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Heavy Haul Drivers in Demand

There’s a high demand for professional heavy haul drivers and it far exceeds availability. There are a variety of reasons for the shortage, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditionally a male-dominated industry, more women are entering the workforce, but it’s still not enough to make up for the shortage.

Heavy Haul Drivers

The trucking industry has been sounding the alarm since the 1980s, leading many to disbelieve the claim and point to retention problems rather than a lack of drivers. There’s a perfect storm of issues that has led to the current situation.

The turnover rate for heavy haulers, and traditional drivers, is up to 90 percent in some areas. Many individuals are eager to become heavy haul drivers. However, entry level pay, demands of the job and working conditions are powerful deterrents.

One of the stumbling blocks for hiring heavy haul drivers is age limits. Currently, individuals have to be at least 21 to transport loads across state lines. Drivers below that age can move heavy haul loads within the state in which they live.

Drivers used to be able to make a decent living as a heavy haul driver, but wages at trucking companies often haven’t kept up with the rate of inflation. Depending upon the trucking company, drivers may be paid by mileage rather than for their highly specialized skills. Additionally, driving hours are restricted and individuals are only allowed to be on the road for a specific amount of time each day.

In recent years, an increasing number of heavy haul drivers are retiring and the situation was exacerbated by the pandemic. There’s also a segment of drivers that discover they’re not psychologically suited to the stress and singular life that’s common for heavy haulers.

They can be gone for days or even weeks at a time. They miss the time spent with family and friends and feel disconnected when they come home only to discover the world outside their truck has changed significantly during the interval.

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The Importance of Load Dimensions

Load dimensions are critical to transporting heavy equipment and machinery. Heavy haul drivers can be required to deliver to a wide range of locations, from metropolitan areas to rural sites. Drivers may have to contend with bridges, overpasses and a variety of road surfaces. All of those are critical elements when transporting heavy loads to avoid damage to trucks, cargo and infrastructure.

Despite improvements and repairs to interstate roads, there’s a whole other world out there where secondary roads have received only minimal upkeep to bridges. Many structures were built at a time when heavy haul loads were smaller in terms of height, length, weight and width.

Load Dimensions

Height

Almost everyone has seen at least one newscast showing a truck stuck under an overpass, disrupting vehicle or even rail travel. The damage to the truck and overpass can be extensive. It’s one of the reasons that escort vehicles are often used. Heavy haul companies make every effort to carefully map out routes to avoid those problems, but they can still arise. Escort vehicles run interference for truckers and keep them informed about potential problems.

Length

The length of a heavy hauler can be a problem, particularly on secondary roads that may have sharp curves and turns. Rural roads aren’t designed or laid out in the same way as primary routes. Heavy haulers require more room to maneuver.

Weight

Primary roads are typically maintained in decent condition, but there are exceptions. Secondary roads, also known as feeders, are an entirely different matter. They’re usually maintained by local governments and in an attempt to manage costs, the roadbed and surface may not be able to adequately handle the weight of a heavy hauler. Damage can be significant and the bridge may collapse.

Width

The width of a heavy haul load can also be problematic, especially on secondary roads and in rural areas. Many of the bridges in those locations haven’t changed much in decades, haven’t been updated to wider widths, and are nearing the end of their lifespan. No trucker wants to find themselves with a need to back up or attempt a turnaround.

Another problem in rural areas are bridges that are deliberately cut narrow to accommodate road widths or a lack of shoulders. Many of these constructions barely leave room for two cars to meet on the bridge at the same time. It’s easy to see how this presents a problem for today’s wider loads.

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Axles and Weight Limits

There’s a complicated formula that the federal government uses to determine the weight limits per axle within the commercial trucking industry. The weight limits are designed to place less stress on road surfaces, thereby facilitating more efficient transportation of products and goods. Weight limits were also enacted as a safety measure in the event that a truck has to swerve, change lanes or avoid obstacles.

Federal law dictates that single axles are limited to 20,000 lbs. and gross body weight is limited to 80,000 lbs. Truck axles that are spaced more than 40 inches, but not more than 96 inches apart (tandem axles), are limited to 34,000 lbs. However, states also have their own set of weight limits that can be significantly different than federal specifications.

Weight Limits

The specifications are obviously different for heavy haulers and there are multiple levels. The first is for those hauling 120,000 to 140,000 lbs. The second level is 140,000 to 180,000 lbs., followed by 180,000 to 240,000 lbs. The fourth level is for loads of 240,000 to 330,000 lbs.

Power and Balance

In addition to selecting the optimal tractor-trailer combination, companies must also consider a myriad of other factors during a heavy haul job. They must balance the tractor against the weight to ensure the tractor has enough power to move the load while obtaining the best fuel mileage. Other elements include the distance to be driven and the type of terrain, such as steep grades or frequent starts and stops.

The axle distance and weight limits per axel were designed to protect roadways, bridges, and the public as trucks began carrying heavier loads in the 1950s and 1960s. The specifications linked the spacing and number of axels to overall weight. Without significant upgrades and updates to existing infrastructure, changing those specifications could result in serious damage to roads and bridges.

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Following Heavy Haul Chain Laws

Almost every state has its own set of chain laws for when tire chains can be used, should be used, or must be used, along with when they’re prohibited. In certain areas of the country, the rattle and clank of tire chains on vehicles was a familiar sound and considered essential in snowy states. Some states require heavy haulers to carry tire chains at all times, while others don’t. There are also laws governing how many chains should be utilized and their placement.

Weather Conditions

Tire chains are typically utilized in higher elevations where snow and icy conditions can occur at any time, especially during winter months, or if a snow emergency has been declared. Requirements vary widely and fines may be issued for inappropriate usage, depending on the state chain laws. For instance, CA doesn’t require drivers to carry chains, while CO requires chains, and allows pneumatically driven chains and wheel sanders.

Chains

To comply with regulations, some states require at least eight chains, and some only mandate tire chains on the tractor’s tires. Some states mandate tire chains on all four tires of the main drive axle, chains on the outside tires of the second drive axle, and the option to place the remaining chains anywhere the driver designates. In some instances, tire chains are only required when driving upon specific routes.

Chain Laws

Further complicating when tire chains should or shouldn’t be used is state law. Heavy Haul truckers need to be aware of the chain laws in the state in which they find themselves. Some states reserve the right to issue snow emergencies for all of the state or in limited areas, which will directly affect whether heavy haulers employ the chains. Even with chains, state police have the authority to order truckers off the road during a snow emergency.

It’s a good idea for any heavy haul trucker to carry tire chains if they’re transporting cargo within states where winter snows are common or in higher elevations. They’re an essential tool for obtaining traction on snow and ice, and enhance safety.

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Can Heavy Haul Loads Damage Local Roads?

The simple answer is yes, heavy haul loads damage local roads. Heavy hauler traffic has increased significantly over the decades and the loads are heavier. Cargo was typically shipped by rail when the majority of local and even the interstate highway system was created. The infrastructure of local roads and bridges that heavy haulers travel on weren’t designed to accommodate the heavy weights of current cargo being transported.

Infrastructure

Once a shining example of what a nation could accomplish, the road and bridge systems in the U.S. are nearing their end of life. That’s been amply demonstrated by bridge and road collapses across the nation. The type of materials with which local roads are constructed also play a role in how much damage a heavy hauler may inflict. New roads and repairs are being performed in the cheapest way possible.

Roadways and Heavy Haul Loads

Pavement is typically designed to last for 20 years. An influx of heavier farm equipment, heavy haulers, and even local passenger vehicles has narrowed that lifespan to an estimated 7 years. The financial resources for maintaining those roadways haven’t kept pace with the damage done to local roads and funds are often used ineffectively or inefficiently.

Much of the degradation to roads is due to neglect. Legislators have failed to plan for the expense associated with increased traffic and material costs, preferring to place roads low on their list of priorities. Damaged roads and bridges increase maintenance costs for vehicles, constitute a safety issue, and contribute to high insurance rates.

Weather

Extremes in weather also play a part in damage to local roads. Potholes, cracked pavement and washouts exacerbate the demise of roads and it’s compounded by heavy haulers and others that use the roadways. Climate change will intensify the problem and should act as an incentive for all legislative bodies to act on the situation.

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Heavy Haul Drivers in High Demand

The trucking industry is facing a shortage of drivers and nowhere is that more evident than in the heavy haul industry. Heavy haul drivers are in extremely high demand due to their expertise in transporting heavy and bulky cargos – that can be worth millions of dollars – to their destination quickly, efficiently and safely.

Heavy Haul Drivers

Heavy haulers are specialists in transporting equipment, whether it’s from one state to another, to Canada or Mexico, or to ports for shipping overseas. Heavy haul drivers have an advanced level of expertise. One reason for the demand is that older drivers are retiring, while the need for heavy haul drivers is increasing. It’s estimated that approximately 1.1 million new drivers will need to be hired over the next 10 years within all areas of the trucking industry.

High Demand

From construction materials to high-end mining equipment, heavy haul companies are struggling to obtain the highly trained and experienced drivers they need. Failure to find those drivers is impacting deliveries now and the situation will only get worse as time goes on. A lack of heavy haul drivers has the potential to severely interrupt supply chains and the ability for companies to prosper.

Heavy haul drivers transport a wide diversity of items ranging from wind generator blades to submersibles and it’s a specialty service that requires an elevated level of safety, licensing and training to produce qualified drivers. Those drivers transport loads that exceed conventional width, height, length and weights using specially designed trailers.

Lifestyle

Being a heavy haul driver is also a lifestyle choice to which not everyone is suited, which further increases the demand for drivers. It requires a significant amount of time away from home. A substantial number of heavy haul drivers also opted to take traditional delivery truck positions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those actions and others resulted in a shortage of fully qualified heavy haul drivers to fill an increasing need.

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What is a 5th Wheel Trailer?

Many people have heard the term “5th wheeler,” but few know what it means. Essentially, it’s a way for semi tractors to connect to the trailers they’re hauling. Some travel trailers and recreational vehicles are also called 5th wheel trailers. In the trucking industry, the “5th wheel” refers to the U-shaped coupling plate that’s mounted on the tractor that will pull a specialized trailer. The plate enables the trailer to rotate for an additional level of maneuverability in tight spaces.

Origins of 5th Wheel

The term 5th wheel is a play on words that originated during the use of horse-drawn carriages and wagons in days long past. In the event that a wheel was broken, a fifth wheel was traditionally attached to the back of the carriage or wagon.

In the early 1900s, the term fell out of general usage when passenger vehicles came equipped with a fifth wheel that became known as the spare tire. The full-size tires eventually gave way to “donut” spares in the 1980s, an attempt to save manufacturers money and increase fuel efficiency.

Trucking Industry

In the trucking industry, the 5th wheel coupling has been utilized for almost 100 years. The assembly provides an enhanced level of safety when transporting heavy loads and it’s especially effective for heavy haulers. A 5th wheel assembly offers enhanced stability and handling for both tractor and trailer in adverse weather conditions or damaged roads. The coupling method provides ease of use for connecting and disconnecting trailers from tractors.

A 5th wheel assembly provides a more stable and secure coupling between the tractor and trailer than a gooseneck hitch and it’s also quieter and smoother. The use of the 5th wheel coupling is an essential component for heavy haulers. User-friendly, technology-assisted 5th wheel connections and disconnects are becoming more common as new drivers enter the industry, many of whom have no previous connection to the trucking industry.

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Evidence of Quality Heavy Equipment Export Service

The success of any heavy equipment exporting relies on the experience and expertise of the heavy hauler company. It doesn’t matter whether the equipment’s destination is Canada, Mexico or somewhere overseas, it’s essential that people choose the right heavy hauler. The following are some things to keep in mind when hiring a heavy hauler for export services.

Compare Costs for Heavy Equipment Export

Exporting equipment is a highly complicated and complex process. Obtain quotes from at least three companies. Let the old adage “you get what you pay for” be a guide. Exporting heavy equipment and similar items is expensive. Heavy haulers that brag about cheap pricing may offer those services, but neglect essential steps to actually get equipment across borders. A contract should explain in exacting detail what the company provides.

Experience

Talk with friends and others in the industry to discover who they’ve used to haul their equipment and if they were happy with the services provided. Look for a heavy hauler that provides end-to-end services that include loading, transport and the paperwork required.

Trailers

A reputable heavy hauler will have a variety of trailers available to accommodate the needs of multiple types of equipment to be transported. The tractors and trailers should be well-maintained and the company will be able to load equipment safely.

Safety First

Heavy hauler companies pride themselves – and build their reputations upon – safe delivery of the equipment they transport. Look into the company’s safety record. Equipment should be cleaned before loading, safely secured, and haulers must adhere to best practices. That also includes mapping out the quickest and safest route, along with providing an escort vehicle when required.

Paperwork

Exporting anything to another company requires specialized documentation to make it through customs. Each country has specific licensing, legal requirements, and paperwork that’s required. Reliable heavy haulers are familiar with those documents and are able to supply them so the client’s cargo doesn’t languish in a holding area or on a dock.

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Does Your Haul Require a Tarp?

Some states have strict tarping laws which require a tarp, while others don’t, but it’s important for heavy haulers to know that the federal government does. Drivers must be cognizant and compliant with tarping laws established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), along with those established by the state(s) through which they’ll be traveling.

Loose Materials

It’s always assumed that dump trucks and certain types of trailers are hauling loose materials such as dirt, sand, gravel, tar-and-chip, trash, recyclables, and scrap materials. In Florida, it typically doesn’t apply to transporting agricultural products. There are 11 states that have no tarp laws for dump trucks, but there are also exceptions.

Tarps are used to keep loose materials in the trailer or dump truck and prevent them from spilling, leaking or blowing out of the vehicle. Loose debris from trucks can result in an accident if it hits a passenger vehicle. It’s one of the reasons why heavy haulers wash dirt and debris from heavy equipment before transporting it.

Heavy Equipment

When hauling heavy equipment, a tarp may or may not be required as long as the load is secured with chains and straps. A tarp typically isn’t required for hauling heavy equipment and logs, along with girders, trusses and beams that require specialized securement methods. There are exceptions, depending on the weight of the load, and if it’s being transported on a pallet.

UV Sensitive

There are instances where a tarp may not be legally required, but the cargo may be sensitive to degradation due to UV rays. It’s critical that individuals understand the specific requirements for the cargo they’re transporting.

Keep Advised

The laws governing the trucking industry, and even private individuals hauling items in a home trailer, are subject to change with short notice. It’s essential to keep advised of laws governing every aspect of hauling items on or in a trailer, even if they’re not professionals.

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Why Heavy Haul Trucks Need Regular Inspections

Inspections help ensure safety for heavy haul truckers and they take great pains to ensure that tractors and trailers are maintained in optimal condition. Heavy haul trucks aren’t like other vehicles. The tractors and trailers used by heavy haulers are subject to stress forces that ordinary vehicles never encounter. If something goes wrong with a heavy hauler, the resultant accident will typically be far more serious than two ordinary passenger vehicles.

Every commercial carrier is required to inspect the tractor and trailer before and after every haul. Each trucking company has its own internal preventative maintenance and safety inspection schedule that can range from every 4 to 12 weeks. Much will depend on the mileage, type of work that’s being performed, and the terrain over which the vehicle travels.

Inspections

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires yearly inspections encompassing a variety of systems from brakes, steering and lighting to tires, windshield wipers and the engine. Emergency systems, the battery, exhaust and suspension are inspected and the operator’s CDL and other driver requirements are examined. There are six levels of DOT inspections:

  • North American Standard Inspection
  • Walk-Around Driver and Vehicle Inspection
  • Driver Only Inspection
  • Special Inspection
  • Vehicle Only Inspection
  • Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments

Reputable heavy haul companies adhere to a regular regimen of preventative maintenance for tractors and trailers. Many employ a multi-point checklist that can include over 100 items. In addition to ensuring safety for others on the road, it’s a cost-savings measure for the tracking company. It extends the life of the equipment and reduces the potential for expensive emergency repairs. Regular mechanical inspections also ensure more uptime for trucks and trailers.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that maintenance schedules for the vehicle be maintained for at least one year while the vehicle is being used and for 6 months after being decommissioned. Regular inspections save time, money, and prevents the company from running afoul of the DOT.

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