On Closer Examination
“My trainer used to pull the valve stem caps off the tandems just to see if I was checking. If I didn’t catch it, he’d tell me I just got a violation,” Stevens says. “He used to unhook the glad hands, lower the landing gear and pull the king pin just to make sure I did a good pre-trip.”
Stevens says the formal training at Stevens Transport, where he attended truck-driving school, is rigorous. “About the only thing they didn’t make us do is take the truck apart and put it back together again. There’s a set plan you have to follow that even the DOT follows,” he says. “You have to check everything that has to do with your truck, your driving, and the operation of your truck.”
“You got to know what you’re driving, especially if you’re running mountains,” Stevens says. “If you go down mountains and don’t check your brakes, you don’t know what you’re running with. You pretty much have to have everything working right.”
There are numerous ways to learn how. Truck driving schools and trucking company safety departments are two common places, and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance has the information on their web site: www.cvsa.org. The Rand McNally Motor Carrier’s Atlas has an inspection chart in the front section, and any state DOT official in any truckstop will gladly help a driver learn how to inspect a big rig.
“Some companies have a DOT-trained inspector on hand to tell you what to check,” Gambill says. “Every major terminal we go to we have somebody who does inspections on the fuel island,” he says of Watkins Motor Lines. Gambill says he’s not afraid to call state departments of transportation and ask for information about pre- and post-trip inspections. “You can get a DOT man to help. They don’t mind, but you have to ask. Men are sometimes more guilty of that. We don’t want to ask. But as truckers we get out of that plenty fast, because we have to know.”
While experience might be the best teacher, Gambill admits that even experienced drivers lose if they stop trying to learn. “I had a co-driver once who tried to show me a few things, and I wasn’t paying attention,” he says. “But there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know, even after doing this for 15 years. When you get to the point where you think you know it all, you might as well park the truck.”