Trucking is one of the most important industries in the U.S. Over 70% of all shipped goods are transported in trucks driven by over 3.5 million truckers. But driving large trucks has its dangers and can lead to fatal accidents. As trucks are some of the largest vehicles on the road, truckers have a responsibility to help keep the roads safe for other drivers.
Every year, there are over 500,000 trucking accidents in the U.S., 1% of which result in fatalities, making truck driving one of the most dangerous occupations. Although some accidents are hard to avoid, truckers can follow a few tips to help keep the road safe for both themselves, and for other drivers.
Common Truck Safety Issues
Due to the massive size and weight of many trucks, collisions and accidents can be deadly, with fatal accidents increasing in frequency every year. Accidents involving trucks are more likely to result in fatalities than car accidents, so it’s important to be extra cautious as a trucker. Some common safety issues that truckers should be aware of include:
- Driver health
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Weather conditions
- Obstacles and debris on the road
- Long driving hours
- Truck mechanics
- Driver distraction, such as texting and eating
Driving Safely Near Trucks
It’s also important for car drivers to keep the roads safe around trucks. Trucks and cars share the road and need to be aware of one another. In over 60% of fatal collisions involving passenger cars and trucks, the car was responsible. Below are some tips to remember when sharing the road with large trucks.
Be aware of blind spots
Since trucks are so large, they have more blind spots than regular passenger cars. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t see the operator in their outside mirrors, the trucker most likely can’t see your vehicle.
Think about length of trucks
Trucks are longer than normal cars, so leave more time when you are passing a larger vehicle. When pulling in front of the truck, make sure you can see the front of the truck in your rearview mirror to ensure you have enough space.
Exercise caution when being passed
Slow down in the event a truck passes you as dirt or water spray may reduce your visibility.
Keep your distance
Due to the weight of the vehicle, it takes longer for a truck to come to a complete stop. Keeping at least a four-second following distance at all times is recommended.
Give turning space: Trucks need more space in order to turn, so it’s important to allow additional room when you see a turn signal.
Safety Tips for Truckers
The best way to stay safe on the road is to be aware of potential dangers. Avoiding distractions and paying attention to surrounding vehicles can be the difference between life and death. Here are some important safety tips to remember when driving a truck.
Always drive with a license
Truck drivers require a separate commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate a commercial motor vehicle. To get your license, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will check your driving background and medical history to make sure you are qualified. You will also be required to pass a Skills Test. Truckers must renew their license every few years, depending on the state’s licensing regulations.
Wear your seat belt
Seat belts are among the cheapest and most effective ways to stay safe on the road. In the case of an accident, a seat belt can prevent you from serious injury. Always be sure to wear your seatbelt when you are in a moving vehicle.
Be aware of other vehicles
Passenger cars are more likely to be the cause of an accident, so make sure you are aware of what surrounding vehicles are doing.
Never ride under the influence
Driving under the influence is incredibly dangerous. Driving with a blood alcohol level of .04% or higher is illegal for truckers in all 50 states.
Recognize blind spots
The bigger the vehicle, the bigger the blind spots. Truck blind spots typically extend 10-20 feet in front of the truck, 200 feet behind, and diagonally on both sides. Be cautious of any vehicle that could be in your “No Zones.”
Be alert at night
Driving at night is more dangerous for both small vehicles and truckers. It is harder to see your surroundings, and late hours can lead to sleep-related accidents. If you have to work a night shift, make sure you are prepared, awake, and alert.
Prepare for weather
Although accidents can occur at any time, it’s important to be more cautious during times of inclement weather. Snow and rain can impact driver safety and visibility, so it’s recommended that you drive slower during storms.
Slow down when turning
Trucks aren’t built to turn quickly, and shouldn’t try. Make sure to take turns slowly and carefully, staying aware of surrounding vehicles and pedestrians.
Use a trucker’s GPS
There are specific trucking GPS units that indicate routes where larger trucks can drive while avoiding low tunnels or bridges with weight capacities. Normal GPS devices may not account for the specific needs of a truck, and can lead you down a road that is unsafe for your vehicle.
Avoid changing lanes
With more blind spots than smaller cars, changing lanes can be a tricky pursuit. It’s better to stay in one lane, and if you have to change, make sure to be totally aware of your surroundings.
During a long trip, and especially at night, remember to take regular breaks to stretch and rest. This will make you feel better and also help you stay alert on the road.
Texting while driving is illegal and has proven to be very dangerous. Taking your eye off the road and surroundings while driving can have serious implications. Any distraction while on the road can lead to fatal accidents.
Ensure the safety of your vehicle
Make sure you and your company perform frequent maintenance checks on the truck to ensure everything is in working order. Different truck types have different requirements for oil changes and maintenance so be sure to check with your truck’s user manual to keep on schedule.
Trucking rules and regulations are always changing. Always keep up to date on current laws to make the road as safe as possible for all drivers.
Safety Tips for Handling Trucks
It’s important to practice safe truck behavior on and off the road. Loading and unloading materials from trucks can be dangerous and lead to serious accidents. Different materials and resources have specific safety procedures, so pay attention to regulations put in place by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to maintain a safe work environment.
Regardless of the material in the truck, it’s crucial to make sure everything is properly stored and secured using patience and safe procedures. There have been incidences where improperly fastened materials, like logs or steel pipes, have fallen and killed a nearby worker. They may also fall while the truck is in motion, potentially striking another vehicle on the road.
Some materials are flammable or combustible and should be handled with extra care. Always be sure to adhere to all safety procedures in place for handling dangerous materials to avoid any accidents or injuries.
Trucks must meet proper safety standards when loading and unloading. Trucks that are overloaded or have issues in the trailer may break down with excess weight. Check that your truck is up to date on inspections before loading.
What to Do if You Have an Accident
In some cases, accidents are unavoidable no matter how careful you are. In the event of an accident, it’s important to stay calm. Truckers are professionals and go through training to better prepare for any future accidents. Other drivers may look to truckers to handle the situation calmly and authoritatively.
If you are involved in a crash, the first thing to do is stop. It is a felony to flee the scene of an accident. If possible, move to the side of the road to stay away from traffic. When safe, assess yourself and others for injuries. Unless it’s necessary to remove them from further harm, never move an injured person unless you are a trained medical professional, as this can lead to further injuries.
Some accidents can cause gasoline leaks, which can lead to dangerous fires and sometimes explosions. If this is the case, move yourself and others away from the leaking vehicle and to a safer location. Call the authorities as soon as possible, and give as many details as you can to help them better prepare for the severity of the accident.
When the authorities arrive, give a full and honest account of the accident. Even if you don’t have any obvious injuries, it’s important to seek medical attention, as some injuries are internal and can show symptoms later.
Once everything is secure, take pictures of the accident, exchange information with the drivers of the other vehicle(s), and contact your employer. Trucking accidents can often lead to legal issues, and it’s necessary to have evidence and be transparent about what happened.
Truck Safety Statistics
The most recent data indicates that over 4,300 trucks were involved in fatal accidents in 2015, an 8% increase from the previous year. 745 truck drivers were killed in 2015 from vehicular accidents. But most fatal accidents involving trucks result in passenger car deaths, not trucker deaths, as the size of the truck often protects the driver.
The trucking industry takes safety very seriously, and over $9.5 billion goes towards ensuring trucker and civilian safety annually. There are many laws that regulate driver health, wellness, and driving processes in order to promote safer roads. Similarly, there are laws in place for all drivers–car driver, trucker or motorcyclist–that strive for safety. Laws against texting and driving while intoxicated and an emphasis on seatbelts have impacted driver and passenger safety for the better.
Over the past few decades, the increased emphasis on safety has led to a significant decline in fatal crashes. Paying attention to road rules, respecting other drivers, and exercising caution will continue to reduce the risk of harm.