Monthly Archives: October 2015

A Primer On Safe Driving Techniques – Part I

Most people are familiar with the big tractor-trailers we see traveling the nation’s roads and highways, but few know what it takes to operate one safely, mile-after-mile, day-in and day-out.

Being a professional truck driver carries with it the responsibility of knowing exactly how to maneuver 80,000 lbs. over narrow passes and through sharp turns. Are you a new truck driver? Even if you are an experienced driver, a brush-up on safe driving techniques never hurts.

We are going to address safe operating techniques over a series of several posts. Today we start with the following:

  • Spacial Awareness
  • Proper Speed
  • Stopping Distance
  • Turns and Curves
  • Trip Planning

Get ready truckers, because it’s time to brush up on your safe driving techniques. For the newbies out there, take heed, because this is the stuff you will need to know.

Spacial Awareness

Professional truck drivers must always be aware of the “space cushion” around their trucks. Whether stationary or moving, they must make sure they do not get too close to stationary objects.

When considering the space cushion, truck drivers must keep the following in mind:

  • Height: Tunnels, overpasses, and clearances of varying heights and widths;
  • Surface: Sloped or uneven road surfaces, road hazards, pot holes, or speed bumps of varying heights;
  • Space in front: Following distance, turning space, and risk perception;
  • Space behind: Following distances of vehicles traveling to the rear of the trailer and backing space;
  • Side space: Tunnels, bridges, parking spaces, toll booths and weigh stations.

Having proper spacial awareness is one of the most important parts of safely operating a commercial vehicle. There are far too many opportunities to hit something, so don’t risk it.

Proper Speed

It goes without saying: Speed plays one of the most important roles in safely operating a big rig. Driving a large commercial vehicle requires more acceleration and stopping time. Speeds higher than the posted limits make proving that extra time much more difficult.

A sobering fact: Speeding is one of the primary factors for large truck crashes. And while we aren’t advocating hanging back and obstructing the flow of traffic, it is always better to get their safe, than sorry.

Stopping Distance

We probably don’t need to tell you this, but large tractor trailers can’t just stop on a dime. As Newton once said: “An object in motion will stay in motion, unless an outside force acts upon it.” Considering the mass of the object under your control, you’ve got to give yourself more time.

There are a number of instances in which greater stopping distance is required. They include:

  • Nighttime driving;
  • Driving on secondary or less developed roads;
  • Navigating through hilly or mountainous regions;
  • Along curvy or excessively windy roads;
  • During times of inclement weather.

Once you’ve managed to assess your stopping distance, you’ve got to figure out what to do when the road gets curvy.

Turns and Curves

When it comes to maintaining full control of your vehicle and its cargo, you’ve got to keep turns and curves in mind. Remember, oftentimes the posted speed limit on ramps is aimed at smaller passenger cars, not large commercial vehicles.

When navigating a turn or curve in your large truck, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Adjust your speed to below the posted limit when approaching a ramp;
  • Begin breaking immediately upon transitioning to the off-ramp;
  • Ensure your truck’s tires maintain contact with the road at all times when both entering and exiting the ramp.

Don’t ask yourself if it’s okay to speed off the ramp this one time, because the next question you may be asking yourself is how to get out of the cab once you’ve rolled it four times.

Trip Planning

Safe driving isn’t just about what you do while you’re on the road. How you plan your trip is essential to completing a safe haul. You must know your terrain and look ahead towards the mid-term travel conditions. Remember, your safety scores are part of your business.

Trying to get the job done efficiently and safely? Keep the following in mind as you plan your trip.

  • Traffic conditions;
  • Stop lights;
  • Weather;
  • Construction;
  • Terrain.

Are you ready to hit the road, whether new or experienced? If so, we hope you’ve found our primer instructive. Check back next week when we take a deeper look at safe truck driving in part two of our series.

Developing A Proper Safety And Risk Management Program

As the regulatory landscape continues to shift, fleets need to be more nimble than ever in addressing operational safety needs and risk management. The fact is, many fleets may not even have a list of safe fleet operation best practices.

Are you doing everything you can to minimize truck driver risk and reduce accident rates? Whether you run an in-house program or outsource it, you may not be doing everything you can if you don’t have a comprehensive safety and risk management program in place.

The Big Picture

Ensuring your trucking business is safe and risk-free is the only way to true profitability. Whether your operation is large or small, decreasing risk and minimizing accident rates not only saves time, money, and face – it saves lives.

By creating and maintaining a thorough risk management and safety program, you increase your ability to control any potential liability concerns. The first step in creating your program is in evaluating the big picture.

First, one must take into account the regulations and build best practices around those regulations. Companies must examine how they can effectively absorb those best practices into their company culture and business operation – with as minimal an impact as possible.

The key thing to remember is that you want to put everything together in such a way that implementing these practices doesn’t intrude on the effectiveness of your operation. If you create a program that is so cumbersome it isn’t manageable, your risk assessment program won’t be worth the digital paper it’s written on.

Getting Started

When setting up a best practices for safety and risk evaluation program, there are several factors that you must consider. They are the branches from which the leaves of your program will sprout.

First, ensure your program includes the following:

  • Regulatory compliance
  • Risk assessment and management
  • Loss prevention
  • Asset protection
  • Personnel Management
  • Brand

Next, you want to zero in on the key elements that will help you get to where you need to be. These elements further narrow down where your focus should lie.

Seven key elements for you to consider include:

  1. Always ensure you have a written policy.
  2. Outline who administers and is accountable for the program.
  3. Truck driver selection, review, training, and discipline.
  4. Drug and alcohol testing.
  5. Accident tracking and data analysis.
  6. Equipment inspections and maintenance events.
  7. Back-end record keeping.

When it comes to administering your safety and risk management program, you need to know how to incorporate each element together into one cohesive unit. Let’s take a look at the first couple of elements.

The Written Policy

Steer clear of huge policy manuals filled with jargon and complicated language. These days that is no longer effective. What you need is a task-driven written policy.

Administration and Accountability

There is no point to having a comprehensive safety and risk management program if you don’t have the right people involved. Everyone needs to be held accountable to their duties, and you must clearly define who does what, when they do it, and their means of doing it.

Driver Selection, Training, and Discipline

“Am I hiring the right person?” Are you asking yourself this question every time you onboard a new truck driver? How you identify potential employees should be specific to your operation.

Once you have selected the right person, your risk management program must address their training and discipline – if needed. Documentation requirements should be very specific in this category.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

This category is crucial to your success in trucking. You have to have a clear and concise path explaining how you handle driver compliance and/or failure.

Accident Tracking and Analysis

Accidents could lead to potential litigation. You need to be tracking them, analyzing them, and adjusting your policies to mitigate accident risk. How you use the information you gather is key.

Equipment Inspection and Maintenance

Fleets that keep vehicle inspection and maintenance at the forefront of their thought process save time, money, and are safer. If you aren’t ensuring your equipment is in fine working order, and properly documenting your maintenance records, your risk management program is not complete.

Back-end Record Keeping

The final cog in the wheel is your back-end record-keeping. FMCSA regulations require strict documentation policies be in place. You need to know where to get started on your documents right when you need them.


Safe Drivers Are Healthy Drivers

Yes, this is a trucking safety blog, so what are we doing talking about health? Consider that ill-health affects your circulation, which in turn affects your energy level. If your health is affecting your rest, a lack of rest could affect your road safety.

The fact is this: Trucker health is a topic we all should be talking about. Sure, we love our jobs. Certainly there are a number of reasons to. Being healthy isn’t about the job. Plenty of people in other industries spend a disproportionate amount of time in a seated position. So why do truckers bear the burden of ill health decisions?

The Data

The statistics are quite sobering. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a full 50 percent of truck drivers are obese, compared to 24 percent of the normal working population. Truckers were also more than twice as likely to have diabetes and hypertension.

A separate study commissioned by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that only 14 percent of truckers can be classified as ‘not overweight or obese.’

This study revealed that a staggering 88 percent of truckers admit to having at least one risk factor for chronic disease, whether it be hypertension, obesity or smoking. In fact, over half of all truckers smoke cigarettes.

As we sit here and debate why the state of trucker health is so dismal, perhaps the answer is right in front of us. Only a paltry 8 percent of truckers admit to exercising regularly and eating right, compared with 49 percent of the general population. So what are we going to do about it?

Why It’s Important

To obtain a CDL, a truck driver must pass a biannual Department of Transportation (DOT) examination, which includes a comprehensive physical. To qualify for their license, potential truckers must meet a series of measures, including blood pressure at 140/90 and below and respiratory functions that don’t interfere with sleep.

The Compliance Safety and Accountability Act also includes measures that address truck driver health. The Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) includes a requirement that fleets properly document instances where drivers are unfit to operate, whether it be for training, experience, or medical reasons.

To be in compliance, truck drivers must be able to prove they are both physically and medically qualified. Serious health problems could endanger a driver’s ability to continue on in their career.

A Focus On Health

As fleets and independent operators try to find ways to better run their operations, trucker health is increasingly landing at the top of the agenda. Intrepid fleet managers have technology and web-based options for managing their drivers’ health.

In addition to this, leading retail organizations such as CVS / Minute Clinic, RediClinic and the Convenient Care Clinics network offer DOT exams and provide ongoing wellness services for truck drivers across 600 member clinics around the country.

As the healthcare industry shifts to electronic records and telemedicine, things like wearable technologies and miniturized forms of care will become the norm. New devices will allow truck drivers to better track and manage their health.

Control Your Fate

Beyond letting fate dictate your health to you, realize that good health is in your hands. What you choose to eat and how often you exercise will determine your health outcomes for years to come.

We get it, improving your health does not go without challenges. You work extremely long days and stay sedentary for extended periods of time. But take small measures wherever you can to put your personal health back in the spotlight.

Choosing to take care of your body and mind isn’t just about living a long life, it’s about the safety of your job and the security of your career. Treat yourself right and the road will thank you.



The Keys To Fifth Wheel Safety

We’ve all read a headline or two that said something like “Runaway Trailer Hits Passenger Car.” While we may not know the details, we’re given enough information to know that somehow a trailer separated from its tractor and caused an accident. Don’t let that headline be about you.

The fifth wheel is the unsung hero. It’s easy to forget that it plays a key role in truck safety, and like any safety-related component, it needs to be in good operating condition. This is the piece of equipment that keeps the trailer attached to the truck. The last thing you want is to see it disconnect and go flying across the road behind you.

Preventative Maintenance

So you know how important the fifth wheel is, but how do you maintain it? Most fifth wheel manufacturers recommend for a complete maintenance every 30,000 miles or so.

The main thing to remember is that you need to lubricate it through all four seasons. This should give you ample time to inspect it at least four times throughout the year. We recommend a quarterly schedule that parallels other maintenance functions.

If you choose not to maintain a schedule of this frequency, you should at least be cleaning the locking mechanism every 60,000 miles or so. Waiting any longer could introduce an unnecessary element of risk.

What to Do

Wondering how to properly maintain your fifth wheel? We can tell you it’s about more than just making sure it’s lubricated. You also need to make sure you are thoroughly checking it over for damage.

First, you must degrease it with a degreasing compound or steam cleaning machine. Since grease attracts dirt and debris, the only way you will be able to uncover any hidden damage is by fully washing away the grease.

Make sure you remove all of the grease, including buildup around the lock jaw, throat and pivot joints. Once the grease is clear, look for cracks, broken welds and damaged or missing components. Once you’ve completed the inspection, regrease the fifth wheel with a thin coat of 90-weight lithium EP grease.

Manage Through the Seasons

Keep in mind that the changing seasons will affect your fifth wheel differently. People tend to add grease throughout the year, and while you may be able to get away with that in the summer, grease buildup during the winter months can cause some serious problems. Old grease buildup can freeze and interfere with the locking mechanism.

And although the springtime may seem the most benign of seasons, it’s no time to slack off on your fifth wheel maintenance, especially after a harsh winter. Lube gets washed or worn away in moist frozen or rainy conditions.

Over the winter, de-icing materials can be brutal on fifth wheel components. When moving parts begin to get rusty or corroded, the whole system can be thrown off, and when the timing of coupling and uncoupling is thrown off, it is more difficult to snap the tractor in place.


The fact is this: Not properly maintaining your fifth wheel could result in catastrophic injury or death. Not to be fatalistic here, but it’s the truth.

Here are some quick step-by-step keys to making sure your fifth wheel stays in good working order:

  • Clean dirt, debris, and grease from the fifth wheel. Also clean the mounting brackets, lock jaw, throat and pivot joints.
  • Thoroughly inspect each component for cracks, damage or premature wear.
  • Verify the thickness of the bracket liner. If it is less than 0.125 inches at the top, replace it. For standard-duty applications replace the liners every 300,000 miles. For heavy-duty applications, cut that in half.
  • Inspect the bracket pin bolts to make sure they are properly secured in the locking tabs.
  • Replace parts (if necessary).
  • Apply a new layer of water-resistant lithium grease. Make sure the kingpin lock is properly lubricated.
  • Check operation, test the lock, and verify complete closure.

So, next time you are setting up your maintenance schedule, make sure you pay proper attention to the one component that ensures your trailer doesn’t go flying off the road: The fifth wheel.