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Real Road Safety: How Accidents and Experience Affect Truckers

It’s a truism we’ve all seen in our own lives –– the more confident we become, the less apparent blind spots can be. Depending on the circumstances, decisions made in self-assured haste could be problematic at best, disastrous at worst. And what about in the complex world of trucking? With changing legislation, guidelines galore, and extensive checks and double-checks it seems impossible for a trucker to let their guard down. Really though, truckers are in the ideal position for experience to obscure the obvious.

Expectation vs. Reality

There are many opportunities for accidents in a trucker’s day-to-day routine. Much of the likelihood comes down to the individual, their focus, and their experience. It’s easy to assume that a seasoned driver wouldn’t need to worry about accidents and that only a novice should be hyper aware. But the facts bear out a different reality.

Trucking companies often draw from internal, industry, and Department of Transportation statistics to compile regular assessments of on-the-road safety concerns. The results from their reporting can be surprising. For example – and this is a big one – new drivers average higher on accidents that happen while backing up, while experienced drivers are more often contributing to driving accidents like rollovers, jack knifes, and multi-vehicle collisions. Now that could seem counterintuitive, but the backstory is telling.

Rule Reversal

Experienced truckers can look back on their initial runs fondly now, but at the time they were wild, white-knuckle rides. Rules were recited and put to memory, mirrors were always in sight, and hands rarely left the steering wheel. In those first days and weeks the full weight of their responsibility felt all too real. They didn’t dare exceed boundaries or push limits–the risks were just too great.

But as cautious as they were, new drivers lacked key knowledge. Getting out and checking surroundings before backing up might not actually help if they couldn’t predict the direction the trailer would take. And maneuvering a rig while surrounded by people, cars, and everyday sounds could have played on the jitters and nerves that come with inexperience. Internalizing yells and honks can cause a new driver to lose confidence and rush, which helps to explain their higher incidence of accidents related to backing up. One positive note is that new drivers who have an accident are even more vigilant in preventing future mishaps.

Pride Before a Crash

Give anything time, and it becomes routine. Six months and out and those everyday, pre-trip inspections might no longer be a way to stay calm and focused. Instead they could seem tedious and time-consuming. Rushing could become the norm and adverse weather conditions might not be taken seriously, especially if the driver hasn’t yet experienced an accident. At this point, driving rules that can be ‘safely’ broken–based on knowledge and experience–often are. And a driver could become so in touch with their truck that they feel they know best.

Now is when the nerves relax and a more experienced driver feels free to talk on the phone, adjust the radio, or eat while driving –– like a lot of distracted Americans. They feel competent, regardless of the fact that they’re engaging in activities that are proven distractions. Since an experienced driver is likely more versed in the ways of the road, they could feel more comfortable on complex highway systems, in heavy traffic, and at higher speeds. The healthy fear of and respect for the road have waned.

Upside is a Downfall

Don’t get us wrong – self-confidence behind the wheel is a great and necessary thing. It helps a driver to keep on top of their schedule and do their job. Backing out at rest spots or at a delivery location is far easier because the experienced driver can better predict the path of their trailer. Those are things to be proud of.

It’s when self-confidence morphs into unchecked pride that it can also be a negative. Pair that with a lack of recognition of risk and you have a potent, dangerous cocktail. This is one reason why brief reminders and recounting of “near misses” are common at safety meetings on hazardous job sites – everyday risks are easily overlooked. Safety meetings are a good plan for truckers too, but some old hands may not appreciate the need, assuming that there’s nothing more to learn.

Ironically though, recounting why and how things almost went very wrong is one of the best ways to learn. And it can spare drivers from the sad outcomes of making tragic mistakes. Rules were born for times like these.

Turn This Trend Around

We often think that hazardous work includes toxic chemicals or high voltage electricity. But what’s more hazardous than sitting behind the wheel of a 75-foot-long, multi-ton hunk of hurtling metal? Some things, but not too many really. Accepting that and remaining cautiously aware of the risk to oneself and others is always a good plan. Watching videos of road accidents involving truckers or hearing stories of trips gone bad is one way to see the reality that’s always lurking. And remembering that when things go wrong, they can affect an untold number of people is a sobering reality check too. Self-reflection and awareness are the best takeaways here.

It’s a known fact that the standards by which we judge ourselves can relax over time. Sometimes that’s healthy. Other times it gives us a free pass to shrug off responsibility. And in this context, it’s that latter result that’s most dangerous.

Stay In Our Lane

As a trucker you put yourself in harm’s way each and every time you’re behind the wheel. We can’t remove risks, but we can help you to protect yourself. Regardless of what life throws at you out on the road a solid insurance policy is a reliable support. Zinc’s dedicated trucking insurance team understands the perils that truckers face and more than that, they know what’s at stake. Our team already knows your industry, now they’d love to get to know you. Give us a call, or use our online contact form and learn how a policy can be crafted to address your singular insurance concerns. We’re ready to learn your story and to keep you moving.