You know it’s coming. It may be in the next mile or a few hours down the road, but it will happen. Somebody is going to do something stupid. It might be a sudden lane change, disobeying a traffic signal or sign, checking text messages on a cell phone or any of dozens of errors in judgment that the professional driver observes from other motorists every day. But it will happen.
Nearly every driver has been trained in defensive driving techniques at some point and knows the importance of watching out for the actions of others. Some carriers and insurance companies, however, are teaching drivers to go beyond “defensive” driving. They encourage professional drivers to drive in a manner that protects others, too.
Why should a professional driver care about protecting other motorists? Those four-wheelers can be really annoying when they’re not being downright dangerous. But consider who is driving those four-wheelers. Someone’s wife, father, child or loved one is behind the wheel. Back home, it could be YOUR loved one behind the wheel of another four-wheeler. Would you appreciate another truck driver watching out for your loved ones, even when those loved ones make driving mistakes?
Then consider that professional drivers have much more training and experience than the average motorist. You may think of hazards and take action to avoid them much sooner than the average motorist, who may not recognize a hazard at all until it’s too late.
So, how do you “protect” someone driving in another vehicle? One way is to avoid making assumptions about how they’ll react to a hazard. Consider an intersection with traffic lights. Your light just turned green, so you know that the light for cross traffic is now red. They’ll stop, right? By making sure before you pull into the intersection, you can avoid a crash with someone who didn’t see, or didn’t obey, the traffic signal. Sure, it might have been some jerk running the light, but it could have been a young woman distracted by a crying baby, too.
Another example is the left turn at an intersection. Make sure there’s enough time for your trailer to fully clear the intersection before oncoming traffic arrives. When you’re starting from a stop, it could take 20 seconds or longer for your trailer to fully clear. It’s tempting to assume that oncoming drivers will see your big truck and slow down or stop – but what if they don’t?
Lane changes are sometimes necessary, but who hasn’t seen a driver trying to gain time by weaving from lane to lane? Consider how other vehicles will react to your lane change. Others may now change lanes, and speed, in an effort to get around you. Each lane change is another opportunity for a crash to occur.
Even an action like blowing the air horn could startle an unsuspecting motorist, causing them to steer suddenly.
The dangers of using phones to call, text and surf the Internet while driving are well known, yet motorists are seen doing those things all of the time. That includes, unfortunately, some truck drivers, too. Make it a rule never to use yours while driving, unless you have a hands-free option. Even then, taking your eyes off the road for a second to see who’s calling can lead to an accident. A policy of waiting until you are stopped to return calls or texts is the right way to do things. Make sure friends and relatives know that you’ll chose safety over quick communication.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.