It’s widely known that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and other authoritative bodies create, enforce, and update many rules and regulations pertaining to the trucking industry and commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). It can seem like new Hours of Service (HOS) rules and other changes are taking effect constantly.
Sometimes it may feel like the abundance of regulations simply exist to control drivers and company owners. It can be frustrating trying to keep up with regulation changes, but it’s important to remember these rules aren’t created just to wield control over carriers. Regulations are put in place to ensure your safety, and the safety of others on the road. There’s a difference between compliance for compliance’s sake and for safety’s sake, and all matters of compliance [Link to pillar page] are rooted in safety.
Understanding safety and compliance is critical for drivers and owner-operators looking to launch or expand their fleet. There are a number of companies that provide insurance monitoring solutions. Companies like RMIS, for example, review carriers’ qualifications. Consequently, learning, reviewing, and staying on top of regulatory changes and safe driving is always important.
Keeping yourself and/or your drivers safe on the road is essential for everyone’s health and well-being, and for the safety of other motorists. Safe and healthy drivers are critical, as they perform their work better and more reliably. However, the Department of Labor has identified trucking as one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. In fact, transportation and logistics fleets experience more injuries and fatalities while on the job than most other careers in other industries.
By monitoring and improving your compliance with safety measures, you can save on costs incurred by accidents, claim payouts, and increased insurance premiums. Maintaining safe and compliant practices results in greater profitability. Up-to-date and maintained equipment and parts perform better. Drivers who are knowledgeable and conscientious about safety and compliance can make DOT truck inspections quicker and easier so that everyone can get back on the road.
Many accidents and injuries can be prevented by following certain safety procedures and complying with regulations and guidelines, so it’s important to stay up to date on compliance rules and best practices for driving.
Many safety matters pertain to safe driving and operation. While compliance factors into safe driving, not all safe driving practices are dictated by regulations. Defensive driving, for example, should always be practiced and be at the forefront of any drivers’ mind. While you probably already know the basics of defensive driving, safety practices are even more necessary when operating a big rig or similar vehicle.
When you drive defensively you stay on the lookout for potential hazards and changes in driving or road conditions. Defensive drivers reduce the risk of accidents and injuries by anticipating potentially dangerous situations and making safe, well-informed decisions while operating their vehicles. When drivers use defensive driving techniques, they’re less likely to be involved in accidents. They’ll stay safe, keep other motorists out of harm’s way, and avoid accidents, which can hurt drivers’ and companies’ safety records.
Look Around and Keep Tabs on Traffic Conditions
When you’re on the road it’s important to constantly check your surroundings so you can anticipate any changes in driving conditions or potential hazards. Actions like changing lanes or stopping can take a lot of distance, so you need to note traffic changes on all sides of your truck. To keep track of changes in front of your truck, make sure you’re looking 12 to 15 seconds ahead (this accounts for how far you would travel in those 12 to 15 seconds). This distance will change depending on how fast you’re driving, so adjust accordingly. You should shift your attention between what’s happening on the road 12 to 15 seconds ahead and what’s happening directly in front of you. You should also stay aware of what’s happening on either side and behind your truck. Make sure to adjust your mirrors and check them regularly. You can use your mirrors to track vehicles as they move in and out of your blind spots and to keep an eye on any issues that arise with your tires. Pay special attention to your mirrors when changing lanes, making turns, merging, or making a tight maneuver.
Space is Your Friend
You can’t control how other motorists drive on the road, or what road conditions are like, but always leaving plenty of space between your truck and other vehicles is a good way to combat hazardous conditions. Keep your stopping distance in mind to ensure you’re leaving enough space; stopping distance is how long it takes for you to see a hazard, react to it, and are able to bring your truck to a physical stop. Factors like your speed, road conditions, and vehicle weight will affect your stopping distance. Adjust your speed to leave plenty of space and maximize the amount of time you have to stop. A good rule of thumb for estimating how much space you need is adding at least one second for each 10 feet of vehicle length (when traveling under 40 mph). Add one second if you’re driving faster than 40 mph. For example, if you’re hauling a 53-foot trailer at 50 mph, leave at minimum 6 seconds worth of distance between your truck and the vehicle in front of you.
There’s no such thing as too much signaling. Use turn signals early and often, especially when approaching intersections. Despite warning signs on your trailer, other motorists often aren’t aware of trucks’ longer turning times and slower speeds while turning, so signaling helps alert other drivers. You should signal early, consistently, and cancel your signal when you’re done turning or changing lanes.. Signaling also means remembering to turn on flashers when weather and road conditions are bad or if you’re traveling significantly under the speed limit.
It can be tempting to complete lane changes and take exits without signaling, but failing to signal only increases the likelihood of accidents. Signaling when changing lanes or turning is required by law, meaning compliance certainly comes into play.
Take It Slow
When in doubt, slow down. Drivers trained to slow down in response to any changes in road conditions, like bad weather or poor visibility, have more time to respond. Other drivers’ behaviors, hazards on the road, and sudden changes in weather conditions are all reasons to slow down. Slowing down to 25 mph or less during turns is also a matter of safety. Truck-designated speed limits are more than just guidelines; they’re critical indicators for safety and compliance. You’ll want to match your speed to road conditions like slippery surfaces, curves in the road, traffic flow, downgrade, and work zones.
Avoid Aggressive Driving
With strict timelines, busy schedules, and crowded roads, it’s no surprise that many drivers, in trucks and other vehicles, may get frustrated and start driving aggressively. Aggressive driving is when you operate your vehicle with little regard for the safety of other motorists. Road rage, while similar, is driving with the express intent to harm others on the road. It goes without saying that aggressive driving and road rage can lead to extremely dangerous situations, especially if the person driving is operating a truck. There are many habits you can practice to distance yourself from aggressive drivers, and decrease the likelihood of getting frustrated and aggressive on the road yourself. For example, check your mood before getting in your truck, did you sleep okay? Are you hungry? Make sure your basic needs are being met to avoid a heightened emotional state. Other good practices to avoid aggressive driving are: listening to light-hearted music, being realistic about your travel time, avoiding eye contact with other motorists who are driving aggressively, slowing down and adding distance between yourself and other drivers, and taking delays in stride.
The FMCSA says that distracted driving is the number-one cause of accidents among truck drivers. Many different factors can cause distracted driving, but it boils down to anything that causes drivers to take their eyes off the road or their hands off the wheel. Distractions might be a billboard or an animal along the landscape. Distractions can also be activities like eating lunch while driving or using a cellphone to text or take a call while behind the wheel. Besides penalties, recent research cited by the FMCSA shows that the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event (e.g., crash, near-crash, or unintentional lane deviation) are 23 times greater for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers who text while driving compared to those who do not.
Avoiding distractions requires keeping your attention on the road. While it can be easier to become distracted during long stretches of hauling, getting enough sleep and healthy eating can help keep your energy and focus levels up, keeping you sharp and less easily distracted.
Maintenance and Inspection for Safety’s Sake
A truck driver’s safety is largely dependent on the safety of the vehicle they’re driving. Trucks and tractor-trailers that aren’t up to date with regular maintenance are more likely to break down on the road or even be involved in accidents due to mechanical issues. Through regular upkeep and proactive repairs, you can ensure that your vehicle is in top shape to avoid breakdowns on your routes and stay safe on the road.
Coupled with proper maintenance, DOT truck inspections ensure that all trucks are safe before drivers start driving. While pre-trip and post-trip truck inspections are required by the DOT, staying on top of your truck’s maintenance means better, safer driving and increased deliveries and profit. Well-maintained trucks and fleets simply run better.
Letting your truck idle for more than five minutes wastes fuel and releases fumes and exhaust unnecessarily. Do not let your truck idle while sleeping or loading or unloading. Truck exhaust has been linked to lung cancer and poor health among truck drivers, so reduce inhalation by turning off the engine. If your vehicle is idling for a few minutes, don’t leave it unattended.
Idling may be necessary when temperatures are below 20 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent fuel gelling. Still, long periods of idling should be broken up and avoided when possible. Keep windows closed or wear a mask when a truck is idling to reduce inhaled fumes.
Staying Mindful of Rest, Breaks, and HOS
Drivers of CMVs cannot drive as much as they wish, even if they feel well-rested and up to the task. The FMCSA has strict regulations about Hours of Service (HOS). FMCSA HOS rules state that CMV drivers must take breaks of predetermined length before they can continue driving. HOS regulations say that property-carrying drivers can drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, among other limitations and work-break balances for CMV drivers. [Link to “Master efficiency with HOS” blog post]
Proper rest is important for any job, but it’s a matter of safety (and compliance) for truck drivers, which is why it’s an essential component of federal and local regulations [link to Federal Versus Local Regulations blog]. Driving while tired or drowsy is dangerous, and required break times and limited operating hours serve as one way to prevent tired driving. Take additional breaks as needed if you’re feeling tired. While breaks do cut into “on-duty” time, you’re still required to take a non-driving 30 minute break for any 8 hour drive because rest is critical for your safety and the safety of other motorists. Fatigued driving can also result in higher accident-related costs, if it was the cause of a crash.
Complying with the proper ways to park your truck may not receive as much attention or pushback as HOS compliance, but it’s still an important matter that can affect safety. Big rigs need upward of four times the space required to park compared to an average car. Trucks should also never be parked on roads with speed limits over 30 mph unless they are disabled.
If you must pull to the side of the road, use caution and apply flares, flashers, and safety triangles and cones to alert other motorists. Drivers should always be mindful and visually inspect where their truck is parked. Do not park near driveways or side streets, where the trailer can obstruct other motorists’ view of traffic, and never park facing oncoming traffic.
Staying Safe, Staying Smart.
Professional CMV drivers take safety seriously. They know that compliance regulations can seem exhaustive and tedious at times, but following requirements is necessary to keep everyone safe.
While DOT truck inspections and driver and vehicle inspection reports act to enforce compliance, safety should be on your mind at all times. And as new owner-operators look to onboard and prepare for RMIS qualifications, Xpress Technologies will be an invaluable partner along the way.
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