Date Posted

December 21, 2021

Dave Elniski, Industry Advisor, Safety & Compliance, AMTA

Looking at the past in terms of a month, a quarter, or a year has the effect of averaging out daily highs and lows.  When I was trucking, I remember many bad days and good days that, after a month, averaged out into a general mood.  I remember mentors and employers telling me in times of stress to “consider the big picture” when making decisions.

Such advice was valuable during challenging times.  For example, my personal record for the most installations and removals of tire chains in a shift is four.  That’s four complete chain ups and chain offs in a single shift on a snowy day in the Lower Kootenays of British Columbia.  I enjoyed being able to meet the challenge; however, it was a bad day in terms of productivity.

It wasn’t unreasonably risky to be on the road that day; winter driving and tire chains are just a fact of life as a trucker in some parts of the world.  On that day I wasn’t thinking like a businessperson, though, and I might have done better to just park and wait for conditions to improve.  But, speaking on the order of months rarely resonates with people concerned about today.  It didn’t feel right to wait, so I worked harder than normal for my dinner that day.

As I think about the drivers forced to access the Lower Mainland of BC via the Highway 3 corridor, I appreciate the challenging decisions many must make as they decide when to stop or go, when to chain or not chain, and how hard it is at times to see the big picture as you watch snow pile up on the hood of your truck, clawing up a slippery grade, listening for any unusual sounds from the chain-bound tires, knowing the worst conditions lie further ahead at the summit.  Highway 3 is tough.  Truck drivers, some of whom never thought they ever would, will drive it for the first time this winter due to blockages on other routes; these are experiences many will never forget.

Trust and respect are the keys to bridging the gap between big picture thinking and daily challenges.  I could trust my carrier, on that particularly-tough winter day, in their ability to keep me working and paid.  I felt respected and trusted in their understanding that, due to the conditions, I would be delayed; this trust and respect empowered me to make the decisions necessary to keep myself safe.

In this example, the big picture is the steady work and pay that made the job worthwhile despite a bad day.  The daily challenges are the bad road conditions, constant chain ups and offs, and resulting delays. Those daily challenges work against the big picture; enough bad days eventually make any job pointless. However, my trust in the carrier to make the job overall-worthwhile kept me going.

Big picture plans should consider daily challenges.  Carriers will need to do their best to honour customer commitments while being responsive to and understanding of unexpected reports from drivers that mess up a load plan.  Drivers also need to feel a sense of support from their carrier; hopefully, they understand their on-road problems will be fully-evaluated by their carriers as opposed to feeling circumstances outside of their control will lead to additional punishment once they get back to base.  Fortunately, our industry is full of carriers and drivers that create such environments of trust.

Back to our current challenges, now is certainly the time to take things safe and steady.  Training, understanding of compliance requirements, sound equipment, rested and alert drivers, and the watchful eye of our tireless commercial enforcement officers will haul us through this unusually-challenging winter season.  When we look back at this time, transportation workers will have given us countless examples of trust- and respect-building professionalism and commitment.