Road safety is one of the biggest concerns in the trucking industry today.
According to the 2018 Driver Safety Risk Report, trucking collisions cost fleets nearly $57 billion — affecting everything from medical bills to vehicle repairs to lost productivity due to downtime. That same report also showed that annual insurance rates could increase by about a third when an employee has a collision that includes damage to both the driver and the vehicle. Even a crash that doesn’t result in any injuries can raise insurance rates by almost a quarter.
Despite these numbers, less than half of all carriers use commercial truck driver safety programs to reduce the risk of road collisions and accidents.
To help fleets improve truck driver safety, we have assembled a list of safety tips for truck drivers. These truck driver safety tips will help improve fleet safety and reduce the risk of collisions on the road.
1. Avoid distracted driving
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of road collisions. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2,841 lives were lost in 2018 due to distracted driving, and over 23,000 have died between 2012-2018. Nine percent of all fatal crashes in the past seven years have involved distracted drivers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also reports that delayed driver reaction causes 90 percent of rear-end collisions.
Drivers can get distracted for a variety of reasons, e.g., grabbing a bite while driving to save some time, lighting a cigarette, talking on the phone, or texting.
Truck drivers need to be extra vigilant since they’re operating larger vehicles that are harder to maneuver, take longer to decelerate, and have more blind spots or “No zones.”
2. Know your blind spots
Visibility is paramount for truck driver safety and preventing road collisions, especially if you’re operating a large commercial vehicle that has more blind spots than a standard passenger vehicle.
It is important to familiarize yourself with all of the potential blind spots not only of your truck but also of other vehicles sharing the road with you.
Keeping lane changes to a minimum wherever possible as well as checking your side view mirrors at least once every 10 seconds is also an effective way to increase safety and awareness.
3. Use a dashcam to improve driver safety
Technology has become a big part of the trucking industry over the last few years. ELDs, fleet management software, GPS tracking, and, specifically, dashcams, play a crucial role in improving driver safety.
In addition to enhancing driver safety, dashboard cameras (or dashcams) offer many benefits such as improved truck driver safety training and coaching programs, lower CSA scores, and security from fake insurance claims.
Fleets of different types and sizes use dashcams to protect their drivers from false claims, expedite insurance processes, increase accountability, and improve driver behavior and overall fleet safety.
Truck dashcams can spot vehicles on the road changing lanes without signaling and drivers slamming on their brakes, among other things.
The dash cameras can be mounted on either the windshield or dashboard and can be single-facing or dual-facing. The important thing is that they can show what really happened on the road.
4. Know your safe braking distance
For drivers who might be used to driving smaller vehicles, it might take time to get acclimated to the much larger braking distance of a large commercial truck.
It really comes down to simple physics: the bigger the rig, the longer it takes to stop.
For example, compared to an average-sized car, it takes an 18-wheeler 40 percent longer to stop. A fully-loaded tractor-trailer that is traveling at 55 miles per hour on dry pavement will travel approximately 390 more feet in 4.5 seconds before stopping.
Fleet safety managers should ensure that drivers complete a driver training program, either through the use of training videos or hands-on defensive driving techniques that compare the differences in braking distances in detail.
5. Follow the Hours of Service rules
The Hours of Service rules were created to help drivers minimize fatigue, and thereby, increase road safety.
Driver fatigue is a leading cause of road collisions. Not adhering to your HOS limit is not only risky but is also a violation of the rules. Make sure you are always in compliance by following all of the Hours of Service regulations that apply to you.
Compliance with HOS regulations may help increase fleet and driver safety.
6. Be aware of aggressive tailgaters
The main theory behind defensive driving is to steer clear of other drivers who are either too aggressive or just outright reckless.
Tailgaters deprive themselves of the sufficient space needed to decelerate in case you had to make a sudden stop. The best way to avoid any potential accident situation is simply to switch lanes instead of accelerating. This allows the tailgaters to go by you and be on their way.
Remember to use your turn signals when you are changing lanes.
7. Follow all road signs
Road signs are there for a reason, and you need to pay close attention to all of the various road signs and local traffic rules in the area where you are driving.
Occasionally, truck drivers will go over the enforced speed limit — especially if they are running late or if they were detained for an extended period of time by a shipper or receiver.
Speeding may cause them to lose control of their vehicle when maneuvering through sudden, sharp curves, uneven surfaces, construction hazards, and other road irregularities.
Paying close attention to posted road signs may help truck drivers drive safely.
8. Avoid hard braking, acceleration, and cornering
Critical safety events, such as hard braking, acceleration, and cornering, are more common than you think. Drivers should avoid excessive acceleration, speeding, hard cornering, and braking to stay safe on the road.
One way that the number of these incidents can be reduced by fleets is by initiating driver training programs. These driver coaching programs can promote good driving habits and reduce the number of hard cornering, hard braking, and excessive acceleration events.
Following the standard CDL safety tips also helps educate drivers on the basics of commercial vehicle driving.
Fleets can also improve driver safety by using the latest technology to monitor drivers for these critical safety events. Some Electronic Logging Devices can help simplify and automate that process.
With the help of this safety score, safety managers can easily identify drivers who are involved in unsafe driving and behavior and require immediate coaching.
Truck driver safety tips for different seasons and weather conditions
Truck drivers drive in different weather conditions, locations, terrains, and weather conditions. We have so far covered general safety tips that should apply to most drivers in common conditions.
Following are some specific driving safety tips for different seasons or weather conditions.
Driver Safety Tips: Driving in the rain
It’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll encounter rainy conditions at some point in your driving career, sometimes very unexpectedly. Driving a car in the rain can be dangerous, but driving a large commercial vehicle carries with it even more potential hazards.
Important safety guidelines to follow during rainy conditions include the following:
- Always wear your seat belt.
- Keep your lights on.
- Keep your radio on with low volume.
- Change speeds gradually.
- Avoid driving into water over the roadway.
- Drive more slowly.
- Increase your following distance.
- Don’t use your cruise control or engine brake.
- Never overdrive.
Driving Safety Tips: Driving in winter
Winter driving can be beautiful and dangerous at the same time. Follow some basic guidelines when it comes to driving in the winter weather.
- Wear your seat belt.
- Make a contingency plan before you drive for what you will do if and when weather conditions deteriorate further.
- Pay attention to your dashboard warning lights. Extreme temperatures can play havoc with your emissions control system as well as other temperature-sensitive functions.
- Be aware of conditions that might limit your visibility. Keep your headlights on at all times if visibility is low.
- Make sure you have plenty of room between your vehicle and the others on the road. Don’t ride alongside snow plows. Give extra room – at least 200 feet — between you and other snow service vehicles on the road.
- Sudden braking can be extra dangerous with slick road conditions. Don’t use your cruise control and make sure to avoid abrupt driving maneuvers.
- Use caution and slow down when approaching curves and intersections to reduce the chance of losing control. Icy conditions occur most often on bridges and overpasses.
- Don’t let your truck idle in cold weather. The Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tank freezes at about 10 degrees Fahrenheit when the vehicle is not in motion.
- Remove all of the ice and snow from your rooftop before driving. This will keep the windshield and mirrors clean for better visibility.
- Make sure you have solid footing when entering and exiting vehicle cabs. Wear appropriate footwear for the weather conditions, and be aware of ice and snow on surfaces.
- If you have to stop, find a safe spot to do it. If you can’t get off of the road, make sure your truck is as visible as possible — use your emergency triangles, cones, flashers, and a reflective vest.
- Always try to keep at least a half tank of gas during winter. Along with the correctly blended fuel, this will keep your fuel lines from freezing.
- If you find yourself in a skid, remember to turn into the skid. Depress the clutch quickly; look in your left mirror; steer and counter-steer as fast as you can to get back in front of the trailer.
- As you would in any extreme weather scenario, keep an emergency supply of water, non-perishable food, clothes, and blankets in case of a breakdown.
- If you don’t feel comfortable driving, park your vehicle.
Driving Safety Tips: Driving in summer
Summers seem to be getting hotter and longer, and spending hours behind the wheel in blistering heat can occasionally become dangerous. In addition, your vehicle can behave differently in extreme summer conditions.
Here are a few driving safety tips for commercial drivers to beat the heat and stay safe during summer driving.
- Keep yourself hydrated. If you are jogging, playing golf, or simply working outside during the summer, you stay hydrated. The same goes for when you are driving. Keep a few bottles of water or a sports drink with you while you’re driving, and remember to drink them regularly. Dehydration may lead to dizziness and a change in blood pressure level, which may affect your driving performance and risk accidents.
- Make sure your tires are properly inflated. When the temperature rises in the summer, the risk of blowouts increases. Tires that are under-inflated can increase that risk, so make sure you have properly inflated tires before you begin your drive.
- Check the brakes. Checking brakes prior to the start of your drive will ensure that they are in good working order. Remember that high temperatures often result in a loss of friction in the braking system due to extreme heat.
- Be conscious of summertime traffic. Roads tend to be busier during summer with families taking vacations. This presents even more danger than usual for truck drivers. Be extra aware of other vehicles on the road.
Driving safety tips for tow-truck drivers
While we’ve covered many safety issues for commercial vehicle drivers, we can’t overlook commercial tow-truck drivers.
Tow-truck drivers also face inherent risks in their day-to-day operations. Here are some safety tips for tow-truck drivers regarding general tow-truck safety:
- Be prepared: Before heading on the road to rescue a vehicle, make sure you and your vehicle are ready to go. Tow truck safety begins with a regular inspection of your vehicle and all of the equipment it contains.
- Remember your defensive driving training: Always observe posted speed limits and keep a safe distance from other vehicles on the road. When you have a vehicle in tow, reduce your speed even more, and extend your following distance to give you adequate time to stop with the added weight.
- Be safe: Turn on your safety lights, place your safety cones, flares and other markers, and make sure pedestrians and other people are out of the way. Using personal protective equipment is required in many states. Wearing long pants and closed-toe shoes, and using work gloves and safety glasses help make you more visible and safe. Remember that if you are responding to an accident, there will most likely be broken glass or possibly dangerous chemicals or fuel on the roadway.
- Be seen: Make sure everybody knows you are there and working by wearing safety vests and using flashing lights and reflectors on your vehicle.
- Know your limits: Weight limits are there for a reason. To ensure safe driving, know what your vehicle is capable of handling and then decide if the job is right for you and your vehicle.
Above all, stay safe
Even though passenger vehicles are at fault in almost 85 percent of truck-passenger vehicle crashes, it seems that it’s the commercial drivers who are more likely to be blamed. That’s why it is important for every fleet to build a comprehensive safety program that uses both the latest technology and data to keep their drivers safe.
Here’s a simple truck safety inspection checklist that drivers can review each and every time they take to the road:
- Obey all posted speed limits
- Always practice defensive driving
- Don’t use distracting devices while driving
- Wear your seatbelt
- Be well rested
- Check your vehicle before driving
- Double-check your route and stick to it
- Don’t drink and drive
- Make sure you are carrying all of your documentation