Vital seconds

| February 28, 2007

Nails and other debris should be pulled out when found to avoid further damage and possible blowouts.

Blowouts are among a truck driver’s worst nightmares. They typically happen without warning. A steer-tire blowout at 65 miles per hour can, in a heartbeat, wrench control of a 40-ton truck away from the driver. Then all bets are off, and whether the truck stops safely or wreaks mayhem and destruction depends on the driver’s instinctive reactions within the first moments.

“It happens suddenly,” says Maury Tiehen, CDL Department Chair at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M. “It certainly affects your control of the vehicle, and if you don’t do the right thing, you’re at a very real risk of catastrophic collision, rolling it or at least taking it off the road.”

You’ll have less than two seconds to conduct the first four of the following five steps. The seconds might come while you’re reaching for a drink, jawing on the CB or admiring a passing car’s upholstery. If you’re not alert, steer-tire blowouts are unforgiving.

  1. Keep your head
    “Don’t react wildly,” says Columbia, S.C.-based Marshall McKoy, company driver for CC Transportation. “Keep a cool, calm head.”

    You’re the trained professional and the only one who can safely handle the emergency. Everybody nearby needs your panic-free response: “shaken, not stirred,” as 007 says. Don’t let them down.

  2. Grip the wheel
    “You want to get a good, firm grip on the steering wheel,” McKoy says. “Once you feel that tire go, it has to be like second nature. You’re going to take a good hold of the wheel.”

    Keep hands and arms out of the steering wheel at all times because they might break when the wheel wrenches from a blowout.

  3. Stay off the brakes
    Your instinct may be to slam on the brakes, but that’s the opposite of what you should do.

    “That’s the first thing everybody does,” says Glenwood, Md.-based owner-operator Edward Grimes.

    “When you’re driving down the road, the primary force on the truck is its forward force,” Tiehen says. “When you have a blowout, you’ve suddenly added a substantial amount of sideways force due to the drag on the blowout side of the truck.”

    If a steer tire blows, part of the truck suddenly wants to slow down and turn. Braking escalates the argument to all-out war.

  4. Throttle up
    Just taking your foot off the throttle can spell doom.

    “If you take your foot off the accelerator, you decrease that forward force and allow the sideways forces to take over,” Tiehen says.

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