Act Not React
There are times when the highways resemble battlefields especially when traffic is heavy. As captain of your ship, you have to have a good defense strategy to keep yourself and your truck safe, do you have a good offense plan too? If you do not, you will find yourself reacting to situations instead of acting. This concept may stump some of you wordsmiths who know that offense usually means attacking; offense also means planning for contingencies.
In driving, many different techniques are lumped under the term defensive driving, but is it actually defensive driving? In defensive driving, you are reacting to situations without having time to prepare and are not in control. With an offense, you are prepared ahead of time for most situations and can control your response. Your developing a good offense when driving entails using many tools and techniques.
Technology offers some new tools to use in developing an offense while driving. Video cameras are the most popular with many drivers using ”˜dash cams’ to record the actions of others around them. Video cameras can provide much more information with some being able to record the interior as well as exterior to monitor what the driver is doing in accident situations; a few even have audio recording capabilities. Back up cameras, video cameras at the back of the trailer are also becoming popular with truckers and trucking companies to lessen backing accidents.
Preplanning your trip is also a way to use offense strategies. Knowing your route, stopping and fueling places, miles to destination, weather conditions and types of roads before setting out can allow you to have a plan in place to avoid reactive situations. Currently, many drivers depend entirely on GPS to map out their trips. While GPS is good tool to have, a good motor carrier’s atlas to use in addition to GPS allows you to know what states you are going into and provides much more information you will need.
Victor, a young, relatively new driver, only had GPS and little knowledge of geography. He did not realize that he needed to drive differently in Michigan in the winter than he did down south and got caught in a snowstorm shut down on a ramp. With a motor carrier’s atlas, he might have easier understood he was going into snow country in December and found the number for road conditions in the front of the atlas and have been able to park up earlier to avoid the dangerous roads.
The one thing that every truck is equipped with is mirrors on the doors and some will have mirrors on the fenders along with at the top of the passenger door. Using the mirrors constantly is one of the first safety things taught to new drivers. Why use the mirrors so much you might ask, because you need to monitor what is going on around you. By constantly checking your mirrors, you will be able to keep track of vehicles near you and see if anyone is tailgating you or driving erratically coming up on you. This way, you can act appropriately to mitigate dangerous situations. In addition, one needs to keep an eye out for flashing lights; the longer it takes you to notice a police car behind you wanting to stop you, the harder the police officer will look for something wrong.
Following distance is perhaps one of the most important things a driver tries to control to avoid having to react instead of acting. With it taking a football field length to stop a fully loaded truck, the more distance between you and a vehicle in front of you the better. The National Safety Council recommends at least a 4-5 second distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you running 55 mph with more seconds added for adverse weather conditions or higher speeds. The following distance is determined by watching the lead car pass a stationary object (sign, post, etc.) and counting slowly 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005...you should pass the stationary object at 1005. However, a driver has to adjust the following distance as vehicles pass or merge to maintain distance.
While you are driving, you should always be planning an escape route in case you have to dodge another vehicle or object in the road. Things you should be paying attention to are traffic in the lanes next to you, shoulder width and composition, wideness of median and whether it is flat or ditched, on and off ramps, vehicles on the shoulder, construction and signs near the shoulder of the road. By having an escape route in mind, you can safely avoid many situations or mitigate damages if you have to take the ditch. Sometimes accidents are unavoidable; pay attention to who is in the vehicles around you, if you have a choice between hitting a carload of kids and the ditch, make the right choice.
Larry, an old time driver was traveling along a limited access four lane highway on dry road when, as he topped a hill, two vehicles one pulling a boat pulled out of the intersection ahead of him. He started immediately slowing down and moved to the left thinking the car would go ahead of the pickup and boat. The car stayed in the left lane and Larry saw there were children in it. Larry headed for the right shoulder, but the pickup moved onto the shoulder right when Larry was just getting there. Larry yanked the truck towards the ditch but hit the boat causing the gas tank on the boat to catch fire. Larry’s truck laid over also catching fire. Larry had to kick out the driver’s side door window to get out. His truck and the load burnt, but the pickup driver was not hurt at all; Larry had some minor injuries. Speaking of it later, Larry said, “I am so glad I did not hit the car with the kids in it, but I sure wish the car and the pickup drivers would have given a little space before both turning into the traffic lanes especially when a hill was behind them.”
Watching ahead also can make your journey safer. Things to watch for are drunk drivers, headlights on bright, brake lights possibly indicating backups and road construction. By seeing what is going on ahead of you, you can take action immediately by slowing down earlier or taking evasive action.
With so much emphasis on fuel economy, many companies and truck owners encourage the use of cruise control to save fuel. While using the cruise on wide-open dry highways is perfectly safe to do, there are instances where the cruise is too dangerous to use. Some of those instances are wet, icy or snowy roads, fog, heavy traffic, road construction and two lane roads. Using the cruise in those situations, and then having to kick it off, can take a second or two longer to act in a dangerous situation.
Being able to act instead of react is always safer for both you and those driving around you. By watching what is going on to the sides, ahead and behind of you, using the appropriate tools and having a good plan in mind, you stand a much better chance of arriving on time and alive at your destination.