Don't Let Eagle Ford Drivers Be Put “Out-of-Service”

Drivers Daily Vehicle Inspection Report
Drivers Daily Vehicle Inspection Report

In trucking, “out-of-service” criteria define a set of physical conditions under which a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) or commercial driver may be prohibited from operating. An out-of-service violation removes the driver and CMV from the roadway until the violation is corrected, which obviously means no work gets done and no one gets paid. In addition, out of service violations are sometimes punishable by fines.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is serious about getting unsafe trucks off our roads and penalizing drivers and owners who fail to follow the regulations. In recent years, there have been more trucking companies and passenger bus companies placed out of service than ever before. The MAP-21 highway funding law that went into effect doubled most fines for serious violations.

Sharing the Blame

New rules that went into effect Oct. 1, 2013, allows the agency to place an entire carrier out of service for operating vehicles “without or beyond the scope of registration,” according to the regulation, whereas previously only the unregistered vehicle itself could be placed out of service. Now both the carrier as well as the vehicle can be penalized. Carriers and drivers who fail to comply with the state and federal regulations can be more easily be prevented from operating.

You can imagine this puts an even greater emphasis on thorough vehicle inspections and preventive maintenance which would catch potential risks to safety before they can cause accidents. A diligently-performed daily vehicle inspection will disclose such potential problems as faulty brake systems and bald tires.

Out-of-service penalties can also be levied against drivers without proper licensing and training. A CMV driver without a CDL or one that has expired can be just a serious a safety liability as brakes that won’t hold or tires ready to blow.

Activity in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas has increased truck traffic tremendously and statistics show trucking related accidents are up 41 percent.

Keep Eagle Ford Roadways Safe

[ic-l]In November, 2013, Sergeant Villarreal with Corpus Christi Department of Public Safety (DPS) spoke at the National Association for Publicly Funded Schools Region 4 “Keeping Our Roadways Safe” Conference at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi. Sergeant Villarreal indicated that the top three violations DPS officers see when pulling a commercial vehicle over in the Eagle Ford Shale are:

  1. Vehicle Inspections performed improperly or not at all
  2. Log Book Violations
  3. Driving a truck without a valid CDL license.

Keep Eagle Ford Drivers Trucking

Now that carriers as well as vehicles can be put out of service, here are five tips to help keep drivers “in service” and safely on the road:

  • Repair broken equipment.
  • Hire qualified drivers that have been properly trained with a valid CDL.
  • Have a strict pre/post trip vehicle inspection policy and hold drivers responsible for conducting and reporting them.
  • Have a no tolerance policy on faulty log book violations.
  • Conduct weekly or monthly safety meetings and reward employees for good audit results and discipline drivers that do not.

Must-Know Items for Truck Drivers in the Eagle Ford

Earlier this year we wrote a series of stories about the federal government’s efforts to regulate the training of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators. For 28 years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has attempted to standardize training requirements for entry level drivers (ELDT).

We Need Safer Roads, But...

DMC Instructor & Student
DMC Instructor & Student

There have been several heated conversations from trucking industry leaders, educators and safety advocates on what is a sufficient standard that will actually keep our roadways safer. Everyone agrees that implementing something to reduce accidents would be a good thing, but there are many opinions on how it should be done. Suggestions have ranged from enforcing stricter testing procedures by demonstrating performance based standards to an actual set number of hours that an individual must complete before obtaining their commercial driver’s license (CDL), as well as where and how the training can be performed.

On September 19th, 2013 the proposed federal rule was withdrawn because of over 700 comments sent to FMCSA stating several major concerns on how the ruling would negatively affect the industry. Protestors stated that the proposed ruling would do little to improve safety as requested by the federal courts.

The proposed rule may not have become law but the issue is far from dead. So here we go again. FMCSA is going back to the drawing board to research how safety can be measured among all drivers and what ruling can they implement to ensure the roadways will be safer.

Beyond the CDL Knowledge & Skills Test

[ic-r]The Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas has energized the Texas economy and provided many high paying jobs. The majority of them require a CDL. To get one you have to take knowledge and skills tests. To pass them requires a little preparation. Individuals seeking employment in the Eagle Ford are preparing for their CDL tests with training at truck driving schools at their local colleges, private for-profit schools or in company training programs. Some use self-guided study paired with borrowing Uncle John’s truck.

You may find a school or company offering “training” that seems quick and easy. You’ll be given copies of test questions from DPS, told to study them and get your CDL permit. Then you will be allowed to practice with a truck before scheduling your skills test at DPS. Sounds like a bargain and a fast track to starting your driving career but you should think twice. That is not training, and it could get you in trouble very quickly. You may find that inadequate training leads to ruining your driving record, wrecking your Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) score and preventing employment with good carriers that have strict standards.

Getting a CDL is just a start. Licensed CMV drivers have a huge responsibility. There’s much more to becoming a professional driver than just studying the test questions, meeting the basic requirements and squeaking through a driving test. You might think you could learn anything else you need through trial and error, but those errors could be deadly to your fellow drivers, even to you.

FMCSA may have withdrawn the ELT proposed rule at this time but don't let that stop you from making sure you have all the information to succeed. Have respect for yourself and your career. Make an investment in thorough training. You want to be doing this for a long time.

Truck Driving in the Eagle Ford Shale Play

Mission Well Services Frac Spread
Mission Well Services Frac Spread

Even those who are not in the trucking industry have an inkling of an idea about the driver shortage. Ads for jobs for holders of commercial driver’s licenses pepper the newspaper classifieds. Recruitment ads fill television and computer screens not to mention the Job Board on this site, suggesting to even the casual viewer that drivers are in demand.

The industry needs about 100,000 new drivers every year. Why that many? Experienced drivers reaching retirement age are parking their trucks. Safety initiatives, in particular the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, have pushed many less-than-competent drivers out of the industry. New hours of service regulations have cut productive driving time so it takes more drivers to deliver the same amount of freight.

If you’ve been eyeing truck driving as a career, you might be wondering if this is the time to make your move but what type of trucking? The boom in oilfield service means a variety of drivers are needed for that industry segment.

Trucking in the Oilfield

Jobs for drivers in the Eagle Ford Shale play include the transportation of hazardous and non-hazardous materials like sand, cement, crude oil or water. You may be moving rigs and equipment. So you’ll be operating all types of equipment such as flat beds, tankers, dry van, end dump, belly dump, pole trucks and oversize equipment.

Is the Work Hard?

[ic-r]Trucking has never been an easy job. There’s so much more to CMV operation than simply getting the vehicle from Point A to Point B. Drivers have to deliver cargo undamaged and on time while guarding the safety of those which whom they’re sharing the road as well as their own safety. It all has to be done within the limits set by complex regulations that seem to change daily, if not hourly.

Trucking in the oilfield presents additional challenges. Working in the oil and gas industry as a commercial driver is very demanding, requiring you to work long hours which many times include duties other than driving. Your cargo may consist of extremely expensive equipment or supplies. Time may be even more of an essence than in other trucking jobs if production has come to halt waiting for your payload. The temptation to exceed the legal limits placed on your working hours will be great although you’ll quickly realize it’s not worth risking your health and safety not to mention your license.

The roads that you travel take a beating and will test your vehicle-handling skills to the max. Most of the work is local, usually within a 60-mile radius of the fleet facility. Drivers usually work an 11-hour day, much of it spent waiting to be offloaded at a rig site. Some sites won’t allow trucks to move at night.

What About Pay?

Most oilfield CMV drivers are paid weekly. Jobs sometimes include important benefits like medical insurance as well as dental and vision coverage. You may be offered participation in a 401(k) retirement program with the company matching your contribution. Paid vacation days may be part of the package. Depending on location salaries are around $45,000 a year and can reach $70,000 a year.

What Do I Need to Know?

For starters you will need a CDL and you’ll likely need one or more Endorsements. We highly recommend getting the Hazardous Material, Tanker and Doubles & Triples Endorsements to increase your skills and job readiness.

Beyond the knowledge and skills you need to get the required license and endorsements, you’ll need to be creative and inventive as well as self-reliant. Your equipment might break down in a location where assistance might not arrive for some time. You need to know your equipment thoroughly, be able to troubleshoot problems and be prepared to make basic repairs. You’ll realize that it’s very important to conduct thorough vehicle inspections at the beginning of your shift as well as a post trip in order to prevent breakdowns that rob you of productivity.

There are easier jobs than trucking in the Eagle Ford Shale Play but not all are as rewarding. The field is wide open to drivers with the necessary skills and a professional attitude. Check it out. You may be just right for trucking in the oilfield and it might be just right for you.

South Texas Truck Driver Shortage Spreading Across the U.S.

Oil Tanker on the Highway
Oil Tanker on the Highway

The South Texas truck driver shortage isn't alone. The American Trucking Association estimates the industry is short as many as 30,000 drivers across the country. The problem is compounded by high turnover rates: 70-90% a year. In South Texas, the high turnover rate is probably the only reason oil companies have been able to hire as many drivers as they have. It is school systems who can't hire bus drivers and local distributors who don't compete in pay that are struggling to find qualified personnel.

Average pay for an entry level truck driver ranges from $36,000-$45,000, but it rises to $50,000-$70,000 in the oilfield. Drivers work longer hours and spend time away from home, but for many the time away is offset by paychecks that twice that of typical jobs. Don't expect those pay rates to fall any time soon. It is more likely that rates for driving jobs outside of the oilfield will rise in response. If you have an interest in working in the oilfield, visit our Eagle Ford Truck Driving Jobs page.

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Hot Shot Drivers Are In Demand in the Eagle Ford Shale

The Eagle Ford Shale has brought a lot of opportunities for the oil and gas industry. There is plenty of work for everyone - especially Hot Shot truck drivers. Hot Shot drivers in South Texas are called by oil and gas companies to pick up loads from the drilling rig and deliver them somewhere else, or to bring much needed supplies to the rig to keep drilling and fracking productive. If a tool breaks, the crew is forced to stop drilling or producing until another one is delivered. Time is money and a crew sitting around waiting for a tool is not productive, so Hot Shot drivers that are reliable are a crucial part of the business. Good drivers build great relationships with crews to ensure they get more loads to keep busy.

Hot Shot Drivers Have Unpredictable Schedules

Hot Shot drivers are a different breed. Unlike regular drivers whose runs and loads are scheduled days, weeks and even months at a time in advance, Hot Shot drivers must be ready to go in a moment’s notice. They have to be skilled and flexible, ready to haul thousands of pounds of pipe one day, a small one-pound express package the next. Runs can range from across town to halfway across the state of Texas.

Unfortunately, drilling crews can be very demanding. Drivers can be put in very awkward situations to take loads even if they are over their hours, and more driving would put them in violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMCSR) hours of service rules.

Don't Risk Your License

As a Hot Shot driver you can either be the hero or the goat to these drilling crews. If you refuse a load, they have to call someone else and if that person is more available than you, you may think that's the one who will get more calls. Turning down work in order to stay within hours of service limits may seem risky, but driving past your allowed hours in a 24 hour period is riskier. It’s foolish and unsafe. All drivers, even Hot Shotters, are responsible for their log books being up-to-date and that they comply with FMCSR regulations. Remember, if you’re running illegally it’s your driving record and reputation that is at stake. It may seem you are making more money but all it takes is one DOT audit with a couple of log book violations on your Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) status to take that away.

Let your customers know you are a safe and competent driver who follows the rules. If you set that standard from the beginning they will respect you and recognize you as a real professional. And who do you think they’d rather work with to transport their expensive equipment, or to meet their critical deadline?