Monthly Archives: April 2016

A Primer On Speed Management – Part I

As a safe, professional truck driver, you know that maintaining proper speed management at all times is absolutely necessary for the safe operation of your vehicle. Of course, this would include being mindful of the condition of the road, as well as traffic speed, flow and overall visibility.

In order to properly manage your vehicle’s speed, you have to understand the four factors that make up stopping your vehicle:

  • Perception distance;
  • Reaction distance;
  • Brake lag distance;
  • Braking distance, and;
  • Total stopping distance

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

Perception Distance

Perception distance is marked by the distance a vehicle travels from the moment you see a hazard to the moment that visual realization is recognized in your brain. For an alert truck driver, perception time is generally three-fourths of a second. Keep in mind that at 55 mph, your vehicle travels approximately 60 feet in three-fourths of a second.

Reaction Distance

Your reaction distance is measured by the distance your vehicle travels from the moment your brain has recognized a hazard to the moment your foot hits the brake pedal. Your average truck driver has a reaction time of around three-fourths of a second. This means at 55 mph, you would have traveled an additional 60 feet, 120 total from the moment you recognized the hazard to the moment the brakes engaged.

Brake Lag Distance

For a normal commercial motor vehicle operating under normal conditions, brake lag distance generally comes in around a half-second. This is the amount of time it takes for the actual mechanical operation to complete.

Braking Distance

Braking distance is described by the distance it takes for the vehicle to come to a complete stop once the brakes have been applied. Braking distance can vary based on a number of factors, from the weight, length and speed of the vehicle to the current road conditions.

For heavy commercial motor vehicles, the braking components are designed to work best when the vehicle is fully loaded. At 55 mph under optimal conditions, a fully loaded commercial motor vehicle typically travels 170 feet and can take up to 5 seconds to come to a complete stop.

Total Stopping Distance

When combined, all of these factors equal your total stopping distance. When perception, reaction, brake lag, braking time and distance are added together at 55 mph under optimal conditions, it will take between 6 and 7 seconds for the vehicle to come to a complete stop. At higher speeds, stopping distance and time will increase.

Speed and Visibility

The most important thing to remember is that you must always be able to stop within your field of vision. Put more simply, you should be able to stop within the distance you can visually see ahead of you.

If you are driving at night or in poor weather conditions, weather it be rain, fog, sleet or wintry snow and ice, you must slow down to account for your field of vision. If you are outpacing the visual obstructions in front of you, you’re putting yourself and those around you at greater risk.

Speed and Traffic Flow

When you are operating in heavy traffic, the general rule of thumb is to follow the speed of the vehicles around you, provided you can maintain adequate following distances and aren’t traveling above the posted speed limit. If you find you are unable to keep at a safe distance, reduce your speed by 3 or 4 mph until optimum safe distance has been reached.

In many cases, drivers believe that exceeding the posted speed limit will save time, but when you’re operating in traffic, that isn’t always the case. If you travel much faster than those around you, you will find the need to be constantly passing other drivers. This increases your chance of being involved in an accident.

Driving faster than you should can also lead to fatigue and further increase your chances of being in an accident. So why risk it? It’s best to always go with the flow of traffic when it is safe and legal to do so.

Join us next week when we dive into Part II of our series and examine how road conditions can affect your speed management.

Everything A Trucker Needs To Know About Railroad Crossings – Part II

Welcome back to our two-part series in what truckers need to know about handling railroad crossings. While these sections of road may seem ubiquitous and easy to understand, there’s a lot more to them than just stopping at the right time.

Today we are going to look closer at the various warning devices, gates and signs that govern how professional truck drivers should interact with railroad crossings. Let’s start with your auditory perception.

The Standard Bell

A standard bell, when activated, provides an audible warning sound. It can be used in conjunction with a flashing light signal and railroad gates. The standard bell is a particularly effective notification for pedestrians and cyclists.

The standard bell is designed to ring loudly as the train approaches and warn people in the surrounding area. The bell is generally mounted on top of one of the signal support masts. When the flashing signals activate, the bell is usually activated.

Standard Gates

A standard gate assembly acts as an active traffic control device. It is used with flashing lights and is normally accompanied by a crossbuck sign and other active or passive warning signs.

Standard configurations for the gates include a drive mechanism and a fully reflective red and white striped arm gate. The gates generally stand parallel to the pavement by about four feet. The flashing light signal may be supported on the post bearing the standard gate or mounted separately.

When no train is approaching, the standard gate will be in the upright position, perpendicular to the ground. Under normal operation, the standard gate will be activated the moment a train approaches.

The standard gate arm will start its downward motion not less than three seconds after the signal lights begin to flash. The arm will reach its parallel position and remain there throughout the duration of the train traveling across the crossing, and will only return to the upright position once the train is completely passed.

Exempt and Yield Signs

You may encounter an exempt sign at a railroad crossing. This sign is placed in advance of certain type of freight traveling by. Some vehicles, buses and other highway users may not need to stop in these instances.

The only exceptions are in times that a signal, train crew member, or uniformed police officer indicates a train or other railroad equipment is approaching the railway crossing.

You may also encounter a yield sign at a railroad crossing. This sign is meant to assign the right of way. Vehicles governed by the yield sign must avoid interference with other vehicles, including trains, which automatically have the right-of-way.

Do Not Stop and Stop Signs

You may see a black and white regulatory sign placed at a crossing when engineers or experience has determined there is a high potential for vehicles to stop on the tracks, perhaps if it is around a blind corner.

A standard, red stop sign with white lettering is intended for times where motor vehicle traffic is present. The sign can be added to the crossing and require all vehicles to come to a complete stop before crossing the railroad tracks.

Parallel Track and Low Ground Clearance Signs

A diamond-shaped yellow advance warning sign located on the roadway parallel to the tracks may indicate the road ahead will cross tracks. It will warn drivers making a turn that a highway-rail grade crossing is right around the corner.

Truckers especially need to pay close attention to low ground clearance signs. These areas of the road might contain conditions that are sufficiently abrupt enough to create issues for long-wheelbase trucks or trailers with low ground clearance.

The final consideration in taking note of railway crossings lies in pavement markings. If you see an “R&R” with a white X painted onto the road, don’t think rest and relaxation; a railroad crossing is coming up.

With that, our series on railway crossing concludes. As a professional truck driver, always take special care around railway crossings. With vehicles as large as trucks and trains, negligence can result in disaster.

Everything A Trucker Needs To Know About Railroad Crossings – Part I

The United States is criss-crossed with over 200,000 highway-rail grade crossings, and every professional truck driver must know how to cross them properly. This is especially true if you are operating on long routes in heavy vehicles like various tractor-trailer combinations.

There are several aspects to railroad crossings that truck drivers need to know, from regulations to emergency procedures and safety device and sign recognition. With so much to go over, let’s get started.

Railroad Crossing Regulations and Techniques

A highway-rail grade crossing is the area where a roadway, whether it be a highway, road or street, crosses a railway at a grade. Both the railway and the road are at the same level at the crossing point, as opposed to grade-separated under- or overpasses.

There are quite a few different categories and classifications when it comes to how a commercial motor vehicle should handle a railroad crossing, depending on the type of cargo being transported. For a full listing see Section 392.10 of the FMCSRs.

No matter what vehicle you are in, or type of cargo you are transporting, when you are at a railroad crossing, you must listen and look in each direction along the tracks. Always make sure there isn’t a train approaching and do not shift gears while crossing the tracks.

There are certain instances when stopping on the railroad tracks is not required. They include:

  • A streetcar crossing.
  • Railroads used for industrial switching purposes only.
  • When a police officer or flagman directs traffic to proceed.
  • When a functioning highway traffic signal is transmitting green to signal it is safe to proceed without slowing or stopping.
  • An abandoned railroad grade crossing marked with a sign indicating the railroad is abandoned.
  • An industrial or spur line crossing marked “Exempt.”

Also, as outlined in Section 392.12 of the FMCSRs, you must always ensure you have sufficient space to drive your vehicle completely through a highway-rail grade crossing without stopping.

Don’t Get Disqualified

Not properly adhering to railroad crossing rules can result in truck driver disqualification. A conviction of any one of six highway-rail grade crossing offenses will disqualify a driver from operating their commercial motor vehicle.

As listed in Section 383.51, the following represents a conviction under existing rules.

  • Failing to stop or slow down as required.
  • Failing to leave enough space to cross all the way without having to stop.
  • Failing to comply with a traffic signaling device.
  • Failing to negotiate the crossing because of insufficient undercarriage clearance.

For railroad crossing violations, the disqualification period can last 60 days for the first conviction to one year for three or more convictions in a three year period.

Warning Devices

The national standard for railroad crossings includes two basic types: Passive and active. Active warning devices activate automatically when a train is approaching a highway-grade railroad crossing.

Active warning devices include:

  • Bells;
  • Whistles;
  • Traffic signals, and;
  • Other physical barriers.

Because of their more obvious nature, active warning devices offer greater protection than passive devices.

Passive warning devices are generally not electronic in nature. Nor do they give notice of an approaching train. Instead of actively warning a driver, passive devices are intended to direct the driver’s attention to the crossing so that the individual knows to exercise caution.

Such devices include:

  • Crossbuck signs;
  • Stop signs;
  • Yield signs;
  • Pavement markings, and;
  • Constantly flashing lights.

Don’t Get Stuck

Although you should always ensure you are aware of proper clearance, if you do get stuck on the tracks, there are a number of steps you need to follow:

  • Immediately get out of the vehicle and take your cell phone.
  • Move far away from the vehicle in the direction of any approaching train. The idea is to be as far from the point of impact as possible.
  • Look for an emergency number posted at the crossing.
  • Give your exact location, using landmarks and the DOT number for the crossing. If there is no posted number, call 911 or local law enforcement immediately.

In the end, the point is to not get stuck and make your way across the railroad crossing without incident. In order to do that you’ll need to know the signs. Join us in Part II of our series, where we take a look at the different signs to look out for when dealing with railroad crossings.


The Truck Driver’s Primer on Mountain Driving

Unless you’re a regional truck driver operating among the plains states, chances are you are going to have to drive on, over or around a mountain at some point or another. It’s incumbent on professional truck drivers to know how to operate their commercial motor vehicle when traversing mountain passes.

The first thing to remember is that in mountain driving, gravity plays the leading role. Whether you are on an up or downgrade, gravity runs the show. Because of this, it is vitally important that your vehicle’s brakes are in excellent working condition.

If your vehicle is using an air brake system, consider checking for the following:

  • Ensure compressor is at full reservoir pressure;
  • Check for pressure drops on full application within stated limitations;
  • Slack adjusters for full push rod travel;
  • Listen for audible air leaks;
  • Ensure proper trailer protection valve operation.

Handling Upgrades

Handling upgrades is more complicated than just stepping on it. The force of gravity causes your vehicle to slow down on an upgrade, which makes it difficult to maintain a constant speed.

The steepness, length of the grade and weight of the load all play a major role in what gear you select to travel the upgrade. The steeper and longer the grade and/or the heavier the load, you’ll want to make sure you are in a lower gear. If you select a gear too high for the conditions you are putting on the engine, you could overheat or stall out.

Make sure you closely monitor the vehicle’s gauges as you head uphill. When you are driving uphill, your vehicle’s components are working much harder than when you are traveling on a flat roadway.

This extra work causes your engine to generate more heat. If your vehicle gauge indicates higher-than-normal temperature readings or a decrease in oil pressure, pull over at a safe area and let the vehicle cool down.

When you are traveling uphill on a multi-laned road, always travel in the right lane. This allows smaller, faster passenger cars to safely pass you. Always pay close attention to the traffic surrounding your vehicle, especially that to the front and the rear.

Handling Downgrades

When you are on a downgrade, gravity’s forces are pulling your vehicle faster. To help combat those forces, make sure you are always traveling at an appropriate speed, in the right gear, and applying proper braking technique.

An appropriate speed should be considered one that is slow enough to allow the brakes to hold the vehicle without resulting in overheating or fading. If you have to continually apply pressure, the brakes will eventually fade until you have little to no stopping control.

Always consider the total weight of vehicle, cargo, road and weather conditions when choosing the right speed. As with upgrades, always stay to the right on a downgrade. Also be aware of any road signs that indicate a maximum vehicle safe size.

Rather than relying on the brakes, the braking of the engine should be the primary way to control the vehicle’s speed. Shift the engine into a lower gear and use engine braking to lower RPMs.

Proper Braking Technique

When it comes to navigating up or downgrades, you’ve got to know the right technique. Try following this method when driving with proper braking technique:

  1. Identify a safe speed for the load and grade.
  2. When you have reached the speed, apply the brakes just hard enough to feel a definite slowdown.
  3. Once you have reduced the vehicle’s speed by 5 mph, release the brakes.
  4. When the vehicle’s speed increased back to or above the safe speed you previously identified, repeat the first three steps.

Escape Ramps

For steep mountain downgrades, escape ramps are built into the sides of the road. They are designed to help safely stop a runaway vehicle.

There are four basic types of escape ramps:

  • Gravity ramps: Constructed of pea gravel with mounds of sand or gravel at the end of the ramp.
  • Sand piles: Mounds or ridges of sand tall enough to drag on the undercarriage of the vehicle.
  • Arrester beds: Beds of loose material that cause the vehicle to sink.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at navigating mountain passes. The best way to stay safe during treacherous navigation is to respect the mountain. Practice these tips for safe driving, day-in and day-out.