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By learning the techniques and strategies to minimize risk and avoid traffic incidents, truck drivers can keep themselves and others safe on the road. The following information is a breakdown of defensive driving techniques and truck driver tips for beginners found in defensive truck driving training.

What Is Defensive Driving?

Defensive driving is when a driver prioritizes other drivers’ safety alongside their own. This type of driving aims to predict hazards and minimize risk as much as possible. In other words, defensive drivers aren’t just focused on getting themselves from point A to point B — they drive cautiously, pay attention to their surroundings and follow all road rules.

10 Defensive Driving Techniques for Truck Drivers

Below is a list of defensive driving strategies truck drivers can use, including safety tips.

1. Always Wear Your Seat Belt

In most states in the United States, wearing your seat belt is required by law. In any case, doing so is proven to aid in preventing death and reducing injury in vehicle accidents.

Despite this, almost 10% of Americans forgo their seatbelts each time they head onto the road. Further, 64% of truck driver fatalities involving crashes with large trucks in 2021 may have been prevented had they worn their seat belts.

2. Look Far Enough Ahead

Although you should look at what’s happening right in front of your truck, you should also try to look ahead several seconds. For example, on the highway, that might be a quarter of a mile in front of your truck. This approach allows you to see:

  • Oncoming traffic.
  • Vehicles and objects entering your path.
  • Vehicles that have stopped.
  • Slow-moving vehicles.
  • Road construction.
  • Permanent and temporary warning signs.
  • Pedestrians and animals.
  • Obstructions in the road.

3. Expect Other Drivers to Make Mistakes

Another one of the key safety tips for truck drivers is to be aware of surrounding and oncoming traffic and expect them to make errors. Always anticipate what the other drivers on the road may do and have a contingency plan for those potential scenarios.

4. Stay Healthy and Avoid Driving Fatigued

Part of truck driving safety is getting sufficient amounts of rest and sleep. Additionally, fleet drivers should try to eat healthier diets, get physical exercise and monitor their mental health to keep them in top form.

5. Avoid Distractions

A distracted driving fleet poses serious dangers that you can easily mitigate. Cell phones and even radio communications create audible distractions when the driver receives a call or notification. Although some calls and communications are necessary, these interruptions should be kept to a minimum.

Using a cell phone when driving is reckless and against the law in most U.S. states. Distracted driving can lead to loss of life — 3,552 lives were lost in the U.S. due to distractions while driving in 2021.

3552 lives where lost due to distractions while driving

Common distractions for truck drivers include:

  • Taking calls.
  • Texting.
  • Eating and drinking.
  • Listening to loud music.
  • Adjusting the stereo and navigation system.
  • Multitasking in general.
  • Life and job stress.

6. Anticipate Changes in Weather and Road Conditions

While truck drivers can pay attention to immediate weather and road conditions, they need to plan and note the likely changes along their journeys. Paying attention to weather forecasts, known construction zones and potential rush hour traffic is a good idea. Dispatchers can assist by providing truck drivers with updates along the journey.

7. Keep to the Appropriate Speed

Defensive truck driving training instills that it is best to adjust your speed according to the conditions rather than keep to the speed limit. The speed limit might be too fast depending on road conditions and other variables.

Adjust your speed according to driving conditions and your ability to control the truck entirely. When making turns or taking bends and curves, decrease your speed and stay alert, especially during limited visibility around corners.

8. Maintain an Adequate Following and Stopping Distance

While driving, your following distance will change depending on your driving speed and other factors. Maintaining a following distance of one second for every 10 feet of vehicle length is recommended. Depending on the size of your vehicle, this could be almost 10 seconds in certain instances. Additionally, you should add a second for every adverse condition, such as driving at night, rain, increased speeds, slick roads and heavier than-normal loads.

9. Check Your Mirrors and Blind Spots

Countless accidents occur yearly because drivers are unaware of what’s in their blind spots. It’s crucial for a commercial trucker to check mirrors and blind spots periodically. Unless assisted by blind spot and rear cameras, truck drivers may find this a challenge, so it is best to scan your surroundings as best as possible and signal sufficiently before crossing lanes or turning.

10. Avoid Backing up Your Truck

Backing up a truck offers poor visibility and increases the chance of hitting other drivers and pedestrians. Instead, try to park so you can drive forward and avoid a potential collision. If you need to back out, do so slowly and, if possible, have someone direct you and alert oncoming pedestrians and vehicles.

Truck Driver Safety Checklist

Before truck drivers get into the truck and onto the road, several things must be done to promote driving fleet safety. These points complement defensive trucking driving and offer additional safety tips for truck drivers:

  • Plan your trip: Part of anticipating the changing conditions on the road is adequate planning and including contingency plans for routes, communication, driving hours and weather updates.
  • Take breaks and rest: It is a legal requirement, outlined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, that commercial motor vehicle drivers take a 30-minute break following eight consecutive hours of driving. Other driving hour limits exist, so be sure your fleet is aware of them.
  • Establish preventative truck maintenance: Proactively inspecting your fleet vehicles is essential to ensure they perform properly on the road. With this approach, you can catch issues and address them early.
  • Execute pre-trip and post-trip vehicle inspections: Maintenance and vehicle inspections are both required and advisable to ensure the truck is in proper working order. Legally, fleet drivers must perform driver-vehicle inspection reports at the end of each workday.

Defensive Truck Driving Training

Defensive truck driving training incorporates the aspects seen here and far more in-depth techniques and strategies. Defensive driving techniques for truck drivers focus on increasing alertness and your ability to anticipate potential danger while implementing best driving practices to minimize risks.

Ultimately, defensive truck driving helps:

  • Protect truck drivers and others.
  • Minimize vehicle damage costs related to collisions.
  • Decrease insurance premium costs.
  • Limit the chance of driving violation penalties.
  • Improve vehicle longevity due to less wear and tear from aggressive driving.
  • Reduce the likelihood of product damage.
  • Protect the fleet company’s reputation.
  • Improve fleet drivers’ skills and confidence.
  • Increase driver retention.

Complete Your Defensive Driving Course With Hazmat School

Hazmat School has been operating since 1991, offering education on safety and hazardous materials. In that time, we have seen many individuals and companies incorporate defensive truck driving training to equip their fleet drivers with the skills to improve performance, safety and bottom line. Acquiring defensive driving training through Hazmat School, whether in a personal capacity or for your commercial fleet drivers, is convenient and ensures drivers have advanced training.

Our truck driver safety training selection includes the defensive driver safety training course, where we offer discounts for government employees and groups. Additionally, drivers can learn with the help of our instructors, who provide 24/7 remote support. Register for our defensive driving course today or contact Hazmat School for more information.

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