More than a backward glance
Safely backing your truck requires patience and practice
By Max Kvidera
Backing a big rig into a loading dock or parking space can be a humbling experience. If you don’t get it right, you run the risk of shearing off your own or another truck’s mirror or scraping your trailer. If done haphazardly, you could raise the ire of other truckers by not allowing enough space for them.
Backing up to a warehouse door, often between other trailers, or across a street, avoiding traffic or with limited space to turn, requires experience, patience, smart use of your mirrors and caution. If you make a mistake, it will cost you or your carrier — or both.
Gina Stumborg, leased with husband Don as a team to Duplainville Transport, says safely backing up requires remaining cool and not rushing it. “No matter how frustrating it is, stay calm,” she says.
Albert Transport independent owner-operator Henry Albert says a driver often encounters backing situations when he or she is not in the perfect frame of mind — either at the end of a long day or at the beginning of duty: “You’ve been thinking of getting to that destination all day, but you have to watch that you don’t drop your guard and say, ‘I’m finally here.’ That’s when you might mess up.”
Dick McCorkle, an owner-operator leased to Hiner Transport, concurs that most accidents happen during the first and last hours of daily driving; that could be at a customer’s dock or a truckstop. There’s no right or wrong way to back up successfully, he adds. The first thing he does is activate his four-way blinkers. “This tells everyone I’m getting ready to do something,” he says. Then he jumps out of the cab to look behind him and in both directions if he’s going to back across a road. He’ll recruit someone to sight for him if he can, then “start to back up. I will probably stop twice just to make sure it’s all clear and nothing is behind me, and then I’ll ease on back. I’ll probably stop within a foot of the dock area or door, get out and see how everything looks before I ease on back.”
Albert says he surveys the area for buildings, vehicles and space to maneuver when he pulls in to the destination to avoid getting trapped with too little space. Get out and take a look before you start moving back. “I saw a guy hit a light pole that was at the back of a parking spot because he didn’t get out to look,” he says.
Stumborg says one facility where she often delivers has a light pole near the loading area. She’s seen drivers hit smaller poles that protect the pole because they couldn’t see them in their mirror and didn’t look for them in advance. Another obstacle at many manufacturing plants are boulders set along a driveway to keep trucks from encroaching on grass, she says.
Albert says he tries to pre-set his vehicle in the direction he wants to move. “I try to pre-set my tractor in relationship to my trailer, so I have it turning in the direction I want to go,” he says. “After I’ve looked to see if there’s enough room to back the trailer, I hug closer to the side of the trailer I can see easier, so I have plenty of clearance on my blind side.”
McCorkle says he makes use of all four of his mirrors for backing up. Albert says his remote adjustable mirrors are effective, especially for blind side backing, because he can turn the mirror to see his trailer longer.
McCorkle rarely rolls down his windows for viewing and stays inside his cab while backing up. He says he’s watched some drivers “stand on the running board and try to steer in. That’s very dangerous,” he says.
Speed while backing up will vary based on driver preference and the transmission type. Albert notes that automated transmissions don’t allow enough idle speed to back up without using the accelerator.