7 Tips to Keep Yourself Safe on the Road

by Holly Plude - Published: 3/27/2017
4.4 33 votes

Over the road truck driving is a skilled profession - and never let anyone tell you differently! And, as with any skill, it is in a driver's best interest to stay fresh. How do you do that with a trucking job? The practice of driving is not like technology that is changing by the month. It’s a straightforward procedure. The best way to keep your skills fresh is to take a retrospective look at your driving. Take a day and really pay attention to everything you do on the road. How often are you checking your mirrors? How close are you to the vehicle in front of you? Have you driven through any red lights? Have you felt out of control behind the wheel at any point? While these questions are in no way all-inclusive of the different ways you can evaluate your driving, they can get you started on the path to self-evaluation.

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What skills should you review?

Check your mirrors! You should be checking your mirrors approximately every 10 seconds. Does that seem like a lot? Some drivers may think so, but consider how quickly a car can come up on you.

Scenario: You want to change lanes while driving through a busy state such as Texas, but there is a passenger vehicle in your blind spot that you didn’t realize. It’s not until it is too late that you see the vehicle, and you've already merged or changed lanes. That driver is okay, but he’s going to need a new car. How could it have gone? You are checking your mirrors every 10 seconds.

Or how about this scenario - you see a white SUV in your mirrors. 10 seconds later you look in your mirrors and you no longer see the SUV. You haven’t passed any exits. You realize that SUV is likely coming up on your left and is currently in your blind spot. You hold off on changing lanes. As that SUV passes you, you smile, knowing you just prevented an accident.

Signal! Signal! Signal! - Turning on your turn signal when you are halfway into the lane is completely pointless. Signal well in advance of your anticipated lane change. Passenger vehicles are more likely to pay the respect you need if you play fair on the road. Never presume that a passenger vehicle will get out of your way. You should be proactive when you drive. You need to help other drivers make the right decisions.

How fast is too fast? There is absolutely no cut and dry answer. Everything a driver encounters plays into the decision. Is it snowing or raining? Are the winds exceptionally high? Is the sun nearly blinding? Are you on the curving mountain roads of Florida or the flat roads of Iowa? Every single factor you encounter on the road plays into your decision about how fast you drive. You cannot drive as fast in the snow as you can in dry weather. If the winds are exceptionally high you may have to pull off the highway.

Scenario: There is a high wind alert on the Mackinaw Bridge. Tractors are being held from entering the bridge until the wind abates. But you think you can handle it and you ignore the DOT advisory and get on the bridge. A strong gust of wind wraps itself around your tires and under your trailer, lifting the vehicle up and over the railing. You now have literally milliseconds to get out of the cab before the truck plunges into the Straits of Mackinaw. How could it have gone? The D.O.T. issues an advisory to stay off the Mackinaw Bridge until the wind abates. You abide by that advisory. You get to your appointment three hours later than scheduled, but you (and the cargo) arrive alive and intact.

According to the FMCSA website, a driver should reduce his speed by 30% on wet roads and by 50% on snow packed roads.

Curious to know what it’s like to drive too fast for the conditions? Watch this video:

How thoroughly do you do your post-trip inspections? Do you give it a cursory 5-minute walk around or do you thoroughly check everything, such as all your lights, tire pressure, air hoses, etc.?

Scenario: You barely look at the tractor-trailer during the pre-trip inspection. Because you didn’t check your tires, you blow a tire doing 65 m.p.h. It hits the windshield of the minivan behind you. The sudden shock of flying debris startles the driver so badly she jerks the steering wheel hard to her right and hits the soft shoulder at 65 m.p.h. Her van flips. She is seriously injured. Her three kids in the back are shaken up but not seriously injured. The driver will be in the hospital for at least a week and go through a few months of therapy afterwards (both physical and psychological). What could have changed the situation? During your post-trip inspection, you check each tire for wear. You notice the belt showing in the farthest rear tire. While you are off-duty you have the tire repaired. That 30 minutes you just spent post-tripping your truck saved a woman months of pain and you from guessing about the "what-ifs" of the scenario.

5. Be a leader, not a follower- When you are driving in a work zone, show others how to drive through the work zone by doing it yourself safely. Remember that speed limits are lowered in work zones. Leave extra room between you and the vehicle in front of you. Stay aware of your surroundings. Are there lane shifts up ahead? Is there a flagman starting and stopping traffic? Is there a lane reduction? Is the work zone actively being worked?

6. Put Down Your Phone - Distracted driving is worse today than ever before in the history of the automobile. Drivers know they can’t text and drive. You know that the rules on using any mobile device are heavily regulated and that the fines are steep. But more is at stake than money. Every time you pick up your cell phone (or iPad or Galaxy tablet or other mobile device) you are quite literally putting the life every other driver on the road in danger.

4.6 seconds – that’s how long a driver’s eyes are off the road when looking at their phone to text someone. Doesn’t seem like much time at all, does it? Yet, in that short amount of time, you travel roughly 370 feet (if traveling at 55 M.P.H.); longer than a football field in length. Stop and think about that for just a moment. Can you imagine driving your tractor-trailer across a football field without ever looking up?

Out in West Michigan, one of the highways, I-196, has a very sharp curve at the on ramp from US-131 to I-196. A driver in a passenger vehicle cannot take that curve at more than 15 M.P.H. There are signs to warn unaware drivers. There is a blinking yellow light at the entrance to the on ramp. Yet each and every winter at least one commercial driver goes over the wall off that on ramp because they were driving way too fast. It’s far more common at the beginning of winter, but even in dry conditions, that’s a curve that can be deadly. What is the solution? If you are paying attention to your driving, are actively watching signs on the highway, and act proactively you can avoid becoming a statistic.

7.  Be Familiar With Your Territory - Consider the first time a driver is sent to Los Angeles to make a delivery. They are not familiar with the freeways to get into the city. You have no idea about what roads are one-way. What does a driver do? Are their eyes going to be glued to a paper map or their GPS screen? A proactive driver is going to take time to familiarize yourself with the route before you ever get on the road. Plan your route out in advance. It’s okay to use GPS, but don’t watch it, just listen to it. Make sure you program that phone or GPS before you start driving.

Bottom Line:

You are a professional driver. Whether this is your first truck driving job, or your 19th, you know how to drive more proficiently than most passenger vehicle drivers. Just because you drive thousands of miles a week does not mean you can become complacent with your skills. Make sure you are staying sharp. Take an honest look at how you drive. If you feel you cannot be objective, ask someone to ride with you and provide you feedback - just be sure to use another professional driver.

Never forget you hold the lives of so many people in your hands each time you get behind the wheel. Set a good example as a driver and by your example encourage other truck drivers to do the same. Talk to other drivers. Share your experiences. Be a force for good!

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