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Dangers of being a Truck Driver

Truck driving, like any profession, has risks. There are steps you can take to reduce the dangers of being a truck driver. The best rule of thumb? Think it through before you take action. Sounds simple, but taking an extra moment to slow down often makes a big difference. Even pausing for a few seconds can be enough to clear your head and really think through your choices. Here are the top 8 dangers of being a truck driver.

1. Driving tired or distracted

In 2007, the FMCSA did a study to determine causation of CDL Accidents. The number one cause? Driving tired or distracted. These two categories made up 40% of accidents that were labeled with a critical reason. Nearly half of the large truck accidents may have been preventable by extra sleep or improved focus. Need more convincing to get your sleep? As you’ve likely experienced, driving tired often leads to more distracted driving. Even 1 extra hour or a few 20 minute power naps can have a big impact on your ability to calmly make decisions on the road or to notice all the details of the road conditions

The FMCSA is exploring changes to HOS rules that would allow drivers flexibility to split their 10 hours in the sleeping berth however they want (within reason). The FMCSA is expected to share additional information as soon as the next six months.

As a driver, the best thing you can do is prioritize your sleep. Know your limits, and pull off when you need to. If you’re feeling sleepy, drink water and take a short break if you can. A short slow down will let you keep driving safely in the long run and reduce one of the biggest dangers of being a truck driver.

2. Driving too fast for conditions

All professional drivers know that the weather and road conditions can have a big impact on your route. There is a lot of pressure to meet drop times and make the most of your miles. It’s easy to tell yourself that going a little faster won’t be a problem. It’s much harder to convince yourself to slow down and carefully evaluate the conditions.

Road conditions are one of the dangers of being a truck driver that you can’t control. But, you can control how you react.

More experience and time on the road will sharpen your ability to assess the roads and traffic to make safe driving decisions. 

3. Avoid unsafe areas at bad times and stay alert in truck yards and loading docks

As any seasoned driver knows, there are some places you just don’t want to visit outside of daylight hours. Of course, as a seasoned driver also knows, you don’t always know where those areas are, especially when you’re driving new routes. As a general rule, spending nights at the shipper or consignees lots is safer than most truck stops. If you are driving somewhere new or you don’t know the area, call ahead by a few hours. The receivers can tell you if it’s safe to park and sleep there or if it’s a “daylight only” situation. If the area isn’t safe enough for a sleep stop, calling ahead should give you enough time to find somewhere nearby that is safe to rest.

4. Always do a circle check

Circle checks are a small step that can save a lot of time and energy later. Sure, spending 20 minutes on a walk around every time might seem like a pain, but it’s saving you much larger headaches down the road. A circle check is meant to inspect your rig for any damage or issues that need attention before departure. Want to make sure you’re covering all the steps? Smart Trucking has a good basic guide to the D.O.T. pre-trip inspection to make sure you get where you need to go without any surprise maintenance issues. 

5. Use the buddy system for some repairs

Getting pinned under a rig is enough to give any cdl driver second thoughts about the job. Luckily, it’s preventable.

If you have repairs to make under the trailer, bring a partner. They can immediately assist if something goes wrong.

Be particularly careful when pinning up. Now, there are some repairs you may feel comfortable taking on by yourself. A word to the wise. Unless you’re a properly trained mechanic, don’t mess with the brake chambers. Let a professional mechanic take care of any problems with the brake chambers, and you’ll thank yourself later. 

6. Use caution on trailer decks and loads

It’s tempting to climb up the back of your rig. You might just be going up for a quick fix after all. It’s easy to use that logic, but the consequences can be terrible. One slip or fall from your rig can lead to serious injuries.

Instead, carry a ladder with you when possible or wait to climb until you have the proper equipment. Use extra caution on trailer decks and if you’re standing on a load, especially for with a flatbed truck. 

7. Open your doors one at a time in case your load has shifted

moving truck with white boxes in a garage

Even when you have checked your load before departure, things may shift while you’re driving. The vast majority of the time, you could open both doors of your trailer at once and there would be no problem. But, Murphy’s law says that the one time your load will shift is when you have the heaviest haul.

Save yourself the problem. Open doors one door at a time. That guarantees that your load won’t fall out if things have shifted in transit.

8. Other drivers

In a perfect world, we would all be responsible for our own safe driving. Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect and we all share the road with a lot of other drivers.

Other drivers are one of the big dangers of being a truck driver. Be alert to your surroundings and the other vehicles around you.

As a professional driver, you’re much more aware of passenger vehicles than most of them are of you. That said, these drivers (and other cdl drivers) can be a danger to you on the road. While there are likely more than a few driving tips you’d like to give to passenger vehicles on sharing the road, you have to watch out for yourself. Pay attention to your surroundings and leave plenty of space between vehicles. 

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dangerous truck driving

Truck driving is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. That’s no deterrent to passionate drivers who love the job and the independence it gives them. While most truckers and carriers prioritize safety, truck drivers still get injured in crashes every year. Even the most well-trained, safety-conscious drivers can occasionally engage in dangerous truck driving behaviors which put them in jeopardy. Driving defensively isn’t everyone’s favorite activity, but it’s essential to be a truck driver. Use this handy guide to double-check you aren’t doing these five things while behind the wheel.

1. Speeding

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study reported that 23% of large-truck crashes occurred when truck drivers were traveling too fast for the conditions. Speeding anytime in a large vehicle is a bad idea, but particularly in adverse conditions. Adjust your speed to match road conditions, weather conditions, low visibility, or high traffic.

The rule of thumb is to reduce speed by 1/3 on wet roads and ½ or more on snow packed roads.

Speeding is also a bad idea when entering curves. The posted speed limit on curves are intended for passenger vehicles, not large trucks. So, you should be driving even slower than the 30-mph posted on a curve, even if it annoys all the passenger vehicles behind you! Similarly, maintain a safe speed while entering or exiting highway ramps. Truck rollovers are more likely to occur on ramps and curves when drivers misjudge the sharpness and drive too fast. Another area to be particularly careful about is work zones. Nearly a quarter of work zone deaths involve large trucks. Be mindful of lane closures and start slowing down before the work zone begins.

2. Not scanning properly

Driving defensively means being constantly aware of your surroundings. If you’re able to monitor everything happening, you can anticipate what other vehicles will do before they do it. Looking far enough ahead will allow you to adapt earlier to slower traffic and lane closures. The rule of thumb is to look at least 15 seconds in front of you- that’s about ¼ mile on the highway or 1 ½ city blocks. In addition to looking ahead, you should be scanning what’s going on immediately “around” you. Checking your mirrors will give you an idea of who’s behind you and which vehicles are looking to pass.

Checking mirrors often will also show you who’s about to be in your “no-zone”.

Driving large trucks means having large blind spots. Passenger vehicles may be unaware that sometimes they virtually disappear from your view if caught in your “no-zone”!

3. Changing directions suddenly

In general, the larger the vehicle the more difficult it is to change directions or make turns. You need to allow for more time to make turns or even move into adjacent lanes. If you’re about to miss a turn or exit, take your time to pass and find a safe way to change directions. Always make sure to use signals accordingly before changing directions. Passenger vehicles often assume that trucks will stay on the same lane or route for long distances of time. If you change without signaling, these vehicles may panic and react unpredictably. Similarly, you should approach intersections and curves with caution, because you may need to change directions. Remember that driving defensively means taking your time and making sure others on the road understand your intentions.

4. Getting distracted

Here is one of the biggest causes of accidents behind the road- driving while distracted. Avoid using your cell phone while driving. While texting is obvious to avoid, even looking at your phone for a few seconds takes your eyes off the road. Cell phones involve all four of the major distraction categories. They are visual, auditory (require you to listen), biomechanical (require you to use your hands), and cognitive distractors (require you to engage in mental tasks).

The risk of a crash is four times higher when using a cell phone.

At the same time, you want to avoid eating behind the wheel as much as possible. It also involves visual and biomechanical distractions. While sipping on a soda or water shouldn’t be a problem, having a second Thanksgiving meal behind the wheel poses obvious problems. Use your judgment and only consume what you need to while on the road. Leave the large meals for when you pull over.

5. Staying too close to other vehicles

All vehicles on the road should be maintaining a safe following distance, but this is especially true for large trucks. They need additional space between vehicles to allow for safe breaking and unexpected turning. In many crashes, trucks often hit the vehicles directly in front of them.

The rule of thumb is that if you’re driving under 40 mph, you should have at least one second for every 10 feet of vehicle length.

For the typical tractor-trailer, this is about 4 seconds between you and the leading vehicle. For speeds over 40 mph, you should add an additional second. Another tip is to double your following distance in adverse road conditions like weather, visibility, or traffic. Don’t forget that braking distance can be greatly affected by road surfaces and weather conditions like rain, ice, and snow.

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A truck driver’s quick thinking recently prevented a collision with a school bus. The near-accident occurred in Topeka, Kan., when the school bus entered the path of an oncoming truck driven by Delbert Henson.

Fortunately for the 22 children and school bus driver, Henson recognized the likelihood of a crash, leading him to hit the brakes hard to swerve. His rig subsequently overturned in a ditch, resulting in minor injuries. No students were injured.

Parents are hailing Henson as a hero, reaching out to thank him. “[The students] had some angels watching over them,” said Melissa Bowles, mother of Jaxon, a boy riding the bus that day.

 

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