Monthly Archives: March 2017

Truck Driver: Why Filing Your Taxes Is More Important Than Ever

The fact is this: One of the most common mistakes a trucker can make is not filing their taxes. Sure, you’ve spent a long time on the road and you’ve finally gotten home and the last thing you want to think about is your taxes, but it’s important to remember that filing on time is more important than ever.

Consider that many states will arbitrarily step in and garnish wages if you haven’t filed and it’s not hard to see where not filing your taxes can be a serious problem. Many times, especially as an owner-operator, you can take advantage of specific tax breaks not available to you otherwise. Do you really want to leave that money on the table?

Penalties Compound

As you avoid filing your taxes, consider that penalties can weigh heavily on your business. Penalty interest can more than double or triple what you owe, which can be a serious problem whether your business is big or small.

When you owe the IRS money, they won’t rest in coming after you for it. When you’re operating at margins already squeezed to the edges, the last thing you need is a huge tax bill crippling your bottom line and cash flow.

If you wind up owing one year, you could see a small amount compound into a big amount before you have a chance to address it, especially if you are looking at multi-year filing lapses.

Consider the Refund

Do you really want to leave money sitting on the table? Consider that most fleet drivers wind up getting refunds since their per diem payments count against their expenses.

While truckers aren’t required to declare their per diems, they are allowed to itemize deductions against them. When you add up small deductions, they can mean big tax savings across the board.

If you aren’t saving small receipts and keeping a log of your expenses, then not doing your taxes, you are missing out on a huge refund, and turning money in your pocket into money owed to the IRS.

When every dollar you put down for a deduction comes back in approximately 20 cents on your refund, it isn’t hard to see how important these savings are. From expenses like batteries and air fresheners, there’s a lot of savings to be wrenched from your taxes through proper accounting.

Moving Into Another Tax Bracket

Proper itemizing can also move you into a lower tax bracket. If you can shave anywhere from $15,000 on up off your tax bill due to itemized deductions, you may go from 40 percent owed to 22 percent.

When you do the math, everything you spend your money on can be counted as job expenses. When you save your receipts, and keep track of said expenses, you are moving yourself into a far lower tax bracket.

But this is why it is so important to keep track of this information and properly log everything that you are doing while on the road. Considering many fleets are using E-logs, you can utilize this data to prove that you were on the road during a certain day.

Still, since most log information is deleted after six months, it becomes important to ensure you are keeping a full accounting of your activities so as not to miss out on potential tax savings.

In the end, remember that you won’t be able to maximize your tax savings if you aren’t even filing them to begin with. Make sure to stay on top of filing dates and hire an accountant if you have to and you’re sure to end up with more money in your pocket come tax time.

The Keys To Utilizing The Right Mobile Maintenance Option For Trucking Companies

We recently took a dive into a topic that is gaining more traction as mobile technologies and the wireless world continue to integrate themselves into our reality: Mobile Maintenance Trucks.

As fleets continue to try and find ways to streamline operations and cut costs, mobile maintenance solutions are increasingly becoming more mainstream. Cutting costs on the fleet side is a lot easier when you can bring the fleet technician to you, as opposed to bringing your truck to the fleet technician.

Maintenance Matters

The fact is a properly equipped truck is the key to mobile maintenance. Whether you are hiring a third party to conduct your mobile maintenance needs or running a mobile maintenance truck of your own, the truck must have the right equipment. Still, this is only part of the equation.

The other part of the equation surrounds the fleet technician you have operating the mobile maintenance truck, or the person your third-party partner is using. In the end, you want to make sure the person operating the vehicle has the right skills for the job.

Consider that one of the primary focuses of mobile maintenance is conducting DOT inspections, and you realize why this is such an important skillset for any mobile maintenance fleet technician.

A Focus on Soft Skills

Outside of knowing the intricacies of a DOT audit and what to look for before the inspector finds it, a mobile maintenance fleet technician has to have really good soft skills. They have to be a good communicator and be able to effectively interact with others.

Considering mobile maintenance technicians work solo, they also need to be effective self-starters. Working by yourself isn’t easy if you aren’t good at motivating yourself.

Finally, a mobile maintenance technician needs to know how to prioritize. When you have several calls coming in, knowing which take precedence is a huge matter of importance.

Other Considerations

Mobile maintenance fleet technicians must also understand the importance of environmental impacts. Is he or she cleaning up after themselves on the job? Safety aspects of mobile maintenance includes monitoring environmental controls.

There are other innovations that many may overlook. The first of these lies in electronic inspections with pictures. Electronic work orders with imagery allow the home office to get visual imagery and better inspection data.

Also, does your fleet mobile maintenance technician or mobile maintenance partner understand VMRS codes for complaint, cause, repair and future correction?

Real-Time Communication

Mobile fleet maintenance solutions should allow you to track how long an appointment took, whether they showed up when they were supposed to and whether or not you are given updates throughout the process.

Mobile maintenance trucks should always be equipped with a laptop to foster better communication. This also allows technicians to type up work orders on the fly. These work orders can be transmitted back to the home office or to the shipper or receiver as needed.

A major consideration if you are using an outside provider is to ensure they are properly insured. Make sure the truck is scheduled to come out during certain days of the week to avoid extra busy times.

Matters of Outsourcing

For a fleet who does hire an outside provider, it’s important that you get a good idea of how they operate. When the mobile maintenance truck arrives, have a look in the back to see if it is clean and organized or messy and unkempt.

Always check a provider’s rating and reputation. You want to make sure you are working with someone who has the adequate equipment and meets all applicable environmental and OSHA regulations.

In the end, bringing your equipment back to the shop adds time and money, which could put you in a pinch when times are tight. Mobile maintenance solutions rectify that problem, just make sure you are doing it right.

Examining Aspects Of Semi-Autonomous Trucks And Platooning

It’s no secret that manufacturers and industry players are getting ready for a brave new world of automation and high truck technology. At the same time, it’s been a topic of conversation for some time now. Here we are closing out the year. So how close are we to actually seeing these technologies become mainstream?

Many still believe in the ultimate outcome of this vision, but they have differing views on what it may look like. While some envision a future of trucks with no cabs, all connected through smart highways, others take a more cautious approach, seeing a future where truck drivers operate semi-autonomous trucks. So let’s take a look at how each of these aspects are doing as we move into the new year.

An Update on Platooning

If there is one area getting serious attention, it’s platooning. Many see platooning as the obvious stepping-stone on the way to semi-autonomous highway driving. In fact, you could see a form of platooning hitting a street near you. Nevada is leading the way in testing these advanced concepts.

Platooning refers to the electric linking of a tractor trailer to others in a “platoon.” Some estimates put platooning fuel savings around 4% above what you could come to expect when the trucks are all running separately.

Imagine platooning kind of like a beefed-up WiFi. It allows multiple vehicles to communicate and follow each other at a distance that increases fuel efficiency. It differs from adaptive cruise and braking system in one critical way. The trucks following behind the platoon can respond instantly to what the front truck is doing. Braking time can be reduced to almost three-thousandths of a second. In this scenario, a truck driver would still be required within the cab.

Still, platooning is not without its challenges. Some such challenges include truck driver buy-in, platoon integrity, system interoperability and security, regulatory concerns, and overall public awareness.

Semi-Autonomous and Platooning Regulations

One of the major sticking points when discussing truck platooning lies in the liability factor. If there is an accident, who is held responsible? If there is a system malfunction, perhaps the software provider is responsible. But what if there is an interoperability issue?

While some may think this is too much a burden to overcome, there are current industry safeguards in place that will allow such cases to be determined. Like we do today, we merely determine fault based on situational circumstances. Did the truck hit a pothole? Perhaps it’s road design. Did the truck catch on fire? It could be the vehicle manufacturer. Did the truck driver make an error that caused an accident? Then perhaps it should be their fault.

The fact is, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out what happened when investigating an accident, especially where platooning or semi-autonomy is concerned.

How Do Truck Drivers Fit In?

With all of the talk surrounding the truck driver shortage, some are asking how autonomous and platooning technology will affect the truck driver. Remember, few people think we are going to make some big leap into full automation anytime soon.

In some high-profile demonstrations, platooning was used on the highway as the truck driver rested or handled another duty. Then, once the vehicle enters city streets, the operator takes back over. The truck driver could also be on hand in case an emergency situation occurs.

Where platooning could help the truck driver shortage is that you can easily put an inexperienced driver in the same seat you would put a veteran. With advanced technologies in place, it would require less immediate experience to safely operate semi-autonomous commercial motor vehicles.

So when will we see full-fledged adoption on the road? And is this feasible? While all new technology is expensive and requires time to reach full adoption, there’s no reason why platooning and semi-autonomous commercial motor vehicles aren’t closer than we think.

Are Trucking Companies Handling Your Cargo Properly As Per FMCSR?

As a professional truck driver, you face a number of different tasks on any given day. One such task, possibly one of the most important, is that of the secure transportation of your cargo. You understand the importance of proper cargo handling and weight distribution principles.

Always remember that either trucking companies or truck diver responsibility for the cargo starts as soon as the cargo is loaded into your vehicle and continues all the way through the moment it is removed from your vehicle. Make sure you are constantly aware of state and local requirements concerning cargo handling, especially if you are handling sensitive or hazardous cargo.

Regulatory Requirements

There are a number of regulatory requirements that govern your cargo. As it is being loaded into your vehicle, you need to make sure it is properly secured. Not only can shifting cargo damage it, but it could also post a safety risk to both you and those around you on the road.

Section 391.13 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) demands that you properly locate, distribute and secure your cargo. If you aren’t familiar with the procedures required to ensure your cargo is properly secured, you may want to take a second look at this rule.

Move on to Section 392.9 where the FMCSR clearly outline that a vehicle may not be driven without first properly distributing and securing the cargo.

Not only must your cargo be secured, but you have to make sure it doesn’t block your view, interfere with the movement of your vehicle, prevent you from exiting the cab or prevent you from reaching something in the event of an emergency.

More on Regulations

A best practice is to also inspect your load-securing devices within the first 50 miles of a road trip. After that initial inspection, you’ll want to reexamine your cargo security after another 3 hours, or 150 miles, whichever comes first. If go through a change of duty, you’ll want to do a thorough examination then, as well.

One notable exception to this rule is if your vehicle is sealed and you’ve been told not to open or inspect it. Also, if your vehicle is loaded in a way that you can’t inspect it, you may be exempt. For load securement specifics, see Part 393, Subpart I of the FMCSR.

Whether you are working with a truck, semi-trailer, full trailer or pole trailer, there are specific things you must do to ensure the safety of your cargo. Always remember that regulations require that your cargo is loaded and equipped in such a way that it won’t spill, leak, blow or fall from your vehicle.

Also consider that the type of cargo you are delivering may come with its own set of requirements. These types of cargo include, but are not limited to:

  • Logs
  • Lumber products
  • Building products
  • Metal coils
  • Paper rolls
  • Concrete pipe
  • Intermodal containers
  • Automobiles
  • Flattened vehicles
  • Roll-on or roll-off or hook lift containers
  • Large boulders

For more information on the requirements governing these cargo types, see Sections 393.11 – 393.136 of the FMCSR.

Finally, there are specific instructions in Section 393.110 outlining how securement devices are to be used. This includes aggregate load limitations of tie downs and other securement methods.

Regulations also govern everything from blocking and bracing to dunnage, load locking bars and tarps. Each of these cargo-related items must be used with specific procedures in mind.

In the end, always remember that your cargo must be contained, immobilized, secured and safe. Proper cargo handling is about more than a happy customer, it’s about truck driver safety. Don’t let your cargo drive you. You drive your cargo.

What Truck Drivers Need To Know About Weight Distribution

Driving a large, heavy duty commercial motor vehicle requires a certain measure of skill and professionalism. Expert truck drivers need to be well-versed in a number of different things, from safe driving techniques, to their CSA scores to proper weight distribution.

Sure, weight distribution sounds like a dry and boring topic, but it is hugely important in ensuring the safety of not only the cargo you are hauling, but of your safety and those around you. There are also specific weight distribution requirements that you should always know. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Principles of Weight Distribution

There are several aspects of weight distribution.

  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW): The total weight of the vehicle, plus its load.
  • Gross Combination Weight (GCW): The total weight of the powered unit, plus the trailer and load.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): The value that a manufacturer specifies as the loaded weight of a single vehicle.
  • Gross Vehicle Combination Weight Rating (GCWR): The value the manufacturer specifies as the loaded weight of a combination motor vehicle.
  • Axle Weight: The amount of gross weight that rests on a given axle.
  • Tire Load: The maximum weight a tire can carry when inflated to a specified pressure.
  • Coupling Device Capacity: Coupling devices carry a rating that states the maximum weight they can pull or carry.

All of these aspects are governed by specific legal weight limits. For more information on the weight limit, or the formula used, see CFR 658.17. At all times, the maximum GVW should be 80,000 lbs.

The maximum gross weight on any one axle should never exceed 20,000 lbs. This also includes a grouping of axles, if required. The maximum gross weight on a tandem axle is 34,000 lbs.

If a vehicle is over the Bridge Gross Weight Formula, it is not allowed on interstate highways. The formula we linked to previously limits the weight on groups of axles in effort to ensure highways and bridges aren’t damaged.

Risks of Overloading

Overloading is a serious problem and can’t be overlooked in a discussion surrounding weight distribution. Overloading a vehicle can seriously inhibit steering, braking and speed control.

A vehicle that is overloaded will move slowly on upgrades and gain far too much speed on downgrades. Stopping distance is increased dramatically and brakes can fail if they are overworked.

Sometimes, you should even be wary of maximum weight, depending on your route. If you are driving through bad weather or a very hilly, mountainous area, it may not be safe to even operate at maximum weight, let alone overloaded.

Top-heavy loads also raise your risk. A high center of gravity increases the chances that your vehicle could tip over. Top-heavy loads are also dangerous when you have to swerve to avoid a hazard or navigate a particularly windy stretch of road. Always load your cargo so that it is heaviest on bottom and lightest on top.

The fact is this: Poor weight distribution can make a vehicle unsafe. It can jeopardize both your cargo, your vehicle and those around you. Too much weight on your steering axle can cause hard steering and potentially damage your steering axle or tires. It could also negatively impact vehicle handling and speed control.

Conversely, underloaded axles can make the weight on the steering axle too light for you to steer safely. Too little weight on drive axles can increase the risk of poor traction and potential hydroplaning. You may find your drive wheel spinning way too easily.

As a professional truck driver, proper weight distribution and cargo handling are two of the most important aspects of the job. Are you prepared for a safe ride on the road?