How Do Truck Drivers Get Driving Directions?

Why Truck Drivers Need Driving Directions In Advance?

It’s very important for truck drivers to have their directions well in advance for multiple reasons and concerns.  If the area being traveled to is unfamiliar, then not becoming lost becomes pretty important.

Many bad things could occur when a semi truck driver becomes lost.  You can find yourself facing a low bridge, or maybe a bridge that is not capable of supporting the weight of your CMV.  This unknown could also turn itself into being that you just traveled 15 miles to end up at a dead end.

Do you know how fun it is having to back up a semi truck for 15 miles because of something like this?  I have experience in this, along with not every road in America is a perfectly straight road for 15 miles.  In addition to the things, I have already listed.

When anyone becomes lost, you could end up in an area that isn’t so pleasant, where your personal safety could be put at risk or worse.

Not only is knowing where you are important, but also being able to maintain a safe atmosphere for oneself, the equipment and the public of which you’re traveling through and with just as important.  At any time a detour of the desired route is taken.  I highly suggest pulling off the road, double checking the detour to ensure its actually safe to travel for a semi truck and trailer.

Now the above is pretty serious.  Additional issues that will arise are narrow roads that will make it impossible for semi trucks to turn left or right, soft shoulders that cause additional issues if in case you have a mechanical breakdown, and anything you could imagine out in the middle of the night, in darkness where you haven’t seen any additional traffic for hours.

Alternative Methods Used For Getting Driving Directions By Truckers?

Back a long time ago, before GPS, before cell phones and all of these easy to use tools of today’s era.  Truck drivers would use a pay phone, call their dispatcher and ask for some helpful directions or at least a phone number to the customer.

Once provided with this contact information or some general directions.  They would then use the pay phone again and call the customer to confirm what was told to them or ask the customer for new directions.  During this phone conversation, they would take notes on the route being provided when closer to the area of the customer.

Now, some truckers would do this next thing first, while others may do it after these phone calls.  The trucker would sit in their semi, with an atlas that has every states highway and roadway network within it.  Truck drivers would plan their trips in this manner.  Then use the notes from the customer to finalize the trip.

This is the old school way of directions.  Having several extra notepads was always helpful, just as having extra pens were as well.  If by chance the truck driver never was able to get in contact with the customer.  This is where talking to the dispatcher was usually more helpful.

At times you could walk into a truck stop restaurant and just ask some of the other truckers what the easiest way to get from point A to point B and many always have an easy route.  Let’s face it, the easier the route, the less time it takes to travel, the least amount of miles, the faster the truck driver is paid.

Another method that isn’t used as often as it once was, is just asking on the CB Radio once within 30 or so minutes of the customer you’re trying to locate.  There have been times even with using GPS when a good old fashioned “Breaker One Nine” was the fastest method for driving direction answers were needed promptly.

Did you know, if you pull over out of the way of traffic you can call the police and ask them for help?  Seriously you can.  I use to do this all the time when I was running around the North East.  Especially when I was on Long Island or near any part of New York City.

The key to this method is ensuring that you are polite, that you are communicating that you are in a semi truck and that you just need a little bit of help because you are unfamiliar to the area and that you do not want to cause any personal or property damage.

These key components will get you help with directions, and do so quickly.  With this, to be honest, I have dialed the 911 number.  If you need the number again that I called, it was 9-1-1. I have also used non-emergency phone numbers to different police agencies across the U.S… Sometimes they were answered (mostly daytime hours) and sometimes there went unanswered (nighttime hours.)

Semi Truck Drivers use the entire map to begin obtaining driving directions.How Do Truckers Read A Road Atlas?

A Road Atlas is easy to read and understand once you use it a few times.  In most road atlases, once you open the front cover, there is an image of the connected 48 states with the main interstates included.  I believe some may have portions of Canada and Mexico while others may not.


Here’s how to read a road map and take notes in a few easy steps:
1. First, you will need a pencil or pen and a notepad or a scrap piece of paper to take notes to help you not become lost.  On this notepad, make sure you write down your Destination City and State, along with details about the customer you will be traveling to.

Customer’s name, contact person’s name, Phone number(s), complete address, pick-up number, Bill Of Lading (BOL) number, seal numbers and etc, all of this may be needed.

2. Open up the Atlas to the full map version of all the states normally located in the front of the map.  You’ll know you’re in the correct area of the Atlas when you see all states and interstate highways being shown.  If you only see a single state, you are looking at the wrong area.

3. Locate the state that you are currently in, and also locate the state that you will be traveling to.  If by chance you are not traveling outside of the state you can skip down to step # ??.

4. Before you start writing down your highway road names, make sure you leave a little space above the beginning of your directions to allow yourself an area to write in the local directions.  Now that you have your Origin and Destination, use a ruler or anything with a straight edge, and just lay it down on the map between the two states.

This will allow you to see which major highways would be your best bet to utilize.  Write these highways down on your notepad in order of which you will be traveling on them in the direction that you will be traveling.

Semi Truck Driver referencing single state in atlas for driving directions.5. Next, Go to the Origin State, the state you are currently in.  Look on the map till you find your current area.  Once found, locate the first highway you wrote down.  And write the roads you will need to travel on to get to that highway.

6. Do the same for the Destination state, with the exception being you’re going to go from the highway to the local driving directions.

7. Once you have a complete set of directions.  All that is left is to make sure you’re allowed to travel on the directions you have written down.  Many places have weight regulations in place, you also may want to check for low bridges, possibly even any bridge laws on your commercial vehicle (length of tandems from the pin on the kingpin).

Also, some areas also have width restrictions in place.  In the front of most Atlas’s, you find different types of restrictions organized by state.  These will include, height, weight, hazardous materials (hazmat), and etc.  So you may have to reference this with each of the states you’ll be driving through.

8. Once you have all of this.  After you have double and tripled checked everything.  Have confirmed directions with the customer, you’re all set to be on your way.

Related Questions:

What Is The Best Weather App For Truckers To Use For Traveling?

I find the Weather Channel App to be the most helpful from my trucking experience.  Not only is it helpful and up to date in real time.  I find it to be easy to use and reliable.  It’s free and available for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

Who Has The Right Of Way When Merging Onto Highways?

When we read driver handbooks we see that it will state within these documents that the driver already on the highway has the right of way.  Though when speaking to a highway patrol officer, many times we will hear that neither party has the right of way.  Instead, we hear that all lanes are a part of the highway.

Because of this, we then must rethink our perspective to a degree.  That perspective being, how to remain safe, and uncited.  If neither lane has the right of way then the only way to maintain safety is by being courteous to one another while traveling.  Since it is more likely that the driver of any vehicle that is uncourteous is more likely to cause an accident and possibly be cited.

About Michael : Semi Truck Driver

I have been a semi truck driver for approximately 20 years. Throughout this time I have been taught a lot of different things from a lot of different people through the years. I've also learned a lot of things from my own mistakes. With all of this in mind, allow me to share with you what I have been lucky enough to learn.

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