March 1, 2006
Backing any vehicle is no easy task. The National Safety Council says one out of four vehicle accidents can be attributed to poor backing techniques. Research also shows that carelessness causes most backing accidents.
The challenges for safe backing are even greater for truck drivers. The larger the truck, the larger the invisible area behind it, even with rearview mirrors properly adjusted. Mirrors can never give the whole picture while backing. What’s more, mirrors distort heights, widths and distances.
Backing is challenging and hazardous because a truck driver will see stationary objects in his mirrors prior to backing, but as the truck is maneuvered in reverse, objects may suddenly disappear or enter the driver’s “blind spots” — those areas that rearview mirrors don’t show.
Complicating safe backing are moving objects. No matter how careful a driver may be in checking behind his vehicle before backing, a moving object — such as a person or another vehicle may — also disappear from view or enter the truck’s blind spots without being noticed.
Here are some procedures your drivers can take to greatly reduce the likelihood of having a backing accident:
The fewer the distractions, the better you can focus on maneuvering your truck backward.
Get out of the truck and walk around it before backing, visually checking the area for clearances, low obstructions like wires and tree branches, hazards and hidden obstacles. Be aware of the surroundings.
When the situation warrants it, ask someone to help- guide you while backing, especially when backing on the blind side. Agree on the hand signals to be used prior to backing. Keep the spotter in view to avoid backing into him. For the safety of the spotter, do not have him walk backward while signaling directions.
Responsibility. Even with someone assisting, if you can’t clearly see what’s next to or behind your truck, stop, get out and check the area. Then quickly return to your vehicle and begin backing. This is to allow as little time as possible for moving objects to change behind your vehicle. Be advised: The driver has the final responsibility for safe backing.
Keep mirrors clean for good visibility. Check your mirrors and turn your body around to check the area behind your truck to make sure you have a clear, unobstructed view before backing. Use both side mirrors when backing, glancing from one side to the other. Depending upon the backing situation, it might be advisable to roll down your window and look back out of it while maneuvering. Do not open your door and lean out of it. You will not be able to see nearly as much doing this, plus it makes it impossible to use the right-side mirror.
Always back slowly so you can stop immediately if necessary. Backing slowly will minimize damage should a backing collision occur. Avoid backing into traffic and around corners.
It is a good idea to tap the horn a couple of time before backing. This alerts others that your truck is beginning to move.
Remind your drivers that every backing situation is new and different. Just because a driver may deliver to the same location several times a week, he cannot become complacent in his backing there. Obstacles, hazards and clearances may have changed.
Backing is a skill which can be developed with practice. You might want to have your drivers practice backing in safe surroundings. Doing it over and over again will make a driver better at it. And that will make their job easier and safer. BI
David Kolman is a veteran truck communicator, keynote speaker and long—haul trucker. Commissioned as an Honorary Colonel on the Kentucky governor’s staff for his work promoting traffic safety, he actively participates in trade associations and reports news and information about the trucking industry for broadcasting and print media.
Preventable backing accidents
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) considers these types of backing accidents preventable:
— Driver backed up when backing could have been avoided by better route planning.
— Driver backed into traffic stream when such backing could have been avoided.
— Driver failed to get out of cab and check proposed path of backward travel.
— Driver depended solely on mirrors when it was practicable to look back.
— Driver failed to get out of cab periodically and recheck conditions when backing a long distance.
— Driver relied solely on a guide to help him back.
— Driver backed from blind side when he could have made a sight-side approach.