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Tips for New Truck Drivers
As winter is creeping in and new truck drivers are hired into trucking companies, it’s important for rookie truck drivers to cover the basics of safety.
This is something that trucking companies should emphasize during training. But for many (myself included), it’s not always easy to sit in a training room for hours on end.
The age old glazed over look after staring at a PowerPoint presentation or listening to someone drum on for hours about the do’s and don’ts. No sweat though, it’s not too uncommon.
Today we cover various tips for new truckers and the ultimate take away should make you a better, safer truck driver.
G.O.A.L – Get out and Look
The company I previously worked for had these stickers stuck to everything and for good reason. According to the University of Minnesota, about 25% of semi-truck accidents happen while performing a backing maneuver.
As a new driver the best tip for this situation is to avoid backing your tractor trailer if possible. Pay no mind to the super trucker who says otherwise.
If you must back up, try to make sure you can pull out when you’re ready to leave.
If there is someone available to help, have them guide you while you’re backing up. If you’re by yourself, take the extra time and get out and look!
Another fact to keep in mind is that all backing accidents with semi-trucks are classified as preventable accidents according to the FMCSA.
The next time you’re at a shipper, truck stop, or anywhere you need to perform a backing maneuver in your truck; take the time to think about what we covered and at least get out and look.
Slow Down – It’s not a Race
This is something new truck drivers to always keep in mind.
Even though most fleets now days have governors which limit the maximum speed to around 65mph, speed is very important to pay attention to.
According to a research study performed by the FMCSA, 19% of commercial tractor crashes were directly related with speed in which a fatality happened.
Additionally, if we look at the fact sheet by the FMCSA here, 27% of crashes in work zones involved a semi-tractor.
While we’re not trying to invoke fear tactics, take a look at the following infographic from the FMCSA on which factor took account for a fatality.
Practice Safe Driving Practices
This one weighs heavy with me because I’m a former truck driver. There are a multitude of difference sub-sections I could list here but we’ll keep this short.
Situational Awareness is one that should constantly be on the mind and is a great tip for rookie truck drivers.
Keep your head on a swivel, always look ahead as far as you can while maintaining your current situational awareness. It’s important to know what is going on around your truck as well as what is going on ahead of you.
Don’t become complacent while you’re driving. Complacency is very easy to fall into while you drive. You’re traveling hundreds of miles a day staying at the same lines in the road, always stay alert.
A truck drivers mental health plays into this tip and combines many factors. We covered a few mental health tips for truckers in this article.
Don’t let anything distract you from driving. You’re essentially an 80,000lb rocket cruising down the highway. Think about this, in good conditions at normal highway speed it takes just about two football fields to stop your vehicle, that is over 700 feet.
This means you should keep the radio at a normal level, phones and other objects out of your hands always.
Many companies have adopted a system that drivers should follow. With any luck you’re no stranger to the Smith system. This system has five key points that you should try to keep in mind.
GPS – Don’t always Trust It
This tip for truck drivers was popular among all the people I spoke with before writing this and it holds true to me still. As much as I hate to admit, I regularly followed my companies “built in” GPS when I first started driving.
This landed me in a tight spot once, luckily, I had a co-driver to help me out of a bad situation. That isn’t always going to be the case though.
Many GPS systems that come in the modern day ELD’s aren’t completely truck route safe. Even the GPS’s branded for truckers make a mistake now and then.
Buy a good road atlas if your company doesn’t provide you with one. These are invaluable in many situations. Always plan your route accordingly before you start your trip. There are many instructional videos on the internet that will show you how to use one.
If you’re looking for a place to buy a good trucking road atlas, I suggest these.
Junior Honduras from YouTube has a decent video explaining how to use a truck road atlas.
Scales – Always Scale Your Load
The weight on your BOL is not always right. You want to make sure the weight in your trailer is compliant with DOT, this should be a no brainer.
Rookie truck drivers have been known to hook and book with loaded trailers and end up in bad situations. Doing something like this could cost your time, money, and possibly employment.
Not scaling a load could put you over weight on a set of axles and lead to unfortunate consequences. The worst in my mind is being put out of service at a DOT weigh station. Not only are you not rolling, you’re now getting a ticket and waiting for your company to assist in fixing the problem.
Always scale your load at the first scale you come to. Most truck stops and corporate chains have CAT scales available. Paying for a weigh in is much more inexpensive than paying the overweight ticket.
If you’re unsure how to correct the weight on a specific set of axles, take a glance at this article on TruckingTruth.com that explains the process.
Keep in mind that not only does sliding your trailer tandems help you adjust your weight and keep you DOT legal. Proper weight distribution helps maintain the quality of your ride.
Remember, your weights should not exceed 12,000lbs on your steer axle, 34,000lbs on your drive axles, and 34,000lbs on your trailer tandems.
Communication – A Key to your Success
I don’t see this tip for new truck drivers as often as I’d like to. Communication sets the mood for the relationship with so many aspects of your trucking career.
Anyone who has ever been a professional driver can tell you that proper communication with dispatch, breakdown, safety, among many other departments can make your life easier. It may not always be what you want to hear but your driver manager and the rest will appreciate clear communication.
A good driver manager is there to support you. You are the backbone of the trucking industry and they rely on you heavily. If for some reason you’re going to be late for a delivery, communicate that with them ahead of time so proper arrangements can be made.
If you have a breakdown, collect proper information before calling in or sending them a message. Not only will it reduce your down time, it will reduce your overall stress and frustration.
If you have a warranted safety concern, don’t hesitate to communicate it with your company’s safety department.
Preparation – Always be Prepared
Being a truck driver, you need to expect the unexpected. This covers a wide variety of things such as basic maintenance essentials, food, toiletries, and water.
Most companies will give you basic maintenance items such as a gallon of oil, coolant, windshield wash, spare wipers, and replacement lights. It’s a good idea to keep one of everything just in case you run into an issue.
Many drivers have the mindset that “It’s not my job” when it comes to minor maintenance issues. My personal opinion is this: Why wait 4 hours at a truck stop for someone to replace a headlight or wipers when you can get this done in minutes.
There are a multitude of resources available on the internet that can show you how to complete minor repairs if your company allows it.
Keep a set of basic tools on your truck as well as bungee cords and duct tape. You may find these come in handy more than you would think.
If you wear glasses, keep an extra pair in your tractor in case of emergency. Always Keep a spare key on you when exiting the truck. Being locked out of your truck is not a fun experience and the cost of an unlock ranges between $50 and $250 on average.
Being a truck driver is not an easy job and not everyone is cut out for it. Keep these tips for new truck drivers in mind next time you’re out on the road.
- Get Out and Look any time you can.
- Slow down, it’s not a race, it’s your life and others.
- Use Safe Driving Practices and don’t become complacent or get distracted.
- Don’t always trust your GPS, get a good trucking road atlas and plan ahead.
- Always scale your load at the first available scale, don’t rely on your BOL’s.
- Communicate with your driver manager and other departments clearly.
- Prepare properly before you leave out on your next trip.
Using these tips will make you a better driver and a better employee. Being a better professional driver will make your experience with the company much more enjoyable. When freight slows, you have a better chance of being taken care of. Given the industry’s driver shortage, it makes sense to be the best you can be.
In closing, make sure to be safe on the road, use common sense driving practices, always be prepared.
Do you have any tips you’d recommend to a new truck driver?