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What Should be in a Pre-Trip Inspection for Heavy Hauling?

When individuals want to travel, they simply get in the car and go. That process is far more complicated for heavy haulers. There’s a myriad of systems that must be inspected before the load ever leaves for its destination. A CDL license is required to drive a tractor-trailer rig and individuals learn how to perform a pre-trip inspection during CDL school.

Pre-Trip Inspection

A pre-trip inspection is critical for safety of the driver, the load, and others on the road. The inspection is required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to ensure that everything is in safe operating condition. Infractions can result in fines or even having the truck immediately being pulled off the road if a driver is stopped by law enforcement or the Department of Transportation (DOT).

There are six levels of DOT inspections, with multiple systems to be inspected. Some items are checked weekly, while others are inspected daily. The following are just some of the basic inspection requirements as determined by the DOT.

Fluid levels

Leaks

Tires and rims

5th wheel

Tractor and trailer brake connections

Clutch

Shock absorbers

Ball joints

Kingpins

Gauges

Parking brake

Steering

Lights and reflectors

Horn

Windshield wipers

Mirrors

Coupling devices

Emergency equipment

 

Heavy haul drivers will also need to ensure that the load is amply secured and no loose tools or items are left lying on the trailer. The inspections that heavy haul drivers must perform may seem excessive to the average motorist, but it’s all done for safety’s sake. The measures prevent accidents due to situations ranging from brake failure and tire blowouts to trailers that come uncoupled.

Some common mistakes that drivers make is not ensuring the cleanliness of the cab, failure to chock the wheels, and keeping seatbelts properly maintained. A persistent problem is having a missing lug nut, along with not having paperwork in order. All those things can land drivers in hot water with inspectors.

Time is money for a heavy haul driver and it’s understandable that they want to be on the road quickly. There are no hard and fast rules about the time it takes to perform a pre-trip inspection, but smart drivers take their time.

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When is a Load Considered a “Heavy Haul”?

Anytime that a load exceeds specific dimensions, it’s considered a heavy haul. As a result, trucks may require flashing lights, signage and special permits to travel, along with one or more escort vehicles. Very specific hours of operation may also be mandated. However, not all states have the same requirements for a heavy haul and it’s essential that drivers be prepared for changing rules over multiple states.

Heavy Haul

The following are the criteria used to denote a heavy haul load.

  • Weight – Anything over 46,000 lbs.
  • Width – Loads exceeding 8.6 ft. Shipments greater than 16 ft. wide are considered a super load, requiring road closures or other special accommodations.
  • Height – Any load that’s 13.5 or more
  • Length – Loads that exceed 48-53 ft.

There are very good reasons for the laws governing heavy hauls. Infrastructure hasn’t always kept up with the needs of the trucking industry and the locations to which they deliver. There are still narrow bridges, low-hanging overpasses, and rural roads built for nothing heavier than average passenger vehicles. The routes taken by a heavy haul load must be carefully mapped out to prevent damage to the freight, truck or roadway.

Truck and trailer combinations require extra stopping distances – about 200 ft. for a complete stop. The stopping distance increases by a little more than 25 percent for each 20,000 lbs. added after the first 80,000 lbs.

The logistics of getting a load from one location to another takes time and careful planning. A professional heavy haul company has the experience, knowledge and technology to ensure loads arrive at their destination on time and at the least expense to the client. The companies are also cognizant of all relevant laws and will choose the best trailer type to ensure the safety of any load.

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Heavy Haul Transporting Across State Lines

It would be normal to assume that transporting a heavy haul load would be the same anywhere within the U.S., but that’s not the case. There are federal laws that apply to all heavy haulers, but there are also state laws of which drivers must be cognizant if they’re transporting across state lines.

Those rules can range from whether or not snow tires are mandatory to the specific safety equipment that the driver must carry in the tractor. Hauling those loads across state lines involves extensive planning, coordination, logistics and knowledge of state laws to ensure fines and delays aren’t incurred.

Transporting Across State Lines

Oversized Load Limits

The Department of Transportation sets the standards for what constitutes a heavy haul in terms of height, weight, width and length. However, there are some states that have conflicting standards. Heavy haul companies must be cognizant of those standards in the states through which the load will travel and compensate for them.

Travel Times

The times during which a heavy haul load varies among states. Some restrict transporting across state lines travel to the hours between sunrise and sunset. Others may prohibit heavy haul loads from traveling during specially designated rush hour traffic. In some instances, it’s more expedient to take a different route entirely and bypass certain states.

Escort Vehicles

The state laws governing escort vehicles is a hodge-podge of requirements. Some states require one escort vehicle, others require two, and still other states don’t require one at all when transporting across state lines. Similar situations can arise with oversize load signage.

Licensing and Registration

Drivers only need a CDL license and be 21 years old when transporting across state lines with a heavy haul load. However, the commercial vehicle will require a U.S. Department of Transportation number for traveling across state lines.

Drive Times

There are very stringent rules set forth by the Department of Transportation as to how many hours a truck driver can actually operate. The catch is that some states have rules that contradict federal standards.

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Are There Special GPS Routes for Truckers?

In the interests of safety and facilitating deliveries, many trucking companies have adopted modern GPS routes technologies. They function in much the same way as a passenger vehicle GPS, but they provide a myriad of other information to a fleet manager based on a specific truck and the load that’s being transported, along with its weight, height, length and any applicable load restrictions.

GPS Routes

There’s a wealth of GPS models designed for truckers and they deliver a much more complex range of information. They help truckers deliver their cargo with more efficiency, less stress, and improved safety. The devices also help truckers save on fuel costs. Weather and traffic conditions can change radically depending on a multitude of factors and a trucking specific GPS provides drivers with real-time traffic and weather updates.

Trucking GPS routes units are equipped with Wi-Fi and have the ability to work with onboard backup cameras, speakers, electronic logging devices (ELDs) and a variety of other equipment and systems. Data is available about overpasses, bridges and roads that are inappropriate for the truck and its dimensions. Depending on the unit, it will also inform truckers about restaurants, rest areas, weigh stations, and safe places to park for the night.

Dozens of GPS routes apps are available for download, but the data they provide is often limited, relies on the trucking community for information, and charge a monthly usage fee. Some have add-ons that can be downloaded, but the cost can quickly add up. Drivers can still quickly find themselves on a road with a low overpass, narrow bridge, or roadways that aren’t designed for the weight of the truck.

A GPS routes unit designed for passenger vehicles isn’t up to the specifications required by truckers. Any trucking company or private hauler would do well to spend the extra money for a GPS navigation unit designed specifically for the trucking industry instead of taking chances on a car GPS or downloadable app.

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Timely International Machinery Transport

When the average person refers to international travel, they typically mean hopping on a plane and journeying overseas. For truckers, that can mean physically crossing out of the U.S. into Canada or Mexico. It also encompasses international machinery transport to a shipping port.

International Machinery Transport

A great deal of machinery is transported every year to other countries and owners rely on heavy haulers to get their equipment to its destination safely and on time. That freight can encompass anything from mining machinery and construction equipment to harvesters for the agricultural industry. It can also include aircraft engines, helicopters, wind generators, and oil rigs.

Prepping the Load

The first step in any heavy haul load is preparing the item to be transported. That means ensuring the item is clean and that all fluids have been removed from the equipment. Batteries and alarms must be disconnected, doors must be securely shut, and any loose parts or tools must be secured before international machinery transport.

Preparing the load for transport may also include partial disassembly for overland transport to the machinery’s destination or to fit in the allotted space aboard ship. In some instances, equipment being shipped via cargo ship may be exposed to the elements and sea water, requiring it to have a protective coating.

Routing

A direct route from A to B isn’t necessarily the most cost effective, nor will it ensure that the shipment arrives at its intended destination on time. Port fees and shipping departures vary by location. Professional heavy haulers are cognizant of the best routes and ports to accommodate their clients’ international machinery transport.

Documentation

Transporting machinery internationally requires a mountain of documentation to pass through customs or get the freight loaded onboard a ship. There will be multiple documents required and they tend, for the most part, to contain the same information. However, each document plays a different role in the chain of transport. Missing even a single document will result in delays, extra costs, and the potential of not arriving on time.

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Can’t Rush Heavy Haul Delivery

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when hiring a heavy hauler is not allowing sufficient time for the delivery. Transporting a heavy haul load is far different than moving something in a pickup truck. It’s just one of the reasons that those with a heavy haul load should schedule their transport early – there’s no rushing a heavy haul delivery.

Heavy Haul Delivery

Peak and Non-Peak Times

Heavy haul drivers are in high demand throughout the year, but heavy haul companies have peak and non-peak times just like every other industry. Heavy haul companies are typically booked months in advance. It’s easier to schedule transport during off-peak hours whenever possible and it can even save money.

Mapping the Route

Planning the route that the heavy haul delivery will take is a prime consideration and will depend largely on the ultimate destination. An escort vehicle may be needed and the driver may be required to carry specialized equipment to comply with different state rules and regulations. Loads must be routed along roads to avoid low overpasses, narrow bridges, and roads that can’t handle the weight.

Depending on the load, drivers may be restricted to specific daylight hours when they can be on the road. Additionally, the shortest route may not always be the best or least expensive. This is particularly true when crossing borders or shipping overseas. The terrain that must be traveled will impact delivery times. Safety is a No. 1 concern. Steep grades and hairpin turns require slower speeds and caution to navigate.

Traffic

Congested roadways, rush hours, and accidents are all traffic-related conditions that will affect heavy haul deliveries. Any of those situations can result in the driver being stuck in traffic for hours. Road construction is one of the biggest problems heavy haulers will encounter, but natural disasters are becoming increasingly common. Earthquakes, unseasonal storm and tornado outbreaks, forest fires and mudslides are just some of the traffic concerns that may require rerouting.

Documentation

Whether clients are shipping within the state, across the nation, or overseas, there’s an extensive amount of documentation that must be received before the transport can even begin. The timeline for obtaining that paperwork will depend on how many applications are being processed by authorities at any given time.

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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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