According to the United States Department of Labor, workers in the transportation industry experience more on-the-job fatalities than workers of any other occupation, accounting for 12% of all work related deaths. However, unlike most occupations, the dangers of truck driving are not confined to the workplace. For instance, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that, in 2007, of the 40,000 people killed in motor vehicle crashes on America’s highways, about 12% or almost 5,000 of those people were killed in crashes that involved a commercial truck. Though the driver of the truck was deemed responsible in 44% of these crashes, an even higher number could be prevented through discipline in adhering to a few, basic safety measures of professional driving. It is possible to keep drivers safer on the job while, at the same time, working to keep America’s roads safer for the general public as well.
Maintenance of Self and Machine
Of course, the first step in insuring the safety of yourself and the public is to maintain your own health and wellness, insuring that you eat well, stay fit, and remain rested. At the very least, you do not want to accrue any hours of service violations. Secondly, you need to determine through your pre-trip inspection whether your rig has been properly maintained and is roadworthy. Though some drivers may find regular pre-trip inspections to be monotonous and inconvenient, thorough pre-trip inspections remain critically important to the safety of yourself, your career, and the other people with whom you share the road. And, they are far less inconvenient than having an accident that could have been avoided. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2007 Accident Causation Study lists brake problems as being the most common factor in collisions between commercial trucks and automobiles. Brake problems were found to be present on 27% of trucks involved in accidents with cars, while only 2% of automobiles were reported to have had any breaking issues. Factors that can contribute to break failure on commercial trucks include hauling an overloaded trailer and overuse of breaking systems, particularly on steep downgrades. A thorough pre-trip inspection should determine, in part, whether brakes are in proper working condition. However, further inspection throughout your trip may be necessary as well.
Tire failures also account for a significant number of commercial truck crashes that thorough, pre-trip inspections can often prevent. One of the most common causes of tire failure is driving on tires that do no meet the minimum tread depth requirements of the Department of Transportation. Another common cause of tire failure is installing tires that are different sizes or have significantly different wear. Finally, a cause of tire failure noted by the FMCSA that can easily be overlooked in a pre-trip inspection due, in part, to the increasing rarity of bias ply tires, is the use of bias ply and radial ply tires on the same axle. However, even more concerning to the driver, should he or she find a bias ply tire on his rig, aught to be the age of that tire, since bias ply tires have not been readily available for commercial trucks and trailers for many years.
To Err is Human, But It Can Also Prove Fatal
Disgracefully, the most common cause of accidents involving commercial trucks is driver error. Though the commercial truck driver is not at fault in a majority of these accidents, it remains important for professional drivers to remain attentive to, not only their own driving, but to the driving of everyone else they share the road with. According to the FMCSA’s study, some of the most common truck driver errors that contribute to accidents are, in order of occurrence:
- Driving too fast for the conditions
- Driving under the influence of prescription or over-the-counter drugs
- Inadequate surveillance of surroundings
- Fatigue resulting in crossing out of lane or going off the road
- Making illegal maneuvers
- Becoming distracted or inattentive
- Following vehicles too closely
- Driving while sick
Be Aware of the ‘No Zone.’
One third of all crashes that take place between large trucks and cars occur in one of the many blind spots found on tractor-trailers. It is important to remember that other drivers are often unaware of the size of these blind spots and do not know the dangers of traveling in them. This is one of the main reasons why it is crucial to remain attentive and vigilant about what the vehicles around you are doing.
It would seem that not driving too fast for conditions should be a no-brainer. Nonetheless, speeding remains one of the leading errors committed by truck drivers who are involved in accidents. Even more unfortunate is the fact that one third of all accidents in work zones involve large trucks that were speeding. Remember, if you feel under pressure to speed; don’t. Professional, safe drivers are much more valuable than companies that would have their drivers work unsafely and getting home alive is always preferable to the alternative. Don’t speed, it is just not worth it.
Maintain Proper Distance
Another leading cause of truck driver error is following too closely to the vehicle traveling in front. The average stopping distance of a fully loaded tractor-trailer traveling at 55 mph in ideal conditions is 196 feet. The FMSCA suggests, as a general rule, that trucks traveling at speeds below 40 miles an hour should leave at least one second of travel for every ten feet of vehicle length. This typically amounts to about 4 seconds of travel between the truck and the vehicle in front it. At speeds over 40 miles an hour, it is suggested to add, at minimum, an additional second to that distance. In adverse conditions, it is advised that drivers double this distance.
Knights of The Open Road
For decades, the American truck driver has been the shining knight of the open road and the engine that has kept America moving. Yet, every year nearly as many Americans die in accidents with semi-trucks as have died over the entirety of fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined. Though the majority of these highway deaths are not the fault of the professional driver, commercial truck drivers are in an especially advantageous position to help save lives. As professionals, it is our obligation.