Better awareness leads to a relaxing driving experience
July 1, 2010
A commitment to defensive driving can be revealed by something as simple as a conversation in the truck cab. Ask any driver what they are watching, and they can easily offer a running commentary about...
A commitment to defensive driving can be revealed by something as simple as a conversation in the truck cab. Ask any driver what they are watching, and they can easily offer a running commentary about hazards such as changing terrain, parked cars, an approaching construction zone or a ramp that will require slower speeds.
The question is where these hazards can be found.
It is an important distinction. While the eyes of a defensive driver are always on the move, those who are aware of issues on the horizon will be in the best position to act in a proactive way. And the movement of the truck can be just as revealing as the driver’s words. Those who focus their attention a short distance in front of the hood will tend to steer from one side of the lane to the next rather than maintaining a consistent path between the painted lines. The truck will also tend to be lurching again and again as the brakes are applied to avoid hazards that appear to come “out of nowhere.”
Even a fleet’s safest drivers can become complacent over time. But by taking steps to improve their awareness of space around a truck, drivers will enjoy a safer, more relaxing experience on the road.
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation, for example, stresses the importance of checking West Coast mirrors every three to five seconds. It is a technique that will increase awareness of the space around the truck, and it will make the biggest difference of all when a driver takes the time to absorb the information rather than falling into a mechanical motion.
Mirrors just need to be properly adjusted to offer a view of these important details. Drivers have a chance to read the writing on the side of their trailer when conducting a circle check, so they don’t need to stare at it all day. The mirrors do not need to be tilted upward to offer an open view of the sky, either. The biggest hazards will always be on the road.
When a seat is properly adjusted so a driver’s back is straight and knees are at 90 degrees, the best possible view in a mirror will simply show a sliver of the truck and trailer, offering a reference point for any hazards that are emerging around the vehicle.
The safest driving techniques will then take advantage of the information the mirror can provide.
For example, the smoothest lane changes will tend to follow a ‘Three to Five Second Rule’ -taking the time to activate a turn signal, observe surroundings, and then move steadily into the lane.
Of course, the view through the windshield is just as important, and it can be improved by offering a few extra seconds of space.
Given the required stopping distances of a tractor-trailer, a following distance of eight to 10 seconds can create an effective cushion of safety. It is even better if the leading vehicle always seems to be pulling away from the truck, adding to the overall room and offering more opportunities to take appropriate action.
Consider the difference that the added distance can make when approaching a traffic signal. If a driver notices that a light has been green for a long period of time, there is a chance to begin thinking about the number of gears that need to be downshifted as the signal begins to turn yellow. Nothing will come as a surprise.
Drivers just need to be aware that the stopping distances will vary from one vehicle to the next. At highway speeds, a car that will stop in 300 feet will be sharing a lane with trucks that might need 500 or 700 feet to come to a rest, and this is when the weather conditions are favourable. The distances can also change dramatically depending on the load. A tandem van trailer with 40,000 lbs of cargo will certainly handle differently than a B-train hauling partially filled tanks of fuel.
These steps all guarantee that drivers will be passed during the journey, but those who recognize they are not part of a race will move freight from Point A to Point B as safely as possible.
It is a matter of remaining relaxed and sitting back to enjoy the ride. The view through the windshield can actually be entertaining when viewed from the right perspective and when given enough time. n
-This month’s contributing experts are Ron Harris and Rob Spencer. Ron and Rob are both Markel Safety and Training Services trainers. Ron has more than 17 years experience as a driver and trainer and has been sharing his expertise with Markel for more than seven years. Rob has more than 10 years experience as both a driver and a trainer. He has now been sharing this expertise as a Markel trainer for four years. Markel Safety and Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance Company of Canada, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers. Markel is the country’s largest trucking insurer providing more than 50 years of continuous service to the transportation industry. Send questions, feedback and comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.To read about more industry hot topics, visit Markel’s website at www.markel.caand click on the Articles & Essays section.
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