What do new truck drivers need to learn before hitting the road?

Truck drivers must achieve a certain level of training before they can drive a truck alone on the road. There is often not enough time in these training courses to cover off everything a driver needs to know to keep them safe. The four areas that are not covered well are:

  1. Fuel economy
  2. Load security
  3. Rollover prevention
  4. Coupling and uncoupling a drawbar trailer (most courses focus on coupling and uncoupling a semitrailer)

Fortunately, there are online courses that a driver can take so that they are up to speed when starting a job. 

Keeping freight secure

One such course teaches a driver everything they need to know about loading a truck or trailer. Losing freight is dangerous to other road users, as well as causing damage and delays. Freight which is improperly secured can move around, damaging it or the vehicle, and lashings which are incorrectly used or are damaged can break or be ineffective at holding the load on the truck during cornering or braking. In fact, every year, drivers are killed or seriously injured due to loads breaking through the headboard and entering the cab during breaking or in a frontal impact.

Safe and fuel efficient driving

The trucking industry is one with small margins, so fuel economy and reducing unnecessary breakages and maintenance costs are two key areas where business can improve the bottom line and get a competitive advantage. Fuel economy gains can be made in several ways:

  1. Updating trucks to newer models that have engines with increased efficiency
  2. Installing aerodynamic kits on the truck and trailer that include a roof spoiler and fairings.
  3. Choosing the optimal distance between the tractor unit and trailer
  4. Driving according to the SAFED (safe and fuel efficient driving) guidelines.

Preventing rollover crashes

A rollover accident is the most devastating of crashes a truck driver can have. It carries with it an almost 100% probability that the truck or trailer will be written off or, at minimum, will suffer significant damage and downtime (i.e. time that it can’t be used for making money). There’s also a high probability of serious driver injury and a moderate probability that another vehicle will be involved. 

Effective trailer coupling

Finally, there’s trailer coupling. As important as load security, ensuring that the coupling is properly connected all but eliminates the possibility of the trailer detaching. A secure coupling is also a coupling which suffers less wear and tear. When the coupling is loose, movement creates wear which then creates vibration that creates more wear.

A semitrailer has a much different coupling method than a truck and trailer. Many courses teach semitrailer coupling and decoupling, but not many teach connecting a drawbar trailer into a bolt and pin coupling, such as those made by Ringfeder and V. Orlandi. Bolt and pin couplings are easier to connect and disconnect than semitrailer couplings – there’s no awkward reaching under the trailer to pull the release handle, and you don’t have to wind up the trailer legs – but it’s possible to bend the drawbar or damage the funnel (the part of the receiving connector which diverts the drawbar towards the locking pin). 

Other skills

In terms of driving and treating the equipment properly, those are the core skills that drivers should take extra time to master. Depending on where the truck is operated, there may be paperwork requirements related to loads carried, and work time laws. Beyond that, there are street-smart skills that are gained through talking to other truck drivers and via experience on the road, such as good places to stop and eat, all the multitude of ways that you can be ripped off or cheated while on the road, and pinch points with traffic.

To recap, new truck drivers lack the skills to immediately be productive and safe on the road because most training programs don’t cover enough of the job. Unless they can serve as an apprentice or have someone else training them at their job, the easiest way to gain these skills is via online learning courses. The advantage is that the courses are cheap and the driver becomes more knowledgeable and useful to their employer.

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