Practical tips to keep drivers safe on the road

The issue of safe truck parking, while never going away, has received increased attention lately. With last week’s announcement from the Dept. of Transportation that it was creating a national coalition to – hopefully – address the problem, the time may have arrived when safe parking gets more than just lip service.

Maybe real change may be coming.

Still, until that happens – and quite frankly, even after that happens – there is no substitute for practical advice. Be aware of your surroundings; try to find a safe place to park. You probably already know the list. And if you are a fleet manager, I encourage you to review safe parking procedures with your drivers. With that in mind, I received an email the other day from the RoadPro Family of Brands. The company produces products that are designed to make life on the road easier. They also have a Pro Driver Council and Charles White, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, spoke to a few of them to get their practical tips on being safe on the road.

Here is his letter in its entirety:

 

Common sense and vigilance keep drivers safe on the road

Maggie Stone is used to double takes when she climbs down from the cab of her Peterbilt 379. Women truckers are a minority and women who haul livestock, like Stone does, are a rarity.

But while Stone is fine with surprising people, she wears a 9mm handgun on her hip to make sure she doesn’t get surprised. She also keeps a baseball bat in the cab and, in a pinch, there’s the electric cattle prod she uses to handle hogs and cattle.

Like many drivers — male and female — Stone worries about safety on the road. While traffic, road conditions and weather pose the greatest hazards to drivers, there are other dangers as well.

In 2009, driver Jason Rivenburg was robbed and killed in South Carolina while parked at an abandoned gas station. In response, Congress passed “Jason’s Law” as part of the 2012 Transportation Reauthorization Bill. It provides more than $6 million in federal funding for states toward the construction and restoration of safe roadside parking lots for truckers.

But the problem hasn’t gone away. Last summer in Detroit, a driver parked overnight outside a steel plant was shot and killed and his truck set on fire. Earlier this year, a trucker was robbed at gunpoint at a rest stop in Dayton.

Drivers can be targeted because they usually travel alone, often carry cash or haul valuable cargo, and their cabs contain electronics, such as CB radios, laptops and portable TVs.

Members of the RoadPro® Family of Brands Pro Driver Council offered advice on how they keep themselves and their trucks safe on the road.

“For me, a lot of it is common sense and being aware of my surroundings,” said Tony Justice, a Tennessee-based driver/musician. Before leaving for an unfamiliar destination, he uses Google Earth to look for overnight parking and consults the destination dispatcher about safe places to park: “If it’s not safe to park, they’ll usually tell you pretty quick.”

Drivers with regular routes quickly learn the best places to park. Others will turn to online driver forums for advice on where to park overnight. Truckers also use CB radios to inform each other of trouble spots.  

While many drivers prefer to park overnight at truck stops, they’re not always convenient for pickup and dropoff schedules. Driver Tom Kyrk said he sometimes parks at Walmart stores or casinos because there is a lot of activity and the lots are well-lit. “You become aware of the areas you’re comfortable with,” he said.     

When at a truck stop, always park with the cab facing the same way as the other trucks in order to discourage break-ins, Justice said.

Drivers said they sleep with windows up or with window screens to prevent a thief from reaching in to grab an item or open a door. Many use seatbelts or bungee cords to lash the doors shut for extra safety. Valuables in the cab should be kept out of sight, Kyrk said, adding that he does not tell others what he’s hauling.

Problems can occur even when a truck is moving. That’s why some drivers avoid driving through high-crime areas, if possible. Stone said a man once leapt onto the running board of her truck at a light in Oklahoma City; he jumped off when she hit the gas.   

Some drivers, like Stone, carry handguns or less lethal devices, such as pepper spray, for protection.

Kyrk said he would use a heavy-duty flashlight to blind an intruder. Others rely on the brotherhood of truckers for help. Honking the horn and flashing lights in a truck stop would attract attention and draw help, they said.

If the worst happens, remember a life is worth more than any truck or cargo.

“No load is worth your life. The load can be replaced, my life can’t be,” Kyrk said.

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