Preventing Preventable Accidents

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Two semi's wreck on snowy roadIf you have an accident that isn’t your fault, you can’t possibly get into any trouble for that, right?

While that maybe true for four-wheelers, it isn’t always true for truckers. Even if the driver of the other vehicle gets a ticket and you don’t, your company may decide that your accident was “preventable”. Even if the cop says it was the other guys fault and the other guy even admits guilt, you still might get fired, or at least reprimanded for having a “preventable accident”.

Most companies these days have a policy regarding preventable accidents.

Usually, what they’ll do is, get together with you and discuss the accident. With the Big Cheese on your left, corporate honchos on your right and other assorted people whose blood is the color of your company logo sitting around you, they will dig deep and analyze the situation, looking for the answer to a simple question: Is there anything at all that you could have done, to prevent this accident?

Even though none of them have ever driven a truck, they will proceed to tell you exactly what you should have or could have done. If they find that there was anything at all that you could have done, to prevent that accident from happening, they could call it a preventable accident. If you are a newly hired driver, that could mean the end of your tenure. If you’ve been there for a while, a slip of paper goes in your file and you better not get another one for a long time.

What’s a driver to do? In two words, be careful. We all know that everyone loves to blame the driver for anything they can. Your only defense, is to drive so safely, so carefully, that you never, ever have an accident. Impossible, you say? Maybe. But highly probable.

Many drivers go through life twenty, thirty, even forty or more years without ever having an accident.

Whenever I hear somebody say that they haven’t had one in so long, I always ask, “Whats your secret?” And the answer is always the same: “I always take my time and I am very careful.” If you know anyone like that, just ask them their secret and you’ll see.

When I started teaching my wife how to drive a truck she was scared. She asked, “What if I hit something?” And I answered simply, “Just don’t.” She wasn’t sure if she could do it, so I asked her, “Can you move this truck just one foot without hitting anything? Can you be absolutely positive that you won’t hit anything with that one-foot move?” She seemed positive that she could, so I added, “Take every foot that way.” And we proceeded to go around the block at about one mile per hour. I’m happy to report that she still drives slowly and hasn’t hit anything yet (knock on wood).

I have a system that I always teach new drivers:

Stay in your lane and be prepared to stop. Those two things may sound simple and like not enough information, but I am convinced that is the key to never having an accident that is your fault. I call it, the two things to always remember. I even make my students say it out loud, many times while driving.”Stay in your lane and be prepared to stop. Stay in your lane and be prepared to stop.” And they better be checking their mirrors for the white lines when they say it. Two simple things that many experienced drivers seem to have forgotten.

After getting some experience, many drivers get too comfortable. They start thinking they’re good, because they can back into a dock quickly, or zig-zag through traffic without hitting anything. These are not good drivers, they are good “aimers”. There is a lot more to driving a truck than simply how well you can aim it .

City driving has got to be the most complicated task for truckers. If you drive a big rig in a big city, you’ll need big safety to get that big paycheck, big fella.

With so many people, cars and trucks flying around in such a small area, there are bound to be accidents, preventable or otherwise. You can choose not to be in one (for the most part.) Just stay in your lane and be prepared to stop. I know it’s not easy, especially when everyone around you is doing the opposite. But that’s why they pay you the big bucks. While everyone else is lane-dodging and tailgating, you’re expected to stay in your lane and be prepared to stop.

I know what you’re thinking: If I stay in one lane, it will be the slowest one. OK, then switch lanes. Once. But be sure before you switch, because there ain’t no switching back and forth. Not for trucks. Unless you come from the Dallas Four -Wheeler School of Hard Knocks (and dings).

And what’s that you say? You can’t keep a safe following distance, because every time you open some space, some four-wheeler jumps in it? Welcome to the city. We expect that from four-wheelers. In fact, we plan on it. We expect better from you. After all, you are the professional driver. This is your job. You’re supposed to know better. All those four-wheelers don’t know any better. So don’t blame them or get mad. They can’t possibly know what you know about driving. You drive more in a day than most of them drive in a month. So just give them some room.

Accident do happen. But when they do, it’s because somebody made a mistake. Somebody was in a hurry, or got distracted, or what have you. It’s always the result of a mistake. If it wasn’t a mistake, then that means they hit you on purpose. And if they hit you on purpose, then that wouldn’t be an accident, that would be a purpose, I guess.

Since an accident is always the result of a mistake and we are all human and therefore make mistakes, please allow room for error, yours and everyone else’s too. I think it was some smokey bear who said, “Only you can prevent preventables (or forest fires, or something)”. Big City told you that. I’m gone.


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