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Truck Topics

The Dangerous Trio

By Sandy Long, staff writer
Posted Oct 2nd 2012 5:28AM

In the world of trucking, an accident can cost you money and perhaps your career.   Accidents are unplanned; no one wakes up one morning and thinks, “Gee, I think I will damage my truck and risk my life or someone else’s just for fun.”   Accidents just occur no matter how safe you are.

When one thinks of trucking accidents and which ones are most common, it is natural to think of the spectacular ones involving multiple vehicles.   However, the spectacular wrecks are not the most common, though they are more noticeable.  The top three accidents involving commercial vehicles are: the truck being hit in truck stops, hitting objects to the front and to the rear of the truck, and being rear-ended.

Truck Stop Wrecks

The drivers of smaller expedite trucks tend to park to the rear of the space, thinking perhaps that they are making it easier for others to back into or pull out of the spaces next to them.   In reality, many semi drivers seem not to see these smaller trucks sitting to the rear of the space and back into them.   To avoid these types of collisions, it is better for smaller expediter equipment to park even with the row of neighboring trucks.

Having the truck’s nose hit in truck stops happens both when a truck is backing into the space on either side of it and when a neighboring truck pulls out.  These types of accidents have been on the increase over the last decade or so perhaps because fewer trucks are idling; they do not have their marker lights on so are less visible.  There is little that one can do in this case other than leave the marker lights on.   One idea could be to invest in fluorescent flags and attach them to the front bumper when parked or use orange cones on each corner of the truck to make it more visible.

Hitting Objects

Safety directors throughout the industry are scratching their heads about how drivers can hit a yellow painted concrete pole four or five feet tall so often.   These poles are found on fuel islands, scales and warehouses and are used as barriers to protect the pumps or other easily hit objects.  Looking at these poles from the driver’s seat, a driver can see them but unless the truck has bumper sticks or mirrors on to mark their own fenders, the poles may look like they are not where they actually are.   To avoid them, the driver may have to slightly stand in the seat to look over the hood when going forward. These yellow poles are also hit in backing situations; they can get below view in the mirrors.  If the truck’s mirrors can be electrically adjusted, turning them slightly downwards can put these poles, or other lower objects, in view.

Jersey barriers, concrete blocks used in construction sites and elsewhere to block access, are another object often hit.  Part of the problem is their shape, wider at the bottom than the top, it may appear to the driver that they are missing the barrier yet they hit the wider lower part.  A driver has to consider this shape when maneuvering around them and stop six inches shorter.

Narrow streets and telephone or light poles are another major obstacle to work around in a truck.  There are times when cornering that these poles are lost in mirrors and can be easily hit especially when turning into a street with traffic.   There are times when a driver may have to wait through a light to be able to turn wide enough to avoid these poles.  Taking the corner slowly also allows time to make adjustments in a driver’s steering to avoid the pole.

Many docks have dock guards - heavy metal plates sticking out on either side of the actual dock bumpers.  These dock guards have to be missed or trailer doors can be damaged.  However, there may only be inches allowed in width between the two guards.  During daylight hours, it is relatively easy to see them if they are painted yellow; if not, a driver might not even notice them.   A driver should pay close attention when going past the dock to set up for the back to see if these guards are in place.   At night, a driver should walk back to the dock to see if they are there if it is not obvious in the light available.  In tight docking situations at night, placing a flashlight on the guard on the driver’s side is a trick that works to mark the position of the guard.

Getting Hit in the Rear

Some studies say that rear end collisions involving trucks, where the truck is hit from the rear, are the most common type of accident.  This is a little hard to understand unless one really thinks about it.  There are two factors that enter in: the prevalent theory that running closely behind a truck can provide fuel savings and the truck driver’s use of engine retarders to slow or stop.

Running close behind a truck, drafting as it is called, has been around for decades.  The thought is that the truck breaks the wind resistance thereby saving fuel for the vehicle behind it.   There is some validity to this theory, but is the risk to safety worth saving a few cents cost of fuel?  No.   To get the best benefits of drafting the following vehicle has to run a few feet off the rear of the truck.  This cuts the safety zone down to nothing, leaving no room to react.  If the truck slows suddenly or has to hard brake, the following vehicle goes into the ICC bar.   Always leave a two- to four-second distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.  If another vehicle is following too close for too long, slow down and hope they pass.

Engine retarders are a boon to safety and savings allowing a truck to slow down quicker and not use the brakes so much.  However, when a driver uses the engine retarder to slow down, there are no brake lights to alert other drivers to the slow down.   When a driver engages the engine retarders, they should always tap the brake pedal to light up the brake lights.  This gives the drivers behind them the option to act instead of react.

Avoiding the dangerous trio of the most common types of wrecks takes planning and attention on the driver’s part.  Take the extra minute to be safe and keep the equipment safe, it will save you money in the end.  

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