Nervous breakdown

Preparation and a cool head will see you through equipment emergencies.

Equipment failures while driving can immediately put a trucker in a red-hot emergency situation, usually without warning. A shattered windshield from a wayward rock, a blown steer tire at highway speed, air pressure and brake loss, broken tie downs or even a computer glitch that shuts an engine down on a crowded interstate: such equipment failures will rattle almost anybody.

Training for these events is difficult; the surprise factor is hard to mimic in practice. Nonetheless, the driver who remains calm and clear-headed during driving emergencies and follows a short, simple procedure will minimize danger and likely emerge unscathed.

Conversely, the driver who panics and makes sudden moves turns the roadway into a treacherous place where severe damage, injury and loss of life are probable for all nearby motorists.

Hence the unanimous advice from all drivers, seasoned and otherwise, for handling equipment failure while driving:

“Don’t panic if something breaks while you’re driving,” says Werner company driver Brenda Ziemer of Lewiston, Minn. “If you panic, who knows what’s going to happen next?”

“Don’t overreact,” reiterates owner-operator Jeff Buck of Charleston, S.C. “Don’t let the situation intimidate you. Be careful. Don’t jam on the brakes. Just kind of slow down, and gradually get to the side as quickly and safely as possible.”

Buck’s been a truck driver for about 16 years, but along with his uncles, brothers and stepfather, he draws on more than 100 of years of trucking experience. “Uncle Bud has been driving for 50 some odd years, and my stepfather Paul drove for more than 30 years,” Buck says. “I have two baby brothers who are both drivers.”

From this bank of knowledge Buck has learned that the best way to handle equipment failures while driving is to prevent them.

“The way to prevent these kinds of emergencies when you’re going down the road is to use your senses: sight, smell, sound,” Buck says. “You can hear something clanking, grinding or hissing. You can smell something burning or fluid leaks. You can definitely see with your eyes and gauges what’s happening.”

Buck takes his profession seriously, and he believes if he’s not listening to his truck, then he’s not doing his job.

“A lot of drivers have these loud radios in their trucks, and they’re not good to have,” he says. “You’re there to do a job, not to party. Your awareness of things happening around you is decreased when you’re distracted by loud music.”

Gee, that doesn’t sound like any fun. But in his 16-plus years on the road, Buck has never experienced an equipment failure while driving, so he’s probably onto something good.

“You figure if you’re running down the road having a good time and going crazy, there’s somebody back in your hometown doing the same thing,” he says. “The next time, it might be your family that gets run over.”

But prevention starts before you even hit the road.

“Whenever you stop, check everything out,” Ziemer says. “At night, do your post-trip.”

“You’re basically checking everything out all the time and keeping everything in good shape,” she says, and she explains why.

“If something breaks when you’re driving and you get in an accident, and it’s something you were supposed to catch in your pre-trip, they’ll really come after you,” Ziemer says. “If you knew about it beforehand