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Top Causes of Accidents for Expediters

Top Causes of Accidents for Expediters -- and How to Avoid Them

By Sean M. Lyden - Staff Writer
Posted Nov 16th 2015 11:03AM

Accidents happen. But the stakes are much higher when you get into a collision while operating a Class 8 straight truck or tractor-trailer. You represent your carrier and yourself when you’re out on the roads. So, any collision -- regardless of who’s actually at fault -- not only puts you and the public at risk of injury or fatality, but also jeopardizes your future as an expediter.

So, how can you protect your safety (and reputation) on the road? Avoid these four common causes of accidents among expediters.

#1. Not compensating for changes in load weight and distribution

“In expediting, there is no general consistency to the weight or the shape of freight, which can really affect how the truck drives,” says Scott Vanderweele, general manager with Try Hours Inc., a ground expedited services carrier based in Maumee, Ohio. “And if you have freight that weighs 15,000 lbs., it’s going to feel different to the driver than, say, 3,000 lbs. And all those things play a role in how that truck handles.”

When you have differences in weight and load distribution, how does that impact the driver? How does the truck handle differently?

“On one hand, a heavier load, generally speaking, is going to make the truck more stable. However, depending on the setup of the truck, a heavy load could also really affect the ability for the truck to safely accelerate, stop and turn, especially on mountainous terrain,” says Vanderweele. “And then you’re dealing with load variability within the same day. You start out the day with a full load, deliver it, and now you’re deadheading with an empty truck. So, that will handle much differently compared to a loaded truck, and you have to adjust your driving accordingly.”

How do you manage load distribution to ensure maximum safety? 

“You want to avoid placing the majority of weight on one axle,” Vanderweele advises. “You need it as evenly distributed as possible between all axles. And you don’t want all the weight on one side but evenly distributed to reduce rollover risk.”

#2. Distracted driving

“It’s not illegal to talk on the phone with a headset while driving, but it’s very much frowned upon,” says Vanderweele. “If all you’re doing is talking while driving, you’re not focused on the safety side of your job. And even though using a hands-free device might be legal, if you’re involved in a crash, and law enforcement takes your phone records and sees that you were on the phone at the time of the incident, you can expect that will work against you.”

How do you avoid distracted driving? “If you’re going to be eating, drinking, talking on the phone, or performing any activity that takes your mind off of safety while driving your truck, you should not be the one driving,” says Vanderweele.

#3. Temptation to rush

“In expediting, there is the inherent hurry up and wait dynamic,” says Vanderweele. “You wait for your load. And once you have a load, it’s time-sensitive, which can be a dangerous component if the driver feels tempted to rush and use risky driving maneuvers to deliver the freight.”

Vanderweele says this is where the carrier and its dispatch team must do a good job in setting realistic delivery time expectations with customers. “It’s the carrier’s responsibility to create an environment where the job is being quoted to the customer with a built-in buffer, so that the driver doesn’t feel that pressure to make up for lost time. Our job is to make sure we’re setting an expectation that’s realistic for the customer — and safe for the driver.”

#4. Backing up

What you can’t see can hurt you, your truck and other people. So, be careful when you need to back up your truck at a truck stop, rest area or customer location to ensure you have enough clearance.

“In our training, we press the importance of knowing one’s surroundings and taking one’s time, which significantly reduces your risk of backup crashes,” says Vanderweele. “We discuss the expectation that, each time you need to put the truck in reverse, you should get out of the truck and physically look behind the truck, trusting only your own eyes, and that practice makes perfect.”

The Bottom Line

The common thread among all four of these examples is awareness. The more aware you are of your surroundings and your driving habits, the better prepared you’ll be to make the adjustments you need to avoid potential hazards you might encounter while delivering your next load.

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