Tips For New Drivers – Part One

Hey there! Welcome to the trucking industry! Everything is fantastic and nothing ever goes wrong.

We’ll let reality smack you in the face later. Like maybe around year two when you get that crease line in the middle of your forehead between your eyebrows from furrowing your brow. That’s when it happened to me. Trust me, even the most optimistic people have their abilities tested by this line of work. And everyone gets that crease line. Even if it’s just from squinting into the sun. My whole forehead is starting to look like a dry lake bed. It’s perfectly normal for this to happen.

But until that forehead crease happens, let’s try to make your life as a new driver a little more easy. I’m going to offer general tips. I’m not going to talk about your skills, or specific company policies, or whatever your “trainer” or “mentor” or “overlord” at your specific company told you. I don’t know those things. What I can do is offer things I’ve learned in 20-plus years in the trucking industry. And I’ll offer them in my own special way.

#1. You’re going to run into things they didn’t tell you about.

It’s just bound to happen. The reason for this is that no training program, or period with any trainer can prepare you for every scenario. Only experience can do that, and you don’t have that yet. Hopefully whatever program you’ve just come out of wasn’t totally neglectful, and maybe they even offer continuing support for a while. When this happens about the only thing you can do is remember to go slowly, and do one thing at a time. Whatever it might be; getting into a new distribution center or going into a large city at exactly the wrong time of day. Remember, go slow. Go slowly. It’s supposed to be an adverb. Sorry about that.

Don’t hold up traffic like a misplaced Amish person recently thrust into a semi, mind you, because that can be hazardous also.  But focus on the task at hand. Then the next, then the next. Don’t worry about your next load, where it’s going, or when you’ll get there. Keep your mind on where you are.

Do NOT go so slowly the Amish pass you! You’ll never live that down.

The Amish. They won’t wait on you.

#2. Take The Five Minutes to do it The Right Way.

If a customer’s area looks odd, or they have less than the area of Dodger’s Stadium you’re going to need for your backing maneuver, get out and walk the area briefly. You might just find a yellow pole hiding in a shadow you didn’t see. A piece of metal laying on the ground waiting to eat a tire and cost you the rest of your day waiting on a service truck could be present.

There are literally thousands of objects that could result in a flat trailer tire, a quick inspection of the dock area is very important.

Recently, my company had a guy sleeping under a dropped trailer. As tired as I’ve been a few times over the years, this has certainly been tempting but I’m not sure how comfortable it is, so I never did. That’s pretty much the only reason. I really have nothing against sleeping anywhere. But comfortable or not, it’s not the safest place to sleep. But take a wild guess who would have been 100% responsible for that man being flattened if he’d just hooked up and left without doing a pre-trip?

Those five minutes were worth it. 

For me, even after all this time, buildings and things set at odd angles throw my perception off. Getting out of the truck and talking a few extra steps helps me “line up my shot”, so to speak. Similar to playing in a game of pool. Only in a giant truck. And with way more skill than I ever had on a pool table. I quit betting on it years ago, so don’t try to hustle me there, Fast Eddie.

If this little extra time costs you a missed pickup or dropoff, so be it. Every. Single. Company. Out. There. And every single safety person would rather have to reschedule an appointment five times over than pay a repair bill that should not have happened. 

And here’s the thing: 99% of the scrapes and little crunchies that occur out here don’t have to happen.

#3. Own Your Screw-ups.

At the company level, take responsibility for the mistakes you make. Think about them. Learn from them. Don’t make them over and over again. You’re going to have to tell your story countless times, and the easiest way to keep is straight is to be honest.

I think I heard that in elementary school.

Years back there was a driver at a place I worked who scraped a yellow pole backing into a dock. The new, bright yellow paint on the side of the deep metallic maroon truck could be seen from space, I swear. 

Her answer was, “It was just a situation beyond my control.”

In my brain, one of those loud game show buzzers immediately went off. 

BZZZZZT! Wrong Answer!

Obviously in the event of a traffic crash on a public road, you should keep your big, fat mouth shut. Any safety guy will tell you that too. I’m talking mostly about the dumb, “little” things that happen on private property. I put “little” in quotes because there are no inexpensive mistakes. A new tail light on my 2018 F150 costs $850.00. I’ll not disclose how I know that. 

Don’t make cheap excuses. “It’s really dark out there!” I was actually told this once when I was dispatching about an incident in our own yard.  Nobody buys it. Even if they smile and nod and act like they’re agreeing with you, they don’t think much of you unless you own up to your screw-ups. Everyone makes a goof here and there. But doing it chronically, and not owning it is a ticket out the door anywhere you work.

The safety person might even say, “Don’t worry about it.” 

This doesn’t mean you’re forgiven. It means they want you focused on the next task, and to get through it safely. Truthfully, like a few other people in your life, they wish they never had to talk to you.

#4. Don’t Let A Little Mistake Become A Big One.

Far too often, a small mistake leads to a nervous reaction, compounding the mistake. Then, things get really expensive.

You may have seen the video this picture comes from. This is a prime example of a small mistake being compounded by a nervous reaction, leading directly into much bigger mistakes. Mistakes, and pieces of a truck laying all over the place. I mean – a LOT of pieces. Everywhere. All this man did was miss a turn, and it went downhill from there.

Believe or or not, the situation was easily remedied, but he panicked.

Stay calm, understand where you went wrong, and don’t make the situation worse.

Well. Now that a bit of an ugly way to start, wasn’t it? Read it again. Because it’s not as ugly as the results of not heeding the advice in it! The next part will be a little lighter, I swear.

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