So… I spent the first part of the month training a new guy. He had 4 years of experience, but no mountain experience at all, and was definitely uptight about going over Loveland Pass. I was stuck in the right seat, and a thought occurred to me as I watch him make lots of simple mistakes on the grades. I had noticed it with other inexperienced drivers, but it never struck me as it did that day. And that was their poor energy management, and just how often an experienced driver used it to their advantage, making their life easier, using it to help rather than hinder.
A big part of energy management is being ahead of the truck, proactive and not reactive. What I noticed that day was how often he unnecessarily used his throttle and brake, rather than using the terrain to help keep his speed where he wanted it. Coming up to steep downgrade that’s proceeded by a very short steep upgrade, my question to him: ” Why are you slowing down at the base of this hill? You’re now going to need throttle to make the top!” But he was behind the truck, not seeing what was in front of him. All he saw was the “Steep Grade Ahead” sign, and had to fight gravity with fuel rather than use that gravity to bleed off energy as he coasted up the hill.
Same thing going downgrade, he failed to notice the road was flattening out, and bled off 15 -20 mph that he didn’t need to, and required some throttle to get his speed up to a reasonable level before the downgrade resumed. And at the bottom of the hill, same thing. Stayed in the lower gears too long instead of upshifting and hanging on the jake to allow the truck to slowly accelerate as the grade shallowed and the speed limit came back up.
And yes, I realize that this is intuitive for some, and a concept others struggle to grasp. But that ride opened my eyes to just how often I’ve used terrain, rather than fuel or brake pads, to help me get my truck speed where I wanted it. So much so that it took a ride with someone who didn’t use those techniques to let me see it. For most of you experienced drivers it’s almost an innate thing, mainly because we tend to be well out in the front of the truck. For you newer guys, it’s another incentive to work on moving your attention further ahead, it will not only make your driving easier and smoother, it does wonders for your spatial awareness. Surprises become much less commonplace, making accident avoidance a routine thing instead of a panic situation.
And trust me on this, if there is any one thing that separates a true driver from a guy who drives trucks, it’s proactivity. You won’t find any million mile+ safe drivers who spend their time behind the truck, always reacting. Get out front, and stay out front!