Staying sane while driving long distances as our truckers do every day is not an easy thing. With the mostly hot weather that we experience in this part of the world, it certainly is risky business to just jump onto the long road without preparing yourself.
Truckers easily get fatigued and become prone to accidents because they fail to plan their trips. From my experience as a long-distance trucker and contributions from well-experienced mates, I have compiled a list of top tips to help you safely navigate the lone long road.
It’s indeed a long list, hence you may not find all of them as useful as others, I do, however, encourage you to pick a few that suits you and put them to practice.
Tip 1: Plan your trip
Before you go onto each trip you need to plan your route. In the plan, you should take note of things like refuel points, break stops, weather forecast, traffic amongst others.
Tip 2: Identify potential hazards and eliminate or prepare accordingly
Ask yourself what could go wrong during the trip, are you able to fix it, if not, will you have a way around it?
Tip 3: Always do your pre-trip vehicle inspection
Pre-trip vehicle inspection as taught in the K53 is an important exercise that should be done before you hit the road. Even if you’re in a hurry, always check the oil and water levels, wipers, headlights, and tyre condition.
Tip 4: Check directions
So often you are dispatched to places you have never been to before, hence before you leave the depot you should check the directions. Try not to over-rely on your GPS as it usually gives directions for smaller vehicles. It is important that you set it to map mode then shift it yourself following directions to your destination. This will help you discover where it sends you through smaller roads that may not be suitable for heavy-duty trucks then you can plan the best route. You may need to call the consignee to get proper directions to your destination.
Tip 5: Use the ‘three points of contact’ rule when climbing into or disembarking from your truck
The ‘three points of contact rule’ means that one should make sure that at any given time while boarding or disembarking from a truck, they should ensure that two legs and an arm, or two arms and a leg are in contact with the truck.
Tip 6: Always put your safety belt on
Probably the most overlooked but crucial point in regards to driver safety. Countless studies have proven that vehicle occupants who wore safety belts are most likely to survive a crash than those who don’t use one.
Tip 7: Keep hydrated
Make sure to take enough fluids on your trip. The best drink one can have to keep hydrated is water. Do not fool yourself to think that you can replace water with other drinks. Even with your fizzy drinks and juices in your fridges, you still need to take in water. At least 2 litres of water intake daily makes a healthy minimum for a trucker. A well-hydrated trucker is less likely to be affected by fatigue than one who is dehydrated.
Tip 8: Never skip breakfast
Always make sure you eat breakfast. Your favourite cereal will do the trick and then eat every three hours. This will keep hunger at bay and prevent binge eating.
Tip 9: Avoid junk food
Most of us know the cliché of the long-distance truck driver – overweight, pasty, and a big lover of all kinds of junk food. Don’t embrace the stereotype, stock up on healthier food like nuts, lean meats, fruits, and fresh vegetables before hitting the road.
Tip 10: Exercise every day
It doesn’t have to be in the gym or for a lengthy period, just 15 minutes every day is good enough. Try to make each workout a vigorous one maintaining your maximum heart rate for 75–85% of the time to maximize fat burning. Check out trucker Andries Sekokotla’s easy routines here.
Tip 11: Get fresh air
Make sure that you always get fresh air while driving. I know you love your aircon but it’s advisable to always have that fresh outside air filter in a bit.
Tip 12: Rest before getting tired
The pressure is always on to get to your destination in time but never force yourself to drive while tired. In fact, rest before you get tired. This ensures that your alert levels are always high enough you don’t risk your life and others on the road. Fatigue kills!
Tip 13: Ensure you get enough sleep
Always ensure that you get enough sleep each night. Getting enough quality sleep revitalises your body to perform efficiently when you wake up. You can check my previous post about how to get enough quality sleep.
Tip 14: Don’t accelerate while being overtaken
It is good practice to remove your foot from the accelerator or reduce speed when being overtaken. One thing for sure is that if another vehicle tries to overtake you, your speed and theirs are either the same or they are slightly faster. If you decelerate, you make the overtaking safer for you and other road users. If you accelerate you only make the other driver impatient and their reaction may be disastrous for both of you.
Tip 15: Avoid loud music
I purposefully said avoid loud music, not avoid playing music at high volumes because it’s not easy to play Amapiano at low volumes and enjoy it. Many truckers will attest to this, some music only gets nicer if you play it at VW Polo volumes. Scania drivers we know how your system can compete with them Polos. Loud music blocks you from hearing other warnings from outside. While a tyre burst makes a loud deafening sound, you may easily miss it if you play your Maskandi too loud.
Tip 16: Don’t make sudden lane changes
Make sure your indicator flashes for a decent amount of time before you start changing the lanes. This will give time to whoever may have been riding on your blindspot to run to safety.
Tip 17: Avoid road rage
Being on the road for long times is stressful enough to get you easily irritable and you need to understand your state of mind at any time. This means that you constantly have to remind yourself to relax otherwise impromptu reactions may land you in unnecessary fights with other road users. No one is perfect, if they cut you without harming you, just let go. Don’t pick fights on the highway even if they raise the middle finger, don’t mind them, you don’t know what’s going on in their mind.
Tip 18: Always check your fifth wheel connection
Whenever you stop, before jumping back onto your truck, always check the fifth wheel connection to ensure that the jaws are locked behind the kingpin – especially if you’re returning to your unit after a period of absence.
Tip 19: Always check your load
As you drive on the highway, many factors can cause your load to shift. It’s always a good practice when you check your mirrors to check for load shift. Whenever you stop, check if the cargo is still intact as you loaded.
Tip 20: You can’t work 24hrs without rest
Some of our clients are open 24 hours every day, that does not mean you can also work 24 hours without resting. It’s actually an advantage that your client is always open because that means you can plan your trip without the hassles of getting to the customer after they close. Just remember they have three shifts in the 24 hours and you are just by yourself for the whole period. In my previous article on what’s causing side tipper truck accidents, I cited 24-hour operating clients as another contributing factor.
Tip 21: Always make wide turns
Whenever you are turning, make sure you make wide turns. Be it a U-turn or a circle turn, make sure you do it slowly and do it in the direction that ensures you keep obstacles on the sight side.
Tip 22: Get out and look!
When reversing, don’t be that type who wants to display mastery even in tricky situations. If you are in doubt, get out of the truck and look, even when you have someone guiding you. You can best judge for something if you saw it with your own eyes.
Tip 23: Reverse parking is always better
Always reverse into a parking space. You can always drive out if you reverse into a parking space, but you can’t always reverse out from where you drove in. Some clients do not understand what you go through to reverse in or out, they just want the truck in a particular position, explain to them what’s best for you and try to strike a balance.
Tip 24: Reverse from the sight side if possible
If the situation permits, reverse in from the driver’s side where direct sight will help you navigate through. It’s not always that you have someone to guide you hence your best bet will be to reverse from the sight side.
Tip 25: Place blocks before lowering the trailer landing legs
You may be required to unhitch your trailers at some clients, always make sure the ground is hard enough to carry the load. Ask the client if any other trucker has safely off hooked their trailer before, if not, take all necessary precautions before doing it. Be it on asphalt, paving, or any other form of surface it’s always safer to place blocks before lowering the landing legs.
Tip 26: Establish your truck/trailer or cargo height
There are some low bridges where trucks can pass without high loads so you may be fooled seeing others pass and assume you would also make it. You should know the height of your unit is before entering a low bridge. If in doubt, park one side and check before proceeding. At some clients, you are required to back in, make sure your truck fits before reversing.
Tip 27: Be nice to everyone with whom you deal
We all want people we meet to be nice to us hence we should do be nice too. Regardless of their status, we should treat everyone with respect. You may well be aware of how security guards should be treated if you don’t want any hiccups at your clients.
Tip 28: Don’t chase after money
With many companies opting for paying according to driver performance, many truck drivers find themselves chasing after money. The result is overworking, then fatigue, and eventually serious accidents that end up costing their lives.