Trucking isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. All truckers know how rewarding their career is: the feeling of freedom, and the independence of life on the road - heck, the pay ain’t bad either!
But the life of a trucker can also be a dangerous one. Traveling across the country, often by yourself, in a semi that weighs anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 pounds is a risky proposition, no matter how experienced you are.
In this article, we’ll go over the top 10 most important road safety tips for truckers.
1. Preventative Truck Maintenance Is Key
It is much better to prevent problems than react to them, especially when you’re on the road. The first step to staying safe as a truck driver is to perform preventative maintenance.
This may seem like an elementary tip, but it can save your life. The most obvious things to check are your oil and brake pads. If either of these elements fail while you're on the road, you can be in some real trouble.
Every piece of your truck needs to be taken into account when preparing for a long haul. A semi truck travels longer distances than any other single land vehicle while often carrying tons of valuable cargo.
Don’t take any risks and prevent maintenance problems before they become a major hazard on the road. Follow your company’s policies about maintenance, and do a quick walk around at each stop.
2. Look Up the Weather and Geography Ahead of Time
All truckers know how the weather can dramatically alter driving conditions. As a truck driver, it is paramount to know what weather conditions you’ll be experiencing on the trip.
We are all aware of how the rain and snow can change the road surfaces you drive on, but it’s also important to factor in the geography of your route as well.
Are you driving in a flat desert or a mountainous region? Is the area you’re driving through susceptible to flash floods, rockslides, or avalanches?
Not only is it important to check the weather forecasts in the areas along your route, but you should also consider how the geography of your route will react to the weather.
As a trucker, you’ve been trained extensively to be able to react appropriately to a wide variety of weather and road surface conditions. Don’t be caught off guard by a geographical event and plan your route accordingly.
3. Do Some Recon About The Delivery Spot
For the safety of your truck and your cargo, always take the time to inspect the delivery point. This especially applies to new customers who may not be familiar with the dimensions of your rig.
Some docking facilities are not properly designed for your truck. There could also be hazards and obstacles that are impossible to see while you’re in the truck.
This means that, at a new delivery spot, you should get out of the truck and take a long look at the environment around the loading area. Make sure that you can safely maneuver the truck in and out of the loading area.
This vital safety step is often neglected by truck drivers, as a significant amount of trucking accidents occur not at a high speed, but at a crawl while the truck is backing up. Take the time to observe the environment around the loading area.
It might just save your truck and your cargo.
4. Take Breaks
Sometimes, we think we’re invincible. We think that we can finish the job in one go, and that taking that extra break is a frivolous waste of time.
It is this type of thinking that can put truck drivers in extreme danger. Taking on long drives without proper rest is the second most common cause of trucking accidents.
Fatigue is very dangerous, and this danger is only elevated when there are weather conditions that require focus to traverse safely.
Additionally, the darkness of night combined with fatigue is one of the most dangerous conditions that a driver can perform under. Unfortunately, too many truckers find themselves in this situation.
Make sure to take regular breaks, even if it’s just a few minutes to rest your eyes. Getting out of the truck every few hours and stretching, eating, and getting fresh air will help you stay focused on driving.
Additionally, you can use this time to check on your cargo load and take a look at your truck. Use your breaks to refresh yourself and make sure there is nothing going wrong with your truck.
These breaks might not seem like much, but they can make the difference between a smooth trip and a disaster.
5. Avoid Distractions
This is one of the most basic and important rules of the road, and yet so many people fail to avoid distractions while driving.
Distracted driving is the number one cause of car accidents according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road or hands off the steering wheel is considered a distraction.
While it may not seem like a big deal when you look away from the road for a second to grab a drink, take a bite of your food, or check your phone, it is extremely dangerous.
Let’s say that you’re traveling at 60 miles per hour and look away from the road for one second. In that one second, you have traveled 88 feet, or 29.3 yards, littered with other drivers, and road hazards. That’s like running through a minefield with your eyes closed.
Always keep your eyes on the road to avoid the leading cause of accidents.
6. Take it Slow
When you drive slowly, you have much more control over your truck. Always take ramps and corners very slowly, especially when driving in mountainous areas.
Slowing down also reduces the amount of ground you cover blindly if you DO get distracted, drastically increasing your odds of making it to your destination safely.
Getting to your destination on schedule is very important - but not more important than getting there in one piece.
7. Minimize Lane Changes
Changing lanes safely is a tricky thing to do in a large truck with cargo. Your probability of getting into an accident increases significantly when you make frequent lane changes.
To maximize your safety, make sure to stay in one lane for as long as possible.
8. Leave Space in Front of You
All truckers know this through their training. It’d be great if other drivers knew it too but, unfortunately, courtesy to truck drivers is not taught as standard for the average driver’s test.
It’s frustrating to be caught behind someone, and a lot of times it’s not even your fault - some drivers seem to just LOVE cutting off truckers - but it’s obviously never safe to deliberately tailgate.
The safest drivers always do their best to afford themselves a consistent amount of space between the front of their vehicle and the rear of the vehicle in front of them.
This is called a “buffer zone”, and it’s usually a space of about three or four car lengths in front of your vehicle. Maintain this zone at all times to give yourself ample time to react to sudden stops by the driver in front of you.
9. Avoid Traffic Where Possible
Driving in the presence of heavy traffic is a gamble. Not only does traffic detriment all of the careful route planning you’ve performed, but it increases your odds of getting into an accident.
Try to take traffic into account when planning your route so that you don’t have to rush. If you get a traffic warning from your GPS, try to find an alternate route that is safe.
10. Stay Calm
Driving in an emotional state is very dangerous, especially when the vehicle in question is a 16-wheeler.
The road can be a frustrating place. Erratic drivers, slow drivers, and many other things can cause drivers to lose their cool and drive angry.
Avoid this state of mind at all times. Just stay calm, cool, and collected, and you will be safer on the road. Remember: when someone cuts you off, it’s usually because they just don’t understand how dangerous it is for themselves and for truck drivers.
Bonus: Improve Your Setup!
As a trucker, you know that the right equipment is what gets you home. My Little Salesman has been trusted by truckers since 1958, when all we were was a pamphlet in your back pocket.
Check out our selection of heavy-duty truck parts to find what you need in order to make your deliveries on-time and in a safe manner.
Follow these tips, remember your training, and communicate with your company to maximize your safety on the road.