Truck driving is dangerous. Just as there are workplace hazards for most professions, truck driving has tons of its own. In fact, truck driving is in the top 10 deadliest professions in the US.
I hate to start with gloom, but it’s the uncomfortable truth. The earlier we got it out of the way, the better. And honestly, it makes a suitable backdrop from which to tell you about how to stay safe as a truck driver.
Truck driving can be dangerous, but there are ways for truck drivers to be safe on the road.
These 7 tips will ensure truckers can continue to drive safely for themselves and others they share the road with.
1. Take your Break Seriously
Many truck drivers take their time off duty as the time to do anything they want. While there’s nothing wrong with this to a large extent, you should mostly spend your time off duty resting and relaxing.
Truck driving is physically and mentally tasking. At the end of a trip, you often find yourself tired because you have to put your mind and energy to work to remain safe on the road. But when you’re off your shift, what do you do? Do you rest or do you do more work?
Although it is not uncommon that some work duties overlap into your break, you should still try to optimize your breaks for rest. Your brain needs all the rest it can get to prepare it for the next long trip. But when you keep cutting your rest short to do more and more work, the lack of rest accumulates in your body and leads to fatigue. This is the level you don’t want to get to.
2. Tool Up
Having tools you can recruit when you need quick fixes on the road can save you a lot of time and expense. There are a lot of tools you shouldn’t do without as a truck driver. These tools will not only keep you safe as a truck driver, but they will also make your work a lot easier.
Some of the most essential tools a trucker needs, surprisingly, aren’t wrenches, pliers, or hammers. Although these tools will always come in handy, there's still a category of tools that can help you get out of trouble on the road, save you time, and keep your costs low. We’re talking about truck driver smartphone apps.
Truck driver smartphone apps can keep you entertained on the road, put you on top of weather updates, help you skip weigh stations, and a lot more. You’ll find many of such useful tools on our list of the best smartphone apps for truck drivers.
Protective gear is also very necessary for truck drivers, especially during the loading and unloading of cargo. In addition to those, first aid kits, traffic cones, roadside signs, and even sunglasses can come in handy.
A lot of the shippers we have been working with have been revamping their safety measures to keep drivers and plant staff safe while on site.
PPE is not a very common requirement for loading sites large and small. Sometimes even watching a safety video is mandatory before you can enter the site so my recommendation...over prepare!
3. Practice Defensive Driving
Defensive driving is a driving strategy that encourages drivers to always be alert and on the lookout for potentially harmful and unexpected changes to road conditions. This technique has been proven to reduce the chances of accidents on the road, regardless of whether the vehicle is a fully loaded semi or a motorcycle.
Some driving strategies that count as defensive driving for truck drivers include:
Watching out for blind spots
Truck trailers, being very high and wide, usually block out vehicles that are positioned in certain areas around the truck from the view of the truck driver. Those positions are called blindspots. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that 840,000 accidents every year have to do with blindspots.
As a truck driver, you can reduce your risks of blindspot accidents by leaving enough space around your truck. Don’t get too close to vehicles around you, and put signs on your truck that encourage other drivers around you to not get too close.
The three second rule can help you determine how much distance to keep between your truck and the vehicles ahead. The rule states that you wait three seconds after the vehicle ahead has left a particular spot before you get to that same spot. During bad weather conditions, you can increase the three seconds to five or ten.
Preparing for emergencies
The weather can be tricky and try to spring some dirty surprises on you and you don’t want to be caught unprepared, especially when you’re on lonely roads. On your next trip, pack a first aid kit, some healthy snacks, comfy blankets, and a change of clothes. This way, you can remain comfortable in your truck if you have to take a break till a bad weather passes.
Slowing down when uncertain
When you're not sure of what’s going on around you, the smart thing to do is to slow down and proceed with caution. When you’re making a bend, slow down. At truck stops, while trying to get to an empty parking space before another truck does, slow down still. It is easier to lose control of your big rig at higher speeds.
Slowing down in uncertain times gives you more time to assess your situation and make an informed decision.
Always signaling your direction
It is easy to get used to long stretches of road with fewer vehicles and feel little need to portray your intentions to other vehicles around through signaling. But irrespective of how scanty the road is, make it a habit to always signal long before you make any turns or lane changes. When it becomes your habit, you won't have trouble trying to remember to signal on busy roads.
Keeping your cool
Avoid road rage at all times, no matter how tempted you are. When other drivers frustrate you, honk at you, swerve into your lanes and still throw the middle finger in your direction, ignore them all. Keep your cool at all times. Keep in mind that there are about 5000 fatal truck accidents every year. Don’t add yourself or anyone around you to the list because of your road rage.
Only changing lanes when absolutely necessary
Pick one lane and stick to it for as long as you need to. Remember maintain in the right lane and only use the left to pass.
4. Inspect Your Truck Before and After Every Trip
Although pre and post-trip inspections are mandated by the DOT, it would also do you a lot of good to carry out these inspections as often as possible. Taking a walk around your truck at every stop to see if everything looks good can eliminate surprises and keep unplanned stops at bay.
Here is a great video of how to complete a pre trip inspection as demonstrated by a licensed state examiner. Courtesy of Apex CDL Institute.
5. Take Care of Your Health
Your health is the ultimate thing you need to take care of. It starts with eating healthy. Filling your belly with junks increases your risk of obesity, and drowsiness behind the wheel. which is a major health issue for truckers. Pack un-perishable healthy snacks with you on your long hauls. And always take some time to stop at a restaurant to eat something healthy.
Sitting is a part of your job as a truck driver. But you could cause your body a lot of musculoskeletal injuries when you don’t sit properly in ergonomic seats. Try to get up and move every few hours. Some light stretching can go a long way.
Also, you might be tempted to pull out a pack of cigarettes to keep yourself from sleeping on the wheels. While your motive is noble, your method is dangerous. Smoking exposes you to the risk of lung cancer.
6. Inspect Loading and Delivery locations on Foot
When scouting a delivery spot you’re new to, the smart thing to do is to park at a distance not too far away and scout the area on foot. The reason for this is that it's hard to maneuver your big truck around tight spaces. It would be a wasted effort if the delivery spot you’re stuck at wasn’t even your delivery spot.
Scouting the delivery spot on foot helps you plan your entry and exit while avoiding the obstacles in the area. This simple tip will reduce your chances of getting involved in accidents, most of which happen when you’re trying to back out.
7. Stay Awake & Alert
Staying alert on the road helps you react quickly to unforeseen circumstances. This is one of the major factors that differentiate the top drivers from other drivers. The ability to remain alert for as long as you’re on the road is a skill you have to master. And you can only master it by practicing it.
Having a good rest before your shift helps you to stay alert. It reduces your chances of getting sleepy as you drive on those unending monotonous roads. If you feel you really need to sleep and you're beyond reviving, park your truck and take a nap. You can also stay alert by avoiding distractions, such as driving and texting. Make sure you never take any supplements or OTC medications that might make you drowsy behind the wheel.