Trucking accidents are on the rise. Between 2017 and 2018, fatal accidents involving large trucks increased by nearly 17% to more than 4,200, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Most of these fatalities occurred in smaller passenger cars struck by large trucks. The risk posed to smaller vehicles by large trucks led the federal Department of Transportation to impose safety guidelines aimed at preventing serious accidents.
Here are the six most important of those guidelines.
1. Watch Your Speed
Speeding is a major cause of fatal trucking accidents in Texas. Always stay below the posted speed limit, and be aware of special speed limits imposed on large trucks. You need more time to stop safely than a passenger car does, and speed limits are designed to ensure that everyone can respond appropriately to an obstacle or weather event. In Texas, the weather can change suddenly and violently; don’t be complacent about your speed, even when conditions seem perfect.
2. Avoid Distractions
It’s tempting, especially hours into a long haul, to let your attention wander. Don’t. Distracting yourself with mobile devices or other diversions isn’t just a recipe for an accident, it’s against federal law. Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid catastrophe, if you’re caught paying more attention to your phone than to the road, you could face severe penalties and even the suspension of your license. Invest in a hands-free system if need be, and use it wisely.
3. Keep Your Distance
Experienced truckers develop a feel for how each payload affects braking times; smart drivers know that this is just a general sense and that a lighter-than-usual load doesn’t mean that they can creep up on other traffic. Leave at least 20 feet between the front of your truck and the back of the vehicle in front of you. That distance, and a little technique, can mean the difference between coming to a safe stop and losing control after slamming on the brakes.
4. Brake Wisely
Different conditions call for different braking techniques. Good braking starts with anticipation: seeing the road ahead and deciding what combination of speed, gear, and braking will be necessary to get around a curve or negotiate a grade. Some situations call for pumping the brakes; others require steady pressure. Knowing which technique to use can go a long way toward keeping your truck rolling and not jackknifed.
5. Avoid Fatigue
Tired drivers can be dangerous drivers. Not only should you keep an eye on your own need for rest, but you should also follow the FMCSA’s hours-of-service regulations to the letter. These regulations limit truckers to 70 hours on duty over the course of eight consecutive days and limit driving to a 14- or 11-hour window after coming on duty, depending on how much off-duty time the driver has had.
6. Maintain Your Vehicle
Trucking companies are responsible for the overall state of their fleets, but individual drivers bear some responsibility for their rigs. The FMCSA requires drivers to inspect their trucks before driving them and to repair any problems before driving.