Among the challenges of 25E are the many transitions between highway and in-town travel. One minute a driver is rolling down highway roads at 65 MPH and then, with almost no warning, he finds himself needing to drastically reduce his speed and change his mind set because he is now easing through Main Street, USA.

Overlooking these transitions can create a major disconnect between estimated and real route travel times. Let’s look at how each department in your fleet can work together to keep trips along this route running smoothly through these stop and go transitions.

Operations

There are more than a dozen small towns that pop up unexpectedly along this stretch of US 25E. One particular standout that Operations should pay close attention to is Pineville, Kentucky.

Here’s the thing about Pineville: It’s situated between two valleys, so when the Cumberland River runs high and spills out over the road, they literally close the gates to the town. This means the trip is going to be an hour or two longer than expected, because the driver has to re-route through Knoxville. And while our focus is on 25E in this series, there are plenty of other uncontrolled divided routes out there that have their own versions of Pineville.

From Operations’ perspective, there are two key things to keep in mind:

  1. Have an escape plan in place. Identify a “safe route” or place for your driver to take his rig if he rolls up on those closed gates. Once you know that your driver is pulling up to a ‘closed-down’ Pineville, it’s time to get on the horn with the receiver to let them know that delivery will be late because the Cumberland River is overflowing, temporarily blocking  the route. Customers won’t  be upset with you over a force of nature. This also takes pressure off your driver, who is already having a bad day at this point.
  2. When it comes to weather, don’t forget – it’s forecasted. This means you need to take a look at possible floods and/or other inclement weather conditions headed your way before the driver heads out. If it looks like Pineville is going to be hit, use that information to plan ahead instead of reacting after the fact. The D.O.T. is not going to allow you extra time to do anything other than get the driver and the load to a safe place.

Drivers

In a perfect world, Operations would research the weather during your trip and know what to expect – like a Pineville shut down. In reality, they are spinning a dozen other plates. They are busy dealing with steering wheel holders. You are the professional here, so be sure to do your own homework before heading out. One thing great about today’s technology is that you can do a quick search on your phone while your rig is fueling up and get an idea of what kinds of weather you are facing.

As far as all the other highway to in-town transitions go, keep your eyes open. We are lucky to have great technology guiding us along our routes these days, but with all the bells and whistles you may have in your rig, you probably don’t have a system that will tell you that you are going to be running through Mayberry in less than three miles. Always be Anticipating.

Quick Tips

As you are making a transition into a town, your mirrors are your best friend. Keep an eye on them! Also, there are four things you need to keep in check as you are making your way through these abrupt transitions. Proper Gear, Time, Room and Power are essential focus points. When somebody pulls out in front of you while you are driving in-town, sometimes slamming on the brakes is not the best option. It might be better to power through and steer around it. You don’t want to end up in a situation where your trailer is pushing you. To do this, you need to be in the right gear. You need to be alert enough to know how much time and room you have to maneuver. When driving in-town, it’s time to think like a chess player and stay a couple of moves ahead of everyone else on the road.

Safety

If you are sending a driver out for the first time on a route with multiple transitions like 25E, it’s time to review what you have told him.

  • Are you confident that he will do a solid pre-trip inspection?
  • Does your driver know how to adjust his brakes if they are out of alignment?
  • Has he been trained to properly check the kingpin and make sure his air lines are hooked up correctly?
  • Is he proficient, not just qualified, to handle the equipment through a route that is heavy with transitions?

You’ve made sure that the shop has your rigs set up for peak performance on any trip and any route. That’s part of the job. On routes like these though, there is nothing wrong with running through the checklist a second time.

Finally, I always like to have a quick talk with my drivers on routes where I know they are going to have to make a lot of decisions, especially when some of those decisions will need to be made in an instant. It only takes a few minutes of conversation to make sure that he is in line with the safety culture you have worked so hard to create and foster.

In Conclusion

Nothing is ever going to change the fact that routes like 25E present plenty of challenges regarding all of the changes along the stretch. What can be changed is how well your fleet is prepared to make sure that all of those transitions are handled smoothly. These drivers are doing the best job that they can. We owe it to them to make sure that they are armed with the proper pre-trip information from ops and solid habits that have been fostered by our safety culture.

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