I saw my fair share of trucking safety issues and collisions during my previous 25 years with the Washington State Patrol (WSP). But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new safety challenges to the roads for truck drivers and safety managers. Now more than ever, drivers must prioritize implementing and executing on safety best practices and protocols to ensure the roads they operate on stay safe.
Based on my previous experience at WSP, and my current role at Zonar heading up their safety and compliance team, I’ve compiled a list of some of the top tips that truck drivers and safety managers should keep top of mind to ensure safety on the road today. These tips also take into account the more recent challenges we’ve heard from fleets and the data Zonar has analyzed from hundreds of thousands of trucks and millions of data points across the U.S. and Canada.
Don’t Speed – And Watch for Speed Limit Changes and Adverse Weather
Driving the truck faster does not mean you will make it to the end of your route quicker. Planning your route strategically and obeying traffic laws are the actions that will truly help you reach your destination faster — not speeding. In fact, speeding can lead to crashes or infractions that could slow you down indefinitely. National data shows that even an incremental 10-mph speed increase ups the risk of a crash by almost 10%.
It’s essential to keep an eye on your speed, especially through anticipated and unanticipated adverse weather, where reduced speed requirements can quickly become dangerous if a driver decides to ignore the signs to slow down. Colder weather affects motor vehicle performance; rain, haze, snow and sleet may affect visibility; and slick road conditions may present issues like longer brake times, poor handling and an increased likelihood of losing complete control. According to FWA, an average of 5,748,000 motor vehicle accidents occur each year and around 22% are weather-related.
I have seen an uptick in speeding violations during COVID-19, and in particular, while vehicles are in work zones — with fewer passenger vehicles on the road and fewer reasons for drivers to slow down and obey the speed limits. Work zone speeding has a massive impact on accident numbers and fatalities. In 2018, there were 755 fatalities inside work zones, 30% of which involved a truck. During my time at WSP, I personally attended worker memorial services. I can tell you that speeding with the perception of making it through your route faster is not worth the risk of loss of life.
Be Mindful of Distractions and Fatigue
Mental and physical fatigue can take a toll on any driver, especially truck drivers who are on the road for hours on end. As a Washington State Trooper, I saw countless collisions that were attributed to mental and physical fatigue. Now, during COVID, there is a lot more to think about while driving — health policies of each of your destinations, the safety of your family back home, if you need to quarantine after traveling through certain states — the list goes on. All of these thoughts and concerns can add up and contribute to mental fatigue, and as a result — drowsiness.
Based on self-reporting, the CDC found one in 25 adults fell asleep behind the wheel in the last 30 days, and in its most recent report, the NHTSA found that drowsy driving claimed 795 lives in 2017.
Distractions can also be the root of unnecessary risk to road safety. I’ve reviewed videos of drivers conducting unsafe and distracting tasks, like using their cell phone, eating and drinking beverages while on the road, which can result in deadly outcomes for both truck drivers and the passenger vehicles they share the roads with.
A way to combat both distractions and drowsiness is to take a self-reflective approach. Ask yourself how you are feeling sleep and energy-wise, if you are doing something unsafe that can wait until the next stop, or if you need to pull over to regroup. Be honest with yourself.
It is also essential to utilize your electronic logging device (ELD) to make sure you’re accurately keeping track of your hours of service so that you can have actionable data on how hard you’ve been working.
Your pre- and post-trip safety check should include not only an assessment of the health of your truck but also the health of yourself as a driver.
Proper Pre- and Post-Trip Inspections
More than half of the 3.5 million truck inspections conducted across North America last year had violations. This number can and should come down drastically.
Truck drivers under-appreciate the importance of proper pre- and post-trip inspections, which can keep you and your fellow drivers, both commercial and passenger, safer on the road and reduce the number of violations. These pre- and post-trip inspections can also better prepare truck drivers for potential roadside inspections. During pre- and post-trip inspections, drivers should be using a combination of common sense, like ensuring their cargo is secure, while also leveraging new technologies. Electronic vehicle inspection report technologies from Zonar and others can help make sure inspections are performed accurately and thoroughly.
With today’s EVIR technology, drivers can avoid “pencil whipping” — moving quickly through the inspection and checking the boxes without conducting a thorough and proper check of systems. Proper pre- and post-trip inspections can save drivers from inspection and law enforcement violations as well as potential downtime to fix small, but critical, issues like brake light and turn signal outages. Down the road, neglected pre- and post-trip inspections could lead to major, undesirable outcomes, like accidents due to faulty brakes, loose cargo or getting flagged for more in-depth roadside inspections based on an avoidable violation.
Take the extra time to conduct a thorough pre- and post-trip inspection and utilize the technology available to you. It could save you time, hassle and help you avoid unnecessary accidents.
Keep up to Date on Inter- and Intra-State COVID-19 Rules and Regulations
It goes without saying that truck drivers should know the rules of the road in every state they pass through on their route. Back when I pulled trucks over while serving at WSP, at times I would talk to the drivers about the the rules of the road, to see if they understoon them. Many times they didn’t know why I had pulled them over and which rules they were violatingg, sometimes, depending on the infraction, we would discuss the rules and use the stop as an educational discussion.. But having a strong knowledge of the ever-changing state travel, work and health guidelines is even more crucial during COVID-19.
Drivers need to stay up-to-date so they can prepare and ensure there is not an unnecessary delay at a state or country border crossings. For example, Canada has a mobile application that drivers can download and use to fill out pertinent information before they arrive at the border check, saving time off the checkpoint inspection and health questionnaire process. Drivers need to be informed about the tools and protocols in place that will help them make it to their destination safely and without hassle.
Fred Fakkema, Zonar vice president, safety and compliance, joined Zonar after 25 years with the Washington State Patrol. During his time with the WSP, he commanded the WSP Academy, Government and Relations Division, as well as the Commercial Vehicle Division. He is also the past president for the FBI National Academy Associates—Washington Chapter. Zonar offers a safety and compliance web page https://www.zonarsystems.com/safety-compliance/ and a COVID-19 information site.