Truck Drivers and Bad Driving Habits
Those who travel our roads regularly will easily grasp why it is said that our trucking industry is keeping our economy on the move. Our truck drivers travel long distances across our road network which is the 10th longest road network in the world. Their efforts are too often not recognized and they, perhaps unfairly, face much of the criticism for some bad crashes involving other road users.
On the Arrive Alive website, we discuss the bad driving habits of our motorists. But what are the bad driving habits we find among our truck drivers, where do they come from and what can we do to address and rectify bad driving behaviour in the trucking industry?
We decided to approach some of our most prominent truck driving trainers/ instructors to gain some insights and a better understanding of this important aspect of safety on our roads:
Bad habits start even before we start the ignition!
What are the bad habits we display when sitting behind the steering wheel of a truck?
Prior to a road trip, it is important for the person with the driving task to have a healthy body and mind. Many fail to conduct a pre-trip inspection unless they are compelled to do so by a company policy. Too often drivers are in too much of a rush because of pressure in the system that they neglect basics in trucks. This includes the seat position or the mirror positions, aspects that are critical to comfortable and safe driving, especially when the long distance becomes a reality.
Once seated the driver should check the following:
-Set side mirrors (all) for accuracy.
-Set seating position correct (both up/down and forward/ backwards).
- Set steering wheel position correct (most drivers lift it all the way up to exit the truck).
-Ensuring correct hand positioning on the steering wheel. Incorrect hand position on the steering wheel affects the driver’s ability to control the vehicle correctly.
When sitting behind the steering wheel the driver should guard against the following:
Failing to wear seatbelts: The single biggest challenge is getting drivers and their passengers to buckle up at all times. Drivers are reluctant to wear a seatbelt because of the myth that it will kill you rather than save your life should the vehicle burst into flames. What they don’t realise is that 9 out of 10 times in this situation you were probably dead already.
Use of cell phones while driving.
Cooking whilst driving: Because of very tight schedules, drivers sometimes don’t have time to stop and cook so it’s done whilst driving. This is a major fire hazard.
Eating, drinking and smoking whilst driving: For the very same reason, drivers eat whilst driving to save time.
Reading or watching movies whilst driving: Because of the limited social time drivers have they engage in an extremely dangerous practice of reading books or watching movies whilst driving.
Bad hygiene in cab: Again because of tight schedules drivers don’t have time to keep their trucks clean inside and this poses a health risk to the driver
Loose objects inside the Cab: Often gas bottles, tin foods suitcases and fire extinguishers just lie loosely in the cab. These objects become missiles in an emergency or collision situation.
Urinating in bottles whilst driving: There is also a criminal element to consider and for this reason, drivers don’t stop to use a loo but rather urinate in a bottle.
What are the most common bad driving habits we find among our truck drivers?
First and foremost, drivers don’t mentally prepare themselves properly for their next trip. Because they spend so much time, daily, on the road, bad habits creep in and they become complacent with respect to compliance with the National Road Traffic Act. This leads to simple procedures being overlooked and negligent handling of vehicles leading to increased wear and tear.
These habits include:
An Inappropriate Attitude for Driving
Attitude is a major area that can be improved on as many of our drivers approach their next trip as just another trip rather than seeing it as a job activity that if carried out safely and efficiently, will enable them to remain in the system for that much longer.
Understanding that the use of the road is built on mutual respect (We have to respect all other road users and them, us).
Not leaving problems/arguments with others outside the truck.
Inability to focus on the task at hand for whatever reason.
Failing to do pre-trip inspection and loads management.
Positioning behind the steering wheel / Incorrect hand position on the steering wheel.
Seatbelts fastened behind the drivers back to switch off the warning buzzer.
The hand resting on the gear lever.
Re-setting on-board display messages while moving off.
Pinching the steering wheel between your legs to set your hands free.
Driving while crossing arms.
Failure to Remain Alert and Vigilant
Drivers don’t seem to understand the reality of fatigue and the impact fatigue can have on their lives over the duration of their next few hours on the road.
Fatigue for many, mostly long-distance drivers is a lethal challenge.
Today’s communication tools have fast become one of the single biggest threats when on the road.
Drivers need to recognise the dangers of texting and talking while driving and operators need to support this culture by implementing effective methods of communicating with drivers without increasing risk.
Remembering that the safest robot is a red robot.
Never assume an uninterrupted right of way at an intersection.
Wandering – unsure driving.
Steering with one hand.
Non-Defensive Driving Habits
Poor defensive driving skills are apparent on every road, so truck drivers should be that much more aware because of their exposure and sheer size of increased risk.
Lazy driving styles negatively impact on response times in the event of emergencies and also invite complacency into the truck cab.
Speeding: Some drivers are paid a small basic salary and a load or km bonus. So, they tend to speed and not rest as often as they should.
Failure to plan ahead.
Failing to recognize the blind spots that exist around the truck.
Poor use of onboard communication systems (indicators, hazards, flashlights, hooter etc).
Too many attempts to move off (sometimes takes 5 or 6 attempts before correct execution) thus placing a huge strain on maintenance issues.
Ignoring changes in road surface.
Disregard for traffic laws and ignoring road signs and markings.
Failing to notice/react to hazards.
Aggression: This is usually maximised by personal and work-related stress. Tight schedules and no off-time to spend with their families.
What do you believe are the reason for our bad driving habits? Is it the poor teaching/ training, getting too comfortable or bad examples by others?
A combination of all three, not enough operators expose their drivers to defensive driver training and when times get tough, too often it is the training budget that gets cut.
Alternatively, mentors or other drivers are picked to coach drivers and they do not necessarily have the right or most effective information on hand so bad habits are being inherited.
Being overconfident also leads to bad driving habits as drivers feel they know the road, know the routes and know their vehicles.
This leads to complacency, lack of focus and overconfidence.
When they see others behaving badly on the road, they tend to follow suit, this is all about attitude and taking responsibility.
Once they are taught to set the example and understand the positive impact of setting the correct example they will be less inclined to follow others.
Appropriate training in this area that would dramatically impact safety on our roads. We just need the culture to be adopted holistically.
Training starts too late in life and the existing K53 licencing requirements are well below international standards.
Licenses obtained irregularly/illegally.
Poor or limited after-employment training.
Training at all levels or age (if any) only has meaning when understood.
Limited on-going monitoring and evaluation.
Adopting bad driving practices from peers and little or no consequences for poor driving performance.
Humans test their limits by nature – so do truck drivers.
Common ailments and illnesses contribute to bad driving.
What are the major differences between the bad driving habits observed among our inexperienced truck drivers as compared to our more experienced truck drivers?
Inexperienced drivers believe that if you can drive a vehicle physically, you are a driver. Little or no regard is given to the mental aspect which constitutes 70% of driving.
They show a lack of defensive driving elements.
Lack of meaningful training. Failure to understand their loads and the dangers and effect it has on the road handling of the vehicle.
Not grasping the stopping distance – Heavier means further.
Lack of caution in observation (knowing what to look for).
Limited anticipation – Pre-empting potentially hazardous situations.
They are slower at pulling off at intersections due to lack of confidence.
A taxi driving mentality.
Experienced drivers are familiar with their vehicles, the roads and their performance and they treat driving as a professional career, constantly learning to improve their abilities.
The driving of experienced drivers is sometimes at risk of the following:
Being too “Laid back”
They tend to be overconfident.
They speed, steer with one hand and become complacent, specifically if they travel the same route often.
Sometimes very sensitive – Grumpy at times.
Both present risky behaviour which can be addressed through a change in attitude.
What are the unique challenges contributing to bad driving habits among truck drivers (long distance driving etc?)
Fly-by-night operators who cut corners, employing any driver with a PrDP, without adequate vetting, training and monitoring.
A lack of adequate road traffic law enforcement and/or corruption which encourages poor driving habits.
Tight schedules and pressure from supervisors and controllers to get from one destination to the next in the quickest time.
Stopping in unsafe stopping areas increases chances of hijacking.
Picking up passengers creates driving distractions and increases hijacking risk.
Long stops at border posts lead to boredom and inappropriate behaviour.
Lack of rest/ Driver tiredness.
Personal life-related stress.
Lack of knowledge of correct professional driving standards.
Does the trucking industry do enough to address a hazard such as driving fatigued/tired or driving distracted?
Not nearly enough.
This varies from operator to operator and ranges from great support to very poor support.
Industry initiatives like RTMS are bringing more regulation into the industry, which undoubtedly will have a possible impact on the various hazards.
Operators do push driving hours, as drivers are always keen to earn overtime, but as regulation tightens on driving hours and hopefully becomes law, incidents and accidents relating to fatigue will decrease greatly.
On the contrary, as legislation becomes costlier to navigate and as other tolls/costs increase, operators are constantly looking for ways to improve their efficiencies and this does lean toward maximising driving hours and pushing drivers to their limits.
Many of the operators in the trucking industry do not listen to their drivers and insist on ridiculous delivery schedules.
Effective driving schedules not practised.
Minimum sleep hours are not adhered to.
No training (driver care/treasure) for operators.
Remuneration by loads transported and not hours of work.
Some bigger more progressive businesses have very good track records.
Many reputable companies provide on-going training in respect of safe driving habits and back it up by enforceable policies and telematics/tracking devices and/or onboard cameras, all of which go a long way towards addressing the issue of fatigue and distracted driving.
Do crimes such as hijacking and theft of cargo contribute to the truck drivers not making the necessary rest stops when driving long distances?
This is a constant challenge and something that isn’t going to go away overnight. Many cases have presented where an incident or accident has occurred because a driver has pushed through or past a rest stop to rather stop in a safer area, but this is a moving target too.
Operators do their route risk analyse but organised crime has become so advanced and is able to adapt and pounce when least expected. This need continued and improved cooperation by all parties concerned.
Truck hijacking stats and trends suggest that these types of crimes are on the increase as they are seen to be soft targets. (A lonely, unarmed driver, driving a heavy and slow vehicle with valuable cargo passing through many deserted areas is a magnet for criminal opportunists, hence many drivers would avoid rest/truck stops.
Route information (hijack and theft hotspots not easily available to truck drivers).
Overloading of current rest facilities is a reality (especially at night)
Can technology such as onboard cameras help to reduce bad driving habits among our truck drivers?
Absolutely, what a wonderful tool to engineer poor driving habits out of your fleet. Not only can bad habits be reduced dramatically but the safety and word of the driver can also be confirmed in many instances. A great addition to any fleet!
These reports are also crucial when it comes to corrective action training on bad driving habits where targeted training interventions can be implemented against the incorrect behaviour.
These devices are proven to reduce incidents of bad driving and can also be used to “protect” the driver when evidence is required in insurance claim cases or in a court of law.
These devices can also be greatly beneficial for training purposes.
Dash cams are good and can help. However, they are rendered useless if used only as a tool for punishing and not corrective training.
Cameras are too often only used for disciplinary reasons to keep drivers in check.
There is a definite need for training around exception reports.
Over-regulating can be counter-productive leading to a drain in recourses.
Would the types and sizes of trucks have an effect on the types of bad driving habits we might expect to find?
Bad driving has little or nothing to do with the type and size of a vehicle, but much more to do with the driver attitude and whether he/she obtained their licenses correctly, adequate training took place and if the driver’s behaviour is monitored regularly and vigorously.
Bad habits creep in at any level and what we generally experience is that the drivers of the bigger vehicles are more cautious or aware of their danger that they pose than those of the smaller vehicles.
We do acknowledge, however, that if a driver commences driving with no defensive skills at all, the size of the vehicle doesn’t dictate the severity or type of the bad habits.
The size of the vehicle does not determine whether the driver adopts poor driving habits.
All trucks are designed to International best safety standards and if it was the design or size of trucks that affect road collisions then the world truck crash results would be similar.
Entry level drivers usually flock to smaller trucks.
Seasoned drivers migrate to heavier trucks – more pay and “freedom” of suburbia.
Are there any specific bad habits related to the sharing of roads with specific groups of road users such as pedestrian’s cyclists and bikers?
This relates specifically to lack of education and understanding of the needs and expectations from both sides. Pedestrians, cyclists, bikers and LMV drivers don’t understand stopping distances, visibility zones and turning circles of trucks and truck drivers – this is a major hazard.
Some heavy vehicle drivers tend to “bully” road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and light motor vehicles because (a) they are bigger and (b) they feel that if they don’t, they will not be given a chance to enter the road or the lane.
Bad Habits include:
Truck drivers forcing their way, forgetting to check their blind-spots and not seeing the pedestrians and cyclists in no-go zones.
Reversing can be a hazard for all as pedestrians, cyclists, bikers and LMV don’t see trucks reversing and vice versa.
Road rage or aggression.
Misinterpretation of road traffic laws.
Not allowing sufficient space between the hazard and their vehicle.
Lack of focus.
Observation in the wrong place.
Insufficient use of onboard communication e.g. hooter.
Insufficient common courtesy.
Insufficient tolerance and unwillingness to share.
Does the industry do enough to acknowledge and incentivise safe and responsible truck driving?
No. South African transport operators have a long way to in these respects.
We tend to put profits before people.
Initiatives like RTMS are going to help, but very little is written beyond the RTA Many operators only do what is expected by law.
Targeted safety campaigns where educators, operators and safety organisations work together are desperately needed
We have come across many transport companies conduct their business without a proper safety strategy or policy in place.
Very few operators are ISO (International Standards Organization) or RTMS (Road Transport Management System) accredited which, on its own speaks volumes and explains the high casualty rate amongst the trucking industry.
There is too often an insufficient commitment to incentivise/reward safe driving.
Incentives are not discussed/encouraged at the recruitment stage.
No clear guidelines exist for effective incentives.
Industry rather sees a reason for incentive as your job.
Would driver simulators be able to detect any bad driving habits and what are the limitations of simulated driving?
A simulator is effective as a learning and screening tool; however, simulators cannot replace the actual, on-the-road driver training and assessment sessions.
Simulators have a place as an additional training tool, they cannot, however, be used to accurately determine bad driving habits.
Simulators are good for basic entry-level training but will not assist in actual decision making.
Simulators can be an excellent training tool when coming to understand pre and post trip checklists, start-up procedures, road traffic legislation and road signs. Simulating reality is however distorted.
Simulators don’t give the feeling of real-time training and the vehicle. So, the driver first must adapt to the simulator and break the misconception that it’s a video game.
With even the most expensive simulators you don’t quite get the true feeling of driving as you would in a vehicle.
Drivers need the many actual variables on the road to gain experience.
Keep in mind there is often disorientation caused by the simulator that leads to nausea in prolonged training sessions.
Drivers when on simulators, could potentially suffer from motion sickness and also feel disorientated, this will negatively affect their simulated driving behaviour.
How would you suggest that we detect and address/ reduce these bad driving habits?
Some of the suggestions from driver trainers include:
Defensive driver training should be a prerequisite before receiving a Code EC or C1 licence.
Drivers should pass the existing K53, then drive a Code B for a minimum of 3 years crash free then be forced to undergo Defensive driver training before issuing their heavy-duty driver's licence.
Constant driver training, use of various monitoring systems and acting on non-conformances shown, constant driver feedback on how they can improve (corrective action training) driver incentives, allowing drivers to feel important and showing them the effect that their behaviour has on the organization.
Using seasoned well-trained drivers as trainers to detect and identify weaknesses.
Providing on route coaching while transferring knowledge and experience.
Effective competency testing.