10 Tips for Pro Drivers
By Lewis Smith
Operating a vehicle requires a high degree of attentiveness, patience and skill. Professionals who drive commercial vans and trucks are among the most skillful on the road. It’s in no small part thanks to the first two traits – attentiveness and patience.
Over the course of a career, it’s not unheard of for a contractor to have logged over a million kilometres behind the wheel. Some professional drivers have driven for more than 1.5 million km without a traffic collision.
Weather conditions can pose interesting challenges for drivers of any experience level, however. Between snow, sleet, slush, rain, hail and freezing rain, inclement conditions make for tricky maneuvering. Add to that the unpredictable nature of some fellow drivers, and it can quickly turn into a messy endeavour.
Here are some tips for keeping yourself and your vehicle safely on the road.
1. KEEP DISTRACTIONS TO A MINIMUM.
A distraction is defined as anything that takes your attention off the road. This includes texting and driving, but it also runs much deeper. Avoid any activities that might reduce your attention span, including eating, grooming, reading and talking on the phone at the wheel. Even with a hands-free device, talking still requires a level of focus on the conversation that is difficult to match up with the level of attention required on the road. It’s better not to risk it. Driving is a skill that requires your full attention. You might be able to get away with being distracted in the short term, but avoiding the temptation will ensure you’ll be able to react quickly when the need is there.
2. FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELT.
Yes, this particular advice would seem like common sense. Yet, sadly, common sense isn’t always that common. Be sure your seatbelt is fastened snugly and securely, with both the lap and shoulder belts being used properly (i.e., not shrugged off to the side or riding too high). Aside from the safety factor – Transport Canada estimates five lives are saved for every one per cent increase in seat belt use – a snug belt also keeps you sitting upright and causes less back fatigue. When you’re driving long runs, it’s important not to neglect your comfort or musculature.
3. LOOK FOR EXTRA STOPPING TIME.
Most commercial vehicles are heavier, larger and wider than other vehicles. This can make for reduced maneuverability, which makes it that much more important that you can stop safely when the situation calls for it. Rather than waiting until the cars ahead are stopped to hit the brakes, you can take a cue from both the vehicle in front of you and the brake lights from the vehicle ahead of it. The earlier you see them beginning to stop, the more time you leave yourself to stop smoothly.
4. KEEP YOUR EYES MOVING.
In line with the previous tip, sightlines are only effective if you’re using them well. Keep your eyes moving at least every two seconds to keep a constant scan of the space surrounding your vehicle. This will give you advance warning of situations that may require your attention, whether near or far. As you know, an emergency situation on the road can develop quickly and suddenly. Any amount of notice and preparation time you can give yourself will give you a leg up on any potential issue and better prepare you to handle it.
5. ALWAYS LEAVE YOURSELF SPACE.
Your reaction time typically has to be sharp to avoid an oncoming vehicle, but that’s only one part of the equation. You also need space available around you so you can move safely. Leave yourself an “out” in adjoining lanes, front, rear or shoulder. Have this space ready at all times even if you don’t need it – you’ll be glad you did when you do need it. Leave yourself appropriate following distance, too, so a driver who unexpectedly slams the brakes does not catch you off guard.
6. SET YOUR MIRRORS.
Spatial awareness is one of the most important tools you have at your disposal. A good understanding of what surrounds you can make the difference between a collision and a near miss. It is important that you give yourself as wide a field of vision as possible. Your rearview and side mirrors should be adjusted to your specifications. Every driver is built differently and requires their own minor adjustments.
7. LEARN TO ANTICIPATE.
Safety is meant to be proactive where possible, but a lot of the time it’s a result of reaction instead. Still, the more times you can avoid a collision proactively, the better it’ll be for everyone on the road. Enough time on the streets should allow you to expect what other drivers will do, and this anticipation can lead you to take precautionary measures before they become necessary. If you see a situation developing where you may be put in harm’s way, take advantage of the foreknowledge and remove yourself from the situation.
8. KNOW YOUR PEAK.
Every now and then you might get hit with a long drive, so it’s important to know your limits and operate within them. By the time five or six hours at the wheel have passed, most drivers are beyond their peak efficiency. This can result in tension, slightly lowered reaction time, fatigue and general discomfort. Again, the key is adapting to circumstances. Slow down. Take it easy. If possible, take a break and unwind.
9. USE YOUR HORN IF YOU’RE UNSURE.
You may have heard the expression that good drivers don’t have to use their horn. Don’t listen to it. Much like everything in a vehicle, your horn is a tool that’s useful in the right contexts. No, using it as a complement to road rage isn’t effective. It won’t make traffic move faster. What a horn is useful for, though, is alerting other drivers that you’re there. Don’t be shy to use it if you’re not sure a fellow road user has seen you. It’s better to make sure that your presence has been noted than to incorrectly assume you’ve been seen.
10. DRIVE SLOWER AT NIGHT.
Nighttime driving naturally causes a decrease in visibility, owing to the dark and occasional headlight glare from oncoming drivers. This lack of visibility only gets exacerbated when accompanied by bad weather and precipitation. As with any unfavourable condition, you should make sure that your driving matches your surroundings. In the event of driving at night, we recommend dropping your usual speed by about 15 km/h. In addition to giving you more time to react, this also helps avoid the problem of over-driving your headlights.
Lewis Smith is the manager of national projects with Canada Safety Council, an organization that offers defensive and professional driver training programs. Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the council’s education offerings, visit their website, www.canadasafetycouncil.org.