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Is Lorry Driving What It Used To Be?

Apr 11, 2008
With skyrocketing fuel prices, LEZ, long working hours and congestion charging conspiring to make the poor old lorry drivers' lives a costly misery, Lyall Cresswell of Haulage Exchange takes a look back in time to see if lorry driving was better in the old days...

Text body: Currently, there is a feeling of real doom and gloom hanging over the logistics industry. You just have to look at the squeeze lorry drivers are facing with rising fuel prices, LEZ charges and congestion fees increasingly cropping up. On top of pretty much everyone feeling a financial pinch, a survey on our site has revealed that over half of our members are working in excess of 60 hours per week - it's no wonder there's a hankering for the 'good old days' of haulage. But was taking a backload then really any better?

In a 2006 article in the Independent, about the low number of young people taking up the profession, Nigel Baxter of RH Freight was keen to point out that things have gotten much better for lorry drivers: "It's a much more sophisticated industry these days, thanks to technology such as satellite navigation...Before the Road Transport Directive came into effect last year [2005], drivers typically worked 65 hours a week, whereas now we're down to 48 with more control over finish times... Health and safety has also been tightened up and the rules on manual handling have changed." He also described the logistics equipment as "far more lightweight and less arduous to use than in the past", suggesting a marked improvement in conditions for lorry drivers. Whether or not Baxter's firm is an exception rather than the rule (as mentioned above, our members are still working long hours), is a harking for the good old days of logistics just hopeless rose-tinted nostalgia, as he suggests?

Well, if you were to take a time machine back to the 1960s, the first thing you'd notice in your considerably less comfortable old lorry cab is the weather - whether you're in winter or in summer. That's right - whether the weather was hot or cold, you were stuck with it. In summer, with the windows rolled down, this wasn't such an issue, but in the freezing winter of 1962, with no cab heater (or an early inefficient model) several layers were far from optional in the old lorries!

Seatbelts only began to appear in certain cars in the 1960s, and they were a real rarity in old lorries - set against a debate over whether they aided safety or restricted escape in the event of being trapped. It's universally accepted that lorries are both more comfortable and safe than they used to be - and this comfort extended to the noise too. Many old lorries in the early 1960s had no noise blocking materials between the lorry driver and the main engine, making them extremely loud! Some cunning old lorry drivers would use blankets to cover the bonnet to dim the noise a bit, which would double up as insulation on some of the trucks with ill-fitting engine covers!

As for in-cab devices, you were mainly left to provide your own entertainment. In car radios were far from standard, and were not particularly widespread until the 70s. You could use a portable radio, but the thick roofs of the old lorry cabs meant that finding and keeping a good aerial signal was almost impossible. Cassette players were just coming into fashion around the 70s - later to be fitted into cars. Portable tape players weren't particularly power efficient and would be unlikely to last a significant part of any old lorry's journey.

Perhaps the most convenient thing that we take for granted these days is the wide availability of the mobile phone. Nowadays, mobiles even have internet access on them, allowing easy communication wherever you are on the road, but in those days you were pretty much on your own in the old lorry. If you needed to urgently get into contact with 'base', you'd be at the mercy of finding a payphone - and you'd probably be left reversing the charges to your company!

Add to this the state of the roads in those days (balanced out by the lower volumes of traffic, but still) and the need to constantly monitor the security of the backload on your truck (the old ropes would shrink and tighten in rain, then dry out in sun, loosening the backload, amongst other hazards) and you begin to realise that modern logistics drivers have never had it so good. It's nice to look back nostalgically on times gone by, but give me my mixtapes and mobile phone any day of the week!
About the Author
Lyall Cresswell is the Managing Director for the Transport Exchange Group. Haulage Exchange, their freight exchange for the 7.5 tonne and above market, offers an independent environment for its members to swap backloads.
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