Managing risk is the most important part of the job for OTR truck drivers. Nothing matters more than safety. Knowing your limits means knowing when to shut it down and knowing when to push on. We'll take a look at some of the circumstances you'll face out there and help you understand where to draw the line on safety.Join The Discussion
The Fine Line Between Uncomfortable And Dangerous
Hey folks, I'm Brett Aquila with TruckingTruth.com and welcome to another episode of our Podcast 'The Road Home' where we help new drivers prepare for life on the road.
Today I want to talk about the fine line between doing something that makes you uncomfortable versus doing something that is outright dangerous. When you're on the road you're going to encounter bad weather and terrible traffic on a regular basis. You're going to be driving down long, steep mountain grades with heavy loads and you'll be delivering to places located downtown in the largest cities in the country.
There will also be times when you're facing a long drive but you're feeling sick or you're getting really tired. Other times your truck may be having issues, or maybe you're in training and your trainer is asking you to do something that scares the life out of you.
You'll find yourself in tough situations pretty regularly out there where you're really not sure if you should push on or shut it down, especially early in your career. I'm going to cover some of the circumstances you'll encounter out there and give you some insights to help you make these tough decisions.
Let's start out talking about your time on the road with a trainer. First of all, you have to understand that the only way you can learn to do something like driving a truck is by doing it. It would be to simply read a book or watch a demonstration and suddenly find you have the skills you need to do the job safely. That would be great! But obviously it doesn't work that way.
So your trainers job involves walking a fine line. He has to push you hard enough that you'll improve your skills but not so hard that you wreck the truck or have a nervous breakdown in the process. There's going to be a lot of times when you're asked to do things that scare the life out of you, and we've even had people suggest that their trainer is 'setting them up for failure' or 'forcing them into dangerous situations'.
Well one of the things you have to keep in mind is that your trainer is in the truck with you. He doesn't want to get in a wreck any more than you do. So your trainer isn't going to make a decision that he feels is endangering his own life. If he's asking you to do something it's probably because he feels you can manage it safely. In fact, your trainer may often times have more confidence in you than you have in yourself.
So you have to get used to being outside of your comfort zone, especially early on in your career. Now if you find that your trainer is blatantly being reckless or asking you to do anything illegal then it's time to park the truck and make some phone calls to the company. I'd love to say you'll never have to worry about this sort of thing, but unfortunately there are some trainers that really don't make the best decisions themselves. So you do have to be aware of the possibility. But don't make the mistake of thinking your trainer isn't doing a good job because you're not comfortable out there. Making you uncomfortable without going too far with it is one of the most important and difficult aspects of a trainer's job.
Now what about the weather? Obviously there will be times you're in dangerous weather like snowstorms or high winds. So when is the weather bad enough to warrant shutting it down? This is one circumstance where often times you're going to have to trust your instincts and keep the big picture in mind.
If you're in over your head you're going to feel it in your gut. You're going to know that you're on the edge of losing control and that you're taking some serious chances. When you start to feel that way it's time to shut it down.
And it's important to ignore what everyone else is doing. You have to be the captain of your own ship. There is no such thing as weather so severe that no one will try to push through. There will always be someone out there taking a shot at it. Don't let that influence your decision at all. When you start scaring yourself, you know it's time to park it.
And finally, keep in mind that most of the time you will find picture perfect weather following a storm. Many times over the years I shut it down during a snowstorm to wake up the next morning to bright sunshine, blue skies, and clear, dry roads. You'll have plenty of opportunity to make up for lost time under better conditions.
Now what about when you're sick or you're getting tired? Well, the truth is if you only drove when you felt fantastic you'd never get anywhere. There will be times you're not really feeling your best. This is another judgment call that requires you to trust your instincts. Again, keep the big picture in mind. You have the rest of your life to make all the money you'd like to make. We all want to be tough and we all want to show the boss that we're capable of pushing through difficulties, but you have a much great obligation to the innocent people you're sharing the highways with. Always put safety first and don't let your ego talk you into doing something dangerous. If you're feeling too tired or too sick to drive safely then it's time to park it.
Finally let's talk about the truck itself. There will be times the truck needs work but you're not sure if you can drive it the way it is or if you need to shut down and get it fixed. The first thing to look at is whether or not it's safety related. If the issue compromises the safe operation of the truck then you simply shut it down immediately, no questions asked. If it doesn't compromise safety then normally you can keep driving it until you reach a more convenient time and place to get repairs done.
One place you can turn to for help is your company's shop. Give the shop a call and explain the situation. They will be glad to help you determine if it's safe to drive the truck or if you need to shut it down right there and then.
So that's a look at some specific circumstances you'll face and now I'd like to make some important points to keep in mind regardless of the situation you're in.
The first point is to trust your instincts. When you can really 'feel' that you're heading into a dangerous situation or you're in over your head then it's time to shut it down. Now that certainly doesn't mean you're not going to drive through challenging circumstances or that you'll always feel comfortable out there. Trucking is inherintely risky and you're going to be challenged on a regular basis. But when your gut starts hurting and you start getting that feeling of impending doom then it's time to shut it down.
A second point I'd like to make is to never let anyone talk you into driving that truck when you know it may not be safe or legal to do so. Truckers have very little authority, but a ton of responsibility. Fortunately the one thing you do have authority over is whether or not you drive that truck on the highway. If you don't feel it's safe or legal to do so then shut it down, simple as that.
The third point I'd like to make is that you must keep the big picture in mind for making big decisions. Don't risk injury, property damage, or your career because you're trying to make an extra buck or you want bragging rights as 'the driver who can drive through anything'. You have to be smarter than that. Risking your life or the lives of those around you for such petty reasons is foolish. You have the entire rest of your life to make money and achieve great things. Pushing yourself to drive when you shouldn't be driving is playing with fire. It's going to end badly for you sooner or later, and even worse you might get innocent people hurt or killed in the process.
There's a saying you can apply to trucking that you may have heard used in other professions. There are old truckers and there are bold truckers but there are no old bold truckers. In other words, you're not going to live long if you keep taking risks without knowing where to draw the line. No one is going to celebrate how bold you were if you sail off a cliff or run over someone's family trying to prove that you can drive through anything. You want to be the best at managing risk, not the one who takes excessive risks.
So trust your instincts, be the captain of your own ship, and keep the big picture in mind. Understand the difference between being a little uncomfortable with the circumstances, versus being reckless or dangerous in your approach. The best drivers are the ones who understand their limits and make safe, smart decisions. So go out there and run hard when you can, but shut down when you know you should, so when the work is done you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the road home.
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