Mario Tobar drove more miles in 2016 than anyone else in Schneider’s fleet of more than 10,000 company drivers … and he gets home weekly.
Safely and legally … with weekly home time … and a happy wife and three happy daughters at home.
So how does the 48-year-old Dallas, Texas, resident and Regional Van Truckload driver do it?
We interviewed him at length, extracting the tips below that could allow any professional truck driver to attain similar performance.
9 tips to maximize your miles
1. Creatively squeeze every minute out of available hours (but don’t cut corners)
Every challenge is an opportunity. Hours of Service (HOS) and Schneider’s Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) provide a precise framework in which drivers can operate. The key is to utilize those hours as effectively as possible. Drivers that set accurate Estimated Times of Arrival (ETAs) and Next Available Times (NATs) operate the most efficiently. In Mario’s words:
“Everything is about managing time. You can’t just stop for fuel wherever you want. For my 30-minute break, I take 30 minutes exactly. I know when I have 2 minutes left, then 1 minute left and then I’m ready to go. It’s easy to waste minutes on the 14-hour on-duty time at a truck stop. I plan everything because I don’t like to be under pressure. A lot of people think they don’t have time, but you have time for everything — my wife, my girls — if you just calculate everything.”
2. Pay close attention to external factors
Trip planning is an art form that takes way more into account than just the X number of miles from Point A to Point B. A savvy driver understands local traffic patterns at certain times of the day, monitors the weather closely, scouts out construction and speed limit changes and stays on top of changing environmental dynamics.
“You have to really know what time to leave. In Dallas, there’s an accident almost every day, and you must know what to do if there’s an accident. Sometimes take a service road and then back to the highway. Knowing the roads, knowing the traffic, construction — just being aware. I try to include all that in my math, and whatever I calculate, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m usually right on.”
3. Understand and work within the system
Every company has a certain way it operates and reasons why it does so. Schneider is no different — whether it’s how performance bonuses are structured, the way trucks are spec’d or other metrics. Some drivers try to manipulate that system, and it bites them, either in losing the respect of others or in very tangible ways while out on the road.
“A lot of drivers think they have to get as much from the company as they can. They cheat on an inspection to try to get more mileage or take someone else’s freight. They think they’ll beat the odds, but it doesn’t work that way and it’s a huge mistake. Go too quick on an inspection and you might break down on the highway. The DOT may stop you. Trying to save a few minutes can waste hours. You work with the system and you’ll discover how different things can be.”
4. Take care of your body
This may be the most underrated tip. Trucking can be a sedentary job, but many drivers don’t consider how their physical health affects their ability to do their job. Investing time in your health saves you time and efficiency later, even if that just means having the alertness and stamina to execute a few more miles a day.
“When I meet some drivers, they ask how I look so sharp. I exercise at least 30 minutes a day, eat my vitamins, etc. You must take care of yourself out here. If you’re not in good condition yourself, you won’t have the stamina. If you don’t have the stamina, you don’t have a clear head. If you don’t have a clear head, you get lazy with planning. It comes full circle.”
5. Maintain your equipment
Schneider has a nationwide maintenance network and emergency maintenance system, but proper maintenance ultimately comes down to decisions by drivers. Proper inspections are part of it, but also reporting minor defects before they become more substantial issues.
“If you do a good inspection on the truck, you’ll avoid lots of problems and save time in the end. Some drivers think only about themselves and don’t report something. That’s ultimately bad for the company and the driver. Well-maintained equipment is able to earn drivers more money.”
6. Work well with others in the company
It’s not about being a suck-up. It’s simply about acknowledging that all Schneider associates depend on other Schneider associates to execute a successful delivery. Planners use algorithms, not favorites, to assign freight, but when other decisions need to be made day in and day out, it will be the most reliable associates that will be relied on to get the job done.
“I like to see the company do well. If the company is doing well, it’s good for me. I get better equipment, better help from everyone, and everything goes better. One of my keys is to look at the interest of everybody, especially the leaders. I earn the trust of the leaders.”
7. Develop a good relationship with your driver leader/dispatcher
Every relationship matters, but none is more important to a driver than the relationship with your driver leader (called Driver Business Leaders, or DBLs, at Schneider). Sometimes, for whatever reason, personalities don’t jive, so Schneider always works to ensure drivers and driver leaders have good working relationships.
“A leader gave me three DBL options and I was able to work with a DBL whose leadership style matched my needs. That made a huge difference! The key really is a good relationship with your DBL, and that includes doing your part to make their job easy.”
8. Perfect your customer interaction
You may be picking up on a theme here: It’s all about relationships with other people — associates throughout the company, your direct driver leader and then also the customer. A driver is the face of Schneider to a customer. Appearance and attitude matter. A professional-looking and courteous driver will be treated with respect, which ultimately leads to a more efficient customer experience.
“I always try to have a good relationship with the customer, being serious and not joking around. Every time I meet a new manager, I introduce myself, shake hands and immediately do an expectations exchange — what I can do for them and what they can do for me. If I do that every time, I save the customer money, and they start to recognize me immediately because I treat them well. They respect me, I respect them. If the company loses a customer because of a driver, you lose as a driver.”
9. Care about what you do
Two of Schneider’s core values are “Safety First and Always” and “Excellence in What We Do.” Nothing we do is worth harming others or ourselves, and we have a relentless passion for innovation and improvement. The best drivers are those who live their lives and perform their jobs that way, and it shows in all they do.
“Safety first, and safety ultimately leads you to high performance, quality and accuracy, for yourself, the company and the equipment. I drive a 2016 Freightliner Cascadia, and the driver who was in it before me destroyed everything inside the truck. I try to make sure everything is cared for in the truck now. I always try to be there for the company, and I’m ready to help. They don’t have to worry about me. I always try to show them I care.”
And it shows. The numbers don’t lie: 165,874 miles in 2016 alone — which is 2/3 of the way to the moon, according to our mileage calculator.
What are your best tips to maximize your miles?