Cover Story

Driving England

By John Aalborg

American drivers, fleets, and Homeland Security are worried about Mexican and Canadian trucking? Consider what Great Britain deals with…

Some of us think of England as ivy-covered castles, picturesque sheep trails and stuffy teatime customs. Other Americans see a beacon of civilization: a country on top of technology, innovation and individual rights. From this trucker’s point of view, however, British long haul truck drivers are no pansies, and their four-step-high cab-over tractors and three-axle trailers are awesome to behold.

Here in the U.S., with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south, dealing with foreign registered trucks is tea and crumpets compared to what transport officials and drivers in England deal with. Although Brits speak a language similar to ours, the term "long haul" is an understatement. In England, which is about the size of Kansas or Minnesota but with a dozen times the population, drivers have to leave their country for long haul. A rookie could easily become overwhelmed with doubts. Are the restrooms clean in Serbia? Can you get a quick tire repair in Slovenia? Will my fuel-card work in Volgodonsk? If I have long hair: will I be jailed in Saudi Arabia? Will they return my passport to my family with my head?

VOSA, England’s Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, keeps a watch on homegrown and foreign truckers alike. "Inspectors found a lorry run by a Greek operator with three severely defective tires, a leaking fuel tank and a missing shock absorber. The driver failed to produce the required number of Tachograph charts, and the few charts he produced showed insufficient rest period." Trucker’s Connection wants to know: how do you get through Austria, Germany, and France all the way to the English Channel with a leaking fuel tank?

Tachographs, or "Tachos," are Europe’s version of what may be mandatory soon here—the electronic log. Older American drivers will remember a crude form of the old-timey Tachograph that imprinted a few of the most important items on a paper disk. Across the Atlantic, the newer digital units can and are required to print whatever they remember, which some British drivers believe is everything. As the technology continues to develop, "they’ll soon know your grandmother’s name and what your favorite cookies are." As England and Europe switch from analog to digital Tachos, the common practice where fleets randomly examined perhaps 20 percent of the analog charts for compliance, will be 100 percent of the digital downloads. Since there seems to be no escape from the newer technology, Americans will point out that drivers across the pond, who get paid by the hour, don’t have as many reasons to fudge the HOS rules. Maybe so, but with the Euro requirement that a driver keep 28 days of paper printouts in the cab at all times, it’s not exactly save-a-tree time over there. The in-dash machine spits out a roll of figures that looks like a big grocery store receipt—nnnk nnnk nnnk—and imagining it as an electronic toilet-paper dispenser is not hard to do. Regardless, operators have recently come around to consider the newer Tachographs helpful since they prevent unfair competition and also backs up a driver’s version of an accident. As in the U.S., the majority of four-wheeler drivers who cause an accident usually blame the truck drivers, and eye witnesses tend to exaggerate the speed of a vehicle. As for cheating, even ghosting—solo drivers presenting an additional record for the same time period as if driving team—the need for a second smart-card to be inserted into the digital Tacho kills that old trick. Loopholes exist, however, for the truck owner, where "Periods of Availability" do not count as working, and work "not driving" for moonlighting must be entered by hand on the other side of the Tacho printout.

The American trucker is used to being delayed, inspected, weighed, and his HOS examined. The British long haul driver has a similar experience, only with tighter rules plus confrontations with numerous and often strange languages. Where we cross a state line, often without knowing it, the Brit crosses a border. He will need to have ready his passport, written authority to drive the vehicle, an international insurance certificate, permits for certain countries outside the EU, a certified copy of his employment status, a TIR Carnet and/or a visa (for certain countries outside of the EU), T Forms or EUR Forms (for certain countries outside of the EU), an ATP Certificate (for perishable goods) or an ADR Certificate (for hazardous materials). On-board equipment must include a first-aid kit (compulsory in some countries), wheel chocks (compulsory in some countries), a Hi Viz vest (compulsory in some countries, like Austria, Italy and Spain, for example) and a box of spare light bulbs. Optional stuff includes an incident report form to assist making notes at the time of an accident, an international phrase book and dictionary, a list of European driving restrictions, an "Illegal Immigrants Check List," and a European Health Insurance Card. Experienced drivers also bring along plenty of their favorite food snacks, and packs of Marlboro cigarettes or a pocket full of money to grease the way around low-level customs officials. Your dog will also need a passport for long haul, and a tattoo with its number on it (in some countries a chip implant will do).

Split speed limits are the rule both in England and on the continent. In Poland, roller-skate drivers are allowed up to 60 percent faster speeds. There you pay the fines in money called "zlotys." (You can get three of ‘em plus change for a buck.) Get caught without a seatbelt and it’s 100 zlotys; using your cell while driving is 200. Also in Poland, beware the "Black Spot," a sign with a huge, round, black spot with an "X" in the middle indicating an area of the road where many accidents have occurred. Poland, however, is a piece of cake for the English driver who is accustomed to driving much farther from home.

Most U.K. articulated trucks (semis are called "artics") have eight wheels on the tractor with either the center or rear axle having single wheels, while the trailer unit has three axles with most using super single wheels. In the U.K., two wheels bolted to the same hub are classed as a single wheel, therefore a standard six-axle artic is considered to have 12 wheels, even though it has more than that number of "tyres."

Law enforcement profiling is more open and accepted in the U.K. than in the U.S. England and Europe are closer to terrorism sources, and resentment toward Muslim immigrants who do not integrate with their new country’s culture is high, with clothing and headgear often a red flag for police officers. Here in the U.S. where immigrants and foreign truck drivers coming from Mexico and farther south, the profiling of foreigners who look and dress like us is more difficult.

The hourly English pay rate is about $16.00 an hour with a Euro cap on 48 hours work per week, yet $50,000 dollars per year is not uncommon for some company drivers. An American driver crossing into Canada or Mexico can continue driving on the right—yipee!—but as soon as a Brit crosses the English Channel into Europe, it’s the wrong side of the road for him, with the steering wheel on the wrong side. Brits are nearly as bad as Americans, however, regarding the learning of foreign languages, and the French are the masters at looking down on foreigners who don’t make an attempt.

English fleets have become used to tough European emissions rules, and there seems to be less reluctance to buy new equipment. There are two systems prevalent at the present time, EGR and SCR. The Selective Catalytic Reduction system sprays urea into engine exhaust gases via a special catalytic converter. The most commonly used brand of the stuff is called AdBlue (you have seen the color before in restrooms) and a tank separate from the fuel is required. Commonly, the AdBlue tank needs to be filled once a week. Fleets have storage tanks of the stuff and long haul drivers can top up the urea tanks almost anywhere in the U.K. or the most frequented areas of Europe. EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) is the preferred system for long haul, and SCR is not even considered in the U.S. Interestingly, the AdBlue company supplies drivers with excellent downloadable routing maps of Europe with the best routes marked and AdBlue service areas flagged (www.findadblue.com). The way this site works is a wonder, yet when the computer finds a route, say Manchester to Tirana Albania, taking into consideration all the border crossings, all the languages, the mountains to cross and tunnels to negotiate—with bizarre road-signs the norm—the term "long haul" deserves its legendary reputation.

No need to lie awake at night thinking about what long haul is like on the other side of the pond. As you close your eyes, think Canada, or even Mexico. Sweet dreams!

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