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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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Top Dangers Heavy Haulers Face

Heavy haul drivers keep a variety of industries supplied with the parts, materials and equipment needed for a variety of operations ranging from heavy construction and mining to agricultural endeavors. The drivers also encounter multiple types of problems while on the road, encompassing driving disasters, injuries, and illness.

Heavy Haulers

Driving-Related Accidents

Rules and regulations are in place dictating how long drivers can engage in over-the-road travel before they must rest. However, heavy haulers are still subject to schedule changes and irregular sleep pattern resulting in a lack of sound slumber. Like everyone else, drivers can also have difficulty falling asleep.

Drivers of passenger vehicles also present problems. They don’t consider the extra space that heavy haulers require to stop, turn and make lane changes. Those risks increase with oversized loads. Sharp curves, rain-covered roads, snowy or icy terrain, and steep hills increase the potential for a truck to experience a jackknife situation or roll over. The potential for loads that shift or break loose are always a very real danger, particularly on bad roads.

Equipment-Related Injuries

Heavy haul drivers also experience robberies, though it’s an often-overlooked hazard of the job. Trying to protect a load from thieves can result in serious injury or even death. Loads are secured and checked before drivers set out. However, burns, electric shock and hazardous emissions do occur. Material may be ejected or chains come loose, along with shearing or crushing.

Health-Related Problems

Heavy haul drivers can experience a variety of health problems ranging from obesity, diabetes, stress and high blood pressure to cardiovascular disease, cancer and musculoskeletal injuries. Entering and exiting truck cabs can be hard on joints, while exposure to hazardous chemicals is also a concern. While it’s not often discussed, male and female drivers experience assault and rape.

Heavy haulers are far less likely to see a doctor regularly due to their schedules and it can be difficult for them to contact their primary care physician. Even though telehealth appointments can help, if blood work, x-rays or lab tests are needed, drivers may not be logistically situated to obtain those diagnostic tests. Further complicating treatment is that drivers can’t take some types of medications while operating a tractor-trailer rig.

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How Much do Truck Drives Make

The truck driving industry has been romanticized in a variety of songs and films, leading to multiple misapprehensions about the trucking lifestyle and pay scale. There are numerous variables in regard to how much truck drives make. Annual incomes for truck drivers have come to the forefront of conversations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and an influx of women into the industry.

Driver

According to the National Transportation Institute, in 2001 the primary factors affecting pay for commercial drivers were driver turnover, the number of available drivers, consumer demand for products, and freight rates. The average annual income for U.S. truck drivers is a little over $66,000 per year, according to a survey conducted by Indeed.com.

Factors affecting pay scales include experience, the type of load being hauled, and the region. Independent owner-operators have greater incomes than those that drive for a company, with an average of $220,000 per year. Heavy haulers average from $75,000 to $120,000 per year.

Excluding ice road trucking that’s extremely dangerous and requires extensive experience and endorsements, specialty vehicle hauler incomes range from $67,000 to $89,000. Team drivers can make from $67,500 to $80,000, with fleet driver incomes steady at about $87,500. Tanker and liquids drivers average about $75,000, with hazmat drivers coming in between $55,000 to $73,000.

It’s important for anyone considering a job in the trucking industry to be aware that those are best case scenario incomes. The median income for truckers has steadily declined since the 1980s and in some areas of the nation, pay has decreased by as much as 50 percent. Many attribute the decrease to The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 that imposed a variety of rules and regulations to which truck drivers had to adhere.

The trucking industry provides a multitude of opportunities for individuals. However, to earn the most income it may be necessary to relocate to a different part of the nation where pay scales are higher. Additionally, not everyone is equipped to handle the trucking life. It requires considerable time alone, spending time away from family and friends, and it can be stressful.

Those disadvantages are offset by the ability to make a decent income right away, a high level of job security, and benefits. Bonuses may be offered for driving certain routes and truckers have more independence than other professions. It all begins with getting a CDL license.

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When is a Load Considered a “Heavy Haul”?

Anytime that a load exceeds specific dimensions, it’s considered a heavy haul. As a result, trucks may require flashing lights, signage and special permits to travel, along with one or more escort vehicles. Very specific hours of operation may also be mandated. However, not all states have the same requirements for a heavy haul and it’s essential that drivers be prepared for changing rules over multiple states.

Heavy Haul

The following are the criteria used to denote a heavy haul load.

  • Weight – Anything over 46,000 lbs.
  • Width – Loads exceeding 8.6 ft. Shipments greater than 16 ft. wide are considered a super load, requiring road closures or other special accommodations.
  • Height – Any load that’s 13.5 or more
  • Length – Loads that exceed 48-53 ft.

There are very good reasons for the laws governing heavy hauls. Infrastructure hasn’t always kept up with the needs of the trucking industry and the locations to which they deliver. There are still narrow bridges, low-hanging overpasses, and rural roads built for nothing heavier than average passenger vehicles. The routes taken by a heavy haul load must be carefully mapped out to prevent damage to the freight, truck or roadway.

Truck and trailer combinations require extra stopping distances – about 200 ft. for a complete stop. The stopping distance increases by a little more than 25 percent for each 20,000 lbs. added after the first 80,000 lbs.

The logistics of getting a load from one location to another takes time and careful planning. A professional heavy haul company has the experience, knowledge and technology to ensure loads arrive at their destination on time and at the least expense to the client. The companies are also cognizant of all relevant laws and will choose the best trailer type to ensure the safety of any load.

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Are There Special GPS Routes for Truckers?

In the interests of safety and facilitating deliveries, many trucking companies have adopted modern GPS routes technologies. They function in much the same way as a passenger vehicle GPS, but they provide a myriad of other information to a fleet manager based on a specific truck and the load that’s being transported, along with its weight, height, length and any applicable load restrictions.

GPS Routes

There’s a wealth of GPS models designed for truckers and they deliver a much more complex range of information. They help truckers deliver their cargo with more efficiency, less stress, and improved safety. The devices also help truckers save on fuel costs. Weather and traffic conditions can change radically depending on a multitude of factors and a trucking specific GPS provides drivers with real-time traffic and weather updates.

Trucking GPS routes units are equipped with Wi-Fi and have the ability to work with onboard backup cameras, speakers, electronic logging devices (ELDs) and a variety of other equipment and systems. Data is available about overpasses, bridges and roads that are inappropriate for the truck and its dimensions. Depending on the unit, it will also inform truckers about restaurants, rest areas, weigh stations, and safe places to park for the night.

Dozens of GPS routes apps are available for download, but the data they provide is often limited, relies on the trucking community for information, and charge a monthly usage fee. Some have add-ons that can be downloaded, but the cost can quickly add up. Drivers can still quickly find themselves on a road with a low overpass, narrow bridge, or roadways that aren’t designed for the weight of the truck.

A GPS routes unit designed for passenger vehicles isn’t up to the specifications required by truckers. Any trucking company or private hauler would do well to spend the extra money for a GPS navigation unit designed specifically for the trucking industry instead of taking chances on a car GPS or downloadable app.

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Heavy Haul Drivers in Demand

There’s a high demand for professional heavy haul drivers and it far exceeds availability. There are a variety of reasons for the shortage, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditionally a male-dominated industry, more women are entering the workforce, but it’s still not enough to make up for the shortage.

Heavy Haul Drivers

The trucking industry has been sounding the alarm since the 1980s, leading many to disbelieve the claim and point to retention problems rather than a lack of drivers. There’s a perfect storm of issues that has led to the current situation.

The turnover rate for heavy haulers, and traditional drivers, is up to 90 percent in some areas. Many individuals are eager to become heavy haul drivers. However, entry level pay, demands of the job and working conditions are powerful deterrents.

One of the stumbling blocks for hiring heavy haul drivers is age limits. Currently, individuals have to be at least 21 to transport loads across state lines. Drivers below that age can move heavy haul loads within the state in which they live.

Drivers used to be able to make a decent living as a heavy haul driver, but wages at trucking companies often haven’t kept up with the rate of inflation. Depending upon the trucking company, drivers may be paid by mileage rather than for their highly specialized skills. Additionally, driving hours are restricted and individuals are only allowed to be on the road for a specific amount of time each day.

In recent years, an increasing number of heavy haul drivers are retiring and the situation was exacerbated by the pandemic. There’s also a segment of drivers that discover they’re not psychologically suited to the stress and singular life that’s common for heavy haulers.

They can be gone for days or even weeks at a time. They miss the time spent with family and friends and feel disconnected when they come home only to discover the world outside their truck has changed significantly during the interval.

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Axles and Weight Limits

There’s a complicated formula that the federal government uses to determine the weight limits per axle within the commercial trucking industry. The weight limits are designed to place less stress on road surfaces, thereby facilitating more efficient transportation of products and goods. Weight limits were also enacted as a safety measure in the event that a truck has to swerve, change lanes or avoid obstacles.

Federal law dictates that single axles are limited to 20,000 lbs. and gross body weight is limited to 80,000 lbs. Truck axles that are spaced more than 40 inches, but not more than 96 inches apart (tandem axles), are limited to 34,000 lbs. However, states also have their own set of weight limits that can be significantly different than federal specifications.

Weight Limits

The specifications are obviously different for heavy haulers and there are multiple levels. The first is for those hauling 120,000 to 140,000 lbs. The second level is 140,000 to 180,000 lbs., followed by 180,000 to 240,000 lbs. The fourth level is for loads of 240,000 to 330,000 lbs.

Power and Balance

In addition to selecting the optimal tractor-trailer combination, companies must also consider a myriad of other factors during a heavy haul job. They must balance the tractor against the weight to ensure the tractor has enough power to move the load while obtaining the best fuel mileage. Other elements include the distance to be driven and the type of terrain, such as steep grades or frequent starts and stops.

The axle distance and weight limits per axel were designed to protect roadways, bridges, and the public as trucks began carrying heavier loads in the 1950s and 1960s. The specifications linked the spacing and number of axels to overall weight. Without significant upgrades and updates to existing infrastructure, changing those specifications could result in serious damage to roads and bridges.

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Does Your Haul Require a Tarp?

Some states have strict tarping laws which require a tarp, while others don’t, but it’s important for heavy haulers to know that the federal government does. Drivers must be cognizant and compliant with tarping laws established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), along with those established by the state(s) through which they’ll be traveling.

Loose Materials

It’s always assumed that dump trucks and certain types of trailers are hauling loose materials such as dirt, sand, gravel, tar-and-chip, trash, recyclables, and scrap materials. In Florida, it typically doesn’t apply to transporting agricultural products. There are 11 states that have no tarp laws for dump trucks, but there are also exceptions.

Tarps are used to keep loose materials in the trailer or dump truck and prevent them from spilling, leaking or blowing out of the vehicle. Loose debris from trucks can result in an accident if it hits a passenger vehicle. It’s one of the reasons why heavy haulers wash dirt and debris from heavy equipment before transporting it.

Heavy Equipment

When hauling heavy equipment, a tarp may or may not be required as long as the load is secured with chains and straps. A tarp typically isn’t required for hauling heavy equipment and logs, along with girders, trusses and beams that require specialized securement methods. There are exceptions, depending on the weight of the load, and if it’s being transported on a pallet.

UV Sensitive

There are instances where a tarp may not be legally required, but the cargo may be sensitive to degradation due to UV rays. It’s critical that individuals understand the specific requirements for the cargo they’re transporting.

Keep Advised

The laws governing the trucking industry, and even private individuals hauling items in a home trailer, are subject to change with short notice. It’s essential to keep advised of laws governing every aspect of hauling items on or in a trailer, even if they’re not professionals.

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The Importance of Truck Weigh Stations

Even though many truckers complain about weigh stations and the time it deducts from their schedule, weigh stations perform an important function. Weigh stations ensure a truck’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) doesn’t exceed maximum standards. It’s a way to prevent damage to public roads.

Trucks that are too heavy for the construction of the road and associated bridges cause an exceptional amount of damage to highways and the repair costs can be enormous. It also results in significant delay times for traffic due to repairs and construction. Truckers that exceed weight limits are assessed a fine. The stations are often used for the purpose of collecting taxes on transported goods.

Drivers are required to stop at an open weigh station and there’s typically a state police officer located nearby. If the trucker makes the decision not to stop, they run the risk of being pulled over, ticketed and will be required to return to the weigh station. Trucking companies will be fined a pre-determined amount for each pound they’re overweight. The fines increase as the amount of the overage increases. Amounts vary by state.

Weigh Stations

Weigh stations were first established following passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956. They were originally implemented to collect fuel taxes owed by commercial trucks using the road. Times have changed and weigh stations are no longer used for that purpose.

Trucking companies now file a quarterly tax report as per an International Fuel Tax Agreement. However, weigh stations are still equipped with scales and utilized to enforce weight restrictions and check the drivers’ log books.

Some weigh stations have been updated to embrace modern technology. In those instances, a truck will drive over a scale built into the right lane of the highway about a mile prior to the weigh station. An automated system, or the operator of the weigh station, will decide whether the truck has to stop at the actual station. The decision is based on the vehicle’s weight and the history of the trucking company.

Truckers that can use this type of technology have a transponder installed in the truck. A green light will appear on the transponder if they can skip the station. A red light means that the trucker will have to actually pull into the weigh station.

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Transporting a Tiny Home?

Tiny homes are becoming more popular and tiny home parks are springing up across the nation. While there’s no official size designation for a tiny home, they’re generally 600 square feet in size. The homes can be established on a permanent foundation, but they’re most often referred to as a tiny house on wheels (THOW) since they’re built on trailers.

Dimensions

The maximum dimensions allowed to be transported without a special permit is 8 ft. 6 inches wide, 13.6 inches tall, and 40 ft. long. However, they usually don’t exceed 32 ft. in length. Instead of towing the houses, many companies that construct them are opting to have the dwellings transported via heavy haulers.

Tiny Home Transport

Transporting a tiny house isn’t a simple matter of hooking it up behind the family pickup or SUV and moving it to a new location. Everything depends on the tow vehicle. The average weight of a tiny home is approximately 10,000 lbs., but can be up to 15,000 lbs. It has a high profile and will catch the wind. Hauling a tiny house isn’t a task to be undertaken by the inexperienced.

Towing

Individuals will need a tow vehicle with enough power to pull the load with ease. All trucks and SUVs aren’t created equal. Vehicles with the same sized engine don’t necessarily have the same towing capacity. There are also other concerns. The tow vehicle needs to have a hitch that’s compatible with the one on the tiny house. Tow chains will be required, along with the wiring to accommodate the tiny house trailer’s lights.

A truck with a tow package may suffice and there are also companies that rent tow vehicles. It can be much more cost-effective, safer and less nerve-wracking, to outsource the transport to a heavy hauler company. They have the specialized trailers and experience with various types of loads to prepare them for transport and to move a tiny home safely.

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