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article imageLong-haul truck drivers adapting to high fuel costs

By Abigail Prendergast     Jul 14, 2011 in Business
Truck drivers are being obligated to keep their rigs' speeds at reduced rates of motion because of rising fuel prices. This move on the part of trucking companies has drivers pretty much crying foul for the most part.
People who are accustomed to driving their cars back and forth to work generally feel the jabbing thorn of high gas prices in their flesh. Essentially forced to get creative in order to save money on fuel via carpooling or investing in a vehicle with better mileage, drivers have been feeling the pinch of the rising cost of gas for some time. Now another collective of drivers can be added to the list of those who need to adjust how they operate in order to conform to the escalating price of fuel: long-haul truckers.
The price of diesel gasoline is teetering on $4 a gallon, and truck drivers are feeling the pinch as businesses are stepping in to put the lid on climbing fuel bills by remotely tapping the brakes of their truckers. Many businesses in the field have gone and fine-tuned the rigs' engine-housed computerized governors, thus lowering the trucks' top speed.
One trucking firm, Titan Transfer LLC, cut its 18-wheelers' rate of motion from 70 miles per hour down to 65. Titan is also paying extra to those who are willing and able to get the best fuel economy possible out of their trucks.
This tactic comes as infuriating news to drivers for the most part. Terry Kelley, one of Titan's employees was "about to pop a gasket" when he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. His truck averages about five miles per gallon, which is significantly less than the seven mpg standard Titan has put into place.
"They called and chewed me out about it today," Kelley told WSJ recently. Since truck drivers are paid per mile, what Kelley brings home in pay has been reduced as he cannot cover as much ground. He stated that the mileage cap is "like trying to eat a french fry with a hand over your mouth. It's not going to work."
Truckers nationwide are perceiving this new trend aimed at getting as much fuel economy out of the trucks as possible, as an end to an era. The age of big-rigs going above and beyond set speed limits has - to the dismay of many drivers - come and gone.
Dwindling down highway speeds by five mph betters the trucks' economy by half a mile per gallon. Titan annually spends about $24 million and anticipates "huge" savings by means of their five mph decline business strategy, said company chairman Tommy Hodges.
Apparently truck drivers have a tendency to repeatedly speed up their rigs and subsequently slow them down. This maneuver consumes fuel at a very quick rate and as such Titan attempted to educate their truckers about cruising. Mr. Hodges described the technique as driving "like there's an egg under the accelerator."
The primitive technology of 1970s trucking apparatuses was welcomed by the drivers of the day in the vein of a dog welcoming a bone. CB radios assisted the truckers back then to effectively avoid speed traps, and with federal limitations on how many hours they could spend driving in a day they kept several log books to conceal how long they were really spending on the road.
"I used to have three log books," said 52-year-old Terry Johnston reminiscing on the golden days of trucking. "You could run anywhere you wanted to."
The 21st century, however, is a far cry from truck driving's hey-day. In this day and age, a trucker's every move is captured electronically and sent back to the dispatch center, where the data is then taken apart by supervisors. A contraption that drivers compare to the TV reality series Big Brother, which is a black box in the truck's cab and wired to a satiellite dish by the truck's roof. The gadget relays all of the data back in the company's direction in real time, including "the truck's location, its speed—even what gear it's in."
Although these tactics have been designed to derive more efficient driving and thus better fuel economy, it can apparently have the opposite effect and actually burn more diesel fuel. On a very hot day in Dallas, trucker Randy Murray left his rig's engine idling in order to keep the air conditioning running for two hours because he was waiting on orders to obtain 44,000 pounds of Coca-Cola brand soda and take them to Florida.
Murray said his only other option would have been to "sit here in a 100-degree truck and sweat to death." Even though he could have turned the engine off completely and spent the time within the cooled-down truck stop, he claimed "he wouldn't have been able to see when the computer in the cab told him to get moving."
Safety advocates state that reducing the speed of the trucks is as effective in saving lives as it is gas. Some truckers agree with that notion, including 69-year-old John Gilbert who shredded the pavement in his rig back in the 1970s getting from one coast to another in a matter of three days. "Some of the stuff I did when I was younger scares me," Gilbert said. He currently finds a sense of comfort driving the steady 65 mile per hour speed.
Other drivers disagree with that sentiment and argue that the strategy is actually more dangerous and will cause a greater amount of vehicle crashes. This idea is due to the notion that cars' drivers will get easily upset by the slowed speeds the trucks are going at and try to rapidly make their way around them.
More about Truck drivers, Fuel, Titan, Gas, Driving
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