Safety initiatives: Back to Basics

Post Date - Sep 23, 2022

Safe operations may seem to be second nature to most professional truck drivers, but we all need to be reminded from time to time of the basics for keeping ourselves and others safe on the road. Here’s a quick refresher on managing space, controlling speed, and more basic safety protocols.

Managing space

To be a safe truck driver, you need space all around your vehicle. When things go wrong, space gives you time to react appropriately. The space ahead of you is the most obvious area to manage in case you need to stop suddenly. To determine how much space you need, one good rule of thumb is at least one second for each 10 feet of vehicle length at speeds below 40 mph. At greater speeds, add 1 second for safety. For example, in a 60-foot rig, you'll need 6 seconds. Over 40 mph, you'd need 7 seconds for a 60-foot vehicle. To know how much space you have, wait until the vehicle ahead of you passes a clear landmark on the road, then count off the seconds until you reach the same spot. Compare your count with the rule of one second per every ten feet of length.

You can't stop others from following you too closely, but there are things you can do to make it safer.

  • Stay to the right. Heavy vehicles are often tailgated when they can't keep up with the speed of traffic.
  • Avoid quick changes. If you have to slow down or turn, signal early, and reduce speed very gradually.
  • Increase your following distance. Opening up room in front of you will help you to avoid having to make sudden speed or direction changes. It also makes it easier for the tailgater to get around you.
  • Don't speed up. It's safer to be tailgated at a low speed than a high speed.
  • Avoid tricks. Don't turn on your taillights or flash your brake lights.

Controlling speed

There are many reasons to keep speed under control but the main one is that speed is a direct influencer on the amount of stopping distance a driver needs. The faster a semi-truck hauling a full trailer travels, the longer it needs to come to a complete stop.  Here’s an equation you should know: Perception Distance + Reaction Distance + Braking Distance =Total Braking Distance

  • Perception Distance. This is the distance your vehicle travels from the time your eyes see a hazard until your brain recognizes it. The perception time for an alert driver is about 3/4 second. That means at 55 mph, your truck will travel 60 feet in 3/4 second or about 81 feet per second.
  • Reaction Distance is the distance your truck travels from the time your brain signals your foot to move from the accelerator until your foot is actually pushing the brake pedal. The average driver has a reaction time of 3/4 second. This accounts for an additional 60 feet traveled at 55 mph.
  • Braking Distance. This is the one you probably already know – it’s the distance you travel once the brakes are put on until you come to a complete stop. At 55 mph on dry pavement with good brakes, it can take a heavy vehicle about 390 feet to stop. It takes about 4 1/2 seconds.
  • Total Braking Distance. At 55 mph, it will take about six seconds to stop and your vehicle will travel about 450 feet.

The faster you drive, the greater the impact or striking power of your vehicle. And the heavier the vehicle, the more work the brakes must do to stop it, and the more heat they absorb. Remember that the brakes, tires, springs, and shock absorbers on heavy vehicles are designed to work best when you’re fully loaded since empty trucks have less traction and need greater stopping distances.

Hazardous roads or object

Truck drivers have to be hyper-aware of potential hazards at all times. Here are some common hazards to watch for.

  • Work zones. Road work or construction zones may mean narrower lanes, sharp turns, or uneven surfaces. This is also where other drivers often become distracted and drive unsafely. Drive slowly and carefully near work zones and use your four-way flashers or brake lights to warn drivers behind you.
  • Drop off. Sometimes the pavement drops off sharply near the edge of the road. Driving too near the edge can tilt your vehicle toward the side of the road which could cause the top of your vehicle to hit roadside objects (signs, tree limbs, etc.). Pay close attention to the lane width and stay well away from the edge.
  • Off ramps/on ramps. Interstate, highway, and turnpike exits can be particularly dangerous for commercial vehicles. Remember, the speed limits posted on them may be safe for automobiles, but not for larger vehicles or heavily loaded vehicles. Exits that go downhill and turn at the same time can be especially dangerous. Make sure you are going slowly as you get to the curved part of an off ramp or on ramp.

Avoid Distracted Driving

We can’t say this enough: Stay focused on the road! While you may follow all the rules related to cell phone usage on the road -- it is illegal to text while driving, and mobile phones must be hands-free – you have to be aware that many automobile drivers around you are doing it so you must watch out for them.  

Eating, drinking, interacting with a navigational device, reading maps, or any other activity that takes the focus off the road can be extremely dangerous for truckers. If you must attend to an activity other than driving, exit the highway or pull over – it’s not worth the risk.

At Montgomery Transport, we work to keep safety top of mind at all times!  It is the foundation of everything we do because safe operations are our top priority. If you’re looking to work with a carrier that focuses on your safety and career satisfaction, connect with Montgomery Transport today!