Content approved by Jerry Parker
Parking, backing up, and coupling/uncoupling trailers are three elements of truck driving safety that can be overlooked. However, careful execution of these tasks are crucial to the safe operation of large trucks, as their weight and low visibility makes even simple maneuvers riskier for both driver and pedestrian.
- Park as close to the drop off location or receiving door as possible and make sure the tires are on level ground. When unable to park on level ground, follow proper hill parking procedures.
- Before exiting the vehicle, slowly lift your foot off the brake pedal while the parking brake is engaged. This will ensure that the parking brake is set and secure.
- As a secondary precaution, slide wheel chocks on the rear wheels, especially before loading or unloading, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- Despite all your precautions, if the vehicle starts to roll, DO NOT try to stop the vehicle with your body.
2. Backing Up
- Trust your eyes over the truck’s mirrors by getting out of the cab and identifying any potential dangers or obstacles in the truck’s path before backing up.
- Make sure the truck is emitting audible noise and/or visual cues (flashers, horns, backup alarms) when backing up.
- Check and double-check both side and rear-view mirrors to confirm that the truck’s path is clear before and after easing off of the brake.
- To further increase the ability to hear, roll down the truck cab windows.
- Get to know the vehicle and become aware of blind spots that may exist.
- When there is another person present, use a spotter to help guide the truck backwards. Make sure that the spotter is visible from the truck and that all hand signals (stop, go, turn) are mutually understood before backing up.
- Make sure to back up in a slow and controlled manner. The slower a truck is backing up, the more time a driver has to stop in an emergency.
- When unloading, stand clear of opening doors.
3. Coupling and Uncoupling
- Only those trained in coupling and uncoupling procedure should perform the tasks.
- Make sure your footing is balanced and stable during every step of coupling and uncoupling, especially while adjusting the tandems and releasing the fifth wheel. Beware of moving too quickly through the procedure and falling or causing injury.
- Always wear clothing that visibly stands out while working around the outside of the truck.
- Test the parking brake by using the tug test method of slowly releasing the clutch while the brake is engaged. Then double-check that the parking brake is still set before exiting the vehicle.
- Stay away from frames and keep all limbs out of the path of the tires throughout the work.
- Continually keep watch for traffic as you move around the truck and trailer.
Ten Safe Driving Tips for Trucks
Adhering to best practices for safe driving can prevent or lessen the impact of accidents while driving a truck. Even following ten simple tips can protect drivers from both injury and financial loss, as truck accident lawyers have secured millions in damages as a result of improper safety measures.
1. Wear Your Seatbelt
As in any vehicle, wearing a seatbelt significantly reduces the risk and severity of injuries in the event of an accident. Up to 60 percent of the 22,697 motor vehicle deaths in 2018 were not wearing seatbelts. Researchers estimate that seatbelts saved 15,000 lives in 2017 alone. Wearing a seatbelt is maybe the simplest, most effective method of remaining safe while driving. Buckle up and save a life!
2. Avoid Using Your Cell Phone While Driving
Using your cell phone while driving can result in serious consequences for not just the driver, but also for other cars on the road and pedestrians. Looking down at a phone for three seconds may not seem like a big deal, but a truck going 65 miles per hour will travel 287 feet in that time and can take up to two football fields to come to a complete stop. A driver needing to make a call should either pull off the road or use a hands-free system that allows them to keep both eyes on the road and both hands on the steering wheel.
3. Be Aware of Speed Limits
Speed limits can vary dramatically by state, county, or even from block to block. Not only does a speeding driver risk receiving a citation (putting their commercial license at risk), but it also becomes much more dangerous for other cars and pedestrians. Keep in mind that certain states have separate maximum speed limits for trucks and cars, so be aware of all posted signage.
4. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
Drinking or doing drugs before operating a truck puts the driver and their livelihood at risk. It simply isn’t worth the consequences. Even two drinks can impair vision and reaction time. When operating a 35 thousand pound vehicle, this impairment can cause tragedy in an instant. Those who want help with drug and alcohol problems can contact the SAMHSA National Helpline for treatment program referrals.
5. Plan Your Trip
Planning your trip’s route can be the simplest way of increasing safety before even touching the driver’s seat. A well-planned trip will make the drive more pleasant, gas-efficient, and safe. When a driver’s path is set ahead of time, they can focus all of their attention on operating the vehicle, rather than trying to figure out their next move. This makes for less sudden lane changes and a safer haul.
6. Mind Your Truck’s Space Cushion
When turning or changing lanes, pay extra attention to ensure the truck’s space cushion (the area around all sides of the vehicle) is clear. Passenger vehicles can be hit if they enter the space cushion of a truck’s turning radius when it is changing directions. It is also vital to know the truck’s height, length, and width dimensions as this may prevent entry to some roads or bridges.
7. Slow Down for Turns/Curves
Turns, off-ramps, and curvy roads can pose a hazard to trailer trucks since a truck’s center of gravity is much higher than that of a passenger vehicle. This can result in a truck tipping over mid-turn if the momentum of the vehicle’s speed is too fast. When in doubt, slow down more than may be needed, as it is much easier to speed up than slow down once the turn is started.
8. Maintain a Proper Stopping Distance
It is important that drivers follow vehicles at a distance that accounts for the truck’s longer stopping time. Trucks with loaded trailers can take 66 percent farther to come to a complete stop than a passenger vehicle. This added distance can mean trouble for a car followed too closely in an emergency braking situation.
9. Watch Out for the Weather
Be prepared for weather problems by checking the forecast on sites like the National Weather Service before leaving. This helps the driver plan their route around potential problem areas or be prepared for them if avoidance is not possible. Additionally, be aware that certain areas of the US can produce unpredictable weather patterns, so monitoring changes throughout the trip (via radio or by checking during stops) is an important safety precaution.
10. Eat Healthy and Get Your Rest
Everyone knows they are not themselves when they are hungry or tired. That is why it is important for drivers to eat well and be rested before operating a truck. Eating the right foods can provide drivers with added focus and stamina on the road. Similarly, a well-rested driver is a driver that makes quick, correct decisions. It may be tempting for drivers to push themselves to travel a few extra miles in a day, but tired driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. In fact, the US Department of Transportation has implemented rules requiring mandatory breaks after long periods on the road to combat the dangers of fatigued driving.
Additional Driving Safety Resources
- Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Training Materials: These tips will help you pass the CDL test and provides other training and study materials to help you prepare.
- City of San Antonio: Vehicle Backing and Spotter Guidelines: Follow this comprehensive guide to learn how to back up and spot vehicles like a pro.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Guide to Risky Driving Practices: An official government site with resources on various dangerous driving practices and how to avoid them.
- SAFE-T Part 1: Sleep, Alertness, and Fatigue Education for Truckers: This sleep site hosts a ten-minute video outlying the risks of fatigued driving for truck drivers.
- Truckers Should Expect the Unexpected: This video by Smart Trucking outlines some essential truck driving tips and skills for optimal safety while on the road.
- Ten Tips for Driving in Inclement Weather: When bad weather is unavoidable, follow these ten tips by United Truck School to stay safe during unfavorable road conditions.
- Share the Road: AAA’s Guide to Safely Sharing the Road and Avoiding Truck Accidents: The American Automobile Association focuses its expertise on safety around large vehicles for both motorists and truckers.
- Coupling and Uncoupling Tractor Trailers: This trainer guide covers teaching coupling and uncoupling trailers, including a fact sheet outlining step-by-step procedure and an example quiz.
- Vehicle Safety Checklist for Truck Drivers: Logistics Dynamics is helping drivers perform pre-departure safety inspections of their trucks with a clever, printable checklist.