Becoming a truck driver can be a rewarding yet challenging adventure. The road to becoming a truck driver includes maintaining a clean driving record,obtaining a CDL, and understanding the life of an over the road driver. Once a driver has completed these steps, it’s time to hit the open road. However, a lot of situations come up while traveling hundreds and thousands of miles from home. To help you get the most out of your truck driving career and experience all the benefits of becoming a truck driver, we’ve consulted with drivers who have decades of experience as over the road truck drivers and assembled this collection of tips to aid new and experienced drivers alike.
Truck Driver Safety Tips
Returning home to loved ones, safe and sound, is the number one priority of every truck driver and every trucking company. If you’re new to trucking, these safety related truck driving tips, as well as our other guide on truck driver safety, cover the essentials on keeping you out of unsafe situations.
Get Out and Look (G.O.A.L.)
If you’re already on the road, you have likely seen stickers on the driver’s side mirror or on trailers with the acronym G.O.A.L. It’s there for good reason. When backing up your truck, if you are not sure whether or not you’re going to make it, always get out and double-check. It’s better to take too long parking than to back up into another vehicle or person and find yourself liable for damages.
Don’t Neglect The Pre-Trip Inspection
It only takes a few minutes to get out and do a walk-around check on your truck and trailer, checking that everything is correctly connected and in order. This could save you the cost of getting a ticket, or worse. To get the most out of your pre-trip inspections, make or obtain a checklist similar to what you used during training. Using a checklist will help you make this a routine, and prevent you from overlooking a potential safety issue.
Meeting deadlines is important, but it’s more important to actually get to your destination. The phrase “the longer you take, the faster you’ll get there” is commonly used. Don’t sacrifice safety for speed. And remember, the surest way to reach your destination and make that delivery is to adhere to best safety practices.
Get Enough Sleep
The NHTSA reported 697 deaths due to drowsy driving in 2019 alone. Driving while tired can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and can be even more dangerous when you’re operating an 80,000-pound vehicle. If you find yourself nodding off, find a place to park and get some sleep, or better yet, get enough sleep in the first place.
Maintain a Safe Following Distance
Commercial trucks have a much longer stopping distance than regular passenger vehicles, so make sure that you’re well away from the car in front of you in case they slam on the brakes. In the same vein, it is also important to check your mirrors, and know which lanes are clear in case you need to change quickly to avoid an accident.
Pay Attention to Weather Conditions
As you’re moving from one region to another across the country, it’s quite common to move from warm conditions in the south into winter conditions in the north, or torrential southern rainstorms as you come in from the north. Always keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to adjust your schedule, and your driving to compensate for weather.
Swing Wide When Making Those Turns
A very common mistake drivers make is failing to swing out wide enough when making their turns. What happens next can range from embarrassing to deadly dangerous. If you don’t swing wide enough you can hit power poles, street signs, hang your trailer in a ditch and even roll your truck over. Giving yourself plenty of room to clear obstacles is a surefire way to avoid a bad day.
Pay Attention to Road Signs
When you’re transporting a load in an unfamiliar area, pay attention to truck route signage, and remain alert for signs warning you about low bridge clearances and weight restrictions.
Don’t Ignore Low Clearance and Weight Warnings
If you end up making a wrong turn and come upon a bridge that is too low for you to pass under, or too weak for you to drive over, your safest course of action is to stop. Do not try to proceed in either situation because that gets really expensive. Instead turn on your flashers, set your brakes, and call local law enforcement. They would much rather help you guide your truck back out of that situation than call for a wrecker to extract your truck from a river bed or out from being wedged under a bridge.
Practice Defensive Driving
Defensive driving is a critical skill for any truck driver. You should always be aware of your surroundings and anticipate potential hazards on the road. You should also maintain a safe following distance and avoid driving aggressively. Defensive driving can help you avoid accidents and stay safe on the road.
Keep Your Vehicle Maintained
One of the most important aspects of being a successful truck driver is keeping your vehicle maintained. You should perform regular checks on your vehicle to ensure that it is in good working condition. This includes checking your brakes, tires, fluids, and other essential components. Keeping your vehicle maintained can help you avoid breakdowns and other problems that can disrupt your schedule and cost you money.
Plan Your Route
Before you hit the road, you should plan your route carefully. You should know the best route to take to avoid traffic, construction, and other potential delays. You should also have a plan for rest stops, fuel stops, and other essential stops along the way. Planning your route can help you stay on schedule and avoid unnecessary delays.
Tips on Truck Stops
It’s important to know as someone new to trucking, that eventually you will be stopping at truck stops. On top of making your own visit enjoyable, it will make your life (and everyone else’s life) easier if you follow some basic truck stop etiquette rules.
Research Truck Stops Ahead of Time
Before hitting the road, research truck stops along your route. Use online resources, such as apps and websites, to find out which truck stops offer the amenities you need, such as parking, showers, laundry facilities, and restaurants.
When You’re Done Fueling, Pull Ahead
Don’t leave your truck at the pump when you’re done fueling to run in and grab your receipt, or to grab anything you’ll need for the next leg of your trip. You don’t want to be holding everyone else up at the pump. Beyond etiquette and reflecting briefly on another safety issue it’s important to keep in mind that failing to pull up after fueling has frequently been the cause of physical altercations between truck drivers.
Don’t Leave Your Truck When You’re Next In Line
It can be tempting to dash away from your truck to get a snack or use the restroom while someone else is fuelling ahead of you, but they finish while you’re away, you’re now holding up the rest of the fuel line.
Respect The Facilities
Leave the restrooms in good condition, and don’t leave trash lying around the restroom or the lot. Do your part to keep everything clean and sanitary. When you respect the facilities you’re also respecting your fellow drivers and in this profession, a little respect can go a long way.
Don’t Be Averse to the “Back 40"
Sure, it’s nice to get a spot as close to the restaurant as possible, but it can sometimes be easier to find parking in the back. Plus, the extra bit of walking can help ease any cramps from driving and helps you to stay in shape.
Lock Your Doors
Because of their proximity to high traffic areas, truck stops are often like magnets for unsavory individuals looking to prey on truck drivers who are miles away from anyone they know. So, even if you’re in or near your truck, it never hurts to take an extra moment to make sure everything is locked up, both for your own safety, and the safety of your things.
Be Polite to Your Fellow Drivers
Everyone is out there doing the same job with the same goal in mind, to make money and get home safe. A little respect and politeness goes a long way.
Don’t Block Scales
Blocking weight scales, parking on them, or needlessly driving across them, are serious breaches of etiquette at truck stops. Anything that causes a delay for a fellow driver is a sign of disrespect and should be avoided.
Be Mindful of Parking
When parking at a truck stop, be mindful of your surroundings. Look for well-lit areas, avoid parking near high-traffic areas, and try to park in a spot that allows you to easily exit when you are ready to hit the road again. It is also a good idea to lock your doors and secure your vehicle before leaving it unattended.
Staying Physically Healthy as a Truck Driver
We’ve already covered some tips on how to ensure the safety of your truck and how to take care of your fellow truck stop attendees. But you should also take time to take care of yourself while on the road.
Maintain an Exercise Schedule
Being a trucker can involve a lot of time spent being sedentary in the seat. It’s important to make time to move your body to maintain your health, and regular exercising and stretching can help mitigate some back or joint problems that may develop as a result of this.
If you need some inspiration, this bodybuilder truckdriver explains how he stays in top shape on the road.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
While it can be tempting to eat at the truck stop restaurant, or even have food delivered if the area you’re in permits, your body will thank you in the long run if you try to watch your diet. One thing you can do is to get a good cooler and stock your own groceries. This can help you eat better, and save money on the road.
Drinking enough water is essential for staying alert and focused on the road. Carry a refillable water bottle with you and try to drink at least 8-10 cups of water per day. Avoid sugary drinks, which can cause energy crashes.
Get Regular Health Checkups
As a truck driver, it's important to stay on top of your health. Make sure to get regular checkups with your doctor, and address any health concerns as soon as possible.
Maintaining Strong Mental Health
While physical health is important, that doesn’t mean you can neglect your mental health as well. Whether it's watching movies, reading or playing music, you should try to find an activity or hobby to fight boredom during your downtime.
Stay Connected with Loved Ones
Truck driving can be a lonely job, so it's important to stay connected with loved ones. Make time for phone calls, video chats, or other forms of communication to stay connected with family and friends.
Keep Your Space Clean
Your truck is your living space while on the road. Keeping it clean will make it easier to find important items. It is also a way to keep you from getting sick. There’s nothing worse than getting sick when you’re hundreds of miles away from home. Make sure to take the time to keep your living space clean and organized, and you will thank yourself later.
Establish a Routine
When you’re a driver, it’s so important to create a consistent daily routine. This will reduce your anxiety and stress. You can consider adding in sleep schedules, breaks, walks, leisure time, etc.
Career Advice for New Truck Drivers
Even when just starting out and looking for a truck driving job with no experience, it can be a good thing to consider your career-long term and make sure you’re setting yourself up for success.
It’s Your License
Nobody can force you to drive unsafely or to do something that may put your CDL in jeopardy. In other words, when you’re on the road, you’re the captain of the ship. Keep in mind that dispatchers, trucking company owners, and shippers/receivers can face serious legal consequences under federal law if they attempt to force or coerce you to operate your truck in an unsafe manner including attempting to coerce you into violating hours of service regulations. You don’t want your career to end or be put on hold before it even begins. Safety first.
Make it a Habit to Keep Records
Nobody likes doing paperwork, but it is a good habit to build. From costs incurred, to copies of trip reports, to receipts from weigh stations, you should make it a habit right out of the gate to keep organized records while on the job. This could also come in handy come tax season if you’re an owner-operator as well.
Do Your Research
Before signing a contract with a company, make sure that you know what you’ll be getting into. How do they treat their employees? How do current and former drivers feel about them? What is their turnover rate? You don’t want to start your trucking career locked into a bad contract.
Building relationships with your dispatchers, coworkers, and other industry professionals can help you advance your career. Stay in touch with your contacts and don't be afraid to ask for referrals or advice.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
Truck driving can be a tough and sometimes frustrating job, but maintaining a positive attitude can help you stay focused and motivated. Look for the positives in your job, and try to find ways to enjoy the journey.
Setting career goals can help you stay motivated and focused on your long-term career aspirations. Whether it's earning a specific certification, achieving a certain number of miles driven, or earning a promotion, set goals that challenge you and help you grow.
General Do’s and Don’ts for Truckers
Here are a few general do’s and don’ts, or general best practices for your career as a commercial truck driver.
Do - Be Respectful and Professional
Whether you’re dealing with a customer, a dispatcher, or other truckers and motorists on the road, nobody likes dealing with someone with a bad attitude. Make your life and everyone else’s life easier by being respectful and professional.
Don’t - Take Other Driver’s Behavior Personally
People will honk, tailgate, cut you off, and flash their brights at you, and that’s just on the freeway. While it can be difficult, try to take these things in stride and don’t let them get to you, or distract you on the road. Remember, you can control the space around your truck by slowing down and maintaining your lane. So if you’re dealing with an aggressive driver, back it down.
Do - Be the Best Employee You Can
We’ve already stressed how important it is to take your time, but don’t use this as an excuse to get complacent or be lazy. Safety is important, but so is being a professional. If you have a legitimate safety concern, bring it up with dispatch or safety, but don’t get into the habit of consistently missing deadlines or generally being unreliable.
Don’t - Sleep Sitting Up
Some truckers are of the opinion that getting into the habit of sleeping sitting up can get your body used to sleeping in that position. As we covered in our safety section, driving drowsy can be incredibly dangerous. Plus, federal regulations are quite specific about sleeping. You have no reason to sleep sitting up because the law requires you to make use of that comfy mattress in your sleeper cabin.
Do - Keep a Pair of Clean, Professional Looking Clothes on Hand
You don’t have to keep a three-piece suit in your cab, but meeting with customers and clients while wearing a clean polo or button up can make a better impression than meeting while wearing your three-day old dirty band shirt. Most truck stops have laundry and shower facilities, so if you’re out there for an extended period of time, it’s still possible to maintain a professional clean appearance.
Don’t - Take Unnecessary Risks
You should make it a habit of trusting your instincts. If you’re not sure you’re going to make that lane change, or not sure that you’re going to be able to make it into that parking spot, take the safer option instead. The condition of your truck, your license, or even your lives or the lives of other motorists could be on the line if you don’t. You’re moving goods from point A to point B, so keeping it simple, and doing nothing fancy or dangerous is the right way to be a good truck driver.
Do - Sign Up for Truck Stop Reward Cards
All the major truck stop chains and many of the smaller businesses offer reward cards for professional drivers. When you fuel up or make purchases, points are added to your reward card with that truck stop company. You can save up these points and use them like cash to make purchases, free showers and many other perks. Life on the road can get expensive and these reward programs are a great way to keep more of your hard earned money in your pocket.
Do - Keep Extra Oil, Anti-freeze, Wiper Fluid and Fuses
Some of the most frequent mechanical issues you’ll encounter are the result of one of these four items. Maintaining a few jugs or packages of each can be the difference between being stranded on the roadside and making it to a repair facility where you can wait in comfort while your truck is fixed.
Do - Pack Clothing for All Weather
You may start your week in sunny California and end it in snowy Colorado. Having the right clothes for the weather no matter where you are goes a long way in staying comfortable and better able to focus on your job.