Defensive Driving Techniques For Truck Drivers

March 1, 2022 12:00 am

“Just remember, everyone else on the road is an idiot.”

Ah yes, the sage advice, dished out by many parents as they watch their teenager get behind the steering wheel for the first time!

To paraphrase, you are in control of yourself and your vehicle alone out on the road. Therefore, you must drive defensively despite adverse conditions or the mistakes of others.

You can never predict what another driver will do, but you can employ driving techniques that ensure you have time to respond to the unforeseen.

Equally as important is driving to the conditions. Environmental factors significantly influence how your vehicle will respond operationally. For example, a wet or icy road will impact braking and require that you reduce your driving speed to compensate.

The two core principles of defensive driving are:

  • Creating a Buffer
  • Driver Awareness


Defensive Driving Techniques


Plan Ahead

Defensive driving starts before you hit the road. 

We suggest you get into the habit of running this simple pre-drive checklist:

  • Check your rig
  • Check the day’s weather conditions
  • Familiarise yourself with your route – road layouts, on and off-ramps, etc.
  • Set your GPS 
  • Check the local traffic and road report and make a contingency plan if required.


Scan the Road – Ahead and Behind

Scanning the road ahead will help you to identify any potential risk factors and give you adequate time to respond if needed. 

For example, if you notice someone driving erratically, you can pull back or pull over and give this vehicle time to correct its driving or clear your travel path.  

Ensuring you know what is going on behind you is just as important. Check wing mirrors every 3-5 seconds and every time you change lanes.

Scanning allows you more time to see, think, and act.


Travel at a Safe Distance

We are all familiar with the 2-second rule – the rule that helps you to determine whether you are travelling at a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you. 

While this is a good measure for cars and other light vehicles, trucks require a longer braking distance and should follow the 5-second rule.

There should be 5 seconds of driving time between your truck and the vehicle in front of you.


Adjust Your Speed to Suit the Conditions

The speed limit is not a target! While 90 km per hour may be a safe speed to travel along a sealed and marked highway on a perfectly sunny day, it would be dangerous to hit that speed in many other conditions.

Weather, visibility, traffic conditions, whether you are carrying a full or empty load are all factors that influence what is considered a safe speed.

Like the old saying goes, the faster the speed, the bigger the mess. By adjusting your speed to the conditions, you significantly reduce any risk.


Intersection and T-Section Safety

Intersections and T-sections pose a real risk to Kiwi truck drivers and could be where our idiot quote above is most appropriately applied. 

Many private vehicles’ drivers seem to be in a hurry. On the open road, this translates as speeding or reckless overtaking. When this behaviour combines with an upcoming intersection or T-section, the results can be catastrophic. 

Ensure that you have an expansive view of the oncoming traffic from all directions. If you identify an oncoming vehicle travelling at speed or signalling that they intend to overtake, give them time to pass to eliminate them as a potential safety risk.


Traffic Light Safety

Traffic lights run on a timer. They are not programmed to detect a distracted pedestrian or a car about to run a red light.

Get into the habit of second-guessing a green light by running a quick safety scan before you proceed.


Reversing Safety

Always reverse slowly and notify anyone around you of your presence and intentions.

If you are unsure of what is behind you, get out and check before you reverse, or have someone guide you.


Stay Alert and Focused At All Times

Your time on the road can be long and monotonous; it can be easy to grow tired or for your mind to wander.

To combat driver fatigue:

  1. Ensure that you get enough sleep ahead of your shift and pack lots of nutrient-rich snacks to keep your mind sharp while on the road.
  2. If you need to, pull over for a rest or an energy-inducing roadside workout.


Check out our How Are Your Trucking article for more detail.

If entertainment will help to stay focused and alert, create an upbeat playlist of all your favourite songs or find a great podcast to follow.


Make it Click

The three seconds it takes to secure your seatbelt could be the difference between life and death.

Your seatbelt will prevent you from being thrown from your cabin in an accident and give you a better chance of remaining in control of your truck in an emergency.


Benefits Of Defensive Driving

The benefits are many!

  • Safer roads
  • Better drivers
  • Reduced risk
  • Maximum protection
  • No traffic fines
  • Less vehicle maintenance
  • Reduced insurance claims


The more drivers that actively engage in defensive driving techniques, the safer our roads will be for all.


Article courtesy of Newsletter Ready.