Lessons Learned: Some Real-Life Safety Stories

smoking brakes


It’s always good to reconnect with a previous truck driving student, especially after a year or so of experience.

Drivers have the same problems as anyone else starting out in a new career. Sometimes the employer doesn’t pay them right away and they have to move on. It happens. Sometimes they don’t get any respect on the receiver end (like pulling into a GM dock during break time. Breaks are sacrosanct to the UAW; please pardon their french while they explain).

New drivers make mistakes — like topping the truck or parking in the wrong spot — usually from not paying attention or being distracted.

Starting out is always hard. There’s a lot to learn and a short time in which to learn it.

Mustafa: Going with the Flow

Mustafa (not his real name) was from Detroit and he drove for Swift. He said his moment of truth happened while tooling down a mountain in California. Trucks were passing him downhill so he decided to “go with the flow.” His trainer apparently had nodded off. When he looked up, he gave Mustafa an earful.

“Why are you going down this hill so fast?”

“I’m keeping up with traffic.”

“Do you notice anything about those flatbeds next to us? They’re not loaded — like we are.”

Mustafa did not. It took a while for the brakes to cool at the bottom of the mountain.

Other stories don’t always have happy endings. They generally involve speeding, or pushing things to the limit, or taking shortcuts. Take the case of Ray, who I hadn’t seen in a few years.

Ray: Break-neck Speed

Ray (not his real name) came in wearing a neck brace and needed a certified tractor-trailer road test for a Dr’s clearance. Ray filled me in on the details. He was driving in southern Michigan in winter. Ray was doing the speed limit when he came across some fresh snow — then a patch of black ice underneath. To make a long story short, he was in a hurry (get-home-itis), didn’t slow down, ended up off the roadway, upside down, and had broken his neck . . . He lost a year from work, a long, painful year.

“Yeah, I should’ve known better . . .”

Frank . . . Short for Frankenstein

Frank was not a student, but also needed a tractor-trailer road test for a medical clearance. One side of Frank’s face had deep scars. Frank was putting air in a new truck tire, when it exploded, shredding one side of his face, ripping his thumb off and severely injuring him.

“Why didn’t you cage the tire?”

“No time for that,” said Frank.

Oddly, he it seemed he had enough time for several surgeries, a long stretch of rehab, and even enough time to drive about eighty miles to see me . . .

Bob: Flying at Zero Altitude

Bob (name changed to protect the guilty) took a job with a small local company. Within a month he was back, looking for work.

“What happened?”

His was an incredulous story. Everywhere he had driven, Bob claimed, was beyond the speed limit, pushed on by the trainer. He didn’t feel comfortable driving that way. He quit his job, he said, after his trainer ran a 4-way stop.

“Are all the trainers like that?” he asked.

Within a six months of seeing Bob, the company folded after it lost its operating authority for multiple safety violations and unpaid fines.

Stand Your Ground

If I had any advice to give any driver, it would be to stick with what you know. Don’t watch what other drivers are doing: their loads and equipment are different. Take everything you are told with the proverbial grain of salt, especially if the person is not responsible for your consequences. Recall the old teamster saying — the emptiest wagon makes the most noise. Don’t let others redefine the game.

Thank you for reading this.