vehicles, particularly on interstate highways. To calculate following distance, watch the vehicle ahead of you when it passes a fixed point such as a specific mile marker, sign, fence, or overpass. Count how many seconds it takes you to reach the same fixed point. Reaching the same point before the applicable number of seconds means you’re following too closely.

Hazardous Conditions

When driving in hazardous conditions such as rain, snow, ice or even high winds, you’ll need to expand the rule of seconds. Depending on road conditions you may have to expand the rule anywhere between 4 and 10 seconds. If you need to come to a full stop in any of those conditions, it will take significantly longer. Your reaction time and braking distance will need to be factored into those situations.

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Choosing the Right Exporter for Your Heavy Haul

Exporting your equipment overseas can seem like an overwhelming prospect, particularly if it’s your first time. It doesn’t matter whether it’s brand-new equipment or a used piece of machinery, you want it to arrive in top condition and in a timely manner. There will be a significant amount of physical and digital documentation needed and selecting the right exporter for your needs is crucial.

Exporter

Reputable Company

An experienced heavy haul company with a trustworthy reputation will ensure your shipment arrives safely, on time, and with all the required documentation. The company will provide tracking and complete logistical information, know the best port from which to ship, and have the tractor-trailer rig that best suits the type of equipment being transported.

Shipping Port

Don’t make the mistake of drawing a straight line between the equipment to be shipped and the nearest port. Departure times and shipping fees aren’t the same at every port. Those two variables can add significantly to the overall cost and will definitely affect the arrival of your shipment. A heavy haul company can help if you need a combination of shipping methods encompassing truck and rail transport or Ro-Ro or container shipping. The specialists will also know if a piece of equipment can be partially dismantled to provide savings.

Shop Around

Not every heavy haul company offers the same services or a full line of trailers upon which to transport your equipment or machinery. It’s always a good idea to obtain three quotes to compare, especially if this is your first export. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin your search for transport. Heavy haul companies are booked well in advance. The good news is that heavy haul companies also have an “off season” and you may be able to obtain better rates during that time if you can wait to ship.

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How Diesel Prices are Affecting the Heavy Haul Industry

Anyone wondering why they’re paying more for the food and goods they consume, one of the reasons is the higher cost of diesel fuel. When the cost of diesel increases, trucking companies pass the additional cost on to their clients. That cost is again passed on to the consumer for the items they purchase. The high price of diesel is affecting the heavy haul industry in multiple ways.

Diesel Prices

Everyone has been feeling the pain at the pump, and nowhere is that truer than for those in the trucking industry. Prices have increased for diesel fuel at a far greater and faster rate than regular gas. The war in Ukraine has resulted in more oil being exported to countries in the UK and South America. That’s increased demand for domestically produced fuel – it’s a matter of supply and demand.

Some trucking companies and independent truckers say their jobs are no longer profitable. It’s led some to leave the industry, placing a further strain on deliveries to outlets that are already experiencing pandemic-related supply chain issues. Drivers are working more hours and are more stressed as they try to make up for a loss in profits.

Truckers say the current level of diesel prices is making trucking an unsustainable industry. They’re predicting empty shelves across the nation as consumers fight for basic necessities. Drivers are reporting a greater number of diesel fuel thefts from trucks as prices increase. They warn of more companies going out of business in an industry that’s already experiencing a driver shortage of approximately 81,000.

Higher diesel prices mean the per-mile charge for the trucking industry has increased and its outstripping fuel surcharges. Big box stores that move the greatest number of goods factors in the cost of fuel in their on-the-shelf pricing and for their quarterly earnings.

The cost of diesel fuel is affecting all sectors of the trucking industry. It costs more to transport seeds and agricultural products, harvested food, and manufactured goods. Some manufacturing plants also use diesel fuel, further increasing an already stretched demand that’s affecting every aspect of the trucking industry.

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Calculating Heavy Haul Freight Rates

If you’re in need of a heavy hauler, you can certainly try to deduce the rates you’ll pay. It will give you a ballpark figure with which to work. However, the best route to deliver your property isn’t necessarily what appears to be the straightest line. That’s when the expertise of a logistic expert is invaluable. It’s particularly important if you’re shipping overseas.

Heavy Haul Freight

Heavy haul rates are calculated on a per-mile basis. Some heavy haul companies provide online calculators that can provide a general idea of costs, but there are other factors that need to be considered. For the most accurate quote, contact heavy haulers in your area. Many offer a free no-obligation quote.

One of those other considerations is the load’s ultimate destination. When shipping to international ports, the most direct route won’t necessarily ensure that your load will arrive at the correct time – some ports operate 24/7, but most don’t. There may be infrastructure obstacles, road construction, and roads that are unable to handle the weight of the load. There may also be delays in unloading.

Heavy haul providers are focused on the best and safest routes for the load that enables it to arrive at its destination at the correct time. The time of the year you ship will also affect your rates. Heavy haulers are often booked months in advance. They’ll need to provide the correct trailer for the load and weather may be a factor. Depending on the load, specialized permits may be required.

It’s essential that you keep in mind that a single inch in the height, width or length of what you’re shipping can add thousands to the amount of your transportation costs. It’s possible for you to get an idea of what your heavy haul freight rates will be, but it’s always better to contact a company directly if you want to have an exact figure.

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What is a Pilot/Escort Vehicle in Heavy Haul Trucking?

Known as a pilot vehicle or escort vehicle, it’s a passenger car or truck that drives ahead of an oversize load in the heavy haul trucking industry. Escort vehicles are equipped with a rotating light on the top of the vehicle and are required to have an oversize load sign prominently displayed to ensure the safety of others on the road, along with the cargo.

Escort Vehicle

An escort driver is utilized when the cargo of a heavy hauler exceeds the height, weight or width of a normal load. The driver of an escort vehicle is in constant communication with the truck driver, providing support and guidance.

Road conditions can change quickly and unexpected construction work is always an ongoing concern. Escort vehicle drivers have a variety of responsibilities. The drivers prevent damage to roads, bridges and other types of infrastructure by the heavy hauler. They must also be insured and have specific certifications.

Escort drivers are responsible for coordinating movement of obstructions such as traffic lights, signage and electric wires. They also connect with law enforcement when needed to direct traffic. Escorts minimize delays by avoiding heavy traffic areas when possible. The vehicle drivers also assist heavy haul drivers safely change lanes, enter traffic and make turns.

The primary responsibility of an escort vehicle driver is to collaborate with the heavy haul driver to keep them apprised of any obstacles or impediments that interfere with the fast and safe delivery of the cargo. The requirements for equipment that escort vehicles must carry vary by state and are based on the dimensions of the oversize load.

Some states require the escort vehicle to be in front of the heavy hauler, while others require them to follow behind the tractor-trailer, and some states require two escort vehicles – one in front and one in the rear. State or local police escorts may be mandated for loads that require a road closure or take up two lanes of road. A height pole car is required on the lead vehicle to measure the height of any obstructions.

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