Truck driving is widely considered one of the most dangerous mainstream occupations. Labor statistics show that nearly 3.5 million Americans work as truck drivers, and they face a wide range of job-related risks and hazards. That said, most of these drivers work every day without incident, and although stories of close calls and quick decisions are common, many go their entire careers free from harm. It all comes down to knowing what the biggest truck driving dangers are and how to avoid them.
The entire point of commercial truck driving is the transportation of goods by vehicle, which naturally comes with long hours of monotonous driving. Some truck drivers work locally and transport things repetitively across small regions, while many others travel long-distance on highways, often on multi-day trips. Both forms can cause serious fatigue, which is estimated to cause 30% of all truck driving accidents. It’s not just about being tired either — long, repetitive trips can also result in distracted driving, which is known to cause around 1 million accidents every year.
To lessen this risk, truck drivers should take all mandatory breaks. States have individual laws regarding this, but federal requirements are that drivers must take at least 30 consecutive minutes of uninterrupted break time after eight cumulative hours of driving. State laws tend to be stricter, with many requiring breaks after four to five hours of driving. Although truck drivers are often motivated to forgo breaks by making deadlines and getting as many jobs in as possible, safety should always come first.
Bad weather can create unsafe conditions for all drivers, but things can be exceptionally difficult for those behind the wheels of commercial trucks. These vehicles are very hard to stop when slipping on ice or hydroplaning, and even high winds can have a greater effect due to the height and length of trailers. No truck driver should start his or her day without first looking at weather reports, and all should go extra slow and practice greater caution when inclement weather hits. Chain laws should always be adhered to (especially in mountainous regions), and drivers should also know when being on the road isn’t a good idea (tornado conditions are a good example).
Even though it’s what truck drivers work with every day, the truck rig itself comes with a variety of hazards. Goods often shift during transport, which can cause uneven weight and even dangers when drivers are opening the doors. Straps, latches, and bolts may also become loose during trips, and tires can wear fast. As a result, truck drivers should always do a full walk inspection around their rig before every trip and resuming driving after rests.
Drivers may also not know exactly what’s in their trailer, which can occasionally mean transporting dangerous materials without knowledge. Truck stops are also not very secure, and people trying to break into trailers and truck cabins to steal things are common. The safest drivers are those who stay alert at all times and try to vet rest stop locations before choosing to stay somewhere.
As challenging as truck driving is on its own, having to share the road with other drivers is its own risk. Big commercial trucks take extra time to do things like change lanes, make turns, and come to a stop. Drivers of other vehicles often underestimate this and create dangerous conditions for everyone by driving too closely and passing at inconvenient times. And because more than 10 million accidents are estimated to go unreported every year, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, it’s unclear just how big the risks are.
This is an area where truck drivers must work to be extra vigilant in practicing defensive driving. It’s never wise to expect that other drivers are going to do the right thing at any given point in time. It’s also important to spread awareness and try to show other drivers the risks of driving recklessly around trucks. Still, at the end of the day, truck drivers are always going to be more aware of other drivers than they are around trucks. Truck drivers should take as much time and care as possible when making even simple decisions out on the road.