By: Steve Vaughn, vice president of field operations, PrePass Safety Alliance
Like many other teenagers I took a driver’s education course. I remember our instructor saying we would encounter unsafe drivers out there – drivers who rode the tail of our car or weaved across lanes or moved at a snail’s pace in front of us. The safest thing we could do, he told us, was to stay away from them. Do not engage with them; just keep your distance.
We actually practiced what we teenagers loved to call “evasive maneuvers.” We carefully passed the slowpoke driver, using our turn signals with each change of lane. Changing lanes was also the preferred solution to getting a hotshot off our tail. The weaving driver is far too dangerous to approach, we were told, so stop at the next gas station and call the police. The instructor said we may save that driver’s life, as well as our own.
These same lessons we learned in driver’s ed all those years ago also apply to the safe operation of a truck. Stay away from trouble, and alert authorities to potentially drunk, drugged or incapacitated drivers. Lessons every professional driver should know, and every motor carrier should reinforce.
Still, our driver’s ed instructor left some questions unanswered. Are there places to be especially alert for unsafe behavior? Is there anything a driver can do to prevent unsafe driving by others? Fortunately, motor carriers can answer those questions by reminding their employees of basic steps in avoiding unsafe drivers:
Use your height. No, not your physical stature. The height truck drivers sit above the road in the cab. That height allows truck drivers to see farther down the road. Scan the road ahead for a quarter-mile to half- mile– for erratic behavior and potentially unsafe conditions. That should give you plenty of time to slow down or stop Remember, at 60 mph you are traveling .2 mile in 12 seconds.
Use your lights. Trucks have four sets of lights – headlights, taillights, turn signals and flashers – that can communicate to other drivers. Use those lights to signal your intention to slow down or stop, to change lanes or turn or to exit the road. You can also alert or awaken other drivers to dangers ahead, such as road construction, closed lanes and unsafe vehicle operators by using your flashing hazard lights.
Use your surroundings. The roadside environment offers cues as to dangers you may encounter on the road. Forested rural roads mean deer crossing. Agricultural areas mean animals or farm tractors on the road. City lights ahead signal the possibility of people wearing ear buds or looking at their cell phones crossing the street. If you remain alert to your surroundings you can anticipate and adjust for the unsafe actions of other, less observant vehicle operators. Always stay alert for the unexpected; an alert driver can comprehend a situation win three-quarters of a second and needs another three-quarters of a second to react. Even then, one and a half seconds at 60 mph equals approximately 160 feet before you even start your corrective action!
Use your experience. Professional truck drivers know that situations which call for merging or backing vehicles, such as parking lots, entrance and exit ramps, often bring out the worst in other drivers. Patience and a clear line of sight are keys to safety. One particular scenario that warrants additional alertness on open roadways: construction zones. Too often drivers ignore warning signs which results in life changing consequences.
Construction zones mean reduced speeds, lane changes and potential stops. Unsafe drivers view construction zones as nuisances best dealt with by getting ahead of that truck you are driving. Merge early and safely when required to change lanes. Use your height to see what lies ahead and use your lights to signal vehicles as you approach slowing traffic. Remain aware of your surroundings to watch for workers and their machinery. But especially rely on your experience to know that some drivers will try to dart ahead. Let them go. As the driver’s ed instructor taught us, the safest place to be is somewhere else.
Steve Vaughn is the vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass service. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
This blog was originally published on the FleetOwner.com IdeaXchange.