Our Roads, Our Responsibility. That’s the slogan for the trucker safety campaign by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The goal? To keep America’s highways and byways safe as 260 million commercial vehicles cruise on through 365 days a year. As a truck driver you make up one of 3.5 million drivers of these FMCSA-regulated vehicles. It’s up to you to do your part as a professional truck driver, both for your safety and that of the general public. Yet day after day it can be tedious to maintain a sharpness when it comes to trucker safety skills. In line with the FMCSA’s safety campaign we’ve addressed a few of the most dangerous situations truckers get into, along with ways to make them safer.
Remove Your Blinders
One of the top problems truckers face when staying safe on the highway is blind spots. You have cars weaving in and out of your lane. Other big rigs are creeping up on your truck. You are hauling a load during inclement weather. These are all issues facing drivers. Here are some reminders about how to maneuver around those large blind spots:
- Note that your blind spots are 20 feet in front and 30 feet behind you, as well as directly to your left and all the way from your bumper to your trailer on your right side.
- Use caution when trying to change lanes when you have cars on either side of your tractor. You simply cannot see them even with your side mirrors.
- The best way to handle “no zones” is to be alert to all traffic within view coming up behind you, as well as to the traffic in your vicinity.
Take a Brake
Trying to get your tractor trailer to come to a stop is almost as difficult as stopping a train. In fact it takes truckers in big rigs 40 percent longer distances to stop in comparison to cars. In good weather conditions you require two full-lengths of a football field to make a complete stop. If there’s rain, snow, ice you can tack on another football field, or two. For truck drivers who are overloaded or pulling an oversized load? Well, in those instances you are looking at similar braking lengths as bad weather conditions.
Prepare for braking well in advance whenever possible to give yourself the best chance. This is a safety issue, as well as a truck maintenance issue. Slamming on your brakes at the last minute or downshifting incorrectly can lead to damage to your rig. It can also create trailer malfunctions and load imbalances that are time consuming and expensive to deal with. If you are a driver for a company like Dedicated Delivery Professionals or Heritage Dedicated Services, your employer will appreciate your attention to braking detail.
Turn in Style
You already know that making a hairpin turn when driving a big rig is impossible. That’s a given. But when is the last time you thought about the safe turning radius for your truck and trailer?
- Utilize a turning radius of 55 feet.
This turning radius gives you the optimal distance needed to make a right hand turn. If you are driving in a tight space and need to cut it sharp, follow these steps:
- Identify the corner’s angle.
- Identify road width requirements.
- For a 30 degree radius you need at least 16’ 6” of road width to make it.
- A 60 degree angle needs at least 24’ 6.”
- Both a 90 degree and a 120 degree angle needs 27 feet.
- A 150 degree angle needs 35 feet.
- For a 180 degree turning radius you need at least 33 feet of a road width.
When you are in a high traffic area, a construction zone, truck stop, or diesel mechanic repair shop, it’s time to put your super safety hat on. These environments are prone to having four-wheelers zip in and out, often in your turning radius. When you are making right hand turns in this type of setting pay extra attention to any vehicles that are zooming up to get around you on the right side. Otherwise they’ll be caught in the right turn squeeze. As you are moving left or going straight to give your trailer that extra maneuvering room, it’s common for cars to get A. confused or B. impatient. Either way this is one of the leading causes of truck driver accidents, so be aware.
Accept the Inexperience of Others
This brings up another point. Those drivers who are not truckers simply are not aware of the rules of the road of commercial truck drivers. Turning radiuses, braking distances, blind spots. These are all foreign territory for them. As a result you cannot assume, at any time, that those drivers around you at gas stations, at rest areas, on the highway, at restaurants, etc. are going to know how to drive safely around you.
Sure we should all learn how to drive before we get our licenses. But in reality the teenagers who are taking those driving license exams are less likely to remember all of the facts they’ve crammed. This is where it is up to you to drive on the defensive. Being a defensive driver does not mean being angry at other drivers, and it definitely doesn’t involve road rage. Defensive driving means being constantly vigilant.
As a defensive truck driver you must be ready for distracted drivers, speed demons, drunk drivers, and motorists who lack basic driving skills. You have to be ready for any type of weather and prepared to drive in a construction zone at any time. You must be constantly on alert to accidents happening in real-time around you, as well as those that are causing delays and traffic jams. As a truck driver you already know you can’t simply sit back and let the truck drive itself. Defensive driving takes this a step further and requires your eagle-eyed awareness.
- Every 15 seconds do a scan of your surroundings. Pay attention to traffic conditions, construction zones, speeding or creeping drivers, and other big rigs around you.
- During your scan look ahead a quarter of a mile on a highway. If you are in a city look ahead for two blocks.
- Every 8 seconds look in your mirrors. Note if there are any vehicles approaching your blind spots.
Stay sharp and be on alert to anything at any time. While this can be tedious and tiresome for truck drivers, especially rookie drivers who aren’t used to this type of driving, it’s imperative for your safety.
Stay Safe and Make it Back Home
When you are out there on the road there is always the chance that you could be involved in an accident or adverse situation. However, by taking your safety into your own hands you stand the best opportunity to avoid being a safety statistic. Keep up the vigilance, be the best defensive driver you can be, and make it home safely after each and every OTR trucking job.