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.