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Preparing To Go Solo For The First Time? Experienced Drivers Share Their Best Advice

Brett Aquila on Thu, June 29, 2017

Going solo for the first time is one of the scariest and yet most exciting times in a driver's career. You're thrilled to be joining the big leagues and to have your own truck, but at the same time the training wheels are off and it's time to learn how to figure things out on your own.

The worst part is that everyone knows they're really not quite ready for this when the time comes. You still have so much to learn. Your backing skills are terrible, you're not very good with time management, you've never had to navigate the big cities by yourself, and you've always had a trainer by your side to help out in a jam.

Now that you're on your own there's going to be a lot of hard lessons to learn. But you can get through it! We've all been there. So TruckingTruth asked the experienced drivers in our trucker's forum what their best advice would be for anyone preparing to go solo.

Take It Slow And Don't Worry About What Others Think

Myself and many others believe that being worried about holding other people up while you're trying to get backed into a spot or maneuver around parking lots is the cause of a lot of minor accidents. If you'll just take it very slow, don't worry about what others think, and always get out and look during backing procedures you'll avoid running into things.

"It's not a race. If it takes 15 minutes longer to get somewhere, so be it. Doing it safely is the number one reason you're there."

John M, Rookie Solo Driver

"Taking things one day at a time and never rushing should be foremost in everyone's mind."

G-Town, Experienced Driver

"Never ever let someone rush you into being unsafe. When you're trying to back up into that spot, and the other drivers are waiting for you to get out of the way, do not rush just to appease them. Ignore them. Fugetaboutem. Do your thing. SAFELY!"

Turtle, Rookie Solo Driver

"If you find your patience thermometer about to blow, bail out! Missed your pullup? Visibility bad? Crooked driver creeping into your space? Just give up and circle around. It really is not worth the chance of an incident...just because someone else is impatient."

Vendingdude, Experienced Driver

"If a 4 wheeler gets under your skin, just brush it off and move on. Don't stoop to their level. You are the professional driver, not them"

millionmiler24, Rookie Driver

"Take your time. No need to be in a rush. I know you want to prove yourself as a great driver, but don't do unsafe things or rush things to get there. The office knows you are new, just enjoy the ride."

Gladhand, Experienced Driver

Proper Trip Planning Is Critical, And Don't Trust Your GPS

You should never just take off and hope for the best. You need to know where you're going before you ever get rolling. Have a thorough plan, know where your fuel stops are, plan out various truck stops along the way, and have a backup plan in case things don't go as expected.

"Trip plan, trip plan, trip plan... I can't stress this enough. Know all the roads, every stop ahead of time. Each day know where your 30 minute break is, know your stop for the night. Use Google Earth or some satellite view to know the roads in and out. Have backup plans for your stops."

Eric G., Rookie Solo Driver

"Effective preparation is a key element required to survive the first few months of solo running. Do not start driving without any kind of plan. This includes road-driving but also yard operation as well."

G-Town, Experienced Driver

"NEVER move your truck until you know exactly where you are going and WRITE DOWN your route.. whether it's on an easily accessible note pad, post it notes stuck to your dash, or dry erase markers on the window.

You're still going to have the occasional missed turns but knowing exactly where you are going will save you so much aggravation and trouble. If you don't have directions to a shipper or receiver, CALL THEM and ask for truck safe directions. Never rely on a GPS because they can and do fail and will often steer you wrong."

Susan D., Experiened Driver

"Also, Trip Plan like no tomorrow every load. DO NOT rely solely on the GPS. Make sure you have the most current Rand McNally Motor Carriers Laminated Road Atlas."

millionmiler24, Rookie Driver

"I would start my day very early.. say 4am or so, that way I would be shutting down around 3-5pm well before most parking is full. By doing that, I typically was able to find easy parking and not have to worry about trying to back up in the dark.. I was not confident in my backing at all when I first started out."

Susan D., Experienced Driver

"Drive during the day, sleep at night. More specifically, start at 4-5am and shut down around 3-4 pm. You'll still have tons of options for parking and you'll avoid evening traffic."

Adam B., Rookie Solo Driver

Trust Your Instincts

Always focus on safety and do not push yourself into territory you don't feel you belong. Try to trust your instincts and err on the side of caution. Take the time to think things through and don't rush into something hoping for the best.

"When in doubt DON'T do it. If you don't think you will make a turn, you don't think the weather is safe, if you don't think the space is wide enough to back up....just DON'T do it." If that long dark road looks too narrow, it probably is. If you don't think it is safe to keep driving in the snow, then don't. Listen to your common sense. Listen to your gut."

Rainy D., Experienced Driver

"If you don't feel safe, even the least little bit, don't do it."

millionmiler24, Rookie Driver

Expect Tough Times And Keep Your Emotions In Check

Trucking is a roller coaster of emotions. You'll experience some of the highest of highs, and lowest of lows, and often times within hours of each other. It's incredible how quickly your fortune can change. It's important for your safety and your sanity to do your best to stay on an even keel. Enjoy yourself out there, appreciate the good times, and try not to sweat the small stuff. Stay positive and keep looking ahead.

"While going through training you'll make mistakes. But when you go solo you'll make all new mistakes. Take your time and learn from your mistakes. Don't let them discourage you."

Philly Boy, Rookie Solo Driver

"It's a big, scary world out there. Just relax, take your time, and breathe. Eventually, it'll all become second nature. Keep in mind that a little bit of nervousness is good. It keeps you from becoming too relaxed and helps you remain focused on the task at hand."

Unholychaos, Rookie Solo Driver

"The absolute best advice is NOT allow the "lows" get you too low, and the "highs" get you too high. There will be good days and bad days; try to learn something regardless. We always seem to focus on what went wrong in this business, the mistakes. Attention to what "went right" is just as important not only for technical reasons, but also building that much needed confidence."

Gtown, Experienced Driver

"Leave your personal problems at home. Don't bring them with you on the road. Always keep a level head. Don't let someone push you over the edge."

millionmiler24, Rookie Driver

"Things are going to happen that won't go your way. There will be days where you will question your decision and absolutely hate your job and all you can think about is how amazing it would be to just be home. Other days there is nothing else in the world you would rather do than to be out on the open road driving a truck. This is completely normal especially in your first few months."

icecold24k, Rookie Solo Driver

When In Doubt, Find Out

You're going to be in situations on a regular basis that you're really not sure how to handle. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Get on the CB, send dispatch a message over the Qualcomm, come to our trucker's forum, or have the phone number of an experienced driver you can call for advice. Hope is not a strategy. Play it safe and learn all you can about how to handle a situation before you get into trouble.

"Ask for help from other drivers, but don't attempt what you already know is not right."

Rainy D., Experienced Driver

"Your dispatcher is expecting you to have questions and difficulties. You're a rookie, after all. So don't sit and stew and wonder -- talk to the person who has an answer. Remember they have a bunch of other drivers. Don't be too needy like an eighth grader with their first crush, but don't worry that you're bothering them if you just aren't getting it. Better to be sure than to guess."

Bud A., Experienced Driver

"Last but not least, I never hesitated to ask for another driver to spot me in and generally they were more than happy to help. I'd bluntly tell them I was very new and they'd practically jump over each other offering to help. I'm sure what was really going through their mind was OMG I don't want her hitting my truck :-)"

Susan D., Experienced Driver

Always Get Out And Look (G.O.A.L.) When Backing

By far the most common type of accidents that rookie drivers get into are backing accidents. You must take your time and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Most importantly, don't wait until you think you might be close to hitting something before getting out to look. Get out and look regularly as you go. The idea is to avoid getting too close to something in the first place. Often times you'll think you have a little room and you push it just a little too far. There is no margin for error here. You absolutely must not bump into anything. Take your time, get out and look often.

"When backing, don't rush, G.O.A.L. before setting up, have a plan." G-Town, Experienced Driver

"G.O.A.L. is a skill, it needs to be learned. When you first start to (get out and look) you don't know what to really look for, but just take a step back and assess the situation. Feel nervous going between two trucks? Or [is there] one at the blindside? Ask your fellow driver for help, most people are nice and would rather help you in, than be filling out paperwork after you hit their ride."

Gladhand, Experienced Driver

Be Kind To People And Communicate Well With Dispatch

As a driver you almost never have any authority over others. You're the low man on the totem pole. You can make a lot more money if you can get people to do you some favors once in a while, like getting unloaded early by a customer, being assigned better freight by dispatch, or getting the truck out of the mechanic's shop a little sooner.

For a driver with no authority, your best hope is to be kind to people, communicate your situation well, and ask kindly for favors. Being the type of person that people enjoy working with and doing favors for is the best position you can put yourself in. You won't get anywhere trying to scare people or threaten them in any way. You can only hope for their cooperation, and being kind gives you the best chance of getting it.

"Communication is vital. You will have small things you don't like and you may feel like you are getting the short end of the stick at times. Work with your dispatcher and keep the lines of communication open. Keep a level head and be polite in your interactions with them. Look at them as your partner out here. You work with each other to keep you and the company successful.

Lastly remember everywhere you go Shippers, receivers and even truck stops you are the face of the company. if you are rude to people or do unsafe things out there then you not only make yourself look bad but your company as well. No one ever sees the office personnel or the company executives but they will see the drivers on a daily basis. Do your part to put you and your company in a good positive light."

icecold24k, Rookie Solo Driver

Don't Forget Those Pre-Trip And Post-Trip Inspections

It's a requirement to inspect the truck each morning before beginning the day, but it's also wise to inspect it every time you stop somewhere. It only takes a few minutes once you've done it a bunch of times, and detecting a problem before heading out on the highway can mean the difference between life or death.

"I strongly recommend performing a cursory level post trip on the rig at the end of each shift. Walk around checking major components like tires, brakes, air hoses, any leakage, etc. Finding something requiring attention ahead of the next day's pre-trip can save time, aggravation and perhaps keep you moving instead of waiting."

G-Town, Experienced Driver

"When you get up and get ready to drive, a thorough pre-trip inspection is your best friend. You can prevent a lot of accidents by doing a proper pre-trip. With a proper Pre Trip, you can catch most issues and have them fixed BEFORE they become an accident waiting to happen. If you need help with pre-trip Look no further than Daniel B.'s Pre Trip guides"

millionmiler24, Rookie Driver

Be On Time To Appointments, Be Safe, And Be Reliable

If you want to turn great miles you absolutely must be on time to your appointments. If there's a safety issue that prevents you from getting there, like a winter storm or a mechanical problem, that's obviously an exception. But it's up to you as a professional driver to account for traffic delays, hours of service limitations, fueling, and anything other delays along the way.

The bottom line when it comes to handing out freight is trust. Can you be trusted to get the job done safely and on schedule every time? The top tier drivers can. If you want dispatch to hand you the big miles, being safe and reliable is critical.

"As a rookie solo driver, I took the advice of that old adage that says, "Slow and Steady Wins the Race." I had some ideas of my own on how to make money at this career, and I was working on them in my own mind. I slowly but steadily would incorporate the strategies I was formulating into my daily routine. I had a three pronged focus for that first year. I wanted to...

  • Communicate effectively with my Driver Manager
  • Be safe (not hit anything)
  • Always be on time with my loads

Those three things were sort of the cornerstone of my future years of success at driving a truck. I wasn't out to set the world on fire with how much I could accomplish for that first year. Now, I wanted to be the type of driver who could get a lot done, but I considered building that good foundation on those three principles was crucial for my future success. It has paid off well for me, and I think anyone starting out should focus on those three things."

Old School, Experienced Driver

Learn From Your Mistakes And Be Honest With Yourself

Listen, we all make mistakes, but as rookies we all made a ton of mistakes, and you will too. The key is to make sure your mistakes are little ones, own up to them, and learn from them. There are going to be a lot of hard lessons learned along the way. Expect it. Stay positive and learn from everything you do.

"At the end of each day review the previous activities noting anything of importance than can serve as a learning experience. Record this sort of thing in a notebook and refer to it often."

G-Town, Experienced Driver

"Also, be willing to freely admit to and own your mistakes. You're going to make them, it's inevitable. The key is to learn from them so you don't make them again."

Fatsquatch, Experienced Driver

A Few Last Tips For The Road

Everyone is excited but nervous when it's time to go solo, and you should be. At least a little. In a way it's all on your shoulders now, but at the same time you have a support network out there so don't hesitate to use it.

Here are a few last tips for your safe journey into the realm of solo driving.

"Oh, and fuel rewards [points you get on your card when fueling at truck stops] are your friend, especially when you're first starting out and your bank account is still playing Oliver Twist. Use them for everything you can, and swipe that card with every transaction you make in the truck stop, even if you're just buying a slice of pizza. You never know what promotions will get you a discount or add to your points balance."

Fatsquatch, Experienced Driver

"All rookies do a few things, so be prepared to prevent them from happening.

1). Lock yourself out of the truck so hide a spare key with a paperclip, not a magnetic box that will fall off the truck in a construction zone.

2). Jump the 5th wheel. Get out and look to see if the trailer is high before you back under. If your kingpin does get stuck behind the skid plate, lower your airbags and place a hammer under your plate to level it. Then pull forward.

3) Hit something. You will most likely do it. So swing wide and GOAL to try to prevent it. If you do have an accident, own it and make no excuses. Learn from it.

4) Reefer rookies forget to fuel the reefer before going to the customer. Make fueling part of your routine. Fuel before and after each customer. Check the fuel level on every walk around at every stop or break."

Rainy D., Experienced Driver

Do you have some great advice for rookies? We'd love to add it to the mix! Follow the link below to our original forum conversation and give us your thoughts:

Your Best Advice For A Driver Preparing To Go Solo

Tagged Under:

Advice For New Truck Drivers Driver Responsibilities First Solo Months On The Road Hard Lessons Learned Life On The Road On The Road In Training Safe Driving Tips Trip Planning Truck Driver Training

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