What Is The Toughest Single Skill To Master As A Student Semi Driver?

Topic 24144 | Page 1

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The Infamous Todd Holmes's Comment
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My best guess would be backing up (without hitting anything).

It is often said the toughest skill a student pilot has to learn is land the airplane safely and in a controlled fashion.

To me, big rig backing is comparable with aircraft landing particularly jumbo jet landing. I have heard that a Boeing 747 is a "flying brick". Brett in his Raw Truth books states that a semi is a "rolling building".

One is essentially "landing" their truck when backing to a dock or parking it in a yard, I would think, so big-rig backing might be a good analogy to landing a big plane or docking a big cargo ship to a wharf. Docking is the single hardest boating skill for recreational motorboaters as is parallel parking a car for automobile drivers.

Does everybody here agree that backing is the toughest driver skill?

In the army we had "ground guides". Personnel on the ground to spot us when backing large trucks in tight areas. They would give us visual hand signals we could see in the mirror. I have seen some drivers at supermarket docks place orange cones down to mark the area to back up to. They use orange traffic cones in the army to to train personnel to back up. Some soldiers jokingly refer to them as "rookie cones".

Old School's Comment
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Todd, you're probably correct about backing the rig. It just takes a long time to really get the feel for it. The repetition is what helps develop the skill, but we are mostly driving forward, so we don't get to practice backing up very much.

It might surprise you to realize that the skills,or lack of them, is not what derails most new drivers when making an attempt at trucking.

Michael S.'s Comment
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There are many physical and operational demands/challenges, but as with anything worthwhile, I believe mindset and keeping a positive attitude and approach even on the bad days is essential and can be tough to do at times, just always approach challenges with thinking "this to shall pass", and "what can I learn from this"

Brett Aquila's Comment
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The simple answer you're probably looking for is yes, backing is the toughest skill. After all, there are only a few driving skills to learn - driving forward, backing up, and shifting.

But there are a lot of different types of skills a driver needs to master in order to consistently perform at the highest level and maintain their sanity over a long period of time.

  • Driving

    The simplest skills to master are the driving skills I've mentioned. The basics of maneuvering a big rig are fairly easy to learn, given enough time, and it's rarely a lack of driving skills that will end a person's career. On the other hand, the more advanced skills like recovering from a skid on icy roads are rarely mastered by anyone because you simply won't do them enough in your career to ever become very good at them. Knowing just how much you can push it on slick roads is one of the most subtle but important skills you'll learn and of course that takes a lot of experience, and sometimes a little luck, to learn safely.

  • Non-driving Skills

    In order to do your job well you have to learn a much broader set of skills beyond handling the vehicle, many of which focus around communication and time management. Keeping dispatch and customers informed of your situation, considering the many variables that will come into play in order to schedule your runs, knowing when you can run and when you need rest, developing strategies for getting loads picked up and delivered ahead of schedule, and many other non-driving skills. These skills are arguably far more complex and take longer to learn than driving skills and can put a ceiling on a driver's ability to turn a lot of miles consistently regardless of their driving skills.

  • Mental Skills

    You have to learn to control your mind and emotions if you want to prevent burnout, make smart decisions, and think clearly in times of stress or danger. You must remain patient, think long term, focus on safety, and avoid troubling thoughts as much as possible or you will find yourself exhausted, frustrated, stressed out, and error prone. I like to say, "To the extent you control your mind you control your life." I think these mental skills are the most difficult to develop and the most often overlooked skills, but arguably the most important because they will have a huge impact on how well you perform your driving and non-driving skills. They will also determine whether or not you consistently enjoy yourself out there, which goes a long way toward performing well and sticking with trucking for the long run.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Errol V.'s Comment
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I'll second Brett's list of tough driving jobs. Really the hardest for many is the emotional change to being alone, away from family for most of the time. I bet more people leave trucking for family reasons than those who quit because they can't back the trailer (including those who have accidents in backing).

As for backing specifically, the skills needed for the ol' 90 Alley Dock are the hardest. But the secret I taught is to learn to read the trailer - watch the trailer using both mirrors, and understand what you need to do to "aim" the back of your trailer to where it needs to go.

Rules like "Make one turn of the steering wheel to the right" are fine for beginners, but by the time you get into the OTR road you should be watching the trailer more.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
The Infamous Todd Holmes's Comment
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I'll second Brett's list of tough driving jobs. Really the hardest for many is the emotional change to being alone, away from family for most of the time. I bet more people leave trucking for family reasons than those who quit because they can't back the trailer (including those who have accidents in backing).

As for backing specifically, the skills needed for the ol' 90 Alley Dock are the hardest. But the secret I taught is to learn to read the trailer - watch the trailer using both mirrors, and understand what you need to do to "aim" the back of your trailer to where it needs to go.

Rules like "Make one turn of the steering wheel to the right" are fine for beginners, but by the time you get into the OTR road you should be watching the trailer more.

I have already had some experience backing a small trailer with a small vehicle as a car or a pickup.

I have also backed up medium-sized trucks with trailers in the army. An army sergeant actually taught me the basics of trailer backing.

The general rule is to steer the towing vehicle the opposite direction where you want the back of the trailer to go. If I want the a_s end of my trailer to go right I cut my wheels hard left, vice versa. It's much easier to back a trailer on a straight line than try to back it around a curve and human spotter on the ground helps too.

When backing my landscaping trailer at the dump to unload the refuse, the dump personnel usually guides the patron when backing. At a boat ramp I have found it is easiest to get the truck and trailer straight with the ramp then it's an easy shot back.

I'm a lifetime bachelor with no family so that won't be a deterrent for my taking up the driver seat of a rig.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Seabee-J's Comment
member avatar

I liked that Airplane analogy when it comes to the physical skill , as mentioned above it is with repetition and feel that you become more adept at whatever you try to master , I fly small aircraft myself and landing is definitely the most challenging but rewarding facet of flight because each one is different depending on the situation weatherwise or weight wise as I'm sure with them 53s it is quite similar . In flying if you have a solid stable approach your landing will be good most likely , I'm sure in backing as well if you have a good setup you will have a much less frustrating back .

Big Scott (CFI's biggest 's Comment
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Generally people who have a lot of experience and skill backing the kinds of trailers you described have an easier time learning to back one of these giants. I also think developing the sence of where your truck and trailer are compared with your surroundings. This includes while driving.

Chuck S.'s Comment
member avatar

Backing up a big truck without a doubt.

this will sound like a big fish story, but it is true I just don't have video to back this up but,

I don't recommend anyone do this at anytime in their career as a truck drive

one day years ago as a rookie driver I was sitting in a dock getting unloaded when a trucker pulled up in his rig ( a nice rig at that ) and proceeded to back into the dock next to me and what happened next left me speechless .

After he put in reverse and let out the clutch his door flew open, he jumped out on the top step, facing backwards while standing on the step he guided the truck into the dock all while he had his left hand on the steering wheel and his right hand holding the phone up to his ear.... only to jump in at the last min. to stop the truck ... no bs

Bobcat_Bob's Comment
member avatar

Backing up a big truck without a doubt.

this will sound like a big fish story, but it is true I just don't have video to back this up but,

I don't recommend anyone do this at anytime in their career as a truck drive

one day years ago as a rookie driver I was sitting in a dock getting unloaded when a trucker pulled up in his rig ( a nice rig at that ) and proceeded to back into the dock next to me and what happened next left me speechless .

After he put in reverse and let out the clutch his door flew open, he jumped out on the top step, facing backwards while standing on the step he guided the truck into the dock all while he had his left hand on the steering wheel and his right hand holding the phone up to his ear.... only to jump in at the last min. to stop the truck ... no bs

I wouldn't believe you if I hadn't seen the same thing minus the phone. I was in training waiting for our appointment at Kraft, when my trainer was like holy cow look at that, and a guy in a flat nose Pete did that exact same thing.

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