Being entrusted with company property as valuable as a truck is quite a big responsibility. Work trucks, especially commercial-grade ones, can cost upwards of $100,000 or more. They can also potentially be dangerous, with size and weight enough to cause some serious damage even in low-speed accidents.
For these reasons, vehicle operators must be vigilant, well-trained and cautious at all times. Being aware of the potential harm the truck can do and knowing how to avoid common hazards can go a long way towards preventing serious — and often deadly — accidents.
Why Driving a Truck Requires a Completely Different Mentality
Most people are familiar with driving cars, and they think that they can simply translate this skill to driving a truck. Not so. Trucks control completely differently than cars and almost always weigh more, even compact two-door ones. A compact pickup typically outweighs the average four-door car by 1,000 pounds.
This weight difference can make trucks significantly more dangerous than cars in an accident situation. The US Department of Transportation has conducted studies on car/truck collisions and reports that 78 percent of fatalities in these incidents are car occupants. They also found that the cause of the majority of these collisions was unsafe driving practices — speeding, talking or texting on the phone while driving, following too closely or ignoring traffic signs like stop lights.
Even if the truck driver was not the culprit during these wrecks, employees driving company vehicles have a duty to drive defensively and prepare for unwary driver behaviors. Tractor trailer operators must always assume that there could be someone in their blind spot before making a turn, for instance. Since trucks in general are heavier, they also need to prepare extra time and room for emergency stops. Practices like speeding, following vehicles too closely and allowing yourself to become distracted can all potentially have severe consequences.
In addition to trucks making other vehicles vulnerable, trucks have worries of their own. Pickup trucks have a relatively narrower body and a higher center of gravity than cars, making them more likely to roll over. Rollovers, in fact, have the highest fatality rate in truck-related accidents.
Trucks also control completely differently when they either have no loads in the bed or heavy loads. Drivers must be able to account for these differences when turning, braking or accelerating.
Here are some general safety tips to avoid the accidents as described above and keep the roads safe while driving a company truck:
- Always wear a seat belt.
- Ensure visibility — check mirrors before putting vehicle in motion, keep windshields clean, avoid covering rear window with loads when possible, wear polarized sunglasses in bright weather and keep hair and vehicle cabin items away from your face.
- Always scan your surroundings before departing low-speed environments like parking lots or neighborhood roads.
- Never operate a vehicle while tired, sick or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Obey all traffic laws, especially posted speed limits and traffic signs.
- If pulling a trailer, ensure that the hitch is completely attached. Test the trailer brakes and lights before departing, if applicable.
- Never overload the bed; take care when carrying unfamiliar load weights to adjust to differences in steering, braking and acceleration.
- Drive defensively — leave extra distance between you and other cars, never take right-of-way forcefully and be prepared for potential mistakes from other drivers, like running stop signs.
- Maintain your vehicle — Change the oil regularly, check tire pressure, use only recommended gas grades, perform routine maintenance like fluid replacement as needed.
- To avoid rollovers:
- Avoid oversteering, especially when you feel like the vehicle is losing control.
- During skids, steer into the direction of the skid — i.e., if the tail of your vehicle is dragging right, steer left rather than trying to whip the tail back in line.
- Have adequate tire pressure and never exceed hauling or towing weights.
- Be extremely careful on rural or unpaved roads.
- Should you run off the road, reduce speed gradually. if possible.
All of these tips are no guarantee that an accident will not occur, but they should help reduce the chances of one happening. Always be sure to exercise extra caution and obey your training guidelines. You and your company will also want to protect their valuable assets with a work vehicles insurance policy that can protect you from damage costs and potential liability after a collision.