Rolling in reverse

| March 07, 2006

Learn the easy steps to backing safely.

Truck drivers hear the three simple rules of backing up over and over again, like mama scolding: “When backing in, go slow, get out and look (GOAL), and most of all, don’t hit anything.”

Yeah, you’ve heard it before. But backing remains the most accident-prone part of the job, and almost all backing mishaps occur because drivers ignore the rules, get in a hurry, don’t get out and look, and hit something. Inexperienced drivers don’t know any better. Old-timers sometime think they know better and stop thinking.

Usually, a driver is least likely to slow down and get out to look when doing so is necessary: it’s dark, cold, rainy and muddy at the end of a long, tiring day, and other drivers are on the CB giving criticism: “Do you want one of us to come and back that truck in for you?” or “Get under it, get under it,” when the self-appointed coach can’t see how little clearance you have in front.

The more unpleasant the task, the more professionalism must be applied.

Accident-free million-milers are commended for their professionalism because they give what the job requires, not what they think it should get. They back in slowly: maybe just a few inches at a time. They know what’s behind their trailers and what they’re backing into. They don’t hit anything.

The first step to backing in is not backing in. “If you can avoid backing in, do it,” says owner-operator John Brown of Hereford, Ariz. If you find a pull-through – two empty parking spots head-to-head – take it.

Don’t force the issue. If backing into one spot looks too difficult, find another. “Eight of 10 times I come to this truckstop, the place is busy, but there’s one spot that’s always open,” says owner-operator Gary Eastman from Blaine, Minn. “They can’t get into it because they don’t know how to set up for it right.”

Eastman means a spot next to last in a long row of parking places. There’s very little room to its left, so the driver who gets into it will either blind side from the right or very skillfully back in from the left.

This might be a question of experience. Newer drivers who haven’t become confident of their backing skills yet might wisely pass on a spot that a more experienced driver would try. Rookie drivers who know their limitations show unusually advanced skill and professionalism when they avoid difficult backing situations, especially compared with beginners who take on difficult back-ups, hit something and lose a safety bonus.

“I remember the first time I backed in,” says owner-operator Dustin Cullison of East Brookfield, Mass. “I was terrified, and my friends were laughing at me.” That was more than 11 years ago, but his fear stood Cullison well. “I’ve never backed into anything,” he says.

Some new drivers seem born to back up big trucks and catch on quickly. Others have previous experience maneuvering large vehicles into specific positions.

“Sometimes I have to pull up: every now and then,” says Hitchcock company driver Dave Brzak of Webberville, Mich. “But I come from a farm, and I’ve backed up equipment before. So backing in one of these trucks kind of comes natural to me.”

If you’re going to back in, the procedure starts well before the truck is in reverse.
As you drive past the place you’re about to back into, take a good look at it.

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