Safety Tips

Defensive Driving Tips for Truck Drivers

Brian Pickett
5 Minutes

What is Defensive Driving?

Learning how to be a defensive driver is both beneficial for drivers and companies alike. The National Safety Council and the American Society of Safety Engineers define defensive driving as "driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others". Defensive driving is more than just common sense, but rather a set of skills learned through specific training. Trying to avoid accidents or collisions is the ultimate goal. Basically, Defensive Driving means you should drive like everyone else on the road is drunk.

Defensive Driving got its origins back in the mid-1960s. Chris Imhoff of the National Safety Council created a new driver program called the Driver Improvement Program back in 1964 where a Defensive Diving Course (DDC) was offered. Multiple government agencies and non-profit organizations wanted to improve the driving skills of the public with the more people obtaining drivers licenses. Thus began the start of new specialty driving courses.

The Basics of Defensive Driving

The main principles of defensive driving are looking ahead, staying alert, and controlling your speed. Obviously, there is much more to it than just these three things but let's talk about them in more detail.

Looking Ahead

As you are driving, you shouldn't be looking at what's directly in front of you alone. Professional driver trainers say to look between 12 and 15 seconds ahead to scan for any potential hazards. Being able to predict and react to different threats is much easier with a longer reaction time. Tankers and other heavy-duty trucks don't have the capacity to stop as quickly as commercial motor vehicles. Seeing the intersections or hazards that are approaching will give you more time to think about what steps need to be taken to remain safe. Anticipate changing traffic conditions, or other factors like weather or work zones. Like they always say, expect the unexpected.

One thing that goes along with this is maintaining a good following distance. Lytx states, "The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends drivers maintain at least four seconds of distance for commercial trucks traveling up to 40 mph to drive defensively. For every additional 10 mph of speed, the DOT recommends adding one second". says to leave yourself an out, meaning don't let yourself get boxed in. Knowing how fast you are traveling and what that means for a following distance helps you judge what your space cushion is should anything unexpected occur.

Staying Alert

Whenever you or other drivers are behind the wheel, it is important to keep your eyes moving. Avoid distractions both inside and outside the truck, and be aware of what others are doing around you. There is an epidemic of distracted driving with commercial vehicles with new technology and lessening attention spans. Know what is happening around you and anticipate unexpected actions by the other drivers.

That goes with avoiding distractions yourself. Using personal technology like cell phones or other handheld devices is not only incredibly dangerous, but illegal. If you are starting to become fatigued, pull off to the side of the road until you can drive again, or find a spot to stay a while until recovered.

Controlling your Speed

If you are maintaining a good following distance and keeping your eyes  moving for all potential hazards, the only factor left is your speed. As a truck driver, you should know by now that you should go at the appropriate speed for your vehicle, whether that's below or just at the posted speed. Road conditions, work zones, other drivers, and environmental hazards all contribute to this point. Even if you feel you have good control of your load, these other factors can put you to a stop pretty quickly. Stopping time and distance are affected by your speed. According to the FMCSA, “A fully loaded truck traveling in good road conditions at highway speeds needs a distance of nearly two football fields to stop.” Keep this point in mind when out on the road.

Benefits of Defensive Driving

The obvious benefit to Defensive Driving is keeping employees safe from vehicle-related injuries. For companies, Defensive Driving is one of the ways to prevent collisions, cut costs, manage insurance premiums, and protect the company's reputation. Safety should be every company's number 1 priority, so many will offer recommendations on defensive driving courses such as the National Safety Council's online course. Drive Safe Online has their list of tips on how to pick a Defensive Driving Course online.

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