Prudence Seems To Be Lacking In Some Rookie Truck Drivers

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Today we had a newly licensed graduate from CDL school, announcing in our forum, his proud moment of getting his first truck driving job. We are always thrilled when we see these moments, and we are thankful we've been able to help them through the various steps it takes to get to that point. This was a new person to our community and we were just dumbfounded by his first choice of trucking jobs. Not only was he bold enough to choose driving a double fuel tanker, but his new employer was just as bold to accept him into their employ! I can't decide which one is crazier, the employee or the employer, but neither of them showed much prudence in this whole hiring process. To be honest, I can't even believe that their insurance company is willing to accept this new driver onto their policy, knowing the incredible liability that he is likely to be.

You can read the conversation we had with this new driver in our forum, "Opinion On Driving A Tank Truck Right Out Of CDL School.

Prudence can be defined as, “discretion in practical affairs.” So, let's take a look from an experienced driver's perspective of how a rookie driver should exercise discretion in the practical affair of getting his career off to a good start.

Understanding The Risks Involved

First off we need to realize that a 70 plus feet long articulating vehicle, sometimes weighing in at up to 80,000 pounds, has the potential to do some real collateral damage when involved in an accident. I can't tell you how many times I have read news reports of an eighteen wheeler being involved in an accident with a couple of four wheelers and the truck driver walks away, while the occupants of the automobile were taken to the morgue. Look, we hear reports all the time in our forum about rookie drivers having accidents during their first year of driving. It just happens. Most of the time they are fortunately minor accidents, and the rookie gets the chance to learn from their mistakes, but tanker accidents don't usually fall in that category.

I can't even tell you how many close calls I've experienced in my trucking career, and most of them had nothing to do with anything I did wrong. This new driver kept on using phrases like:

“I know that my mental capacity can handle many different and new challenges.”

Or claims:

“I'm just very ambitious”

All that may be fine and good. I am an ambitious person myself, and I like to see ambition in other people. To disregard prudence when approaching a driving career is not ambition, but willful ambivalence to the very present dangers that are not necessarily under your control at all times.

A Terrifying Close Call

I still remember vividly coming so close to killing someone on the road fairly early in my career. It was a beautiful sunny day in Colorado. I was minding my own business rolling down the interstate at 63 miles per hour in the right hand lane, when a new looking White Subaru Outback starts passing me in the left hand lane. Just as they got up even with the front of my truck I saw a quick puff of dirt or dust appear from the far left front of the Subaru and then it started spinning 360's right there in the highway. I immediately moved to the right shoulder and was braking hard just as they bounced from the far left guardrail and crossed both lanes over into the far right shoulder real estate that I was occupying.

Because they were spinning out of control I had to brake even harder and locked up my trailer wheels. I literally came within inches of smashing that car into a crumpled up piece of scrap metal, and sending the driver into the next world. Somehow they bounced against the right hand guardrail and went completely back across the interstate and became lodged in the left hand guardrail. This whole event caused a chain reaction of vehicles sliding all over the place behind us just to avoid being involved in the accident themselves.

All of that happened on a day of perfectly beautiful weather and on flat ground with dry pavement. I tell you it happened in a matter of a split second – it was like disaster just struck in an instant. “Terrifying,” is the only word that I can use to describe it.

When I got my rig pulled over and stopped so that I could get out and check on the poor little old lady that was driving the car, I felt completely drained. It almost felt as if I had just finished running a three minute mile – I was drenched in sweat and my whole body was aching. I drew in a deep breath, and realized that I must have been holding my breath for the duration of the very tense moments it took me to get my truck back under control and stopped on the side of the road.

I can still remember the details of that scene to this day. I remember looking in my driver's side mirror and seeing clouds of smoke from the tires of the eighteen wheelers behind me who had locked up their brakes just to avoid getting entangled with us. It was no small miracle that no one got hurt in that event, but it left its indelible stamp on me for life.

Now, imagine that happening to you in a double fuel tanker. Let your mind marinate in that thought for a few moments. The surge from the fuel alone would have pushed you right into the vehicle that was dancing across the interstate ahead of you, and more than likely you would have been in an explosion that would not only kill the driver but have the consequence of monumental collateral damages with all the other vehicles that were in close proximity.

Prudence takes these types of things into account. It keeps us from taking unnecessary risks out here while trying to make a decent start at this career. It helps us to assess the risks involved in our careers and guides us into the path that is well established as a way to safely get started in a career that is listed as one of the top 10 most dangerous careers in the United States.

Hazards We Are Completely Unaware Of

Secondly, we need to realize that as rookie drivers there are a lot of hazards that we aren't even aware of yet. As rookies we seldom even know the right questions to ask. We are just excited to get out there and get started in our new careers, and we are oblivious to the consequences of turning that rig just a little too early on a right hand turn, or not paying close attention to the constant detail of keeping sufficient space all around our vehicle.

We don't realize the importance of being able to anticipate what others around us may probably do, and that is simply because we do not have the experiences which gives us the foundational exposure to the many scenarios on the road that serve as our learning curve.

Just yesterday I was about to make a right hand exit from an interstate in Connecticut, but I had noticed a car a hundred yards behind me driving erratically and approaching at a high rate of speed. My first thought was that they would try to pass me on the right shoulder just as I was about to take the exit. I had my blinker on, but I delayed my maneuver for just a moment and just like I thought he came right around me on the right shoulder and flew by me at an alarming rate of speed.

Now consider a rookie driver in that scenario. He is pulling a double fuel tanker not experienced in the disciplines of knowing what is going on that far behind him, and he goes ahead and makes his exit. We actually had a new driver describe this very scenario in our trucker's forum. Only he was moving over to get in a climbing lane as a speeding driver passed him on the right when he caused an accident. He never saw them coming and now has a preventable accident on his record.

Hazards Beyond The Interstate

The third thing we need to realize, and this is really specific to driving a fuel tanker, is that there are a multitude of other hazards that aren't even driving related. There are procedures that must be followed when loading and unloading. There's a lot of procedural mistakes that can be made with life threatening consequences when not done properly. A new rookie driver is totally ignorant of all these things no matter how much “mental capacity” they think they have.

It just amazes me how oftentimes people want to take the most dangerous approach to getting their career started as a truck driver. I've seen it plenty of times in our forum, people want to jump right into trucking and start making the most money possible. It is a phenomenon that I don't recall seeing in any other industry. Most of the time people realize that they are going to have to walk before they can run, but when it comes to truck driving people just seem to think, “Heck, I already know how to drive a car, how much harder can it be to drive a truck? I've got this, I don't need your advice – I need to make some real money now!”

When you consider the terrible statistics that show how many people fail at becoming professional truck drivers, and see the incredible amount of dollars that are spent each year just trying to train new drivers, you realize that this is not a walk in the park.

Prudence takes a conservative approach to this career and makes sure that it gets started off right. Anybody who is building a house starts out with a good solid foundation, then they start working on putting up the walls and having it start to take shape and look like it is actually going to be a home.

Starting Your Career Off Right

A successful truck driver builds upon his resume and his experiences by taking the little baby steps first. There is so much to learn out here in this business. I would hate to start off my career doing something that multiplied the number of things I had to learn and making it that much more dangerous than it already is.

Prudence, it is your safeguard when starting your trucking career. It's critical if you want to survive that first year of your trucking career and it will help lead you to success.

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