Truck driving can be a flexible, financially rewarding career. But drivers are continually at risk of being involved in severe accidents. Irregular hours, extended time away from family and friends, and road-warrior dining can challenge healthy routines.
Whether you’re an independent operator with one truck or a professional driver for a company, lowering your risk of an accident or health issues is a top priority. These tips can make the road a safer and healthier place.
Safer driving so you get home safe
Truck driving is one of the most crucial jobs in North America, ensuring businesses and consumers get the goods they need. But it can be a risky job, prone to injuries and accidents, so always follow safety training and regulations.
Wear your seat belt
Seat belts aren’t just a legal requirement; they reduce your risk of injury. A seat belt can save you from being tossed around the cab or losing control of your rig if you encounter a rough road or near-miss situation. In an impact, a seat belt distributes the force of the crash over a wide area of your body to minimize damage and protect your spine and neck.
A seat belt keeps you from being thrown into (or through) the windshield, or hitting the steering wheel dashboard or other cab items. Anytime your body absorbs impact, you risk a traumatic injury. Traumatic brain and spine injuries can destroy your quality of life, so don’t risk it when it comes to wearing seat belts.
Commercial truck drivers must be constantly on alert, looking for distracted drivers and unexpected road conditions. Anticipate sudden lane changes and reckless driving from others on the road. Check your mirrors for traffic (especially tailgaters who might be hard to see) and give plenty of time when signaling a lane change. Heed all weather and road condition alerts.
Don’t drive distracted
Texting or dialing while driving is never OK. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the odds of being involved in a crash, near-crash or unintentional lane drift are 23.2 times greater for commercial truck and bus drivers who text and drive. Using a hand-held mobile device to talk or text can result in steep fines and driver disqualification for all interstate trucking operations.
Voice-activated, hands-free devices can be an acceptable option for short phone calls. But pull over for lengthy or complex calls. According to the National Safety Council’s report “Understanding the Distracted Brain,” you can be distracted while using a hands-free device. It’s called cognitive distraction. Your brain competes for focus over two attention-demanding tasks. Research shows even pedestrians have trouble safely walking while multitasking (and they aren’t driving a loaded semitruck weighing 70,000 pounds traveling at 55+ mph).
Plan your trip
Research the weather, road conditions, detours, and mountainous or steep routes to plan appropriate driving time. Some noncommercial navigation systems and apps might miss height warnings, weight limitations or other commercial motor vehicle restrictions.
Additionally, build rest, exercise, stretching and sleep times into your plan, especially during long monotonous drives. Eliminate the need to read maps or interact extensively with a navigation device. Avoid distractions and pull over if you need to focus on something else or adjust your plans.
Watch your blind spots
Pay attention to your blind spots: directly in front, directly behind and along the sides of the trailer. Signal in advance, slow down and exercise patience when dealing with other drivers. They might not be aware of your truck’s visibility limitations, so be cautious when making turns or switching lanes.
Be careful in adverse weather conditions
Follow all weather warnings like excessive snow, ice, wind, heat and rain. Locations across North America can have unique weather threats like wildfires, tornadoes, floods and snowstorms. A wind gust can easily topple your trailer. A snow squall can temporarily cause whiteout conditions without notice. Flooded areas of the road can cause your rig to stall or get swept away.
According to the FMCSA, you should reduce your speed by one-third on wet roads and one-half or more on snow-packed roads. Loaded trailers require 20% to 40% more braking distance than passenger vehicles to come to a complete stop, and that’s in clear weather. Revise your driving route in flooded zones, and never drive on submerged roads.
Use your judgment and turn on your radio for advice if you’re unsure how the weather has affected the road conditions ahead. Sudden weather situations may require you to change your driving route or pull over and wait it out.
Slow down in work zones
Lanes are often redirected during construction. Follow posted signs, reduce your speed and allow extra room for sudden stops. Stay alert for road workers, flag crews, lane narrowing, road surface changes and vehicles entering your blind spots.
Balance and secure your load. A shifting load can cause a rollover or loss of control. Secure anything loose outside your trailer, tighten loads and close all doors. Stack cargo low and distribute it as evenly as possible to maximize safety and improve fuel economy.
Loads can shift when you make turns or round curves, too. According to the FMCSA, speed limits posted on curve warning signs are for passenger vehicles, not large trucks. Large trucks need to slow down even more, including on entrance and exit ramps.
Maintain your rig
A truck needs a quick but thorough visual check every day. According to federal law (FMCSR Section 396.11), you must check your truck’s:
- Service brakes and trailer brake connections
- Parking brake
- Steering mechanism
- Lighting devices and reflectors
- Windshield wipers
- Rear vision mirrors
- Coupling devices
- Wheels and rims
- Emergency equipment
You only need to submit a signed report if you find defects. A visual check takes time each day but it's a lifesaving step.
Healthy habits matter
It’s hard to stay healthy on the road, especially for truckers. Make your health a priority.
Even basic gas stations offer healthier nonrefrigerated options like hard-boiled eggs, nuts and seeds, apples and bananas, and energy bars with wholesome ingredients. You might even find prepared salads or wraps.
Start with minor changes, like substituting deep-fried foods for similar baked options. Choose the smaller size of the cheat foods you love to satisfy your cravings. And keep a cooler in your cab for when you can’t stop to eat a fresh meal. Lastly, download a nutrition app to help you stay on track. Many insurance providers offer healthy eating apps or other online resources.
If you’re starting a new food regimen, give your body a few weeks to adjust. And if you fall out of your healthy eating routine, don’t be hard on yourself. Everybody does it; what’s important is that you start again.
Balancing bathroom breaks with hydration can be a challenge. But erring on the side of hydration is best. Dehydration can lead to headaches, dry mouth, low energy, sleepiness and lack of focus. Try to sip water regularly and limit sugary or highly caffeinated beverages.
Exercise and stretch
It’s no secret that you spend a lot of time sitting for your job. Build physical activity into your driving plan. For example, take a walk, stretch or do pushups, lunges or situps after you fuel your rig.
Some rest areas have walking paths and green spaces. Studies show that time in outdoor green spaces improves mental health and sharpens focus. But you should ditch your devices and focus on mindful exposure for the best results.
Get plenty of rest
Follow mandatory rest periods and electronic logging device rules. (ELDs help track, manage and share duty status data.) Drowsy driving in a multiton rig puts you, your cargo and other drivers at risk. You also risk your license if you don’t follow the rules. Avoid medications that might make you drowsy.
Frequent yawning, blurred vision, heavy eyes and momentarily nodding off are all extreme indicators of fatigue. The FMCSA suggests limiting driving during naturally drowsy times, typically 12 to 6 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. If you get sleepy, choose a safe place to pull over and rest. Make your naps 10 to 45 minutes long, but 45 minutes is ideal. And give yourself 15 minutes to recover from a nap before you hit the road again.
Keep your mind sharp
Mile after mile of monotonous roadways, signs and humming tires can be boring. Mix things up with new music, audiobooks or podcasts. (But make sure they don’t distract you from your driving.)
Tune in to your mental health
In one survey published by the National Library of Medicine, truck drivers reported having chronic sleep disturbances and feeling lonely and depressed. Staying in touch with friends and family is fundamental when you’re on the road, but if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek professional help.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offers free, confidential support 24/7. And some employers have virtual wellness meetings and employee assistance programs to address the mental health of their drivers. Trucker trade associations have membership resources, too.
Insurance for all types of truckers
Whether you’re an owner-operator, lease contractor or independent driver, make sure you’ve got the right insurance to protect your assets. Depending on your driver classification, you might have more cargo, vehicle, theft or accident liability exposure.
If you need a quote for a fleet, no matter the size, give us a call.