We all know when it comes to driving, safe is definitely better than sorry. About 5,000 people die in truck-involved crashes every year. This startling yet powerful statistic serves as compelling evidence of the dangers of driving recklessly. While operating a commercial vehicle can present unforeseen obstacles, professional drivers practice good judgment on the road in order to steer clear of accidents.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety confirms nearly one-quarter of occupant deaths in passenger vehicles involved in multi-vehicle collisions were the result of crashes involving large trucks. However, recent reports show the number of large trucks involved in fatal collisions decreased 30 percent between 2000 and 2010. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) aspire to support this downward trend by encouraging truck, bus and passenger vehicle drivers to adopt sound habits with their nationwide, collaborative initiative, Operation Safe Driver. Through education and enforcement, this effort seeks to improve commercial and non-commercial vehicle driver behavior. In recognition of Operation Safe Driver, during the week of October 14-20, 2012, law enforcement will actively target unsafe, aggressive, and fatigued drivers across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Organizations, government agencies and industry leaders will hold activities to expand public awareness of proper road etiquette and technique.
Here are eight CDL-friendly tips to help you make the road a safer place (and avoid getting stopped by a cop):
1. Be proactive. Anticipate the actions of other drivers on the road. Let’s assume, for the most part, you are a safe driver and it’s those other folks who got their license out of a cereal box. You’re rolling along and look over at the person driving beside you, only to notice he’s eating a chili cheese hot dog, arm wrestling with his passenger (it happens), and reaching for some nondescript item in the backseat. What is a safe, law-abiding trucker to do? Get out of their way! The unfortunate reality is there are careless drivers on the road and your best bet is to avoid them when possible. Part of successfully operating a truck involves using common sense to make good decisions that are not necessarily covered in truck driving 101.
2. Travel a safe distance behind other drivers. Tailgating should be reserved for football games–not the road. Following the vehicle in front of you too closely can have devastating consequences. Although this annoying and sometimes fatal practice is illegal, many people still take their chances in an attempt to intimidate other drivers. Maintain a distance of at least 20-25 car lengths and increase it during inclement weather. If you notice a vehicle riding your bumper, stay calm, slow down and let the tailgater pass you. Rear-end collisions are no fun but a party by the grill makes for a good time.
3. Curves = proceed with caution. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, forty percent of deaths result from speeding around curves. Drive the posted speed limit unless road conditions suggest otherwise. Be weather-conscious and prepare for unfavorable circumstances as far in advance as you can. Ice Road Truckers may be entertaining to watch but danger always looks better on television.
4. Take a defensive driving class. The rules of the road are constantly changing. In this case, it’s best to stay ahead of the curve by taking a refresher course. Defensive driving classes are designed to help educate you on current driving challenges and equip you with knowledge that will translate into avoiding accidents and injuries to yourself and others. Enhancing your skills and learning more about the law will only make you a better driver. Perhaps an equally appealing perk–some companies offer free courses. Saving lives and money? You can’t beat that.
5. Stress less. Find ways to keep your eyes on the road and your mind relaxed. Play soothing music, listen to a book on CD, sing along with your favorite playlist at a reasonable volume—these are a few things that can help you keep your cool while driving. The emotions behind road rage are equivalent to flooring the gas with your foot on the brake. Chronic stress can be damaging to your health. High levels of anger and stress are directly linked to premature cardiovascular disease. Simply put, the urgency of delivery deadlines or a car cutting you off are not worth cutting years off your life.
6. Don’t drink and drive. Think and stay alive. Remember your driving record can determine your employment status. Being turned down for a job or fired because of a DUI surely doesn’t leave you swelling with pride. Consuming alcohol and operating a vehicle is like robbing a bank or wearing socks and sandals–they are all crimes. No matter how many emotionally charged appeals are issued urging us to put safety first, some people are willing to risk lives by hopping into the driver’s seat while intoxicated. In the event you have one too many, refrain from getting behind the wheel of your truck or anything else for that matter. Call a close friend or trustworthy co-worker to drive you to your destination, which will probably be home.
7. Drive when you have to, sleep when you can. Truck driver fatigue is a common cause of commercial vehicle accidents. Suppliers and trucking companies put a great deal of pressure on drivers to deliver loads promptly. A little word of advice: plan your schedule and do your best to stick to it. Given the unpredictable nature of shipping and receiving, this may be impractical at times but it’s better than bobbing and weaving like a crazed MMA fighter through rush hour traffic. Dare I repeat it: drive when you have to, sleep when you can.
8. Put technology away…unless it is a CB or two-way radio. The Department of Transportation banned hand-held cell phone use among truck and bus drivers while operating their vehicles. Clearly stated, electronic gadgets should be anywhere but in your hand. Speakerphone, bluetooth or headsets are sensible, affordable and most importantly, legal alternatives. Distracted driving includes all activities (eating, smoking, etc.) that steal your attention from the road and accounts for 15 deaths everyday. Based on a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the top two distractions are cell phone use and texting. Violating these laws can lead to stiff penalties such as tickets, fines and even jail time if you cause an accident. Your CDL may be suspended for a specific amount of time or revoked forever. Under no circumstances should you text while driving, but if you have to take or make a call, it’s recommended you pull over. If you can’t pull over and you absolutely have to phone someone, let it be a hands-free conversation.
For more information:
Operation Safe Driver http://www.cvsa.org/osd/
Center for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/MotorVehicleSafety/distracted_driving/index.html