Learning to drive an 18-wheeler does not stop at making a correct left turn. It is a lifetime skill many talented drivers have refined to an art form.
My first lessons included good practices to make your day go more smoothly. I didn’t get that information from a book, but from qualified trainers who took the time to cause me to think about the next step and develop good habits that would help me in my work.
Here are six truck driving tips I would like to share and give the trainers that assisted me credit, where it is most certainly overdue:
1. Look back at your truck after parking.
I park my truck in a parking spot, get out of the truck and walk toward the operating center. I have been told numerous times what to do when I walk away from the truck and I think I know it by now. My trainer says to me, “Are you done?” I respond, “Yes!”
We are walking and talking and he tells me to look back at my truck. And there it is. My left blinker is ticking away. I must have bumped it getting out of my truck. I smile, hang my head and start my walk of shame back to the truck to turn the blinker off.
Always turn around and look at your truck when leaving it. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen flashing lights and blinkers in the parking lot. Thank you, David Dandeneau, for one of my first and most important lessons in driving.
2. Be aware of your trailer 24/7.
If it leaves the road or goes outside of the line, you aren’t driving safely. That trailer is a weapon that could get you and others injured or killed. But the expression I learned when I was backing up very close to the trailer next to me was, “Drive that trailer or you are subject to failure!” I never forgot it. Thank you, Ken Booker!
3. Do a good pre-trip inspection.
You never know when you will be asked, “Did you do a pre-trip?” And if it’s a DOT officer, you want to know if you looked good at the inspection date, the lights, the tires, the pins, fifth wheel, lights and even the valve stem covers. I’m picky about them and keep plenty extra in my side pocket door.
A story from my first year of trucking really drove home that point: We ran into an old friend, and he had just picked up a load in which he needed to put a valve stem cover on all eight trailer tires. Again, thank you, David Dandeneau, for your wisdom and an important reminder! I won’t ever forget that, and Maintenance is glad to accommodate drivers with free valve stem covers and extra lights.
4. When you see the spot you want, pay attention to the tire path.
Many times the truck that just pulled out will have a perfect path to back into. Aim your tire for that path. You will be surprised at how close you can get and how much you will improve your accuracy by paying attention to the path your wheels are taking. But don’t forget to G.O.A.L. (Get Out And Look)! That is some of the best advice truckers ever got! I heard it from all trainers, but more often from Joe Ward, retired, and my own husband, Joe Nader. Thanks to all!
5. Pay attention.
When you take the exit to the truck stop, look at the exit and the signs and make sure you know how to get back to the highway. There are many kinds of exits and many ways to exit, but only certain ones will lead you in the right direction. And with out-of-route miles being so important, you want to keep them to a minimum. Not to mention you could get lost taking the wrong turn. I know where I-40 is, but I don’t necessarily know the community behind and around it. Thanks again to my husband, Joe Nader. Not getting lost is a big advantage!
6. Don’t swerve to miss that animal.
I love animals as much as anyone, but it’s not worth risking your life or other motorists’ lives to swerve 80,000 pounds around the road to avoid an animal. It’s sad that some folks still let their animals run amok, and I hated running over a beautiful boxer dog at Big Cabin, a deer on the run in Wyoming and an alligator in Alabama. None of them knew I was there, and I tried slowing down, but there was nothing more I could do. Grip the wheel tight, keep the truck straight and slow down — that’s all you can do.
I think not swerving to avoid the animals is very important. And I have to thank the Safety department for that policy. It’s a good one.
Never be afraid to ask for help
If you’re an experienced trucker with truck driving tips to share, I am seeing a lot of new drivers that could benefit from your experience. At Schneider, we work together to help each other find a solution.
I can remember one thing my husband always told his trainees, and I was one of those: “You are not in this alone. Ask for help when you need it.”
It was, and still is, good advice.