Trip Planning: Steps to Success

Success most often stems from planning out your future. The same is true in trucking. Every day we get behind the wheel and head toward our next destination which could be anywhere between a few hours to a few days away. The better you plan that trip before you start, the better the chances you will arrive safely, on-time and ready to head out on your next driving adventure.

So, let’s talk about trip planning. While working up a good trip plan is important, doing so quickly is an important consideration in the modern day world of ELD rules and regulations.

Elements of a plan

Let’s look at some of the things that go into making up a good trip plan in a timely way.

The first things we usually look at as drivers are, “How many miles is it?” and “When does it have to pick-up and deliver?”. Next would typically be, “Do I have enough hours to make the trip?”. If the answer is yes, then we proceed with our plan. Some schools of thought say to divide the trip miles by 50 miles per hour to estimate the duration of the trip. Personally, I’m not a fan of that method. But, for some drivers, it might be a simple and effective tool based on their method and style of driving.

I like to consider more factors that will affect my ETA for the delivery. I look at the area of the country I will be driving in. What are the speed limits in the area?  Will I have to drive through any major cities along my route? If yes, then what time will I be passing through them? What is the weight of my load? What kind of terrain and weather will I be encountering? Each of these factors gives me an idea of how much delay time to expect and prepare for as I drive towards my customer.

As many of you know, I run exclusively on resets. So every day I have the maximum hours to run unless I’m down to my last driving day of the week. So, if I am given a long trip, and I’ll use 1600 miles as an example, I can run it out as fast as legally possible. But to do that efficiently and effectively requires a great trip plan.

Sample plan

So here’s what I would do.

Using 650 miles as a solidly productive day with a little cushion on it for parking purposes, I double it to make 1300 over two shifts of driving. The total time with required rest breaks is now at 44 hours. I have a 350 mile shift remaining for the final leg of the trip at average speeds and a couple miles of off interstate driving to the customer. The final leg includes a VI, around 5.5hrs driving to delivery, and then figure in up to 30 minutes for either docking or a drop and hook. So I now have a total time of 60.25 hours.

But what about factors that could slow me down? If I was travelling through a minor city at rush hour, I would add 10-15 minutes delay time. For major cities like Atlanta and such, I’ll add in an extra 30 minutes. For the monsters like Dallas/Ft. Worth or Houston, I’ll plan an extra hour of delay time. Mountains like in the east and west? If I am heavy, I’ll add in an extra 30-45 minutes depending on how many miles are in the mountains. If I am light, then 15 minutes of delay will usually cover it.

Weather can affect setting a solid and reasonable ETA. A strong head or cross wind can slow your overall average speed so you might want to account for a minimum of 5 miles per hour, per hour you will be in the wind. The same goes for driving through severe weather like heavy thunderstorms, snow or ice. Based on your comfort level, what speed do you think you can maintain? Subtract that from your trucks running speed and the number of hours you will be affected and add that to your trip plan as well.

It sounds pretty complex at this point, because I am throwing the whole gamut of worst-case scenarios at you. But in normal day-to-day driving, we usually only need to account for a few of the items I have mentioned. So, let me get back to my 1600 mile trip. I generally run my loads straight through and stop only for mandatory items and reasons. In my initial 2 day leg I stated it would take me 44 hours. That assumes 11 hours driving x 2 and two 10 hour breaks. Also included in the 44 hours, is two 30 minute breaks, two 15 minute fuel stops and two 15 minute vehicle inspections. The final leg includes a 10 hour break, a 15 minute vehicle inspection, 5.5 hours of driving to my destination and delivering by either drop and hook or a live unload. The total time without delays is 60.25 hours. If any of my first 2 shifts require me to stop shorter than my expected full 11 hours’ drive I simply add the lost time to the end of the final shift.

Let’s say I would have to drive through Kansas City at afternoon rush hour so I am going to add in about 15 minutes of delay. When going through St. Louis I will take a minor detour to bypass construction adding another 15 minutes to my trip. The weather looks good along my route so nothing to factor in there. And the delivery is by drop and hook. If it had been a live unload, and I was not familiar with the customer, I would add an additional two hours to my PTA. But, in this case, my trip plan looks like 60.75 hours from departure to delivery.

Planning to park

Parking is one of the biggest variables we have to plan for since the enactment of the ELD mandate. Will there be parking available when I expect to end my day’s drive? Planning ahead in advance will help you remain productive and reduce your stress level at the end of the day when parking “crunch time” hits. Consider if and where parking could be available at day’s end. And ALWAYS have at least a couple of backup plans.

If it’s going to be later in the evening, you may want to look at parking at a Walmart or other location that allows it. The best advice I can give is to use Google maps or some other service that gives you a satellite view of the place. Look to see if trucks are parked there. Call the place to see if it is ok to park there overnight or during your break. There is also a book available in our company store called Park My Rig that gives detailed information on an enormous number of non-traditional locations that allow truck parking. Use every tool available is my motto.

Making the right call

With experience, a driver can learn to create a trip plan in just a few minutes. Sometimes, those which are very tight on either H.O.S. or time on the clock will require a more in-depth look at every possible item that can affect your trip. I’ve had to really look hard at some loads with very slim margins. Sometimes it came down to knowing I would be just short on hours, or time, by as little as 15 minutes.

But by making the right call to turn down a load the system suggested to a planner, I’ve saved my asset manager from eventually having to find another driver willing to come and get the load that I should not have accepted in the first place. Most of us have had to swap with a driver at times because they didn’t account for all of the variables and accepted a load they could not have delivered safely and legally. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t always work out in everyone’s favor.

Look at all the factors and come up with a good trip plan every time. And keep yourself updated on changing traffic conditions and weather so that you can inform your asset manager of potential delays as soon as possible. Stay informed, and ensure you keep those people working for you informed as well.