12 Secrets of FedEx Delivery Drivers

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

They carry little package scanners that look like Star Trek tricorders. They can deliver to literally any street address in the United States. And with an average of 13 million packages delivered daily—many of them containing consumer merchandise—they beat the brakes off Santa’s productivity. They’re FedEx drivers, a smart and efficient fleet of employees who represent the final step in getting your goods right to your doorstep.

With the company’s 160,000 vehicles experiencing peak volume in time for the holidays, Mental Floss asked several drivers about some of the lesser-known facts surrounding their job. Read on to find out why they’re sometimes followed, why they hide packages, and what happens when they have to pee while on the clock.

1. NOT ALL FEDEX DRIVERS ACTUALLY WORK FOR FEDEX.


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Surprised? So were we. According to Ian, a former driver in Ohio, FedEx Express and FedEx Ground are actually two separate entities. “Most of the routes for Ground are contracted out to save money,” he says. “People can purchase the routes [from FedEx] and then hire their own drivers.” While that shouldn’t affect the consumer all that much, Ian says that he sometimes encountered people who were upset that, as an Express employee, he couldn’t pick up Ground packages. Ground drivers also tend to handle the larger, heavier items that aren’t being sent overnight. “Express can be more business and paperwork,” he says.

Another key difference: FedEx Express drivers often get sleek Mercedes Sprinter vans, while Ground has to settle for whatever their contractor wants them to use. Ian drove for both, but when he was a Ground driver, “I didn’t have any heat or air conditioning. In winter, it was like driving a giant freezer.”

2. THEY’RE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE CELL PHONES IN THE TRUCK.

Although Express trucks are fancy, they’re not loaded with GPS or other high-tech distractions. According to Tony, an Express driver based in Georgia, the company frowns on having electronic devices of any kind in the cab. “None of the trucks even have radios,” he says. “You’re supposed to leave your phone in the back with the packages.” Headphones and earbuds are also prohibited, although Tony says some drivers use a wireless Bluetooth speaker up front to stream music from their phone in the back. For directions, drivers use map books—but most know their route well enough to not need the help.

3. THEY CAN EARN BONUSES FOR NOT SMASHING YOUR STUFF.

A FedEx driver carries a package
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Despite the occasional security camera footage of FedEx and UPS drivers tossing packages over fences or otherwise trying their best to use boxes as footballs, the reality is that drivers have no desire to mishandle your goods—just the opposite. "If a driver does throw packages [or] break stuff he'll be cut very quickly,” says James, a Ground driver from Washington. “My contractor has a bonus every month. It’s like $50 to $100 for doing good. It’s an equation [based] on how many mis-deliveries and late pickups I have. If I come clean with nothing wrong for the month, I get the full bonus.”

4. THEY CAN TELL WHEN YOU’RE SHIPPING SOMETHING VALUABLE.

People tend to try and cloak more valuable shipments by using a little misdirection: Ian says he’s seen a number of packages sent along in diaper boxes to throw people off the value of their contents. “They can weigh something like 80 pounds, or as little as five ounces, but it's never actual diapers,” he says. He can also tell if people are shipping ammo—it rattles—or blood, but the latter is a bit of a cheat: Biohazards are clearly marked (or should be). "And no one wants to spill them."

5. THEY MAY NOT LEAVE A PACKAGE BEHIND IF THE NEIGHBORHOOD SEEMS SKETCHY.

A FedEx driver stacks packages
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For packages where the sender doesn’t require a signature, FedEx employees are left to use their own discretion on whether to leave a package unattended or reserve delivery for another day. If the address or neighborhood seems run down or otherwise at a higher risk of theft, they may opt for the latter. If not, they’ll do their best to make the delivery discreet. “I go out of my way to keep packages secure and out of sight from the public,” James says. “For instance, many houses have pillars, so I try to conceal the package behind them so it’s hard to see from the street.”

6. THEY WISH YOU’D PUT UP A HOUSE NUMBER.

One of the top reasons your package might be delayed? Because the driver doesn’t know which house is yours. “People are bad about not putting numbers on their house,” Tony says. “I’ll wind up driving up and down the road, trying to figure out which house I need or which entrance to use.”

7. THEY CAN USUALLY TELL IF YOU’RE TRYING TO SHIP DRUGS.

A drug dealer counts his profits from mailing drugs via FedEx
iStock

While FedEx sorting facilities get visits from DEA agents and their drug-sniffing canines, Ian says that drivers can often tell when someone is trying to make them inadvertent drug couriers. “People will wrap packages of weed in tons of duct tape or use some kind of fragrance to mask the smell,” he says. “It’s all a giveaway.” Sometimes, agents will let the drivers deliver the package so recipients can get delivered to a jail cell.

8. THE HOLIDAY SEASON MEANS A LOT OF PACKAGE FRAUD.

Package volume obviously goes up during the holidays, but Tony says that there’s also an increase in items bought using someone’s stolen identity. “People will order something, maybe thousands of dollars’ worth of leather jackets, and then say they’ll pick it up at the sorting facility,” he says. “That way, they can avoid having it delivered to the address on file with the [stolen] card.” But there’s a wrinkle: FedEx is often so efficient during this time of the year that items they expect to arrive in three days might get there in two. “Then you get people calling up asking who ordered all these jackets.”

9. DELIVERY NOT ON TIME? BLAME YOUR DOG.

A dog looks up at a photographer
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Dogs and delivery people have a rich, occasionally bloody history. If you have a time-sensitive delivery coming, you may want to rethink letting your canine roam the front yard. “Some dog owners don’t seem to understand that if your dog is roaming loose I won’t try and get into your property,” James says. “I know some drivers who know specific dogs and refuse to leave their trucks if the dog is there. If the dog walks up to me I'll pet him and leave the package. But if he gets hostile ... I'll try again the next day.”

10. THEY SOMETIMES GET FOLLOWED.

When driving, Ian would sometimes notice a tail behind him. That’s because some thieves have been known to follow delivery drivers and scoop up packages as they’re being dropped off. “We were taught to keep an eye out for familiar vehicles following us,” he says. “They knew people weren’t at home during the day, would wait until we were around the corner, and then pick up the package.” If you’re ordering something expensive like a TV, this is a good reason to request a signature. “It blows my mind how many people wouldn’t bother paying the extra $2.50 to make the signature required.”

11. THEY WISH YOU'D STOP RE-USING BOXES.

A FedEx delivery box is pictured
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When Tony sees packages arrive from freight trucks looking like they’ve been beaten with baseball bats, chances are it’s due in part because the shipper has re-used a box too often. The weakened cardboard is giving out, forcing employees to label it damaged upon arrival and hope nothing is broken. “We never want to deliver something broken,” he says. “Sometimes we’ll repackage it.”

12. WHEN THEY GOTTA GO, THEY GOTTA GO.

Drivers don’t usually have set shifts. Instead, their day ends when all packages have been delivered, so being efficient with their time is important. When it comes to needing the bathroom, some drivers opt for a detour—others don’t. “I'll take the five minutes and go to a gas station to [pee],” James says. “If I need to go number two I'll go in an apartment building that I know. But I've [gone riding] with drivers who have a big jug in their truck, that they [pee] in. Its gross but understandable.”

12 Secrets of Roller Coaster Designers

People ride a spinning roller coaster in the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Park
People ride a spinning roller coaster in the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Park
hanusst/iStock via Getty Images

Back in the early 20th century, engineers attempting to push the limits of roller coaster thrills subjected riders to risky upside-down turns and bloody noses. A century later, coaster designers rely on computer software, physics, and psychology to push the limits of the roughly 5000 rides in operation worldwide. To get a sense of what their job entails, Mental Floss spoke with several roller coaster specialists about everything from testing rides with water-filled dummies to how something as simple as paint can influence a coaster experience. Here’s what we learned.

1. Getting strapped in might be the most exciting part of the roller coaster ride.

Known as a “thrill engineer,” UK-based Brendan Walker consults with coaster manufacturers and parks on the psychology of riding the rails. In his experience, riders getting secured into their seats are at the peak of their excitement—even more so than during the ride itself. “The moment the lap bar is being locked down and you have that feeling of things being inescapable, that you have to suffer the effects of the ride, is the highest moment of arousal,” Walker says. “The actual ride might only achieve 80 percent of that excitement.”

2. Designers test roller coasters with water-filled dummies.

Bill Kitchen, founder of U.S. Thrill Rides, says it can take anywhere from two to five years for a coaster to go from idea to execution. Part of that process is devoted to the logistics of securing patents and permits for local site construction—the rest is extensive safety testing. “We’re subject to ASTM [American Society for Testing Materials] standards,” Kitchen says. “It covers every aspect of coasters. The rides are tested with what we call water dummies, or sometimes sandbags.”

The inanimate patrons allow designers to figure out how a coaster will react to the constant use and rider weight of a highly trafficked ride. The water dummies—which look a bit like crash test dummies, but filled with water—can be emptied or filled to simulate different weight capacities. Designers also sometimes use the kind of crash-test dummies found in the auto industry to observe any potential issues prior to actual humans climbing aboard.

3. Every foot of roller coaster track costs a lot of money.

Thrill seekers go upside-down while riding on the Mind Eraser roller coaster in Agawam, Massachusetts
Thrill seekers go upside-down while riding on the Mind Eraser roller coaster in Agawam, Massachusetts
Kirkikis/iStock via Getty Images

There is absolutely nothing random about the length of a coaster’s track. In addition to designing a ride based on the topography of a park site, designers take into account exactly how much space they’ll need to terrorize you and not an inch more. When England’s Alton Towers park was preparing to build a ride named TH13TEEN for a 2010 opening, they asked Walker exactly how much of a drop was needed to scare someone in the dark. “It was a practical question,” Walker says. “For every extra foot of steelwork, it would have cost them £30,000 [roughly $40,000].”

4. Rollercoaster Tycoon brought a lot of people into the business.

The popular PC game, first released in 1999, allowed users to methodically construct their own amusement parks, including the rides. As a proving ground for aspiring engineers and designers, it worked pretty well. Jeff Pike, President of Skyline Attractions, says he’s seen several people grow passionate about the industry as a direct result of the game. “I remember when the game first got popular, I would go to trade shows and there would be kids looking to get into it using screen shots of rides they designed. The game definitely brought a lot of people into the fold.”

5. Paint makes a big difference in coaster speed.

A group of tin metal cans with colorful paint
scanrail/iStock via Getty Images

For all of their high-tech design—the software, fabrication, and precise measures of energy—a good coaster ride can often come down to whether it’s got too much paint on it. “The one thing that will slow down a steel coaster is a build-up of paint on the track rails,” Pike says. “It softens where the wheel is rolling and hitting the track, which increases the drag.” A good, worn-in track will have gray or silver streaks where the wheel has worn down the paint, making it move more quickly.

6. A roller coaster’s skyline is key.

Brian Morrow, former Corporate Vice President for Theme Park Experience at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, says that the looming curvature of coasters spotted as guests drive toward and enter the park is very purposeful. “It’s like a movie trailer in that we want you to see some iconic coaster elements, but not the whole thing,” he says. “You approach it with anticipation.”

7. Some coasters arrive as giant model kits.

Whether a coaster’s theme or design comes first is largely left up to the end user—the amusement park. But for some rides, manufacturers are able to offer pre-fabricated constructions that designers can treat like the world’s biggest Erector Set. “Sometimes I work on rides that have already been built,” Walker says. “They’re produced by a company and presented almost like a kit with parts, like a model train set. There’s a curve here, a straight bit here, and you can pick your own layout depending on the lay of the land.”

8. Wooden roller coasters are weather-sensitive.

If you’ve ever been on a wooden coaster that seems a little shaky from one trip to the next, check the forecast: It might be because of the weather. Pike says that humidity and other factors can shrink the wood, affecting how bolts fit and leading to a slightly shakier experience. “The structure itself can flex back and forth,” he says. It’s still perfectly safe—it just takes more maintenance to make sure the wood and fasteners are in proper operating condition. A well-cared-for wooden coaster, Pike says, can usually outlast a steel model.

9. The time of day can affect the coaster experience.

“A coaster running in the morning could run slower when cooler,” Morrow says. “The wheels are not as warm, the bearings are warming up. That could be different by 2 p.m., with a slicked-up wheel chassis.” Coasters experiencing their first-ever test runs can also be slightly unpredictable, according to Pike. "Those first trial runs [during the testing phase] can be slow because everything is just so tight," he says. "A lot of coasters don't even make it around the track. It's not a failure. It's just super-slow."

10. Roller coaster designs can come from unusual places—like Jay Leno’s chin.

The twisting, undulating tracks of coasters can often be the result of necessity: Pike says that trees, underground piping, and available real estate all inform designers when it comes to placing a ride in a specific park. But when they have more freedom, coasters can sometimes take on the distinctive shape of whatever happens to be around the designers at the time of conception. “We had a giant piece of land in Holland that just had no constraints, and we were sitting around talking," Pike says. “And we started talking about Jay Leno’s chin.” The ride was a “loose” representation of the comedian's jaw, but “it is there.”

11. Roller coaster riders double as performers.

A woman taking a ride on a rollercoaster at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
A woman taking a ride on a rollercoaster at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
exithamster/iStock via Getty Images

For Walker, the best advertising for a coaster is having spectators watch riders de-board after an exhilarating experience. “It’s all about that emotion,” he says. “A spectator basically asks, ‘What’s making them so aroused? What’s giving them such pleasure?’ The line for the ride is the audience. Imagining yourself on the structure becomes a very powerful thing."

12. The future of coasters is vertical.

Biggest, fastest, longest—coasters are running out of superlatives. Because rides can only be designed with so many drips, rolls, or G forces, some companies are looking to the sky for their next big idea. Kitchen has been overseeing design of the Polercoaster for years: It’s a sprawling, skyscraper-esque ride that uses electromagnetic propulsion to carry riders upwards instead of across horizontal tracks. “We want to put it in places where land is very expensive, like the Vegas strip,” he says. “You can only do that if it takes up a lot less space.” The project is set to exceed the 456 feet of the current tallest ride, Kingda Ka at Six Flags in New Jersey. “It’ll be the world’s tallest—and hopefully the most fun.”

This list first ran in 2017.

Here's Why You Should Always Tip Your Delivery Driver With Cash

Khosrork/iStock via Getty Images
Khosrork/iStock via Getty Images

In our microchip- and app-happy society, we’ve all but abandoned paying for things in cold, hard cash. And while that’s almost definitely more efficient for you, it could be costing your delivery driver their tip, Lifehacker reports.

Some food delivery services guarantee a minimum payment for their drivers, which seems like a good thing on the surface. Basically, the company will pay the driver the agreed-upon base payment, even if it’s a slow shift and they don’t actually reach that amount in delivery charges. But it also means that everything they earn, including tip, is going toward that base payment. In other words, your tip is saving the company from having to pay more of the base payment.

The best way to ensure that your tip goes into your driver’s pocket is to give them a tip that they can literally put in their pocket—namely, cash. If you don’t have cash around or like to keep your finances digital for credit card rewards or tracking purposes, you should choose a delivery service that promises to pay their employees the full amount of whatever they earn, including tip.

Take a look at Lifehacker’s handy breakdown below to find out which delivery services you can trust with your tips, and read the policy details for each service here.

Delivery Services That Give Tips Directly to Drivers

PostMates
Grubhub/Seamless
Instacart
UberEats

Delivery Services That Keep Drivers’ Tips for Base Payment

DoorDash
Amazon Flex
Caviar

Keep in mind that this is only for companies whose whole business is based on being the go-between for you and your favorite restaurant. If you’re ordering directly from a restaurant, make sure to ask about its own delivery rules, or just tip in cash to be safe.

[h/t Lifehacker]

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