Alois Tement in conversation
On the road
Gebrüder Weiss-driver Alois Tement in conversation with Frank Haas – On discipline, the right diet "on the road" and the future of driving.
Mr Tement, you've been driving for Gebrüder Weiss for 34 years. How did you get into the job?
It all started when I trained as a car mechanic. Back then, that set you up for a career as a truck driver. The vehicles you drove in those days weren’t always reliable. It helped if you were handy with repairs. That's far less important today.
Did the "travel bug" influence your decision?
Yes, of course. I always felt drawn to faraway places. I couldn't imagine being in a regular nine-to-five job. I've seen more of the world than most people. I've been in every country in Europe except Finland – I don't spend much time in one place but I see a lot on the road. I don't just drive along mindlessly, without looking at what I'm passing on either side. That's not my way. Some of my colleagues may differ in that respect.
If you compare your trips with a vacation – what are the differences?
I don’t expect anything when I set out – after all, it's my job. That's probably the biggest difference to a vacation. Holidaymakers want to experience something out of the ordinary, they have specific expectations. In Ireland you can look forward to lush green fields and tasty, salted butter. If that isn't how it turns out, people are disappointed. If I encounter things like that on my travels, it's always a pleasant surprise.
Have you had any really memorable experiences on your travels?
Lots. For example, I still vividly remember the ferry journeys to Mallorca and Sweden. Nobody else goes on those. It's my good fortune that I can drive different routes and see lots of different things. The driving itself is always the same. Technology has made it better, but otherwise nothing has changed. The things I see and hear around me, that's what I like. Above all because it's always so spontaneous.
Has your view of people changed over the years?
It has indeed. I've always been the type to mix, and I enjoy talking to people. Even if you're communicating with your hands and feet! It's always interesting to see how different they are, to observe the way they behave and understand the way they think. For me, it's important to engage others with an open mind.
Which country do you enjoy driving in most?
I really like traveling in Britain. But every country has its own charms and appeals. The countries in eastern Europe are interesting, too. Over the years I've seen how their cities have changed and their economies blossomed. If you are driving through a country, you really get a front row seat.
What attracts you to Britain?
People treat each other with a lot of respect. There's no tailgating, and everyone tries to help you. Unfortunately that isn't the case everywhere. In the German-speaking countries – and particularly in Germany – the law of the jungle prevails. Nobody is willing to wait 30 seconds. Drivers flash their lights, shake their fists at you… and throwing your weight around is standard practice. If you try to keep a safe distance from the car in front, somebody is sure to squeeze in the gap. The races you see when one truck tries to overtake another are pure madness. If one trucker is driving 2 kph faster than another, there's no need to pass. It's a complete waste of time.
Apropos "racing", where do truckers learn road etiquette?
That's something that everyone has to decide for themselves. There are always one or two black sheep around. In my view, culture is a factor here. In England everybody simply plays by the rules. Even in the biggest population centers – like Manchester, Birmingham and London – people always leave space for my truck to filter in and overtake. In our country we could learn a lot from the English and the Benelux countries. You might say: the further north you are, the more respectful and relaxed drivers get.
Telematics have become increasingly important in recent years. How does that impact your work?
There have been lots of changes! In the past you used to head off and you were really gone and away. There were no SatNavs and no cell phones. If you wanted to reach your family, you had to find a phone box. In those days, having a radio was the definition of "mobile". Today's telematics systems mean you are much more closely connected with your headquarters. The delivery note arrives electronically, the address is recorded digitally. As a driver I hardly have to do anything – I don't need to know anything about countries, borders or customs. The system does it all for you.
So there were fewer constraints on what you could do in the past?
Yes, you could say that. Nowadays the system records exactly how much fuel I am using, when I apply the brakes, how fast I am driving, how long I need for a route etc. In the old days, you had more freedom. But you also had more to think about.
The data exists, but is it really used? Does anyone tell you how you should drive?
No, not at all. There are checks to see if your mileage, speed and journey times are within certain parameters. If that isn't the case, somebody takes a closer look. As a general rule, the trucks are inspected and approved for a pre-set maximum speed...
So economy is the top priority…
Yes, exactly. Driving economically is really important. You mustn't be using more than 33 liters per 100 km. Your fuel consumption depends a lot on what the truck is being used for and how many stops it makes. You use most power when you get up to speed from a standstill. It takes a lot to move a forty-tonner. The more stop-and-go traffic I have, the more fuel I use.
How much fuel did trucks use in the past?
40 liters and more. That used to be less important back then, because diesel cost less. The main thing was making sure a truck wouldn't break down. Thanks to new technologies and a more economical focus in production, trucks use up to 25 per cent less fuel and they’re more reliable.
So what is your normal work schedule?
My work week begins on Sunday at 10 pm and ends – if all goes well – at 9 pm the following Friday. I'm not permitted to drive more than 47 hours a week, so I need to use this time as efficiently as possible. A 9:9:9 rhythm is best. That means you drive for nine hours, rest for nine hours and then drive for another nine. If I drive one day less than I should, I accumulate a deficit because of the prescribed rest periods. It’s hard to catch up again.
That sounds like stress.
It’s not. People make stress for themselves. I just see to it that I stick to schedule. If I'm disciplined and don't take too many breaks, then everything is fine. Discipline is the name of the game when you're on the road.
When do you get "down time"? Where do you sleep?
My down time is the truck drivers' weekend – from Friday evening to Sunday evening. During the week my truck is my home. Then I try to find a lorry park that isn't in the middle of nowhere. But they’re often full and you have to find an alternative. Above all in Germany, in the Ruhr industrial area, that's a big problem. Lots of trucks from the east converge here, filling up the lorry parks. If you're a young driver, that makes life difficult. If you have more experience, you tend to know where there is space.
People talk a lot about the freedom and romanticism of a truck driver's life. How relevant is that today?
Romanticism – forget that! Technology took over long ago. And things are much better for it: we have fewer problems to deal with.
What do long-distance drivers do to keep themselves alert?
That's a good question. The smart ones avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. They make sure they keep themselves fit. Stimulants only boost your concentration for a brief period. Ultimately, it's all in your mind.
How do you eat?
My wife thinks I'm really fussy about food. I always bring my own for the journey. I usually eat something cold. It doesn't matter to your body whether you are eating hot or cold meals. And I only eat things that I know. I don't go for much meat or fatty foods. I prefer lots of salads and fruit.
That's admirable. Have you got any weaknesses?
There aren't many young people training to be truck drivers nowadays. Why?
Truck drivers don't have a good image among other road users. Car drivers see them as a nuisance. And today no youngster here wants to invest 4,000 to 6,000 euros to get a truck driver's license. Except maybe the son of a shipping company owner. When I'm on a trip, I only ever see drivers who qualified long ago, or foreign drivers. There is no upcoming generation of truck drivers in this country.
What needs to be done to make the profession fit for the future?
It needs to be more family-friendly. That can be achieved by making trips shorter, as with platform trucks, where two meet halfway along a route. If you’re a truck driver, you need to be able to accept deprivation. You only see your family and friends at weekends – you have to come to terms with that. You need a good social network to make it work. I am very fortunate: I have had the full support of my wife for over 30 years. Lots of other drivers have been through divorces, some more than once.
And what does the future hold for you?
I plan to keep driving for another seven years and then retire at 60. We'll have to see what the government has to say! By then I will have been driving trucks for over 40 years, and hardly ever been sick. So I’ll have done my bit.
Can you imagine staying in one place when you’re retired?
I feel as right as rain at home and have no need to be traveling all the time. When I'm retired, I'll have more time for my hobbies and interests, above all for motorsports.
Where will your next trip be taking you?
To Britain, of course.
Frank Haas is head of brand strategy and communication at Gebrüder Weiss and editor-in-chief of Atlas.