Driver Lifestyles

The Expediter’s Emergency Plan

By Sean M. Lyden - Staff Writer
Posted Nov 23rd 2015 9:44AM

You’re enroute to deliver a load but get that dreaded call. One of your children has been in a car crash, and you need to get back home as soon possible. Or your mom has suffered a stroke, and you want to be there for her to ensure she gets the best possible care.

While expediting is all about “just-in-time” delivery, sometimes there’s an emergency that requires a change in course -- and takes your mind off of the job at hand.

“When our owner-operators are dealing with an emergency at home, it’s our goal to get that driver off duty as fast as we possibly can,” says John Elliott, chief executive officer for Load One LLC, an expedited trucking carrier headquartered in Taylor, Mich. “We don’t want them on the road at that point because you have distracted driving issues involved there. They’re distraught, and that takes their mind off of being a professional driver. They can’t be distracted, otherwise accidents happen.”

The Immediate Step

So, what do you do when you get that emergency call from home?

“Contact your carrier immediately,” advises Matt Butler, operations manager at The Premium Group, a Toledo, Ohio-based trucking carrier. “Let us know what the emergency is and your location. Depending on where you are, if you’re within driving distance, and we feel confident that you can make the return trip home without any issue, then you would drive back after we recover the load.”

How do you go about transferring the load?

“We’ll search for cross dock and determine freight recovery options. Once we find a cross dock that is closest to your area, we would dispatch you to that location. We would have the freight taken off of your truck, with the recovery truck already enroute to pick up the load and make the delivery,” says Butler.

This is where the dispatch department takes the lead, says Elliot. “Who do we already have closest to this location who can take on this load? Sometimes it means we have to get a partner carrier -- whatever it takes -- to get the load delivered to the customer.”  

Travel Arrangements

Then it’s a matter of figuring out how to get home. If you’re not in a condition to drive the truck home, work with your carrier to help you coordinate where to leave your truck and the best mode of transportation to get home.

“If you need assistance with booking a rental car or plane ticket, then we would start helping with making those arrangements,” says Butler. 

Who pays for that travel -- the owner-operator or carrier? 

“If the driver has the money, he would pay for it. If drivers don’t have the cash, we might issue a [Comdata] Comchek. Then they would have the money to pay for the ticket — whether for a rental car, plane, or whatever it is -- to ensure they can get home as quickly as possible, if they don’t have the financial ability at that time,” says Butler.

How is that money typically paid back to the carrier?

“It’s something we do on a case by case basis,” explains Butler. “Suppose it’s a $350 plane ticket. Typically we would make arrangements with the driver upfront, such as ‘this amount will be taken out of your next week’s settlement.’ Or, if you’re in a cash crunch, you might ask, ‘Can we space it out over two settlements?’ Or, ‘I might be out for a while, can you give me four weeks?’ We’ll work out those details with the driver up front to help.”

Planning Ahead

You never know when an emergency will happen and hope that it never does. But what can you do to plan ahead so you’ll have the full range of options and financial resources you need to respond quickly in a crisis?

Elliott recommends that owner-operators build an emergency fund and pay down their credit card balances. “A credit card is usually the easiest way to quickly book a plane ticket or rental car to get back home. So, you want to make sure you have a credit card on hand that has sufficient funds available to handle those emergency costs.”

He also says it’s important to build your support system at home with your family, friends, and neighbors. Discuss scenarios with them on who can be available to help take care of your family member in an emergency situation, while you’re on the road until you can return home as quickly as possible. This will give you greater peace of mind to more effectively handle the crisis, if or when it happens.

When YOU’RE the Emergency

But what about when you have a health emergency and need to pull off the road? What is the threshold of, “Hey I can tough this thing out and keep going” vs. “We need to get medical help right now”?

“Again, safety comes first,” says Butler. “If the driver calls us with any health concerns, the freight can weight. You can’t replace a driver if something major happens. So, when the driver calls, we can look up and see where the nearest hospital is. If it sounds like he’s having a heart attack or something major, we’ll call the closest hospital and get an ambulance to that driver quickly.”

The idea is to consider the severity of the condition to determine next steps. “It might be, ‘I twisted my ankle getting into the truck, and it’s a little sore, but I can still drive.’ In that case, no problem. The driver can still operate the truck safely and deliver the load.” 

But what about the flu? A common perception is that the flu is not really serious and something a driver can work through. But in reality, the flu can make you very fatigued, impairing your ability to drive. So, how do you handle this situation? 

“If it’s the flu, and the driver feels physically unfit to drive and cannot make the shipment in time, there are a couple different options,” says Butler. “First, we call the customer and say something like, ‘The driver has come down with a bug and needs a little bit more time for the shipment,’ and if the customer is willing to work with us to push the time back, we’ll keep things as is. But if the customer tell us, ‘No, it’s a time-critical shipment that has to be there by 10 a.m. the next day,’ then it’s basically the same process as if this was a family emergency at home. We look for a cross dock location, dispatch a recovery truck and transfer the load to ensure a timely shipment.”

When it comes to determining what to do in a driver health emergency, there are a lot of variables, says Elliott. “If it’s the flu, we may need to get you somewhere to get the freight off the truck. But if it’s a situation where you’re saying ‘I’m having chest pains,’ then you need to get that truck off the road immediately. From there, we would rescue the truck to get the freight off of it and move it to a safe location.” 

The Bottom Line … Communicate!

Whether you have a family crisis at home or are dealing with health issues on the road, the biggest thing to keep in mind is communication. “Whatever comes up on the road, the best thing you can do is call your dispatch right away,” Butler advises. “This way, you have a team of people working with you to tackle the issue at hand, instead of one person trying to figure out what to do.”

Elliot agrees. “Communication is vital. When there is a problem, get the carrier involved as soon as possible so they can help as best they can, while you focus on handling the crisis.”