Driving – Critical driving skills that can save your life
December 1, 2002
CALGARY, Alta. - Most truckers on the road today earned their Class 1 licences in one of two ways. They either grew up around trucks and gained valuable seat time from a young age, or they took a driv...
CALGARY, Alta. – Most truckers on the road today earned their Class 1 licences in one of two ways. They either grew up around trucks and gained valuable seat time from a young age, or they took a driver training course equipping them with the skills needed to pilot big rigs.
Either way, the critical driving skills needed by both breeds of driver are the same.
Unfortunately, however, even the most experienced drivers could occasionally benefit from a refresher course, says WT Safety owner Kevin Agar.
“People tend to get complacent,” says Agar.
“There are probably periods within a driver’s career where complacency is higher than other times. The worst case scenario is that he gets complacent to the point where he doesn’t care what he’s doing.”
Agar says some of the most common traps drivers fall into is that they begin following other vehicles too closely, or they get easily distracted by all the gizmos available in today’s truck cabs.
“Lots of times people think their only responsibility is driving the truck when in actual fact, they might be responsible for setting up their route, talking to customers, getting directions and talking to their dispatchers,” says Agar.
“If drivers get distracted at the wrong time, it’s like driving with their eyes closed.”
Following too closely is a common mistake truckers make, largely due to the way four-wheelers dart in and out of traffic.
But Donna Baker, administrative co-ordinator for the Michigan Centre for Decision Driving, says truckers need to ease off the throttle when they’re cut off and maintain a safe distance.
“If someone jumps in front of you, just back off the throttle that mile or so per hour and you’ll get yourself that space cushion back,” says Baker.
Her facility operates a skid pad that fleets and owner/operators can use to determine just how long it takes to get an 18-wheeler stopped, especially in adverse conditions. For US$175, out-of-state drivers can make the trek to Marshall, MI (just an hour and a half from the Windsor/Detroit border crossing) to take the full-day course.
“It’s a safety course that teaches you to make the right decision if you’re put in a bad situation,” says Baker.
She says most drivers are shocked to find out what a difference an extra five miles per hour has on stopping distances.
While the skid pad is a handy resource for fleets and O/Os, another course to consider is WT Safety’s mountain driving course. Most Canadian truckers will face that inevitable first run to Vancouver at some point in their career, and it’s often better to make that first trek through the mountains with an experienced trainer.
WT Safety offers a full-day course taking the driver from the company’s Calgary office, to Golden, B.C. and back.
The goal – to stay off the brakes from the time you leave Calgary until you get to Golden, and then repeat the challenge on the way back.
“The plan is to not touch the brakes after we leave the city limits,” says Agar.
Of course there are some instances when the brakes must be used, but Agar stresses to never apply more than 10 p.s.i. of pressure on the service brakes.
“Service brakes are only meant to work for a short period of time,” says Agar. “We encourage people to use proper gear selection and the use of auxiliary retarding devices.”
Excessive use of the brake pedal causes the drums to heat up and expand. Before long, they’ll be completely useless and a driver can find himself behind the wheel of a runaway truck.
“It’s quite easy for a driver to overheat the brakes and overtax the brake system,” says Agar.
Of course, a driver must also know his limits when descending large hills – going too fast is another easy way to find the runaway lanes.
“Lots of time with the horsepower we have we find we can actually climb hills faster than we can come down them,” says Agar. “You can go down a hill 100 times too slow, but only once too fast.”
If you do find yourself losing control of the truck and gaining momentum while descending a large hill, it’s important to bite the bullet and pull into a runaway lane before it’s too late.
Otherwise, there can be deadly consequences. B.C. has a number of arrester pits that use thick gravel traps to slow down runaway trucks.
They’re safe to use, as long as you steer straight into them. A tow bill and some minor repairs will cost a lot less than a new truck, a lengthy hospital stay or maybe even your life.