Rolling in reverse

| March 07, 2006

“If they want to help you, they have to get out of the truck and come help you,” Cullison says. “Besides, a professional never takes somebody else’s word.”

As you start to back up, remember the rule: go slow, get out and look, and don’t hit anything. Keep off the throttle and work the clutch. “You have to envision the truck going into the parking spot,” Cullison says.

Take all the time you need to back in safely.

“If you lose your idea of where that truck on your blind side is, you have to get out and look,” Cullison says. “In my opinion, that’s the most important step: get out and look as many times as you have to.”

When do you have to? “If you can’t see it, get out and look,” Cullison says. “I tell people that all the time.”

For most drivers, the trailer’s right rear corner presents the most problems. It’s hidden from view, and if the tandems are set forward, the rear overhang seems like it’s jutting out into the next state. If you’re unsure of how close your right rear corner is to the left front of the truck in the spot to the right, you have to get out and look to make sure you’re not hitting anything. If it’s very close, pull up and start over. If there’s plenty of clearance, continue backing slowly in. If you become unsure, get out and look again.

Drivers sometimes over-compensate for the right rear they can’t see by cutting very closely with their trailer’s left rear, which they can see. This works, but if you cut in just an inch or two away from the right front corner of the truck on the left, you’ll have to get out and look at your clearance there, too, especially in the dark. Also, if you cut it that close and your tandems hit a pothole, the trailer might lurch into the other truck.

While backing in and focusing on the rear of the trailer, don’t be afraid to stop, get your bearings and find out what’s happening around the rest of your truck.

“Everybody in America is in a hurry, and they won’t wait until you get out of the way,” Cullison says. “You have to be constantly on the alert. You’re backing up and watching behind you, and you’ll have people who want to drive around the front or pedestrians walking on your blind side,” he says. “They’ll come around you and get in your way.”

For this reason, check all sides of your truck before pulling forward.

In packed truckstop parking lots, there’s often little clearance in front of you, either. Make sure, after you’ve got the rear of the trailer into the spot and you’re ready to get under it, straighten out and back in, that when you swing the tractor in front of the trailer, you’re not swinging right into the front end of a truck parked across the lot. Before backing in, notice if any trucks in front of you are jutting out particularly far. These will cause as much trouble as the trucks behind you, and you might have to get out and look at your truck’s right front corner to make sure it will clear.

Backing a 70-foot vehicle into a parking spot or up to a dock is not an exact science. Each place you back into will be different. But in all situations, the main rules stay the same.

“The main thing to remember is don’t hit anything,” Brzak says. To do that, slow down, and get out and look.

“Watch out for other people, too,” he says.

Be mindful of other drivers. Shut your headlights off so they don’t shine into the cabs and sleepers of the trucks in front. Don’t lay on the air horn; other drivers are sleeping. Take all the time you need to back safely, but don’t dally needlessly; other drivers are probably waiting to get by, park and relax. Back in far enough to be out of the way but not so far that drivers backing in behind you don’t have enough room. Take some time to center your truck in the parking spot so you don’t crowd drivers on either side.

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