Truck drivers have been on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering vital medical supplies to hospitals and essential goods to retail stores. There are more new truckers on the road now than ever before helping transport freight across America. If you’re a rookie truck driver, that doesn’t mean you have to make mistakes like one. In this article, we’ll discuss what pitfalls you can avoid as a newbie trucker and how you can get your trucking career off to a great start.
Common Rookie Truck Driver Mistakes to Avoid
Being overly confident.
Overconfident new truck drivers are much more likely to make serious mistakes and cause accidents that needlessly put themselves and others in danger of injury or even death. For everyone’s sakes, don’t be a know-it-all. The fact is that it will take you many months before you start mastering your tasks in a safe and timely manner. Simply having a CDL doesn’t mean that you’re a reliable, safety-conscious, trustworthy driver—it means you have the potential to become one. While it’s crucial to attend a high-quality CDL driver school, your education has only just begun. The level of skill you acquire primarily depends on your level of training. As you learn the ropes of your first trucking job, humbly acknowledge how much you still don’t know and try to learn as much as possible from your instructors. Not taking safety practices seriously. Some of the most common safety violations committed by truck drivers are driving too fast, exceeding mandated weight limits, ignoring standard highway safe practices, and improper vehicle maintenance. Making these mistakes can cause serious injuries to yourself and others, and in a worst-case scenario, death. Start forming sound, safety-conscious habits early on in your trucking career to avoid needless accidents and preserve a clean driving record. The following are just a few safety best practices for rookie truck drivers to keep in mind:
Be aware of weather and road conditions at all times, both before and during your trip.
A large percentage of truck accidents happen when backing up, so examine delivery docks on foot first to scope out potential obstacles and hazards that you couldn’t otherwise see while driving the truck, such as ditches and posts.
Be extra cautious at night, especially when maneuvering in tight areas.
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to slow down or stop your truck. Always leave a large enough ‘buffer zone’ of space in front of your vehicle.
Pick a lane and stay in it. If you must change lanes, do so very carefully, checking your mirrors and being aware of your blind spots.
Drive slower than you think you need to in order to maintain control of your truck and safely navigate corners and ramps.
Adhere to weight limits. Overloading your truck can make it difficult to control, maneuver, slow down, or stop.
Load and secure your cargo properly. Check load tie-downs throughout your trip to ensure that your cargo stays firmly in place. Loose or poorly loaded cargo can easily get damaged and cause injury.
Never skip a truck inspection. A well-maintained truck is a safe truck. Spotting mechanical problems early on can prevent costly repairs and dangerous accidents caused by malfunctioning components.
Not asking for help and listening to the wrong advice.
Don’t belittle the knowledge and years of experience that seasoned drivers have gained throughout their careers. Trucking is a demanding job, both physically and mentally, so you’ll need all the help you can get to successfully adapt to your new lifestyle. Make an effort to befriend experienced drivers in your company, develop a good relationship with your dispatcher, and ask the mechanic a ton of questions whenever you take your truck to the shop for repairs. But a word of caution: not everyone’s advice will offer productive solutions. Just because someone has been a truck driver for decades doesn’t automatically mean they’re a good example to follow. You’ll need to learn which voices you can trust and how to filter out bad information. Do your homework by comparing the advice you receive with what verified sources say, such as:
American Trucking Associations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The Women in Trucking Association
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the Trucking Industry
Having unrealistic expectations.
Rookie drivers need to clear their mind of any romanticized notions about trucking. Entering the industry with the idea that it will be smooth sailing is incredibly unrealistic and you’ll be sorely disappointed and discouraged when you encounter unexpected challenges. Trucking is a dynamic work environment that requires you to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. Consider just a few scenarios you’ll most likely face:
Ignorant, inconsiderate drivers won’t give you enough room on the road
Violent storms will rock your truck during white-knuckle rides
Mechanical problems or traffic jams will delay you on your routes
Hot and sweaty summer days will leave you exhausted
Your dispatcher may suddenly reroute you after you’re already more than halfway to your planned destination
You’ll reach a location only to find that the shipper cancelled their load
The majority of these situations are the result of unforeseen circumstances beyond your control and are not the product of intentional mistakes or someone else’s incompetence. The bottom line is this: don’t stress or worry about what you can’t control. Viewing every experience as a learning opportunity will help you to maintain a positive attitude as you navigate the challenges of trucking. Switching trucking jobs too soon. Some trucking newbies reason that since they’re in high demand, they should switch companies if they feel they aren’t getting the pay or treatment they deserve. However, it’s highly recommended that new truck drivers stick with their first job for at least one full year. Why? First of all, you’ll need to prove your worth to dispatch before you can expect to receive great miles, higher pay, and preferred routes. Switching to another trucking company means you’ll have to work from the bottom up all over again. Turnover is expensive for trucking companies, so if you develop a reputation as a job hopper early in your career, you’re going to seriously hurt your prospects in the future. Secondly, it will take you at least a year to learn your trade, find a healthy work/life balance, determine your personal preferences, understand how the trucking industry works and how your company operates, develop good rapport with your dispatcher, and benefit from on-the-job training. You’ll need to hone your skills in efficient time and fuel management, safety, problem solving, routing, navigation, and communication. So keep an open mind and be willing to make compromises as you tough it out with your first trucking job. Neglecting your health. Overexerting yourself on the job can have disastrous consequences. Sleep deprivation is to blame for almost 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,550 fatalities per year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Over 50% of crashes caused by commercial truck drivers are the result of extreme fatigue from sleep deprivation. Know your limits and do not expect more from yourself than is humanly possible. It’s vital that you find a healthy balance between resting and working to keep yourself and others safe. Another major health concern for truckers is obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study on the health risks that long-haul truck drivers face and found that over two-thirds (69%) of the respondents were obese and 17% were morbidly obese. That’s more than double the percentages of average U.S. working adults. Sitting for up to 11 hours a day and eating a steady diet of fast food from truck stops will wreak havoc on your waistline and your overall well-being. Do not sacrifice your health for convenience. Make time to exercise regularly and purchase wholesome foods and snacks from grocery stores rather than truck stops. This will require some extra planning, but it will help you avoid chronic health issues that plague many truckers, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, and back problems.
Truck driving involves quite a bit of record keeping, such as trip reports, expense receipts, and maintenance and repair records. Not organizing your paperwork will waste time, possibly result in incorrect pay statements, cause warranty issues with your equipment, and make it difficult to accurately file your taxes. So it’s important that you familiarize yourself with your company’s policies on record keeping. Here are a few tips to help you stay organized:
Store a full set of records, documents, and logs for each trip in digital format on your phone or computer. Include details such as the start and end times of each trip, your trailer number, the miles you traveled, any drops or pickups, specific instructions from the dispatcher, and any unusual occurrences that happened along the way.
Sort and file your expense receipts in an accordion folder by category, such as fuel, tolls, parking, and truck maintenance. At the end of the month, tally the receipts and label each category with the appropriate expense total.
If you’re a truck owner-operator, keep extra sets of maintenance records for your personal files. Make photocopies and arrange them chronologically in a 3-ring binder for future reference. Doing so will show an accurate history to prospective buyers should you want to sell or trade your truck and prove that your truck has been properly cared for during its use.
Store all of your work-related records and documents for 10 years. Separate them by year for easier retrieval. Discard any documents more than 10 years old to get rid of needless clutter in your paperwork files.
Lacking the finances to operate.
If you’re looking to become an owner-operator right away, be sure to do your due diligence in researching the costs involved in keeping your trucks on the road. You’ll need to factor in costs such as truck and equipment purchases, maintenance and repairs, freight bills, business registration, Unified Carrier Registration (UCR), plates, Heavy Vehicle Use Taxes and permits, state-specific taxes, trucking insurance, and any desired CDL license endorsements. And don’t forget about advertising and marketing to help you acquire customers! Underestimating the working capital you need on hand to operate your own trucking business can lead to immense financial stress and the downfall of your company. So be realistic in your assessment of owner-operator costs and actively look for ways to save money without cutting corners. Overpaying for trucking insurance. New owner-operators (O/Os) with authority and O/Os under lease face the hurdle of finding the right trucking insurance policies at the best prices. There are about a dozen different kinds of trucking insurance, each with their own federal and state requirements. Six important types of trucking insurance include:
Primary liability insurance
Physical damage insurance
Commercial general liability insurance
Non-trucking liability insurance
Motor truck cargo insurance
Insuring a trucking company is costly, but protecting your employees, third parties, trucks and equipment, and your own good name is a must. Not sure if you’re spending too much on your current trucking insurance policies? Contact our in-house trucking specialists for their expert assistance in examining your coverage to determine what saving opportunities and discounts are available for you.