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Van driving between two semi trucks on road

Learn defensive driving skills

Tips for making long hours on the road safer for drivers and others

We’ve all been taught the best drivers are defensive drivers. That means searching the road ahead for hazardous or changing driving conditions, preparing for mistakes by other drivers or pedestrians, and checking the sides and rear for passing or approaching vehicles.

But paying attention on the road also means avoiding some common distractions—cell phones and other devices, eating and drinking, smoking, or adjusting radios and other controls.

There’s even more to consider once the truck starts rolling:

Driving

Just moving from a stop—forward, backward, or turning—can create unexpected hazards. Before putting the vehicle in motion, drivers should:

  • Adjust mirrors
  • Check for broken mirrors and loose mountings
  • Make sure horn, back-up warning signal, tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals are all functioning
  • Walk around and look underneath vehicle for safe clearances
  • Check that cargo loads are secured
  • Check blind spots
  • Begin moving immediately after safety checks

Passing

Safe passing maneuvers require well-developed skills and judgment. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure there is adequate distance to pass
  • Check that no one is passing you before you attempt to pass
  • Watch out for vehicles that may suddenly enter the road from side roads
  • Stop your pass if the vehicle ahead speeds up
  • Assume approaching vehicles will not see you

Turning

Recognize the hazards created by turning and follow proper procedures to minimize them—including using turn signals and checking mirrors.

For right turns, drivers should:

  • Move to the right lane well in advance of the intersection
  • Wait for other vehicles to clear and then turn slowly
  • Avoid improper tracking so the vehicle or trailer will not ride up onto the curb or into stationary objects

When turning left:

  • Watch for drivers who may misinterpret the intended turn
  • Avoid turning until there is enough time for the rear of vehicle to clear the intersection
  • Be aware that opposing drivers may not see you
  • Assume approaching vehicles will not see you

Intersections

Trucks take more time to cross and clear intersections than autos. That’s why drivers should:

  • Install reflectors and reflective tape
  • Keep sides of vehicle clean and marker lights operational
  • Avoid turning until there is enough time for the rear of vehicle to clear the intersection

Lane use and lane changing

Lane use and lane changing accidents primarily involve sideswipes and rear-end collisions. Unnecessary lane changes can increase the potential for a crash and should be kept to a minimum. To avoid accidents, drivers should:

  • Maintain safe following distances
  • Use turn signals far in advance of any lane change
  • Flash brake lights to alert drivers of trouble ahead
  • Check blind spots before attempting to change lanes

Downgrades

Brake failure is the main reason for losing control on downgrades. To avoid it, drivers should:

  • Inspect, adjust, and replace brake components
  • Use a descending gear that requires only light brake pressure—10 psi—to slow speed
  • Never use the hand lever to apply trailer brakes

Adverse driving conditions

Failure to adjust to adverse conditions, reduced traction, and poor visibility are major causes of accidents. During bad weather, drivers should:

  • Keep tire chains available
  • Increase following distances
  • Get off the road and wait for conditions to improve

These are just some of the tips that can help keep drivers safe on the road. Remember by paying attention to safety, you can minimize risk and possibly reduce insurance costs.

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