As profitable a career as trucking is, the risks that come with it are not insignificant. During the first half of 2020 alone, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported 65,545 crashes, 29,968 injuries, and 1,942 fatalities among drivers of large trucks in the U.S. Being a truck driver, therefore, is a job that requires great caution and attentiveness. From time to time, even the most experienced drivers can neglect some of the essential safety measures and rules.
So, it is important to always check with these simple but effective safety precautions—whether they’re the shoes you’re wearing or getting enough rest beforehand—to minimize risks during driving.
PLAN YOUR TRIP AHEAD
Planning beforehand can improve all aspects of a journey; it helps you feel prepared and manage time much more efficiently. That is why it is helpful to check the routes, exits, and driving hours of your trip. Trucks can be an inconvenient vehicle for making stops, therefore planning your breaks ahead of time will also save you a lot of trouble.
PRACTICE DEFENSIVE DRIVING
Defensive driving is an umbrella term for the set of driving skills that emphasize increased awareness and remaining alert at all times during driving. As a key rule of defensive driving, the driver is expected to not only focus on their own driving but also anticipate and quickly react to other drivers’ actions.
These driving skills also highlight the importance of scanning everything at least 15 seconds ahead, from traffic to work zones and other possible dangers. You should also check your mirrors often to look out for vehicles entering blind spots.
WEAR YOUR SEAT BELT
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists approximately 14,955 lives saved from seat belts in 2017. An obvious, yet often neglected safety device, seat belts are one of the most effective ways to ensure you are being a responsible driver and minimizing risk.
Following suggested speed limits is a crucial safety precaution for any type of vehicle, but we cannot stress enough how important this is for truck driving. Speeding while driving does not only increase the risks of accidents, but it also increases the severity of a crash due to the typically heavier weight of trucks.
Adjusting your speed is especially important in harsher weather conditions when the roads can be slippery due to rain or snow. Always make sure to slow down on corners, turns, and ramps, when the road is not fully visible, during heavy traffic, in road construction zones, and when there are road hazards.
MAINTAIN PROPER STOPPING DISTANCE
FMCSA lists long stopping distances among other safety challenges for trucks. According to them, driving a loaded truck in good road conditions at highway speed needs a space of almost two football fields for stopping, since the stopping time for big vehicles is much longer than for smaller ones.
Make sure to always maintain a proper stopping distance between your truck and vehicles ahead of you. Be aware that heavy loads and harsh weather conditions additionally increase the stopping distance.
MINIMIZE CHANGING YOUR LANE
The left lane is typically for traffic that is moving faster, so if you are staying in this lane, you will have to change it quite often. The smartest choice would be to try to stay in the right lane as much as possible since your view of traffic is not optimal for cars directly in front, directly behind, and along each side of the truck.
When you have to change lanes, always check your mirrors and signal in advance so cars can have enough time to get out of your blind spot.
BE CAUTIOUS OF LOW CLEARANCE
Truck drivers often underestimate the height of bridges and overpasses or fail to see low clearance signs due to being distracted (which is why attentiveness is essential!). Failing to see these signs can result in trailer roof damage from a collision with the bridge, accidents, and in worst-case scenarios, fatalities. Luckily road signs are there for a reason; they show the height of the bridge, which the driver must evaluate accordingly with their truck’s size.
USE GPS FOR TRUCKERS
GPS can undoubtedly be a very useful tool when on the road. However, make sure you have planned your route ahead of time and noted down all directions from your employee. Furthermore, a GPS that is specifically designed for trucks will be more reliable since navigation systems such as Google Maps do not have a truck driving mode and can lack some features needed for this type of vehicle.
DON’T SKIP PRE-TRIP INSPECTIONS
To make sure your vehicle is safe to drive and ready to go, it is important to always perform safety inspections. Before making a trip, make sure to check the truck’s tires, brakes, and turn signals. The mirrors and windows should be clean, so you have a clear view of other vehicles. If you will be carrying a load, double-check that it is well-secured and balanced, so as to avoid possible hazards.
AVOID DISTRACTIONS WHILE DRIVING
Distractions while driving are a major cause of many driving incidents. According to NHTSA, over 2,800 people were killed and an estimated 400,000 injuries were caused in the U.S. in 2018 as a consequence of a distracted driver.
Anything that shifts your attention off from the road counts as a distraction. Phones, for example, have found frequent use in all aspects of our lives, and however useful at times, they should be avoided while driving. Driving under the influence is also a highly hazardous activity that should be avoided at all costs. Eating, drinking, smoking, using devices in the truck, reaching for things on the truck’s dashboard or seat, are all diversions that include taking your eyes off the road and can consequently increase chances of risk.
GET ENOUGH REST
You should never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep when it comes to driving. Getting at least the minimum recommended seven hours of sleep the night before driving is crucial, so you are well-rested and prepared for staying seated on your truck without getting drowsy. Lack of sleep can affect your ability to stay alert and coordinated, slowing you in reaction time, which can lead to distraction and consequently risky accidents.
CHECK WEATHER PREDICTIONS
A winter drive can prove quite challenging for any type of vehicle, let alone a truck. It is therefore important to check weather conditions beforehand and prepare accordingly. If you are transporting goods that are susceptible to temperature change, ensure that you take proper precautions to maintain temperature conditions.
Make sure to adjust your speed for the weather, as roads can freeze and be particularly dangerous during winter. When you are unsure of the weather, it is always useful to keep some warm clothes at hand so you can properly layer up if the temperatures drop; your comfort as a driver is just as important.
These were some of the essential truck safety tips to minimize the risks that come with being on the road. Follow rules, precautions, and regulations, and your driving record will thank you for it.