Whether it’s your first day behind the wheel or you’re a veteran truck jockey with hundreds of thousands of miles under your belt, there’s always something new you can learn about handling and controlling your commercial truck.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help every Class A commercial truck driver operate in a safe and accident-free manner.
Don’t neglect your inspection
The pre-trip inspection is the foundation of good vehicle operation. If you skip it or rush through so you can get out on the road faster, you may miss something important that could cause a breakdown that will delay you even longer, lead to an expensive violation, or even cause an accident.
Get out and look around! A thorough inspection should take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Remember the training you went through when you were first seeking your CDL license. Chock your tires and check your lug nuts, make sure reflectors are in place and test your brakes (30% of truck accidents are caused by brake failure). Give your trailer a good check to make sure it’s in optimal condition.
And don’t forget the inside of the cab. Double-check that you have your emergency kit, all your mirrors are properly positioned and your seatbelt is in good working condition. While you’re in there, pick up any trash and straighten any loose papers. A clean workspace makes a good impression on inspectors, and makes them more favorably inclined toward you.
Some drivers have a program coordinator who may pressure you to cut corners here to keep on schedule. Don’t give in. You should never pull off the lot until your pre-trip inspection is completed to your satisfaction.
Load and unload cargo wisely
As the driver, loading and unloading is ultimately your responsibility. Make sure you’re following state regulations and best practices. Apply your tractor and parking brakes and turn off your engine. Apply chocks for added safety. Don’t pull out of the loading dock until the dock plate has been removed and you’ve double-checked that loading or unloading is complete.
It’s also important to ensure loads are properly balanced and loaded. A load that’s improperly secured or balanced can lead to listing that can cause dangerous instability, which is the last thing you want.
No driving simulator or truck driver training can ever prepare you for 20 tons of unsecured cargo sliding around your trailer on a sharp curve. Be careful during unloading too. Don’t be afraid to reorganize cargo for more even weight distribution.
This should seem obvious, but unfortunately many accidents are still caused by a commercial truck driver who took an unnecessary risk. Never let yourself forget you’re operating a 30,000 pound piece of machinery that’s not only the biggest thing on the road, but also the most deadly. According to the FMCSA, 87% of fatal accidents involving semis were caused by the truck driver’s error.
Commercial drivers need to be constantly vigilant for unexpected road conditions and distracted drivers. Drive defensively and constantly monitor your mirrors and the road ahead to spot potential hazards.
More than that, you must constantly remain aware of your speed and just how long it takes to stop. It’s easy to get a little heavy in the foot, especially if you’re driving in wide open spaces like the High Plains or the desert, but it’s important to keep your speed in check with state regulations. Remember, ramps and curves are especially dangerous places for rollovers, as are bridges in icy or near-icy conditions.
Watch your blind spots
It might seem like this should fit under the previous section, but it’s so important that it warrants its own: be aware of the “no zone.” Most trucks have three of these blind spots: off to the side just in front of the cab, just behind the side mirrors and directly behind the truck. Up to 35% of accidents between trucks and cars occur in one of these three zones.
Many people are unaware of these blind spots on trucks, and thus, may hang out there, much to your frustration. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance that you exercise caution when turning or changing lanes.
Don’t get overconfident
After you’ve been driving a big rig for a while (and sometimes even when you haven’t), it’s easy to fall into the trap of overconfidence. Whether you’ve recently completed truck driving training or you’ve been doing it for 30 years, you’re sure to encounter some drivers who think they’ve seen it all. They haven’t.
These huge vehicles, changing conditions and the unpredictability of other drivers mean there’s always something new to worry about. To remain accident-free, remember the incredible responsibility that comes along with driving a big rig and never assume anything.
Take care of yourself
Driving a truck is a sedentary, often lonely existence. Don’t neglect your health, either physical or mental. It’s not enough just to pass your DOT physical, you need to take steps to ensure you’re staying fit.
A 2014 National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety study of long-haul truckers classified 69% of respondents as obese, which is more than 50% higher than rates among other workers.
To combat this, be wary of fat, sodium and cholesterol-laden comfort foods at roadside diners. Eat a balanced diet – one that has ample fruits and vegetables. Make sure you’re getting some exercise. Even a brisk stroll around a rest area can do wonders when it comes to fighting off the ill effects of sitting behind the wheel all day. Make sure you spend enough time on your feet to get the blood flowing in your extremities.
And don’t forget about your mental well-being. The National Institute of Health found a significant number of commercial truckers with depression, loneliness, anxiety and sleep disorders, all of which cloud judgment and cause focus problems. To combat this, make sure you’re spending time at home and with friends on a regular basis. Schedule some time to unwind and relax. Consider taking up a hobby or taking a pet with you on your travels.
Good health is paramount, but it can be easy to neglect. Don’t neglect yours – it will help keep you safe.
So, whether it’s day number one behind the wheel or day 7,001, the best tip for all drivers is to stay cautious, aware, prepared, and positive out on the highways and byways. Safe trucking!