Big Rig 101: Tips For Driver Safety (When Time Is Money)

If you’ve ever seen the show Shipping Wars, you have a sense of what it’s like to work in the transportation industry. Professional truckers toe a fine line between speed and safety. Because some clients negotiate flat-rate jobs, drivers are often motivated to transport the product as quickly as possible to maximize profit. Increased speed means increased number of trips, and together that equals increased pay… but only if the product arrives safely at the end destination.

There’s a lot of responsibility in driving a truck with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,000 pounds. Perhaps that’s why truck driving ranked number eight on Forbe’s list of “America’s 10 Deadliest Jobs” in 2014. Hauling that much weight involves high potential for danger. While your CDL license may ensure you have the right to drive, it could never prepare you for every scenario you might face on the road.

Preventative measures must pick up the slack. When your job relies on quick and efficient transportation, you can’t afford to waste time with a breakdown or accident. Refer to these six tips before each trip you make to ensure safe transportation that will be sure to maximize pay in your pocket.

Load Cargo WiselyOn a fork lift

Some safe driving measures need to be implemented before you even set foot in the truck. 

First, avoid stacking cargo too high. Instead, stack lower and make sure the weight is evenly distributed across the truck bed. Not only will doing this reduce drag and the likelihood of becoming top-heavy in strong winds, it will mean better fuel economy in the long haul (pun intended).

Perform Vehicle Inspections Before Driving

Vehicle inspections are another preventative measure every driver should take. Catching a problem before it happens will save you time and money. Set yourself up for success by double checking you have the proper emergency equipment and that suspension systems, fluids, connections, and other devices are properly working.

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) provided a comprehensive vehicle checklist to streamline the inspection process and ultimately keep you from being just another crash statistic.

Be Mindful of Weather

Before you set out on your journey, maThinkstockPhotos-495479550ke sure to check weather reports and warnings. Watch for changes in temperatures, which can indicate changing road conditions. Apps like Road Conditions (Android) and INRIX® (iOS) can help keep you in the loop with real-time monitoring. Additionally, the department of transportation in certain states has its own road condition apps—for instance, Minnesota 511 (iOS, Android) and NDRoads (iOS, Android).

It’s important to remember that it takes longer to come to a screeching halt when you’re lugging 26,000 pounds behind you, but even more so in icy winter conditions. Staying up-to-date on the latest weather reports can help you avoid dangerous situations that could leave you stranded.

Obey the Buffer Zone

Once you finally hit the road, it’s important to remember the small details regarding driver safety. The buffer zone is one of them. The amount of “cushion” you allow in front of (and around) your truck is less of a suggestion and more of a rule. Breaking requires distance; the buffer zone buys you time to correct mistakes and avoid accidents up ahead.

Drivers should look 15 seconds ahead (a quarter-mile on the interstate and one and a half blocks in the city) to avoid potential hazards. But note: buffer zones should be increased in winter conditions or bad weather.

Take Breaks

Studies show that being awake for 18 hours is comparable to driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent. In other words, cheating your sleep is as dangerous as being drunk behind the wheel. You wouldn’t intentionally drive drunk, would you?

Taking a break allows time for you to sleep and make routine vehicle inspections that could save time (and lives) in the miles ahead. Falling asleep while driving has far worse consequences than arriving late. Lives depend on it.

Explore Destinations on Foot First

Don’t let your guard down once you’ve arrived at your final destination. Before entering unknown terrain, get out of your truck and explore the land. Foregoing this small preventative step could mean disaster. 

While you might think most accidents happen on the muddy truckinterstate, a large number of them actually occur while backing up in an unfamiliar area.

Running over posts, fire hydrants, or other hazards can do just as much damage to your truck (and driving record) as a full-on crash. Examine your surroundings before getting yourself stuck—something that could cost you not only time, but potentially an extra job.

If 70 percent of all freight tonnage is moved on trucks, we must ensure it is being done so in a safe manner. In 2013 alone, nearly 4,000 people were killed and 95,000 injured in large truck accidents. How will you avoid being part of the statistic?

Will you take preventative measures such as loading cargo wisely, making vehicle inspections, and keeping up-to-date on weather reports? Will you obey the buffer zone and take breaks when you feel fatigued? Perhaps you’ll take the extra step to explore unknown territory before delivering the cargo. The combination of all of these may be just the thing that save lives and puts the biggest paycheck in your pocket at the end of the week.