Safety Tips for Truck Drivers
Truck driver safety, and the safety of other drivers on the road, is of utmost importance. The good news is that the Large Truck Fatal Crash Rate has steadily declined by 74% from 1980 to 2014. However, there are still 500,000 truck accidents every year, although only approximately 16% of those are caused by truck driver fault.
If you, the truck driver, do happen to cause an accident, the consequences and negative effects are serious. Your CDL may be disqualified for a certain period of time, and it will be tough getting any type of driving job in the future if you are convicted of any of these violations:
Keep reading to learn some important CDL driver safety tips for truck drivers that will help you keep your license, your job, and your life.
Let’s start with the basics of general truck driver safety. Keep in mind that even though these tips seem basic and obvious, they are still the most important.
Airbags are not enough. In 2016 alone, 10,428 lives were lost in cases where the individual was not wearing a seatbelt. Not only does buckling up keep you safe and conscious while inside your vehicle if it crashes, it also protects you from being ejected from your vehicle (which almost always kills).
Distracted driving is a lead cause of accidents on the road. There are three types of distracted driving:
Perhaps the most common type of distracted driving these days comes from cell phones and other tech devices. You are about four times more likely to crash if you are using a cell phone. When considering how often cell phone use can occur during a drive, especially a long one, the risk rises significantly.
That’s why a new Mobile Phone Restriction Rule for Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers restricts the use of all handheld mobile devices while driving. This rule bans using at least one hand to hold a phone or make a call, dialing by pressing more than a single button, and even reaching for a phone in a manner that requires the driver to move out of a seated driving position.
Breaking this law comes with penalties up to $2,750 for the driver and can result in driver disqualification.
If you must make a call while driving, you can still stay in compliance by:
Avoid other behavior that requires too much use of your hands, your brain, or your eyes. If you see a distracted driver, pull ahead or slow down in order to give them more space for error. If necessary, report them to the police.
Whether you drive intrastate (exclusively in one state) or interstate (passing state lines), you must always be aware of the local driving laws and speed limits, as they vary by state (as do the penalties for breaking the law).
For example, South Dakota has a maximum posted speed limit of 80 mph for trucks while Georgia’s is only 55 mph. Speed limits also differ depending on if you are driving on rural interstates, urban interstates, or limited access roads. Sometimes they even change for nighttime driving.
Defensive driving is a driving technique that all drivers should use every time they get behind the wheel. The benefit of driving defensively is that you are better prepared to keep yourself and others safe.
If you’d like to learn more, taking either an in-class or online defensive driving course is an excellent way to fine-tune your driving skills.
Now let’s look at some truck driver safety tips specific to semi-trucks, as there are some key differences when driving one of these large, heavy trucks versus other smaller motor vehicles.
There’s a simple formula for determining the proper braking distance of a semi. You must add together these three distances to come up with your total braking distance while taking your total weight into consideration:
Adding these three distances together, it will take about 6 seconds to stop a truck traveling at 55 mph and it will have traveled about 512 feet. The heavier the truck and the faster it is traveling, the greater the braking distance will need to be. Also, a wet road can easily double your stopping distance, so a safe driver will reduce speed to about 35 mph, or about one-third. Ice will require an even slower driving speed in order to stop safely.
A skid can happen by over-steering, over-braking, over-accelerating, or just plain driving too fast. Skids that occur due to ice or snow can be stopped easily by taking your foot off the accelerator. If needed, push the clutch in. The engine will help you regain traction.
If your rear-drive wheels lock, the vehicle will slide sideways in a spin-out and cause a jackknife. To correct this type of skid, stop braking, turn quickly in the direction you want the truck to go, and then counter-steer quickly the other way so you don’t start skidding in the opposite direction.
For front-wheel skids, you may not be able to steer at all due to the front wheels not having enough traction. The only way to stop this type of skid is to let the truck slow down by itself.
As far as turning goes, it’s not always quite as simple as it seems. Because of the wide turning radius of semi-trucks, it is extremely important to be fully aware of the space around you, especially when driving off-highway and on busier roads.
If you get stuck somewhere, you can either get a slight rocking motion going by simultaneously engaging the clutch while feathering the fuel (if you have a manual transmission truck); otherwise you may need to get pulled forward by a wrecker. Obviously, it’s better not to get stuck in the first place.
Here are a few tips to avoid traffic, thus lowering your risk and getting you to your destination quicker:
Driving gets much more dangerous in the winter. To keep your truck driving as safely as possible, it’s imperative to get your tires ready for the weather and to follow good winter driving practices.
Winter tires give your truck the best possible traction in harsh winter conditions below 45 degrees. Unlike regular tires, they feature heavy siping for added traction and deep circumferential grooves for expelling snow and slush.
Adding tire chains to your semi’s tires is another option. Chains provide great traction in snow and other slippery conditions if they are properly affixed. Make sure the state in which you are driving allows chains.
Other than going slow and maintaining a safe driving distance, there are a few other things to keep in mind when trucking through the snow. Do your “circle check” before heading out, keep your truck lights clean and in good working order, and make sure your fuel tanks are topped off.
If the snow becomes severe while you are driving, don’t worry about not meeting your schedule and instead pull off the road until it is safe to drive again. DO NOT stop on the shoulder of the road, especially in low-visibility situations. Other vehicles may mistake you for driving on the road and inadvertently slam into the back of your rig.
It’s dangerous to be driving your semi on the road during a heavy storm, but driving after a storm can also be challenging. Roads can still be slippery, hail can act like loose gravel, debris may be covering the road, and flash flooding and landslides are possible.
Here’s another warning: there can be lightning strikes or downed power lines during and after a storm. If an electric line is touching your truck, DO NOT get out. Stay inside and call for help.
Above all, take caution to avoid hydroplaning during heavy rain. If you find yourself hydroplaning, take your foot off the accelerator and push in the clutch. DO NOT apply your break. Hydroplaning is dangerous and can occur even at speeds of only 30 mph.
While it’s not practical to avoid all storms, you should always be aware of dangerous conditions and drive according to these storm safety tips. It’s also imperative that you are familiar with these extreme weather warnings:
Driving a semi-truck through the mountains requires sharp focus on the road and complete control over your big rig. Watch other drivers closely and keep an eye out for wildlife. Be sure you have all your safety equipment (including a first aid kit) with you and get yourself up to date on the terrain you’ll be traversing.
When ascending mountain passes, it’s best to downshift gears to maintain enough pull on your truck so it doesn’t stop. Keep track of your RPMs and find the sweet spot that keeps you from needing to shift constantly.
When descending, always use a lower gear than you used when ascending. If your foot brake fails, keep your hands firmly on the steering wheel and keep it driving as straight as possible. Use a runaway truck ramp and be prepared for a quick deceleration.
Before entering a turn, reduce your speed while your truck is still straight. Allow adequate space for maintaining your lane while navigating tights curves and always bring the front of your truck closer to the high side of the curves. This maintains control of your trailer. Never swing in order to catch an exit, as last-minute turns are very dangerous due to the shifting weight of the truck and cargo.
Driving a semi truck at night can be a challenge. Fatigue inevitably sets in and your body will force you to sleep. Many drivers avoid night driving, and that’s not a bad idea. But every once in a while, it can’t be avoided.
To keep yourself safe when driving under the stars, be sure to do the following:
Long daily and weekly hours are a fact of life for truck drivers. Unfortunately, such long hours cause driver fatigue, and an increase in driver fatigue also increases the risk of chronic health conditions and truck accidents. To help combat fatigue (and its associated risks), eat a healthy diet, fit in some simple exercises between drives, and get enough sleep.
Other tricks of the trade include listening to an audiobook, calling a friend or family member, turning the temperature down, avoiding large doses of caffeine, and turning down your dash lights (bright lights tire your eyes). Just remember, no amount of tricks will actually keep you awake when your body is simply ready to sleep. When that time comes, don’t try to push through it. Pull over and take a nap.
With all the variables that can happen (weather, loading/unloading delays, breakdowns, traffic, etc.), it’s nearly impossible to keep to a very strict truck driving schedule of your own personal choosing. That’s why most truck drivers decide to follow the Hours of Service Regulations for their truck driving schedule.
A summary is as follows:
It’s important to remember that these regulations are for your own safety and well-being and should not be disregarded under any circumstances.
Trucking is not just a job, but comes with a lifestyle all its own. The long hours on lengthy drives can take its toll, but if you follow these truck driver safety tips, you’ll return home safely again and again.
Trucking Safety Facts | TruckingInfographic: Interesting Facts About Trucking Safety | Trucker PlanetSeat Belts | NHTSANew Mobile Phone Restriction Rule for Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers | FMCSACell Phone Distracted Driving | National Safety Council