Follow the money: How is that connected with driver fatigue?

by Fred Salley


Let's look first at a brief description of the concept of just-in-time (JIT) freight. To me, this means tailoring the consignee's ordering, inventory and production practices so that the next truckload of materials is delivered just in time to avoid a loss of production.

JIT freight is the Holy Grail of the industrial world. Let's say that your factory uses a truckload of widgets every 24 hours, and they are needed in the manufacture of your final product. Let's say that the staging area on your production floor will hold about a truckload and a quarter. This means that if you don't get any widgets in 30 hours, you will have to stop production. If you get two truckloads at the same time, you won't have anywhere to put the second load, and the truck will just have to sit there until you're ready for it. Why? Because you had no storage facilities allotted for raw materials, just finished products.

If these widgets are delivered and used as needed, it lowers your overhead. You don't own the widgets that you have not yet received, you don't ever have to own more of them than you will need in the next 24 hours or so. You don't have to pay for building a warehouse to hold more than that amount, or for financing, heating/cooling, insuring, property or other taxes, additional forklifts or manpower, or any other costs associated in having a non-production floor holding facility for those widgets.

If the truck gets to your dock, and it will be three hours before your staging area will hold them all, what is it to you? If you run out of widgets, you have to send people home, and maybe undergo an extensive shutdown and cleanup procedure for your assembly line that may take two or three days to get back up to operating temperatures when production starts again. You don't care how it happens. You just don't want it to happen, ever.

So you have a contract with your widget supplier that guarantees that he will have a truckload of widgets backed to your dock every day between, say, 6:00 a.m. and noon. Where are the widgets before then? You don't care, because the supplier still owns them. What if the supplier wants to hold his costs down? He won't have built your truckload of widgets a minute before he needs to, in order to minimize his production costs as well. If he has the truck at his dock, getting the widgets loaded as they come off his production line, he can keep his costs down (and profits up) as well. After all, he has set his schedules so that they will ship in plenty of time to arrive at the beginning of the critical window. That is, if everything goes as planned, and if the driver is ready to roll pretty much nonstop, if the trip is less than 600 miles, or more than that, if they can get the carrier to agree to it.

What if the supplier is later than expected getting the load ready? Weather bad? Traffic delays? Minor mechanical problems? These things nibble away at the window the driver has to deal with. The supplier doesn't care, the consignee doesn't care, not until he has been made aware that the delivery window will be missed, then all hell breaks loose. To suppliers, consignees, brokers, and some carriers, it's just mind over matter: they don't mind, and the driver doesn't matter.

When most raw materials were shipped by rail, manufacturers were forced to maintain larger inventories of these items, but in today's world of interstate travel, high speed communications, and the ability to track and communicate with over-the-road trucks, JIT freight becomes feasible, and every product-based business is enjoying its benefits. And they are increasingly designing their businesses to depend on it. Without JIT freight, they become unprofitable.

I'm not going to rehash all of the other fatigue factors that we see in practically every article about driver fatigue we have ever read. But I think that it is about time to mention this factor that will not be a topic of discussion in front of a senate committee, or studied by the ATA, the DOT, or any other regulatory body. Why won't it be mentioned? It's the money, that's why.  

Fred Salley has been employed in the trucking industry for over 25 years. He spent 13 years as an OTR driver, during which he amassed well over a million verifiable accident-free miles with one company, and 12 years in various management positions, including safety, personnel, terminal operations and maintenance. A resident of Boiling Springs, SC, he is currently employed by C&C Trucking of Duncan, SC, as night operations supervisor.

Salley says during his years in the trucking industry, he's personally known five drivers killed in single-vehicle overturns, four of which occurred at night. It is his belief that fatigue was a contributing factor in most of these accidents, so it's a subject he takes very seriously. During six years as a safety supervisor, he averaged doing about 600 accident reviews a year, some of which also had fatigue as one component of the makeup of the accident.

Salley believes it is imperative that drivers listen to their bodies and know when it's time to get out and take a break. More importantly, he thinks we need to act on that knowledge.