If you ask experienced drivers what the golden rule of safety is in trucking, you'll get a lot of specific answers - keep your speed down, keep your following distance, watch your mirrors, etc. - and they're all correct and all very important. But they're also very specific, and none of them by themselves will lead to safety - you need all of them. So let's boil this topic down to it's simplest form - one single item that applies across the board to safety. One golden rule: don't hit anything.
Why would I bother making a point of something so simple and obvious as "don't hit anything"? Simple - because it isn't that simple or obvious to us all the time. All of us get too focused in on the wrong priorities sometimes - making all the money we can, getting to the customer on time no matter what, finding a place to pull over ASAP because we're starving or have to use the restroom, getting out of the rush hour traffic we've been stuck in for two hours ( it's really rush hours traffic ), etc.
Sometimes we're just totally distracted by other things that are important in our lives - fights with our loved ones, a family or friend who is sick, we're late for our home time and we're dying to get home, we're behind on our bills and we have to figure out our finances, etc, etc.
It's not that some of us don't care about safety - we all do, of course. But at times it's hard to keep safety front and center in our minds when so much is going on in our lives. I don't think most accidents are caused by people who tend to be reckless. I think they're caused by people who got distracted from their number one priority - safety - and made driving decisions based on the wrong priorities.
That's why being consistently safe over the years is so incredibly difficult - it takes a lot of mental discipline not to lose focus on safety when life around us is so hectic so much of the time. You've gotta keep your focus and keep your priorities in line. That is far easier said than done.
Warren Buffet, one of the world's richest men and greatest money managers ever known, always had one golden rule - make all of your money decisions pay off for the long term. In other words, don't make money decisions that will help you now, but may hurt you later. If you focus on the long term gains consistently over time, you will build wealth. If you sacrifice the long-term gains to achieve short term gains, you'll go broke a little ways down the line.
The same goes with safety in trucking. Keep yourself focused on the long term goal - a clean safety record. If you're late for a load, no big deal. If you get home a day or two later than you had hoped - not the end of the world. If you're sick of sitting in traffic in Atlanta and you're dying to get moving again - relax, it will pass.
What won't pass is your driving record - accidents stay with you permanently. And that's assuming there are no injuries. We don't need to go there. You know very well what can happen.
Hundreds of times throughout each day we're making decisions - which lane to be in, should I pass this guy or not, should I pull out now or wait a minute, should I keep driving to get there on time even though I'm tired, etc. Are you making these decisions based on keeping your safety record clean, or are you making them based on how you feel right now and what you desire right now?
So many times in life we're "playing the odds." We figure, hey, what are the chances that this will end badly? Many of the things we do on the road will end well 99.9% of the time. Many times, even doing the wrong things end well. But when you're making hundreds of decisions a day over a period of years, and you factor in all of the variables that will affect the outcome of each thing you do, eventually taking your chances and playing the odds will make your last decision that .01% of the decisions that end badly. One bad ending is one too many for all of us.
You must not ever gamble with your safety. Some people seem to believe that nothing will ever happen to them. Most seem to believe that things can happen to them, but likely won't this time. To be brutally honest, there are graveyards, court rooms, hospitals, and unemployment lines filled with people who made these assumptions one too many times. I hate the idea of being a downer like that, but the matter really is that serious, and one time is one too many.
Every time you make a decision out there, ask yourself, "Am I doing this with my long-term goal of a perfect safety record as my top priority, or am I taking a chance and playing the odds?" Make all of your decisions based on the simple premise of "don't hit anything." Everything else, like being late, sitting an extra minute before pulling out, getting home a day late, and staying behind a slower vehicle on a two lane road, will all come to pass like they never happened. Accidents won't. So, focus and don't compromise, because sooner or later the odds will work against you - you can count on that.