“Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me,
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been”
Get ready for the most exciting ride of your truck driving life into the under-discussed topic of truck driving safety. My name is Mike, and, as your host and fellow driver for almost 2 decades, I have prepared 5 lengthy and properly unnecessarily complex safety dissertations, that will surely make you a better overall person, a highly skilled truck driver and a blessing for your other fellow drivers whenever you cross paths.
Just joking, you can let out your breath now. You will perhaps join me in my amazement how people that have never sat behind the steering wheel of an 18 wheeler decide how you should live your life on and off the road. While most, if not all of the FMCSA laws and regulations are common sense and are in place to solve very important issues that will literally save lives when properly applied, there seems to be little to no quality information on how you can make your truck driving life better in some areas that directly impact your safety and your performance as a commercial vehicle driver:
Feel free to click on the headings above to go directly to the respective sections of the article. They are meant to help you decide if truck driving is a good fit for you, or if you should consider other driving jobs, such as ridesharing.
1.Truck Driver Health
Both your physical and psychological health contribute to the overall quality of your life on the road. Being more alert, happier and in good general shape will definitely help you be safer and drive with less or no unwanted incidents.
Let’s start with the hardest one – truck driver diet – and make it easier.
According to many, many, many studies and articles like this one here, “weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise“. While exercise plays a crucial part in your overall health and well-being, it is very hard, if not impossible to lose weight and be healthy without keeping some kind of diet. But that is easier said than done when you have to keep deadlines, appointments and your most obvious culinary choices are between a TA buffet, a KFC you stumbled upon and some dried-up mystery meat sitting invitingly behind a counter window at your usual mom and pop truckstop.
It stands to reason that eating healthy is a lot easier if you are a local driver than if you are an over the road driver, so we will focus on ways to keep healthy when you’re driving over the road.
What To Avoid Eating On The Road
My own personal experience and this gentleman’s post on the Truckers Report Forums taught me that avoiding the following helps you stay healthier, lose weight and, as a side-effect, even improves your mood and energy levels:
- sugar in most forms (soda, candy, sweets, coffee, even fruit juices)
- carbohydrates (carbs) – potatoes, pasta, bread, rice
- fried foods – fries, chicken, fish, pork
- fatty foods – pork
Recommended Over-The-Road Diet
So what in the world can you eat? Keeping a diet does not necessarily mean that you have to starve yourself to death. There are plenty of foods that you can eat within reasonable limits and still not feel hungry:
- eggs (preferably boiled)
- lean beef
- vegetables | frozen vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- chicken (preferably take the skin off)
Make Your Diet Plan A Reality
On average, it can take anywhere from 21 to 66 days to form a new habit. What this means is that after this initial accommodation time frame, any changes you will make to your daily routine will feel like second nature, you will do them automatically and they won’t feel like extra work as they might seem at the very beginning.
So how can you make this a reality? I have a few tips for you, for more or to help others with your own ideas, please use the comments section of this article:
- Plan – the more thought you put into planning your meals, where you are going to buy the food and how you are going to store it, the easier it’s going to be to go through with your diet
- Invest in a cooler or a inverter/dorm fridge combo
- Buy some food storage containers with lids (Amazon or Walmart)
- Prepare some food at home, before you leave for work and divide it into portions; figure out how long it is going to last you
- Make a Walmart visit a little bit before you run out of what you packed at home
- Keep an eye on the Nutrition Facts for whatever you buy; do not buy anything with a lot of sugar, carbs or fat
- some examples of what you can buy are: prewashed salad + balsamic vinegar salad dressing, boiled eggs, grilled chicken, rotisserie chicken, canned fish, oats, nuts, chicken/turkey breast, canned beans/soups (keep an eye on the fat content for these), guacamole, green tea, bell peppers, olives, cucumbers, carrots (I used to snack on baby carrots all the time), tomatoes, pickles, etc
Truck Driver Diet Tips
Things to keep in mind:
- Talk to your doctor before you start any diet, especially if you are on any kind of medication or you’ve been diagnosed with any kind of disease. He might be able to give you ideas on how to really make this diet work.
- Eating healthy does not mean starving or eating only bland foods – 2-3 boiled eggs with some grilled chicken breast, olives, few cherry tomatoes, 1-2 pickle spears and half an orange for desert sounds just about fine to me.
- Get creative, mix foods and remember that spices are your best friend when it comes to making the same food taste different than it did yesterday.
- If you are really, really, really committed to sticking with the diet for the long run, take one cheat day per week (only one, mind you) when you are allowed to eat what you crave during the other 6 days. Because it is only for one day, your body will eliminate whatever you put into it in the next 48 hours. This strategy will help you stick with the diet for a long time while still treating yourself once in a while. I had my cheat day on Sundays, when I was usually at home and could enjoy whatever I craved.
- Drink plenty of water
- Take a vitamin supplement, preferably something that also has green tea(watch your caffeine intake)
Truck Driver Health Statistics
Parting word from the CDC on truck driver health:
Truck Driver Stress
As we all know, forced dispatch is illegal. When I asked one of my fellow drivers what companies are forced dispatch, his answer was “what companies aren’t”. Learning how and when to say no to forced dispatch will make your truck driving life a lot safer, more enjoyable and maybe even better paying.
There is a fine line between a dispatcher sending out over the weekend when you had plans at home, when you still have hours left to run and a dispatcher subtly threatening you to take whatever trips they throw your way or else have you waiting for days between loads or even give you the crappiest loads the company has.
This advice is for newer drivers; experienced drivers – please help me out with more advice in the comments section:
- set the correct expectations – let your dispatcher know from the very first time they get sneaky with you what you will do and what not
- say no to anything illegal – running over hours, driving faulty equipment, speeding, hauling overweight loads, etc. It is not worth it. You are 100% responsible how you run your rig. Just say no.
- let your dispatcher know that you are someone he can count on (to be safe, deliver loads on time, to have good work ethics) as long as you can count on him (to give you home time when you request it, not to push you run over hours or do anything illegal, etc)
- move on to a different company if you cannot reach an agreement with your dispatcher. Get a notebook (save text messages, emails, etc) and document whenever he forces dispatch and contest any false claims he might’ve made on your records (DAC, PSP, driving record, etc)
- for drivers living near a big city, I have found Craigslist to be a good source of driving jobs – choose your city and click on ‘transport’ under the ‘jobs’ section. Once there, you can use search terms such as OTR, Local, Home Time, etc to look for your desired position. Put together a list of questions you have before the call and always try to call at least 4-5 companies to see what each has to offer. Do not forget to ask if they offer a hiring bonus.
Causes Of Stress On The Road
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has listed stress as one of the top 10 work-related diseases. Truck drivers are, once more, in the “91st percentile based on the Global Stress Index portion of the Symptom Checklist”. Yeah, whoopie doo, like we had to be told it to believe it.
Some factors that contribute to a stressful truck driving life:
- long hours
- traffic, high risk and dangerous actions by other drivers (including road rage)
- irregular hours
- time away from home
- inadequate truck driver pay
- insufficient exercise – physical activity reduces stress
Reduce Stress On The Road
How you can reduce the amount of stress you go through:
- get enough sleep
- give yourself enough time to get to wherever your delivery/pickup is. Better late than sorry – turn up the radio, tell the dispatcher the you’re in traffic and enjoy some good ole country music or rock’n’roll, if you’re like me.
- mention what a good job you’re doing and negotiate your pay – you never know if you do not ask
- get some good audiobooks. Here’s a secret, don’t tell anyone – nowadays you can use your library card (in most cases) to download free audiobooks on your smartphone. Some popular apps that libraries use are Hoopla, OverDrive, OneClickDigital (search for it on the AppStore/Google Play). “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Saint Augustine
So, about the last topic, how can you exercise while on the road?
Truck Driver Fitness
There are a crapload of articles on a zillion different work out routines, so I am not going to write a lengthy essay about how 10.000 push ups later you are going to be in ship-shape with members of the opposite sex fighting over you.
As a truck driver you need some custom exercise and workout solutions that work together with your truck driving lifestyle and enhance it.
What Makes It Hard To Exercise Over-The-Road
These are some common issues you’ll face when planning an exercise regime on the road:
- lack of time
- lack of shower facilities (eg, if you exercise at a delivery)
- consistency – exercising around the same time every day or every other day
- lack of motivation – how to motivate yourself to exercise
How To Make Exercising Easier For Truck Drivers
And some solutions:
- to hit 2 3 birds with the same stone, you can solve the fatigue, shower and consistency issues by exercising in the morning at a truckstop, before your pre-trip inspection – eg exercise for 20 minutes and the take a 10 minute shower, you will feel absolutely great. Needs planning your rest stops at truckstops where you fuel and have free showers
- you can also do some exercises while driving (at your own risk – you should practice them while stationary and try to figure out if they are distracting or not)
- motivate yourself by setting goals
- always make time for your exercise routine – your health is the most important asset that you have while driving a big rig. Besides, it doesn’t take that long.
- do ask your doctor before starting an exercise regime
- do not strain yourself. Go easy on yourself. Exercising too hard will give you aches, prevent you from doing it again tomorrow and will leave you with a bad taste when it comes to working out. It is best to increase your tolerance gradually while on the road and, because the effect of exercising is cumulative, it is best to work out consistently even if that meas taking it easy for the beginning.
- buy some exercise equipment. Walmart will help you again here (and no, we are not affiliated in any way, it’s just some of the stores have big parking lots and let you park there – always keep your eyes open for road/parking lot signs, watch out for parked cars, pedestrians, tight turns, look for other trucks parked there and, to be on the safer side, ask a manager about parking there for a few hours) with there sports department where you can find dumbbells, exercise bands, etc.
2.Road Safety For Truck Drivers
Good news, I have put together a 5 hour video on how you can be safer on the road and you won’t be able to leave this page until you watch it.
Just joking, while those safety videos definitely help keep our drivers safer, I am going to take a look at being safe on the road from a different, more simplistic angle:
Truck Driving Safety Tips
Yes, you got it. There are some patterns that, if you can avoid them, you will drastically reduce your chances of being involved in an trucking accident:
- wear your seatbelt (don’t be a part of the 34% fatalities that were not wearing a seatbelt)
- pay extra attention in rural areas (wow, 63% of the accidents taking place in a rural area – I wonder if driving on two-lane roads increases your risk)
- drive the limit or even slower if the road conditions are not good (avoid 20% of the crashes with trucker fatalities)
- pay attention to the road first, everything else is secondary (6% – that probably skyrocketed since the date of the study, around 2012, due to increased smartphone use)
Docking & Parking Lot Safety
I was an over-the road driver for half of my driving career and a local driver for the other half. Here is some practical advice that was given to me by more experienced drivers and I successfully applied over the years:
- take your time. I cannot stress enough how important taking your time is when backing up or doing maneuvers in tight places. Spending 45 minutes backing up or even holding up traffic with a squad’s car flashing lights behind my trailer (as I did once when a low clearance bridge sneakily blocked my path of traffic) is 1000 times more preferable to hitting walls, other trucks, someone else’s car or property or even hurting people
- inspect your surroundings even if that means pulling over and walking out of the truck.
- always walk inside a dark, inside-the-building dock to see if there are things sticking out such as stairs, pipes, heaters, metal wheelchucks, etc. Watch for other driver backing up, they might not see you
- make sure your mirrors are clean
- always keep your clearance lights on while backing up and watch for the ones at the corners of your trailer
- G.O.A.L. (get out and look)- yes, do it. Even if you have do it every other inch as I had to do once while blindspotting a Kenworth W900 while delivering at Hunt’s Point in NYC at 3AM with 2 inches clearance on each side
- get someone to spot you, but use them only as reference and STOP if you can’t see them in your mirror or hear them. I say plenty of good-intentions Samaritans guide a driver straight into the next truck over because they did not position themselves correctly or did not make themselves heard. And, if you are behind the steering wheel, you are the one liable. They only wanted to help and you can’t blame them.
- drivers that are over-confident usually make the biggest mistakes. Be mindful of your surroundings and aware that most of the accidents are avoidable if you have a preventive style of driving
Driving Your Truck To Unknown Locations
Yeah, I know, it’s a crappy title, most of the locations you drive to are unknown.
Here’s what you can do to keep yourself safer:
- always get your driving directions before starting to drive on the last leg of the trip. This way you won’t have to stop to review the directions or to ask a stranger how to get there. Most of the people are friendly and will help you, but some mean you harm. It’s best to avoid contact if you are not sure if the area of the city is safe. As a rule of thumb, history has (unfortunately) associated poverty with a higher crime rate
- once there, always lock your truck if you walk out of it
- do not leave any valuables in plain sight – money, phone/wallet on the dashboard, laptop on the passenger seat, etc
- do not hesitate and call 911 if you feel threatened at any time
- red-light robberies are probably a thing of the past, but, if someone threatens you with a weapon, give them what they want. No freight is more valuable than your life.
This is one of the times when you are more vulnerable than usual. You are tired, your reflexes are not as sharp and you can’t think about much besides the sweet embrace of sleep.
What you can do to keep yourself safe:
- there is safety in numbers – sleeping at a truck-stop, rest areas or a fenced-in company yard where there are other trucks is preferable to sleeping on a ramp shoulder
- avoid sleeping on unpaved ground – if it rains you might sink in and need a tow-truck to get you out
- for a good night sleep, take a look at the weather forecast and adjust the in-cab temperature accordingly
- older trucks without a heating unit might need to idle at a slightly increased RPM so they put out enough heat and you don’t freeze overnight
- do not take diesel exhaust fumes lightly, if you even suspect a leak, get it checked out
- get enough sleep – your health is a precious and fragile gift. Guard it jealously – there is always another load to haul and more money to make but you only have one life to live. ‘Nuf said
3.Truck Driver Happiness
Your truck driving life can be a lot happier and easier if you work a little bit at making it how you envisioned it. Some of the things listed above take time to turn into a habit, you might even fail once or twice (hint – it took me 9 tries to quit smoking), but keep on trying. You might find that you are more successful when only taking on one or two major changes at a time (especially when it come to diet and fitness). ****
Do not ever give up on making your truck driving life better, it is your duty.
Just out of curiosity, what is happiness for you:
- Home time
- More money
- Less stress
- Safer job
- The open road