How to be a Safe Commercial Driver
Written by: Gregory Miller
Commercial drivers command far more responsibilities on the road than the average driver. Due to the nature of operating an 80,000lb commercial motor vehicle, these drivers must concentrate fully on the road at all times. On top of hauling massive and sometimes hazardous loads, commercial drivers must deal with various weather conditions, other motorists, and wildlife. Being a safe driver but also being on time, is critical when delivering time-sensitive loads. Safety is a driving force in this industry, and to aid commercial drivers in driving safer, here are some safety tips.
As a commercial driver, you must be patient and always give yourself the recommended following distance based on your driving speed. Studies have shown that most accidents involving commercial vehicles occur due to a tailgating incident. Always remember that the bigger and heavier the vehicle, the harder it is to pump the brakes and stop.
Give motorists plenty of time to move out of the way when you’re ready to merge lanes. It’s recommended that 4-wheel drivers should signal at least 300 feet before the turn. Signaling even earlier as a professional truck driver early is a good way to let everyone around you know which direction you intend on heading. Because you are going to be driving a larger vehicle, you need to let the other drivers know in advance what you are going to be doing. Communicate your presence by signaling before you make your maneuver and continue signaling until your maneuver is complete.
Minimize Lane Changes
Commercial vehicles are large and have plenty of blind spots. Thus, you should keep your lane changes to a minimum. Your side mirrors will play a huge role in eliminating blind spots if they’re set properly. It’s practically impossible to eliminate every blind spot for massive trucks, but setting your side mirrors properly will give you the coverage and visibility that you need to drive safely. Be sure to make smooth lane changes allowing you to communicate your maneuver and double check your mirrors to be sure your path is still clear.
Give Yourself Time and Distance to Slow Down
There are 3 major factors that contribute to a commercial vehicle’s total stopping distance: Perception Distance, Reaction Distance, and Braking Distance. In total, the average fully loaded commercial vehicle will need a stopping distance of 419 feet if driving at 55 mph in good driving conditions. You should always give yourself sufficient time to brake even if that means driving under the speed limit. Most motorists aren’t aware of how long it takes for large commercial vehicles to stop, so use your brake lights as early as possible to notify others that you are slowing down. If you’re driving below the posted speed limit for an extended period of time, you should use your flashers.
When big trucks idle, they emit large amounts of diesel fumes. To ensure the driver is exposed to minimum diesel emissions that enter the cab when idling, there are many different types of idle reduction technologies. Most major trucking carriers will have industry standard equipment that is fuel efficient and include these types of idle reduction technologies without compromising the safety or comfort of the driver. In fact, the best companies will offer their drivers equipment such as an auxiliary powered unit (APU) to keep them comfortable and well-rested.
Safety is important to all trucking companies, which is why they will provide drivers with reliable equipment. It is inevitable, though, that you’re going to run into mechanical issues at one point or another. If you’re forced to pull over to the side of the road, highway, or interstate, you should always warn other drivers. You can do so by using your flashers or reflective triangles. If you’re stopped on a one-way or divided highway where traffic will only be passing you from behind, place reflective triangles at 10 feet, 100feet, and 200 feet from the back of your trailer toward the approaching traffic. If you’re on a road where there is two-way traffic, place your warning devices 100 feet from the front of the trailer, 10 feet and 100 feet from the back of the trailer. If you are stopped on a hill and your vehicle is obstructed from oncoming traffic, place them 500 feet from your trailer so there is more time for motorists to move to a safer lane, if possible.
Work zones/construction zones tend to be dangerous because of one major issue: speeding drivers. Drivers who are speeding have less time to adjust for any type of hazard in these zones. Commercial vehicles have an increased risk in these areas because of the total stopping distance that could be needed in a work zone. Pay extra attention to speed limits in work zones.
Road Side Hazards
Work zones aren’t the only areas where commercial drivers need to be extra cautious. Roadsides, where emergency vehicles or law enforcement are attending to drivers, can be dangerous for both parties. In recent years, individual states have implemented “move over” laws. These laws are intended to make all passing vehicles slow down and move to the lane that is furthest from the roadside hazard when it’s safe to do so.
Prevent Fatigue or Distractions
In many cases, accidents involving commercial vehicles are related to driver error. These errors can be due to other motorists that are involved or to the commercial drivers themselves who could be driving while distracted or fatigued. Prevent any distractions that could cause you to make any kind of error. Take plenty of breaks while driving. The FMCSA hours of service rules allow a driver to be “on duty” for 14 hours in a day but only allows 11 of those hours to be driving time. This regulation allows the driver time for meals, breaks, delivery stops and fueling up. Always recognize signs of fatigue, especially if you are driving at night or on long trips. Eye-fatigue is a sign that it’s time to take a break or even a nap. Your employer or dispatcher can help you locate a safe place to pull over if you need to take an unplanned break due to fatigue or even adverse driving conditions.
Finding Work as a Truck Driver
The lifeblood of the United States economy is the transportation industry. Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of open jobs for truck drivers. This means there are many opportunities for experienced and new drivers with no experience to find a job in trucking. These employers specialize in all different types of transportation such as:
- Dry van trucking positions
- Refrigerated or temperature controlled positions
- Tanker or Hazardous Materials positions
This means you are not limited to only driving long-distances or over-the-road (OTR) jobs. These employers will have a variety of routes available that include regional routes, local or dedicated routes, and OTR.
Trucking jobs can range from driving teams to dry van jobs to temporary driving jobs. As the demand for goods increases, more truck drivers will be needed to keep supply chains moving. Getting your CDL from an accredited truck driving school is a smart move. CDL truck drivers can expect to earn around $40,000-$50,000 in their first year on the road!
Receiving the Best Training
All trucking companies will offer some form of on-the-job training to ensure you know how to do your job the safest and best way. To ensure you’re with a company that cares most about your safety, learn more about what their training program entails so you are set up for success. If you don’t yet have your commercial driver’s license (CDL), there are many trucking schools all over the country that provide you with the basic skills you need to get hired on with an employer. Research which trucking schools will provide you with the minimum number of hours of training and offer industry standard curriculum. You want to be sure that your training will meet the employers’ requirements and are approved by them. If you already have your CDL but haven’t driven in a few years, most companies may require you to complete a refresher program. Many CDL schools will also offer this service so be sure to ask. Once you’re on the job, you’ll be assigned a driver trainer who will teach you how to do your job safely and efficiently. Companies are most likely to require you to get OTR experience when you’re first getting out on the road. Once you gain experience, you’ll be able to move into regional, dedicated, or local positions depending on their availability.
What you can expect to find from the best CDL training programs:
- Industry standard curriculum of 160 hours or more
- Endorsement preparation for hazardous materials, doubles & triples, and tanker
- Job Placement services with reputable employers across the United States
Once you choose a CDL training school where you will learn all of these safety standards, you will want to decide which type of trucking job you might want.
Temperature Controlled and Refrigeration Trucking
Food products and medications are examples of temperature controlled items that will need refrigeration and, in some cases, a hazardous material endorsement for. The equipment and technology that is used today makes the monitoring process easy for the driver. In fact, many of these units can have their temperature monitored from thousands of miles away!
Dry Van Trucking
Dry van trucking is one of the most common modes of freight transportation across the country because of the wide variety of dry goods consumers use (i.e., electronics, manufacturing, consumer goods, entertainment, health & beauty, and cleaning products to name a few). Dry van trailers are common enough in which you can often pull up to a stop and unhook your loaded trailer, and then hook up to an empty trailer to get your next load quicker. Drop-and-hook runs are common among dry van hauls.
We’ve talked briefly about the dangers of fatigue on the road and why you must follow the FMCSA hours of service. However, if you want to earn the most money you often have to drive the most miles. This can be done safely if you’re driving as a team with another driver. Team driving consists of two drivers who essentially keep the truck moving non-stop. You will always need to plan for proper break time for meals, fueling, and hygiene, but you won’t be held to the mandatory 10 hours off-duty that solo drivers must follow. Your employer will take time to match another driver that fits your lifestyle best. After all, you’ll be working together 24-7 when you’re out on the road. Team driver pay is where you can make the most money as a driver. Although the pay is split, you and your partner are driving more miles than a solo driver could drive. You’re safely earning top dollar as a team and can enjoy the thought of having another person with you and not have the solitude that a solo driver may feel.
Military Driving Jobs
If you’re thinking of joining the Armed Forces, there are plenty of military trucking jobs available. In fact, the United States Armed Forces owns and operates over 50,000 heavy trucks and buses. If you are a veteran and transitioning out from the military, trucking is something you should consider even if you did not drive in the military. Employers know the value the skills and experience you gained serving our country. Many will offer veterans different types of incentives to work for their company such as an apprenticeship program or higher pay if you did have prior driving experience in the military.
As a commercial driver, you are trusted to move millions of dollars’ worth of freight each day, safely and efficiently. No matter what type of vehicle you drive, safety should always be your top priority. For those who wish to get into the trucking industry, you are choosing an industry that has jobs in demand, with great opportunities to grow a career.