8 Mistakes for Rookie Truck Drivers to Avoid

young truck driver

“If you got it, a big truck brought it,” sings Jonathan Byrd in his homage to truck drivers. The romance of the open road is hard to deny when you put it in those terms. But first, truck drivers have to get into the swing of things.

Many rookie drivers make critical mistakes in their first few days and months hauling over-the-road. Too many mistakes can set a rookie driver up for disaster. At the very least, they risk getting burnt out.

For instance, drivers who leave the lot without semi-truck roadside assistance services risk getting stuck in unfamiliar territory without anyone to come to their aid for miles. Other times, drivers get too ambitious and find themselves in a major truck accident.

Fortunately, many bad situations can be avoided with a little quick thinking and knowledge. Since rookie drivers may be a bit lacking in the second department, here are eight common mistakes they make.

1. Going Too Fast

U.S. truck driving regulations allow up to 20,000 lbs. per single axle and 34,000 lbs. per tandem axle. That’s a lot of weight riding around on those wheels. When you drive fast, you lose control fast, and just one mistake can mean ending up on the side of the road.

Rookie drivers should always drive as cautiously as the situation demands. Don’t worry about how others on the road are reacting, and remember that a wreck will slow you down much more than reduced speeds will.

Be especially careful about gaining speed on downhills. Once you gain speed, downshifting is nearly impossible, so slowing down becomes tough. As someone in the Trucking Truth forums once sagely put it: “You can go down a hill a million times slowly, but you can only go down a hill one time fast.”

2. Ignoring Road Signs

Navigation systems are handy, but sometimes they are inaccurate. They may tell you to go down a one-way street or forget to notify you of a sudden speed limit change ahead. Signs can tell you about these things, though, so pay attention to what the road tells you.

The absolute worst sign you can ignore is a clearance marker. If it says you won’t fit, you won’t fit. Yet many trucks try their luck only to get stuck.

One bridge in Durham, NC is so famous that it has its own website, filled with videos of truck after truck colliding under its low-clearance 11-foot, 8-inch railway bridge.

3. Forgetting About Your Trailer

It may seem impossible to forget about a 28-plus foot trailer dragging behind you, but it happens. New truck drivers are especially likely to make mistakes where they misjudge turning distance or maneuvers because they aren’t used to the size of their trailer.

Checking blind spots and waiting for room before turning is especially important. Sure, everyone may blast their horn at you to go through an intersection, but they’ll be less upset than if a trailer ended up in their broadside.

4. Fueling Up Before a Weigh In

Fuel is heavy. Each gallon weighs roughly six pounds. When you’ve got two 150-gallon fuel tanks hanging under your cab, that’s a lot of extra weight to drag around. It can affect your gas mileage, your trip time, and most importantly, your weigh-in.

Learning when to fuel and how much to fuel is an art, and it’s something you get used to after driving hundreds of routes. At first, just remember that riding at half capacity isn’t so bad when you’ve got a full load and are just about to enter the interstate. You can always fuel up on the last leg of your trip.

That said, plan your route with available fuel stops in mind. Some stretches of road, especially out west, can go on for hours without a truck stop in sight.

5. Panicking About Lane Changes

If you’re going to change lanes, do it early and do it when there’s plenty of room. Otherwise, it’s usually best just to sit tight. Sure, you may get stuck behind a Sunday driver going ten under with their blinker on, but switching into the passing lane can be scary for both you and oncoming vehicles if there’s not enough room for everyone.

Don’t fret about merging vehicles, either. Most see you coming well up the ramp, and they are faster than you, so you usually won’t have to move at all. Slow down if you need to, and change lanes as a last resort.

6. Failure to Maintain a Good Relationship with Dispatchers or Shipper/Receivers

Be polite and professional to your driver manager (DM), your dispatcher, and any shipper/receiver you work with. Even if none of these people directly sign your paycheck, they indirectly control the amount of work you have.

7. Not Preparing Yourself for the Stress

Hauling over-the-road is never completely perfect. You’re going to have to deal with stress from other drivers, stress on your body, and strain on your mind. These forces can lead to a short career if you aren’t prepared to deal with them. You have to have coping mechanisms ready to keep them from dragging you down.

Most things — like getting cut off — you should just learn to let go. As for the serious things, like stress on your body, take care of your personal needs before they catch up with you. For instance, eat healthily and stretch as much as you can off the road. While on the road, healthy foods and stretch breaks can be hard to come by.

8. Getting Stranded with No Backup Plan — Use Semi-Truck Roadside Assistance Services Instead

Whether you’re an owner-operator or a member of a big truck fleet, you deserve support in case things turn sour. That means having a roadside assistance plan if you get in an accident, have a dead battery, run out of fuel, or encounter mechanical trouble.

Commercial truck roadside assistance programs can provide service 24 hours a day when you need to change a tire or get a tow. They can also help you get into your cab if you get locked out, or even come to offer support when you get in a collision.

You can learn more about your options for semi-truck roadside assistance services when you contact us today.

Be safe out there, and be sure to have a backup plan for when things get rough! We’ll see you on the road, partner.