Are you new to trucking? Fresh out of truck driving school or about to start or in trucking school already? Well don’t worry! I have some tips that every new trucker should know. You won’t get this knowledge in trucking school. You will just get the knowledge needed for driving. So here are 5 tips for new truckers.
You are not a professional driver when you graduate from truck driving school!
Many new drivers make the mistake of assuming that once they graduate trucking school they are a “professional driver.” Truck driving school DOES NOT TEACH YOU HOW TO BE A PROFESSIONAL DRIVER. The truck driving school only teaches you how to pass your written, pre-trip, and driving test so you can get your CDL, that’s it.
The only thing that will turn you into a professional driver is time and experience. Depending on how much you drive you will basically have the experience and knowledge in 3-6 months. But will still learn a lot of things that you can only learn on the road for the first year or so. Just take your time and do the small things that you should already know. Taker wider turns than you normally would provide you have room, especially left turns so you don’t end up clipping cars that are too far out in the intersection.
Unless you’re absolutely sure, get out and look (GOAL) when backing. And even when you’re sure get out anyway. That will show you that if you’re in a perfect position you can use that knowledge of how you positioned yourself to shoot for that spot. New drivers tend to want to get the trailer in the hole without getting out and looking to show others that they’re good at backing.
In my experience with talking with other drivers, they respect the driver who will get out and make sure they can make it. And the drivers parked on either side of the hole you’re backing into will appreciate it the most as they’re the ones you will hit if you are wrong.
Check your mirrors often!
You want to get in the habit of checking your mirrors because the more you’re on the road the more you will see cars, also known by us truckers as 4 wheelers, next to you and usually in your blind spot. If you are in a city, especially during rush hour traffic they basically will always be there. If you don’t get into the habit of checking your mirrors, you will inevitably change lanes without checking them. And check them in order of importance!
Usually, you have 5-6 mirrors on your truck depending on if you have 1 or 2 mirrors on the hood. And on each side of your doors, you will have 2 mirrors, your regular large mirror and the small convex mirror that shows you a wider view than the regular mirrors. Those are the ones that show your blind spots.
There are 2 main blind spots to watch for. The one is when a car is next to you around the front third to halfway down your trailer. Most times you won’t see them with your standard mirror on the doors. The second spot is right next to your sleeper cab and door. Your convex mirror on the doors won’t usually show you those spots.
I have found that the best order to check your mirrors is the hood mirror first. Those mirrors show you space directly next to your sleeper cab and door. When you change lanes the tractor is the first thing that crosses the line into the next lane and is the area that would most likely hit another vehicle if one is there. The blind spot next to the trailer has more room as it crosses the line last and you have more time to get back in your lane if a vehicle is there.
After you check the hood mirror check the convex mirror on the door, that shows the blind spot at the trailer. Then check the standard mirror on the door. That is important because when you hit your turn signal to switch lanes many cars speed up to pass you because they don’t want to be directly behind you.
Now, this all seems time-consuming. After all, you still need to watch the road in front of you. But you can check all of those mirrors in about 3-5 seconds. It will be difficult at first to remember to check them all because we’re used to just checking 1 mirror on each side in our 4 wheelers.
But the more you do it the easier it will be to remember until it becomes a habit and you don’t even need to think about it. Also, you can lean forward and look out your window just to make sure you are seeing what the mirrors show you. Some new drivers want that reassurance.
When I get a load I always look up the address on Google map to see the layout of the shipper and receiver and the streets leading up to it. Is it in an area outside a city or is it right in a city where it will be tight and possibly crowded with cars depending on the time of delivery? That is part of your trip planning that you should do with each load.
This is an app that is like Facebook but for truckers. I don’t use that part, I use the GPS it has because it is a pretty good one. It is a free app and it is good to use in addition to or instead of your company GPS if they have one.
This app is awesome and absolutely essential, and best of all it’s free! This app lists all of the truck stops, rest areas, weigh stations, and many other places essential to truckers. It even tells you where Walmart’s are. It even has a feature where truckers can update it with information like if truck stops and rest areas have parking spots available, how many parking spots the truck stops have, what restaurants are nearby, and it even has information on whether the weigh stations are open or closed.
Look at your manual that comes with your truck
It is important to know your equipment and it goes without saying that your truck is your most important piece of equipment. It is good to know some of the various functions of features you may not be familiar with. These could be your bunk heater. This is a heater that can heat up your truck without idling your truck. And there are many other functions that the new driver may not be familiar with so reading the manual will help greatly.
These are the best tips that I think every driver needs to know. Other professional drivers may disagree with some of them and like to substitute with others, but no good professional driver can deny that these are good tips. And yes there are bad professional drivers out there and you will be able to spot them as you gain experience. I hope you don’t end up being one of those.
Drops and Hooks to trailers
I know you covered drops and hooks in truck-driving school. But what you may not have covered the proper way to do it and the steps in which to do it. If you have discussed the steps I think they teach those steps wrong. Most likely they taught you to hook the airlines, then check the kingpin and make sure it’s hooked in the 5th wheel properly. I have learned from experience that this is not the ideal order to do it.
I suggest that you first and foremost connect the airlines and double-check that they are lined up flush with the glad hands and not off-center. After that, you need to absolutely go to the landing gear and raise it if you’re hooking up to a trailer and lower it if you’re dropping a trailer. Then you check the 5th wheel to make sure you are properly connected. I stress that you check and raise the landing gear because one time I forgot to raise it and drug it almost a mile before I realized it.
Most drivers won’t admit that they have made these simple mistakes but I promise you that many have made this one and others. Another mistake I made was when dropping a trailer I forgot to unhook the airlines and pulled off and ripped the airline completely off. And to complete the trifecta I dropped a trailer, literally!
It was an empty trailer and I could jack it up. Also, there are some rare occasions where the landing gear has one leg broken and only one let extends to the ground. That is why after you are finished with all three steps you look again and verify that both legs are down, then check the 5th wheel, and lastly check the airlines. But when you go fast or are tired you can skip steps.
I promise you, if you make one of the mistakes that I made, you will never forget again. It’s not the mistake that is the worst, it is the embarrassment of calling your dispatcher or the breakdown department to tell them the simple mistake you made. If you get in the habit of checking the important parts first you will be fine. Double-checking your 3 procedures takes about 15 seconds and will save you time down waiting for the roadside to come and fix you and the embarrassment of the simple mistake. If you want to do the order differently, fine. But always double-check your three steps.
We will talk about the Tools Every Truck Driver Needs in the next article. If you want to read that article now, click here.
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