By Heather Hogeland & Kim Grimm
Defensive driving knows no season, we must always be on top of our game when it comes to this! Bad roads and conditions don’t end when the snow stops flying. Spring brings a new set of weather conditions to deal with, today we have better forecasts than in days gone by, so always heed warnings of severe weather. Blinding snow and fog are not the only things that can bring conditions to zero visibility, driving rain, smoke, blowing dust or sand and rain wrapped tornado force winds all can lead to conditions that take road speeds from 65 to completely stopped in a matter of seconds.
For new drivers, hopefully most of this has been covered in class or during training, for those of you that aren’t new, a little refresher won’t hurt. Considering the wrecks we’ve been seeing lately, a reminder to ourselves is definitely in order.
Distractions while driving are the subject of many conversations these days. We can only hope you all take this seriously and follow the laws, the only vehicle we can control is the one we are driving. Driving is a privilege, not a right, and when you get behind the wheel, you are the captain of the ship. You are in charge of your vehicle’s safe operation and in a big truck, that is a BIG responsibility. Some days, thousands of lives are in our hands as they pass by us, or we them. Every vehicle we encounter could be a potential accident and life altering event.
STAY ALERT. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially on a long, lonely stretch of road late at night when you get tired, or bored, or things at home get to you. Your mind has to be constantly working, anticipating what other vehicles may do, your eyes moving, always moving from mirror to road to mirror, and back again. ALWAYS leave yourself an out, “just in case”.
Following too close seems to be a problem of late. Keeping a safe following distance when so many trucks are governed to run the same speed is a difficult task at best but add hills, weight, wind and gearing to the equation and you can end up with true mayhem. Traffic backs up when one truck tries to pass another running barely faster until he tries to break past the wind the first truck is cutting for him, then it becomes a tug of war between them. They are virtually running the same speed, SOMEBODY has to give up and back out, nobody is going to win this battle. It will just create road rage for everyone behind you. Either back out of it and let the other guy in front of you (if you’re in the right lane) or back out of it and fall behind the truck you can’t pass (if you’re in the left). BUT, in this case, with traffic backing up behind you, the SAFEST thing to do would be for the truck in the right lane to ease up and let the left lane truck over so traffic can pass more efficiently. Just sayin’…
Some maneuvers, like starting down a big mountain, getting off on a steep ramp, or going into a into a sharp curve, only give you one chance to get it right. These places are usually clearly posted with warning signs for reduced speeds telling you of the hazard ahead. When these signs are white, they are required by law, they are not suggestions, they mean business and there is no doubt there are serious consequences for not obeying them, for good reason. Lives are at risk, all our lives.
Going into a curve or an off ramp too fast can quickly put you on your side, once the tipping starts there’s not much left to do but hang on. Something to remember too, if your load is loaded high inside your trailer it becomes top heavy, causing a higher center of gravity. In this case, you would be wise to slow down even more than posted for that ramp or curve.
With the changes in gearing and governing of trucks today, the old rule of using the same gear coming down the hill you used to top the hill no longer holds true. Learning which gear you need to be in for which hill you’re descending is all part of learning your truck. Starting off in too low a gear would be much better than too high a gear since todays trucks operate on such low RPMs. It would be much more difficult to slow down enough to get your road-speed slow enough to get your RPMs low enough to grab a lower gear.
As visibility decreases, so should our speed. I never drive faster than I can see. Slow down and back off the vehicle in front of you. It seems as if mega wrecks are becoming more common. It’s time we take out our common sense and use it!
Stay Safe Out There & 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.