Clarity is Key
By Heather Hogeland & Kim Grimm
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times or in how many ways a simple direction can be miscommunicated between two drivers. If your co-driver or another driver offers to help you back up to a dock or into a parking space, you really should make sure that you are both on the same page when it comes to the signals you will be using.
There are a few standard hand signals that you’d think would be the same for everyone, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. When asking for or volunteering to help, it is important to discuss the signals you will be using so there is no confusion that results in damage to your truck and trailer or the truck and trailer next to you.
As a team we had a hand-held walkie talkie that we could be on a CB channel so the one outside doing the directing could safely stand. One of us could see where the truck needed to go and were able to communicate that without having to run back and forth. If you don’t have a walkie talkie, you can still fall back on the old reliable: hand signals.
Again, it is very important to establish the ground rules when using hand signals, be VERY CLEAR. For example, it’s much easier to tell the driver which way the trailer needs to go by pointing left or right than it is to try to tell them which way to turn the wheel. Holding your hands out flat, facing each other far apart and moving them slowly together is one of my favorite ways of showing the driver how close they are getting to the dock; remembering that they can’t see my hands coming together unless I hold them away from my body so there is nothing blocking the view from the mirror. Another universal signal is a fist in the air, this one ALWAYS means stop!
One of the most confusing aspects of communicating can be wording and how some words can mean different things to different drivers. I learned just how confusing this could be when I was teaching truck driving school. I was walking alongside a student who was backing a truck up to a dock and I was talking him through the entire maneuver. When I said, “Ok, now turn it to the right”, he thought I meant the truck. I said, “Your other right, son. Are we going forward or are we backing up?” I meant the trailer, of course, needed to go right. As you can see, your directions and signals need to be VERY clear. This is something you need to keep in mind even WITH walkie talkies.
Another very important tip to remember is that whoever is on the inside needs to be able to always see whoever is on the outside of the truck. If you happen to be the driver on the outside, make sure that you have eye contact with the driver behind the wheel at all times. If you need to be over on the blind side, be sure to stay within eyesight of the spot mirror or driver’s window. If you can’t see the driver you need to move into a position that enables you to see each other, yet still gives you the vantage point necessary for whatever maneuver you are working on.
If, for any reason, you do not totally truck the person that is helping you, G.O.A.L (GET OUT AND LOOK). Any damage done, with or without a spotter’s help, is the sole responsibility of the driver, so don’t take any chances! SAFETY FIRST! Take your time. Talk to your spotter or co-driver and make sure you understand each other. Then you can proceed to do whatever it is you need to do knowing it will be done safely and efficiently.
Stay Safe Out There And Keep It Shiny!
Heather Hogeland and Kim Grimm are CDL holders and longtime friends with a combined 75 years and 7 million miles of driving experience. Both are writers and have a love for everything trucking, as well as, furry, four-legged friends. Kim is currently a full-time owner-operator and part-time writer. Heather writes for various trucking publications and enjoys traveling with her husband Roger.