Breaking from Braking

As the weather improves, many people feel it’s a license to exceed posted speed limits, and disregard marked warning speeds for curves and acceptable following distances.

I am also noticing increased levels of unnecessary service brake usage: Service brakes are not for controlling speed; speed is to be controlled with the transmission and engine.

Let me explain.

Many of my colleagues feel it is necessary to brake for nearly every corner and down every hill. It’s a common practice that needs to stop. I challenge you: try not using your brakes by slowing down, and you’ll see how it improves your stress level and reduces your day’s end fatigue.

Many years ago, bored, trying to pass the time, I started playing a driving game: Drive the whole shift without touching a painted line on either side of the normal travel lanes. It forced me to slow down a little, to use my brakes… that’s when another driver took the time to give me an earful for using my brakes more than he felt was necessary. And so another game was born.

I started trying to drive on the highway without using brakes EVER. At first it was tough, but after working at it, I discovered it really wasn’t all that hard.

Already trying to stay in my own lane, and now trying to NEVER use service brakes, my overall driving improved, travel times stayed the same (no longer needing to stop at every other town for a rest) and my overall fatigue level improved. Fuel usage improved, tire wear improved, and the need to adjust brakes constantly became a non-issue — if you don’t use them all the time, it isn’t likely they need to be adjusted all the time.

It’s second nature these days. I am now able to travel to and from most any point in Western Canada without the use of the service brakes other than to come to a complete stop, at traffic lights, or brake checks. But on the open highway under average travel conditions, my use of the brake pedal is zero.

I marvel at those who fly by me and then overuse their equipment to stay there… then an hour later go by me again. And it’s common to see the same group of “professional drivers” pass me three, four, five times during the course of my 400 to 600 mile overnight trips. Those drivers save nothing:Time? Nope, because they keep stopping, or spend hours waiting at their ‘switch points’ for their trailers to head home. Fuel? Nope, because they are constantly over correcting their speed, thus requiring extra fuel to accelerate after slowing down unnecessarily from travelling too fast. (If you can show me where they’re saving please do, I’m curious.)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I never use my brakes: there are times I come onto a curve a little briskly; there are times when a vehicle, in a panic to get by me, misjudges the available space they have and I must apply the brakes to allow them to complete their ill-advised manoeuvre so they don’t cause an accident.

But for the majority of my time on the road, I can travel at the posted speed limits, utilize my engine and transmission to control my road speed, and arrive within minutes of others who choose to travel at what I would consider unnecessarily increased speed and risk.

Try it. If you own the truck, you’ll enjoy the decreased wear and tear on your equipment. If you just drive the truck, those who pay the bills will notice the difference and likely comment. Those who drive around you will notice, too, and likely treat you differently on your route (assuming you travel around the same group of trucks on a regular route).

Those waiting at home for you will also notice a marked difference in your level of fatigue.

It’s a win, win, win situation. My goal is to provide reliable, same-time service for my dispatcher. “On-time service”, while a nice catch phrase for the customers, is unrealistic in many situations. It should be referred to as SAME-TIME service, which is what makes you worth something to dispatch.

Dan Dickey is an owner-operator and helps run this great forum for BC Truckers.

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