FMCSA accident data also reveals that poor maintenance may play a significant role in rollover crashes. The agency says more than half of the trucks involved in a rollover accident each year are found to have defective brakes. Make pre-trip inspections a part of your daily routine. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires you to check your vehicle before starting a trip. Ensure the following parts and accessories and in good working order:
- Brakes, including trailer brake connections
- Steering mechanism
- Lighting devices and reflectors
- Windshield wipers
- Rear vision mirrors
- Coupling devices
Secure the load
When semi-truck drivers fail to properly secure loads, rollover accidents can occur. During sharp turns or quick maneuvers, unsecured loads can pull on the truck’s center of gravity, which can cause a rollover accident. Follow these recommendations to help prevent cargo shifts:
- Evenly distribute and tie down cargo with securement devices (in compliance with FMCSA regulations).
- Ensure all other equipment (tailgate, doors, tarpaulins and spare tires) are secured.
- Reexamine cargo and securement devices throughout trips.
Driver error is responsible for over 75% of all tank truck rollovers, according to a 2007 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) study. Rollovers can happen to anyone at any time, so you can never be too comfortable behind the wheel. Here are few tips to help keep you alert:
- Manage the speed. First and foremost, comply with DOT Hours of Service Regulations.
- Get plenty of sleep in your off time. There is no trick and no amount of coffee or caffeine that can substitute for adequate rest.
- Be aware of your level of fatigue. Take a break or stop when you are tired. Keep your cab well ventilated and slightly cool to help keep you alert.
- Don’t text and drive or use hand-held devices while behind the wheel.
- Don’t eat large, fatty meals before getting on the road or while driving.
Entering curves or corners too quickly or driving too fast for conditions can lead to vehicle rollover crashes. Here are a few speed management tips to help keep you and others safe:
- Adjust your speed. Slow down as needed, depending on the driving conditions.
- Be aware of the effect of speed on stopping distance. Whenever you double your speed, it takes about 4 times the stopping distance.
- Be aware of the effect of vehicle weight on stopping distance. Brakes, tires, springs and shock absorbers on heavy vehicles are designed to work best when vehicles are fully loaded. Empty trucks require greater stopping distances because an empty vehicle has less traction.
- Be aware of the effect of road conditions on stopping distance. On slippery surfaces, you must drive slower to stop in the same distance as on a dry road. Speed must be reduced by about 1/3 on wet roads, 1/2 or more on packed snow and to a crawl on ice.
Maintain adequate stopping distance
Understanding stopping distance is important because if you are not able to accurately calculate stopping distance, you may cause an accident, injure yourself or others, or commit a moving violation.
To ensure you have adequate space to stop, use the following guideline:
- At least one second for each 10 feet of vehicle length at speeds below 40 mph
- At greater speeds, you must add one second for safety
Note, this is a general rule to follow. Always consider and adjust for adverse conditions, such as bad weather, fog, slippery or wet roads, poor visibility or darkness. Any of these conditions can increase the following distance you need to maintain between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
Manage lane changes
The first rule of thumb is simple: “Slow Down”. The number of times you are required to change lanes is most often a direct result of the speed you are traveling, in comparison to the speed of the traffic around you. A good guideline is to keep your vehicle at a moderate speed of 3-5 mph slower than the traffic around you.
Ask yourself these question before beginning a lane change maneuver:
- What do I gain by passing the vehicle?
- Is there any approaching traffic?
- Do I have the power to pass?
- Have I continually monitored the traffic following me to ensure no one is in my blind spots?
- Have I given adequate warning to the vehicles around me that I am preparing to change lanes?
- Does the traffic around me have sufficient time and space to notice and react to my turn signal?
Adapt to night driving
You’re at greater risk when you drive at night. It’s important to adapt your driving habits to allow for reduced visibility and the fact that people are less alert or responsive at night. When driving at night, keep the following tips top of mind:
- Use your headlights. You should have your lights on from sunset until sunrise; during periods of rain, snow, hail, sleet or fog; and at any other time when you can’t see the road ahead clearly for a distance of at least 500 feet. When in doubt — turn lights on.
- Don’t overdrive your headlights. Overdriving the headlights is driving so fast that you are unable to stop within the distance that you can clearly see the road ahead by the light of your vehicle’s headlamps.
- Relieve eye fatigue by keeping your eyes moving. Move eyes from side to side, near to far ahead and so forth.
- Keep vehicles windows and mirrors clean and free of defects. They should never be clouded by frost or steam, or marred by large scratches or cracks.
- Be alert to other drivers. At night you are more likely to encounter drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Watch for drivers who have difficulty maintaining a consistent speed, staying in their own lane, or those who stop suddenly.
- Reduce light inside your cab because inside light makes it more difficult to see outside. Keep the interior light off and adjust your instrument panel lights as low as possible (without compromising your ability to read the gauges).
When a vehicle skids, it is out of control. What many people do not know is that the driver can prevent most skids. It is much easier to prevent a skid than to correct one. Follow these tips to prevent a skid from occurring:
- Adjust your speed to curves to reduce your chances of a cornering skid.
- Drive within your sight distance to reduce the need for sudden stops and the chances of a braking skid.
- Maintain enough following distance so you will not have to stop quickly.
- Don’t drive too fast on slippery surfaces.
- Adjust your speed to the surface condition and curvature of the road.
- Don’t over-brake.
- Don’t suddenly downshift.
- Use the brake-limiting valve correctly.
- Inspect the air system and brake adjustment before and during each trip. All wheels should start stopping at the same time. If they don’t, a skid can result when you brake.
- Inspect tires, front wheel alignment and suspension system.
- Load cargo properly.
Wet roads tend to be slippery and any quick turn or change in speed can cause a skid. Just after the rain starts, road surfaces are the most slippery because rainwater mixes with oils that coat the surface of the road. Until the oil is washed off of the surface, anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour after the rain starts, water accumulates on the surface of the road and creates a driving hazard called hydroplaning.
- Inspect tires regularly to ensure tires are in good working condition. Tire grooves work to move water off the road surface. If tire groves are not at an adequate depth, the water will not be carried away.
- Make sure tires are adequately inflated. Hydroplaning is more likely to occur when tire pressure is low.
- Reduce your speed to allow for more space behind other vehicles and to allow for more time to stop.
If your vehicle starts to hydroplane, do not panic. Do not use your brake if you are hydroplaning. To regain control of the vehicle, first release the accelerator. Next, push in the clutch pedal and allow the wheels to turn freely. As the vehicle slows down, you will regain control of it.
Master the mountains
Driving a commercial vehicle on mountainous roads requires additional professional driving skills and patience. Mountain roads are extremely dangerous, so you seldom get to make a second mistake while driving on a mountainous road. Follow these mountain driving tips:
- React to early warning signs. Warning signs will be placed 250’ to 750’ from the hazard it describes.
- Slow down and shift to a lower gear before cresting hills. Once you’re on the downhill side, it’s too late to gear down.
- Brake firmly to control your speed and to get all the brakes working at once. Slow down below your desired speed. Remember, your desired speed is always less than the posted speed limit. Release the brakes until the truck is going slightly above your desired speed, but no more than 5 MPH. above, then reapply the brakes. Your brakes are used to assist the retard of the gears and engine.
- Watch the air pressure gauge to be sure the pressure does not drop excessively. Fifteen pounds is usually too much. If it drops 15 pounds or more, stop immediately to let the brakes cool completely.
View these FMCSA resources