What Are the Hazards Associated With Long-Haul Truck Drivers?
Long-distance truck driving is among the most dangerous professions in the U.S., and this is not without reason. Truck accidents are fairly common, and hardly anyone reports a near-miss. Besides, given that long-haul truck drivers stay behind the wheel for extended hours, they face a plethora of health problems. When winter arrives, they need to be extra careful. The dangers of being a truck driver notwithstanding, taking proactive measures and nipping any problem in the bud is the ideal way to go.
Large Truck Crashes in Numbers
Data released by the National Safety Council (NSC) for 2021 indicates that 5,700 fatal crashes in the country involved large trucks. This is an increase of nearly 50% over the preceding 10 years. Data for the same year also indicates that:
- 5,788 people lost their lives in large-truck crashes.
- A majority of these (71.7%) were occupants of other vehicles, and truck occupants accounted for 17.4%.
- 1,339 fatal crashes took place on interstates, whereas 3,810 fatal crashes took place on non-interstates.
- The daytime accounted for 63.54% of all fatal crashes.
- Large trucks were involved in 9% of all fatal crashes.
- 117,300 large trucks were responsible for injury-related crashes.
- 27.1% of those injured were truck occupants and 71% were occupants of other vehicles.
Long-haul truck drivers, given their grueling schedules, have to deal with various health risks. Results of a study about the health risks they face shared in the National Library of Medicine highlight that its participants had higher rates of smoking, diabetes, obesity, and cholesterol than the national average.
The physical effects of long-distance driving have a direct bearing on truck driver health problems. Given that they have to drive for hours on end, one day after another, it’s common for them to suffer from back, neck, hip, knee, and other types of musculoskeletal problems. A study that looked at various risk factors among truck drivers indicates that they also tend to suffer from:
- Being overweight or obese
- High blood glucose levels
- Enforced sedentarism
- Unhealthy diet
- Social isolation
- Poor mental health
Addiction can be another danger of being a truck driver. According to data collated by American Addiction Centers, 19% of truck drivers who participated in different studies admitted to binge drinking, and 9.4% drank every day. 27.6% of truck drivers consumed drugs. While 21.3% used amphetamines, 2.2% used cocaine.
Poor Truck Driver Safety Training
There are instances of truck drivers not receiving the required training to stay behind the wheel for long distances and drive for extended hours. Unfortunately, the industry’s growing demand for new drivers can result in some companies rushing their drivers through the licensing/certification process. In any such scenario, the consequences can be severe.
Bear in mind that truck drivers need to know how to handle their vehicles properly. For example, they should know how a truck handles when it’s carrying cargo and when it’s empty. When drivers don’t understand the basics, they put themselves and other motorists at risk. Besides, such drivers can carry on with poor driving habits for months or years, until a crash gets the better of them.
The right kind of training gives truck drivers an understanding of their vehicles’ mechanical aspects. This enables them to identify potential problems that might come in the form of malfunctioning brakes, worn-out tires, oil leaks, and engine overheating. Well-trained drivers will, in all likelihood, also be aware of the different types of trucking permits they might need when traveling on the country’s roads.
If trucking companies don’t maintain their vehicles in the right manner, it can result in accidents. For example, even seemingly small problems with brakes and tires might lead to serious crashes. Without regular maintenance, different parts of a truck can become faulty or wear out over a period of time. As a truck driver, it’s important to understand the basics of how to maintain your vehicle well, failing which you increase the possibility of meeting with an accident.
Reviewing the safety standards and records of the company you work for once a year is ideal. Most articles that offer long-distance truck driving safety tips also highlight the importance of taking part in safety refresher courses.
Driving in the Winter
When it comes to hazards associated with long-haul truck drivers, harsh weather conditions such as snow, ice, and fog can make driving dangerous and increase the risk of accidents. Long-distance truck drivers need to know how to prepare for and handle winter driving challenges, ensuring their own safety as well as that of other motorists.
Tire chains or snow chains are essential for long-distance truck drivers in harsh winter conditions. They provide much-needed traction and improve braking ability, which makes driving on slippery surfaces safer. These metal chains fit over the tires of trucks to provide increased grip on snow and ice. They create a biting edge that breaks through snow/ice, allowing tires to maintain traction and prevent skids. While these chains typically go on drive axles, you might need to use them on all tires if conditions are particularly severe.
You should use tire chains only when necessary and in accordance with local regulations. In some jurisdictions, chain use is mandatory in certain weather conditions. It’s important to check road signs and weather advisories to determine if you need them.
The benefits of using tire chains include:
- Improved traction. They provide good traction on snow and ice, preventing skids and loss of control.
- Enhanced braking ability. They improve a truck’s braking ability, allowing for shorter stopping distances on slippery surfaces.
- Increased safety. They enhance the safety of truck drivers, their cargo, and other motorists.
Other Safety Tips for the Winter
Before embarking on a long-haul journey in the winter, it’s crucial to take a few necessary precautions to minimize the risk of encountering problems.
- Inspect your truck. Inspect your truck’s tires, brakes, wiper blades, lights, and heater to ensure they are in good working condition. Replace worn-out or damaged components.
- Check the weather forecast. Stay informed about weather conditions along your route. Monitor weather reports and road advisories to anticipate potential hazards and adjust your travel plans accordingly.
- Pack an emergency kit. Prepare an emergency kit with essential supplies such as food, water, blankets, warm clothes, a flashlight, a first-aid kit, and a tow rope.
- Carry extra fuel. Maintain at least half a tank of fuel to avoid running out in the event of road closures or delays.
- Beware of black ice. Black ice is transparent and difficult to see, making it especially hazardous. Remain vigilant when driving on roads that appear wet but may actually have a layer of ice.
- Exercise caution on bridges and overpasses. This is because these areas tend to freeze first and remain icy for longer periods.
- Stay hydrated. Proper hydration is essential for maintaining alertness when driving long hours. It is particularly important for truck drivers to stay hydrated during winters when they might not feel as thirsty as they do during summers.
- Dress appropriately. Carry multiple layers of clothing so you may easily adjust to changing temperatures inside and outside your truck.
Long-haul truck drivers need to adapt their driving techniques to counter the challenges of harsh weather conditions.
- Monitor speed closely. Adjust your speed depending on road conditions and always maintain a safe following distance. Avoid sudden braking or acceleration because both can cause loss of traction.
- Use lower gears. The use of low gears when driving on slippery surfaces gives you better control over your vehicle and can help prevent skids.
- Brake gently. Gentle and gradual breaking helps avoid locking up the wheels.
- Steer smoothly. Make smooth steering adjustments to avoid jerking your truck and causing instability.
- Use turn signals clearly. Communicate your intentions to other drivers by using turn signals well in advance so they have enough time to react.
Long-haul driving is challenging, but with proper preparation and careful driving, truck drivers can navigate the roads safely and efficiently. Remember, safety should always be your top priority, and it’s better to delay or reroute your trip than to risk an accident. Sure, you might be prone to the side effects of being a truck driver, but taking proactive measures can help you avoid most of the dangers associated with this industry. For example, simply learning how to stay fit and awake can take you a long way.