The Official Blog of Penske Transportation Solutions

roadway safety

Class is in, and it’s not just students who need a back-to-school refresher. So do professional drivers who must adapt to new routines to keep themselves, their cargo and school children safe on the roads.

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When you press the brake pedal on your truck, you expect an instant response. Yet any number of issues can cause your vehicle’s braking systems to fail, increasing your risk of a serious accident while putting you and your cargo in danger. That’s why maintaining your truck’s braking system is so important and a major part of your Pre-Trip Inspection.

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Speeding alone has caused more than one-quarter of all deaths from motor vehicle accidents since 2008, according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

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Professional drivers, get ready to share the road. Nearly 85% of Americans expect to travel this summer, according to a 2023 travel survey from The Vacationer. And 100 million people plan to take a road trip of 250 miles or more.

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You may know the saying, “April showers bring May flowers,” but these same wet conditions also create a variety of dangerous road hazards for professional drivers. In fact, flooding is now ranked as the second deadliest weather hazard in the U.S. each year, according to the National Weather Service. (Excessive heat is currently listed as the Number 1 deadliest U.S. weather hazard).

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What do you get when you add up the early sunsets of autumn with the end of Daylight Saving time? A lot more hours of driving in the dark.

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What hazards will this winter bring to commercial motor vehicle drivers? While nobody knows for sure how bad each winter may be, the Farmer’s Almanac indicates that the winter of 2022-23 will include plenty of snow, rain and mush, along with record-breaking cold in parts of the U.S.

That means professional drivers must be ready for anything and plan accordingly. This includes keeping a properly stocked roadside emergency kit with you at all times. Your kit can help if you get stuck or stranded in harsh weather and is there if you suffer an unexpected mechanical breakdown or accident. In extreme situations, the items in your kit may even save your life. So prior to each trip, inspect the items in your kit to ensure completeness and make sure you know how to operate the emergency equipment before an emergency happens.

What should go in your kit?

Mandatory Items

The U.S. Department of Transportation mandates that all drivers carry:

  • One fire extinguisher with an Underwriters’ Laboratory (UL) rating of 5 B:C or more, or two extinguishers with UL ratings of 4 B:C or more. All extinguishers must be labeled, filled, charged and securely mounted. Hazmat vehicles must carry an extinguisher with UL ratings of 10 B:C or more.
  • Spare fuses – You should have at least one spare fuse for each type and size of fuse your truck needs.
  • Warning devices for stopped vehicles – These include three bi-directional emergency reflective triangles. You should also carry at least six road flares capable of burning for 30 minutes or three liquid-burning flares capable of burning for at least 60 minutes to meet UL standards.

Other Basic Items

  • Jumper cables or a portable lithium-ion battery
  • Motor oil and coolant
  • A safety vest and a warning flag
  • A first-aid kit that includes bandages, hand sanitizer, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, scissors and tweezers
  • A tool kit that includes wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, flashlight, duct tape, zip ties and a box cutter
  • A tire pressure gauge and an inflator or sealant to patch up a tire
  • Long-lasting foods like canned goods and energy bars
  • Bottled water – Wrap them in a cloth to make sure they don’t freeze in colder weather.
  • Cell phone with a charging cord that works properly
  • Medications – prescription, over-the-counter meds and supplements
  • A tarp if you need to work on your rig while on the road
  • A laminated list of all emergency contacts
  • A hand crank radio or battery-operated radio with extra batteries

Items Specifically for Cold Weather Driving

  • Snow and ice equipment – Shovel, ice scraper, snow brush, tire chains, below zero windshield washer fluid, weather-proof matches, cat litter for traction
  • Winter clothing – Wool socks, hat, mittens, waterproof boots, snow pants, insulated socks, face mask, ice cleats, hand and feet warmers
  • Extra blankets including an emergency blanket and/or a subzero sleeping bag
  • Other authorized comfort items – It’s been proven that morale-boosting items greatly increase the likelihood of survival and increase the ability to maintain rational thought during emergency situations.

It’s been a dangerous and deadly summer for tractor trailers and trains. In June, a collision between a dump truck and an Amtrak train in Missouri sparked a derailment that caused four deaths and an estimated $4 billion in damages.

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Spring marks the start of road construction season, and with more road work projects planned nationwide, professional drivers can expect to navigate more than their fair share of work zones.

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More than 70% of the nation's roads sit in regions that see over 5 inches of snowfall each year. That means there's a good chance you'll encounter slippery and downright dangerous driving conditions over the next three months.

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During the holiday season, more than one-third of Americans travel by car, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). This year, experts expect those numbers to rise. The result: congested roads.

Steer clear of danger. Watch for these three common holiday hazards:

1. Congestion – The holidays can turn your favorite route into a nightmare. Take charge by planning your trip ahead of time. Map out a few different routes, so you’ll know where to go — and what to do — should you hit a traffic jam. Leave early if possible so you have more time to reach your destination. And limit the number of lane changes you make on your route.

2. Impaired driving – When roads get crowded, people who drive while impaired create a high risk of injury not just for themselves but for everyone else on the highway. Impaired driving includes:

  • Drunk driving – In 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 39% of traffic fatalities during the Christmas holiday were caused by alcohol-impaired drivers.
  • Drowsy driving – As many as 27% of U.S. drivers say they sleep less than 6 hours a night, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That number increases in December as people handle numerous holiday obligations.
  • Distracted driving – Texting, eating, drinking, map reading and other distractions take a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, during which time a driver traveling at 55 mph goes 371 feet (longer than a football field), according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Combat all these behaviors by driving defensively. Check your mirrors often. Scan ahead at least a quarter of a mile. Look for telltale signs of impaired driving, such as swerving, tailgating and drifting. Stay sober. Don’t text and drive. And get at least seven hours of sleep.

3. Winter weather – The holidays mean snow, sleet and freezing temperatures for certain parts of the U.S. Take extra caution on bridges and overpasses, which freeze faster than the road. Clear all ice and snow from your truck and trailer. Keep a fully stocked emergency kit, and carry extra blankets, bottled water and non-perishable foods if you get stuck.

Did you know November is deer mating season? That means drivers run a high risk for collisions with deer and other wildlife. Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that animal-vehicle collisions are two times more likely in November than in any other month of the year.

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Good news: A record number (86%) of professional drivers wear their seat belts, according to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration(FMCSA) 2016 survey.
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Your phone dings. It may be a social media message. An email. A text. But if you're behind the wheel, that ding could turn deadly.

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Run an Internet search on “low-clearance accidents" and you'll see countless examples of trucks colliding with bridges. They may be spectacular to watch, but they carry a high cost. Damage often exceeds six figures. And between 2014-18, 12 bridge strikes involving large trucks were deadly, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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Be the best driver you can be. Follow these 15 tips to keep yourself and others safe on and off the road:

Before You Leave

1. Plan your route. Know where you’re headed, where you might stop along the way, where you’ll encounter heavy traffic, and where you might need to make a detour.

2. Complete a pre-trip inspection. Take 15 minutes to check your truck’s general condition, fluid levels, tires, lights, brakes, gauges and controls.

3. Buckle up. Don’t leave without putting on your seat belt. Thirty percent of truck drivers killed in crashes were partially or totally ejected from their vehicles, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

When You’re Driving

4. Watch for dangers. Scan ahead 15 seconds (one-quarter mile on an interstate or one to two blocks in cities) for traffic issues, work zones and other dangers.

5. Check your mirrors. Look at them every eight to 10 seconds and watch for vehicles in your blind spots.

6. Limit lane changes. If you do change lanes, use your turn signals and brakes to alert other drivers.

7. Keep an eye on the sky. Watch the weather and slow down when needed due to road conditions (snow, rain, ice) or layout (tight curves, mountainous terrain).

8. Slow down in work zones. Obey all signs and speed limits, watch for road crews, maintain extra following distance and be prepared to stop.

9. Avoid distractions. Truckers and bus drivers are 23.2 times more likely to be involved in a crash, near-crash or lane deviation while texting, says the FMCSA.

10. Steer clear of aggressive drivers. If you see other drivers tailgating, making unsafe lane changes, failing to signal or speeding, get out of their way. Stay relaxed. Don’t make eye contact. Ignore any rude gestures.

When You Stop

11. Park only in well-lit areas.

12. Lock your truck and secure your cargo and any valuables.

13. Be alert. Watch for any suspicious activity at or around your truck, and don’t walk between trailers at a truck stop.

14. Inspect your vehicle so you’re ready for the next leg of your trip.

15. Get sleep. Sleeping seven to nine hours a night will keep you refreshed.