It’s no secret that the holiday season is the busiest time of year in the trucking and transportation industry. While many people are preparing to enjoy a relaxing time with family and friends, drivers and trucking companies will be anticipating and navigating potential issues that come with peak season.
Just within the holiday season alone, hundreds of millions of shipments will be made across the United States. This presents challenges in multiple different ways. For one, there has been an ongoing shortage in the total number of qualified truck drivers throughout the U.S., which presents problems when attempting to move such large quantities of freight to roughly 80 percent of communities across the country.
There’s also the fact that, within the U.S., the holiday season falls during the winter season. This time of year can often bring adverse conditions and unpredictable weather patterns that affect not only truck drivers, but also the millions of other travelers on the road. Add in other large-scale problems within the industry, and you begin to see why planning is so important when it comes to holiday trucking and the seasonal rush.
Below, we’ll go over some tips to help drivers ensure that the holiday season goes off without a hitch.
Planning Tips for Holiday Trucking
The increase in consumer demand during the holiday season can bring great opportunities for drivers and owner-operators. However, the flipside is that consumer expectations are also at their highest this time of year.
How you plan can make or break having a happy holiday season, whether you’re a truck driver, owner-operator or even a consumer.
Start as early as you can.
It’s important for truck drivers and companies to be as efficient and organized as possible to ensure timely deliveries despite tight deadlines and, potentially, adverse weather conditions. In order to achieve that efficiency and organization, drivers need to ensure they start their holiday trucking prep early.
Reach out to shippers or brokers you work with regularly to get an idea of their holiday shipping schedule so you have a better idea of what to expect (e.g., anticipated busiest days or weeks, expected lead times, etc.). You can also use this time to start preparing your truck for winter conditions (more on that later) and ensuring you have all the resources you need to maximize efficiency (e.g., favorite load boards, route planning tools, fuel discounts, funds and more).
Communicate clearly and consistently
Communication is key at all times, and especially during the holiday rush. Do your best to make sure the people you’re working with are aligned on everything beforehand, whether it’s timelines, expectations, route planning or anything else. Ideally, this will help mitigate last-second surprises. In the event something does happen, such as an unexpected delay, it’s imperative to communicate any potential changes as soon as possible with all affected stakeholders.
On the other hand, if you plan to take time off and your company allows for it, submit any PTO requests well in advance. This helps ensure that your manager and/or the company are prepared for your absence.
Take advantage of downtime
If you’re on the road for an extended period of time, it’s likely that you won’t have the chance to take care of less pressing tasks that you’ve put on the backburner.
Whether it’s in the months before the holiday rush or when you have a day off, use your downtime to your advantage to complete things like required paperwork, safety inspections, physical exams or any other necessary tasks.
Many drivers and owner-operators worry about cashflow, which can impact their ability to take on more business quickly. For many, those concerns only grow larger during the holiday rush as they look to cover the expenses needed for fuel, maintenance, repairs and more.
In order to budget properly, it’s essential to track every purchase you make and understand where your money is going. For trucking companies as a whole, one way to do that is by implementing trucking-specific software that allows businesses to track their accounting needs. Drivers can also track invoices and increase cash flow through factoring and by taking advantage of fuel card programs and other special discounts.
Holiday Trucking and Winter Safety
Truck driving during the holiday season presents a number of risks that are both in and out of drivers’ control. Meeting consumer demand is important and the financial benefits can be significant, but the safety of truck drivers and others on the road always comes first. Below are some things that drivers can do to help mitigate risk.
Prepare your truck.
Ensure that your truck is built for winter by taking care of preventative maintenance and by inspecting your truck’s equipment. Make sure that things like your battery, tires, windshield, fuel filter, cooling system and more are all operating properly and built to perform well in harsh conditions. You should also have additional winter items like tire chains, salt and anti-gel on hand in case conditions become particularly harsh.
Drivers should also be ready for the worst, as nearly a quarter of all accidents on the road happen due to winter weather conditions like ice, sleet, slush and snow. Practice safe driving habits and remember to be slow and cautious when conditions aren’t ideal. You can also help yourself by consistently checking weather conditions, communicating with dispatchers, wearing extra layers of clothing and keeping emergency equipment on hand.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has laws on hours of service for a reason. As high as demand is this time of year, and as much pressure as there can be to deliver goods on time, it’s far too risky and dangerous to drive if you’re sleep deprived. Especially if you’re driving in adverse conditions.
Pull over (if you need to)
The single biggest thing to keep in mind when driving during winter is this: when in doubt, pull over. Trust your instincts, because if driving feels unsafe to you, it probably is. In the event of unexpectedly icy roads or inclement weather, it’s always better to arrive late or reschedule than to put yourself, other people or your equipment (as well as your loads) at risk. And finally, always make sure to communicate with all parties involved with your delivery if you do need to pull over or reschedule.
Doing what you can now to prepare for both the holiday rush and incoming winter conditions means you are more likely to be ready as soon as loads become available. More loads equals more business and more business equals growth.
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