“New truck driver here! What are some helpful tips for trucker success?”
While a CDL ensures that a truck driver understands the rules of the road and the technical aspects of operating a truck, there’s a lot you just have to learn by experience.
Fortunately, hardworking veteran truck drivers are some of the most helpful people you’d hope to meet—especially to new drivers asking for help on online forum pages.
This article is a summary of tips and advice from veteran truckers to rookie drivers—the tips they don’t necessarily teach in trucking school. We’ve organized them by category, changed the names to protect the innocent, and (ahem) cleaned up the language just a bit.
Before hitting the road, it pays to have a clear idea of where you intend to stop along your route. Planning your stops in advance minimizes behind-the-wheel multitasking, surprises, and ensures you have safe and convenient resting areas.
Even if you know where you’d like the stop for the day, sometimes you may not be able to do so. Prepare for unforeseen circumstances by identifying alternative rest areas or truck stops along your route. Having backup stops can help you quickly adapt if your intended stop is full or unavailable.
Despite being a technological marvel, GPS doesn’t give you the full picture of how roads, ramps, and lots are laid out. When planning your trips, take advantage of Google Maps' satellite view feature to familiarize yourself with a true birds-eye view of the destination. Identifying the truck entrance in advance can help ensure a smooth and hassle-free arrival.
Just as GPS systems can give you a head’s up about slow traffic down the road, they can’t necessarily tell about how crowded lots are on your route. But Trucker Path, can!
Trucker Path is a valuable app that aids drivers in finding parking and reduces the stress associated with parking scarcity. This handy tool can make a significant difference in your overall driving experience.
So, you’ve come to the end of your hours or miles for the day. It’s time to relax, right? Well, not if you have things to do. And putting it off till tomorrow isn’t fair to your future self.
Avoid procrastination and complete necessary tasks before stopping for the day. Fuel up, swap trailers, complete paperwork, and handle other responsibilities while on the road. This approach minimizes unexpected setbacks and maximizes your productivity. Because while you think you have time tomorrow to do any number of to-dos, you may not!
If you’re on the road for days or even weeks at a time, you may begin to overestimate your understanding of your truck’s condition from one day to the next. However, a lot can happen in very little time!
For this reason, never rush your pre-trip inspections. Take your time to thoroughly assess your vehicle's condition, as a small oversight can lead to significant issues on the road.
Remember the old adage: "You will never think 'I should have done that pre-trip faster’ when your truck is on the side of the road."
Driving a truck is stressful enough for new drivers. Compile these nerves with others yelling or honking for a driver to hurry up and back it up already.
However, the most frequent bit of advice on multiple forums from experienced drivers was to not let others rush you during backing maneuvers.
"Pull up and back 5,000 times if you have to."
Many drivers on forums shared their own challenges with backing up without shame.
"Took me 45 mins my first real back and the dock was wide open."
If you feel uncertain or unsafe, follow the GOAL principle (Get Out And Look) and pull up and get out of the truck to assess the situation. It is far better to take the time to ensure a safe maneuver than risk an accident.
“As stupid as you think you look pulling up and getting out, you look 100x as stupid actually hitting it."
When something unfortunate happens on the road or beside the loading dock, it can be easy to try to pass the blame. However, owning up to your mistakes not only shows responsibility, but it also shows that you're eager to learn and grow. Acknowledging and learning from your failures demonstrates integrity and personal growth. Hiding or ignoring mistakes can have severe consequences, both professionally and personally.
“Sh#& happens, but it doesn’t have to happen again!”
In many instances as a driver, you may be put in a scenario where you can do what’s easiest or what is safest. If you ever feel unsafe on the road—whether due to questionable weather conditions or fatigue—prioritize your well-being. Listen to your gut. If something feels wrong or uncomfortable, it very well may be. Taking a short break or resting for 30 minutes can save you from potential accidents or costly delays.
There’s no need to create additional risk for yourself by riding too close to other vehicles. Maintain a significant distance between your truck and the vehicle ahead of you. Adequate space between you and the vehicles ahead of you can be the difference between responding or reacting.
"Enjoy your time in the right lane."
The ice and snow can complicate any trip. If you drive in snowy regions, learn how to put on tire chains properly. Additionally, carry essential winter gear such as insulated boots, gloves, and a winter coat, along with emergency supplies like food, water, and an arctic sleeping bag. Being prepared can keep an unfortunate situation from becoming dire.
Whether you’re a company driver or an owner-operator, help is usually further away than you’d like. For this reason, it pays to have a few essential tools on hand and to know how to use them. Equip yourself with a toolbox containing items like a hammer, multi-tool, funnels, zip ties, duct tape, work gloves, a flashlight, spare bulbs, wiper blades, fluids, and a tire pressure gauge. These tools will prove invaluable in addressing everything from minor issues to emergencies on the road.
Though food options will be somewhat limited on the road, avoid relying solely on junk food and make an effort to maintain a healthy diet. What you choose to eat can impact everything from your mood to your focus. Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your meals whenever possible. Eat foods that make you feel better after eating them. Taking care of your health helps you pass physical examinations more easily.
“20 years of truck stop food and those DOT physicals get harder and harder to pass.”
In 2015, fatigued driving accounted for 15% of truck accidents and 30% of those resulting in a fatality. Simply put, drowsy driving kills. To prevent fatigue-related accidents, ensure you get proper rest to avoid drowsiness and fatigue on the road. Experiment to find the optimal amount of sleep your body requires to feel refreshed and alert.
Also, remember that sleep debt—or the effects of a lack of sleep over the course of days or weeks—is absolutely real and can accumulate and impact your performance.
“When you’re through learning, you’re through.” - Will Rogers
Trucking is a profession where learning never ceases. Whether you are a rookie or a seasoned driver, remain open to asking questions and seeking advice. Embrace a mindset of continual improvement and growth, as there is always something new to learn.
"Never stop learning, whether you've been doing the job for 20 days, 20 minutes, or 20 years nobody knows everything.”
Seeking out and heeding the advice of experienced truck drivers can make a world of difference in your trucking career. Trucking requires continuous learning, personal accountability, and a commitment to maintaining both physical and mental well-being. Embrace the knowledge shared by these experienced drivers, and embark on a successful and fulfilling journey on the open road.
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