Trucking is synonymous with danger. And no, we are not talking about Duel-Esque dangers. The job has had its risks since way back when, from the lack of snow removal technology, no proper comms equipment, or the roads being too narrow.
All a trucker had then was a CB radio and the occasional truck stop payphone. Outside that, they drove in isolation.
Today, trucking has gone a long way. Technology has made communication on demand – a trucker can video call anyone from anywhere (provided they have a stable internet connection that is).
Now comes the shocker – trucking is still way up there with the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. A 2018 study by Time Magazine puts trucking on the 7th spot of the ten most dangerous situations in America. A recent study from 2019 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts trucking on the very top.
Let’s address the elephant in the room – what truck driving dangers make trucking the most dangerous career in the U.S.?
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The Rest of the World Didn’t Stand Still
Yes, much has changed since the age of payphones, but the rest of the world turned with it as well. Yes, trucking may be better off compared to a few decades ago, but it is still the most dangerous occupation out there next to other professions.
Why Is Trucking Such a Dangerous Job?
Many things contribute to trucking being as dangerous as it is. For the sake of making things simple, we will divide them into behind the wheel dangers, out of the truck dangers, weather dangers, lifestyle dangers, and miscellaneous dangers.
Behind the Wheel Truck Driving Dangers
These are dangers that are prominent while behind the wheel, and they include:
Driving tired is perhaps the most significant cause of truck accidents. According to the FMSCA, a fatigued driver has been a participant in 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) accidents.
The defeating fact is that driving tired is still common for truckers, as they are continuously under pressure to meet deadlines, especially when driving OTR. Never drive tired – no matter whether you are driving a car or a truck.
Having a cell phone in your truck is a great thing. It changed the way trucking works, replacing CB radios completely and allowing real-time communication with family members. Plus, all the trucker apps are beneficial on the road.
However, cell phones are a big distraction to use while driving. Cell phone use while driving has been the cause of 1.6 million crashes annually.
Needless to say, when driving, put your phone down!
Not Adjusting Vehicle Speed to Road Conditions
Roads can be extremely treacherous after just a simple weather change, and not adjusting the vehicle speed and driving too quickly, in general, is a recipe for disaster. The same is when trying to take a corner too fast, or when descending downhill too fast. Pay attention to the weather conditions, and simply go a bit slower when making sharp turns or the weather is terrible.
Not Inspecting the Vehicle After a Trip
Since the truck is a machine (a huge, heavy one that is), it contains a lot of parts. And each of those parts is prone to malfunction. There is a reason why full circle inspections are a thing, as something as simple as a loose screw can result in losing a wheel on the road. Even if the truck does not suffer any severe damage, a huge wheel being let loose at such high speed can be life-threatening for other participants in traffic.
Frequenting High-Risk Areas
Truckers are not immune to robberies taking place on the road. Trucks are a more lucrative target for robbers because of the trailer. There have been multiple instances when truckers are getting seriously injured and even murdered in areas with high crime rates while making a pick-up or a delivery.
Out of the Truck Dangers
These dangers related to truck driving are prominent when the trucker is outside of the cab. They include the following:
Not Paying Attention in Parking Lots and Loading Docks
Since the truck is a vehicle that has many dead angles, not paying attention while walking in a parking lot or a loading dock can be fatal. When the driver backs up the vehicle, they can’t see what’s behind the truck, so you risk being pinned against a wall or simply ran over.
Going Under a Trailer when Hooking or Unhooking
This should go without saying, but recent statistics show that truckers get injured by getting pinned by a trailer. So, not going under the trailer is the logical solution here, but the nature of the job requires the driver to sometimes go under to remove a lock.
When this can not be avoided, the driver has to use something to use as backup support should the landing gear fail. A most popular such support is placing the back of the truck’s frame underneath the trailer, so in the case of malfunction, it offers support for the trailer not to squash the driver.
Climbing the Roof of the Truck
When this is unavoidable, you must be exercising extreme caution. This means no climbing on hinges and rearview mirrors. To climb the roof, one should use a ladder and pay caution as it is easy to lose footing and fall a 13 feet drop on concrete.
Trying to Repair the Brakes
The brakes are a part of a complex system that involves hydraulic pressure and other complex mechanisms that are critical for safely operating the truck. Some springs are under a lot of tension in the truck brakes, which, when opened by an untrained mechanic, can even kill a person.
Not Being Careful when Climbing/Exiting the Truck
Most truckers seem to forget that the truck doors are way above ground. It is very easy to lose footing or get a foot stuck and fall to the ground. This applies to trailers, too, as most of them are above ground as well.
Truck Driving Weather Dangers
It is not strange that weather changes can represent a danger for a truck. From causing minor inconvenience to major accidents – weather changes are one of the biggest truck driving hazards. Here are the most significant weather dangers to pay attention to:
Heavy snow is one of the most significant weather dangers for truckers. What is necessary when the driver knows that the forecasts predict heavy snow is to have tire chains available for the trip.
Another important thing is to have warm clothing and blankets during such trips, as there are instances when even chains will not help. The driver will have to park the vehicle on the road’s side road in the middle of nowhere for a long time. Another thing to do is to stock on supplies, as this may take a few days to be able to get on the road again.
Freezing Rain and Black Ice
When the weather forecasts rain, but the temperature drops, there is a chance for freezing rain, which is an enormous danger when operating a vehicle. Once the ice starts to form on the mirrors and windshield, it is vital to stop the vehicle and wait it out. Black ice is not distinguishable from the normal road, and where patches of black ice are on the road is highly unpredictable.
Hail storms, when severe enough, can cause significant damage to the truck, cargo, and even injure the driver. They can also make roads more slippery, so further attention is needed when driving during hail storms.
Tornados are a dangerous thing, and they are unpredictable. One appearing is undoubtedly an unwelcome surprise. When facing a tornado, getting the truck under cover is of utmost importance and waiting it out.
Since the truck has a large surface area, a strong rear wind can tip the vehicle or blow it off the road.
When the truck is carrying a lightweight load and is operating on a highway that is known for strong winds, and the weather starts getting worse, and there are strong crosswinds, it is safer to find a safe place to stop and wait it out.
While it is challenging to drive a car during foggy weather, trucks are a whole different league. It is vital to find a safe spot to stop the truck when visibility starts to decline. Fog is unpredictable, especially in mountain areas, as the otherwise thin mist can turn into a dense fog bank in a matter of meters.
Truck Driving Lifestyle Dangers
The trucker lifestyle comes with its inherent dangers. Here are the most important ones:
Exposure to Engine Noise
The truck is a loud machine and produces a lot of noise. When the driver is exposed to noise greater than 80 dBA, it can result in permanent hearing loss and headaches.
Exposure to UV Rays
The left side of the trucker’s face sees much more exposure to UV rays than the right side of the face. You probably remember the famous image of the trucker from 2012 that showed shocking differences between the left and the right side of his face. Truckers are recommended to use sunscreen daily to prevent photo-induced aging of the skin.
Exposure to Extreme Weather
Truckers are often forced to drive in extreme weather conditions, like intense heat and extreme cold. These can lead to having a heat stroke or frostbite.
Exposure to Vehicle Vibrations
The way that the truck itself vibrates can have a long term effect on the muscles and bones of the trucker’s body. This vibration can lead to decreased musculoskeletal functions and increased body fatigue.
Physical Injury from Overexertion
Loading and unloading cargo is sometimes a part of the job description. So, it is very easy for a trucker to get injured from overexertion, leading to broken bones, strained ligaments, and injured muscles, to name but a few.
The nature of the job means sitting in one place for prolonged periods without physical activity. It is also normal for truckers to have a lousy diet and irregular sleeping schedules. These lead to lower back pain, neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Truckers need to exercise often to prevent these injuries.
Misc Truck Driving Dangers
There are many other hazards for truckers not mentioned in the above categories. Some examples are:
Increased Levels of Stress
Trucking is synonymous with isolation, so it is no wonder truckers suffer increased levels of stress. The absence from home and the family, as well as the lack of social contact all, leads to this.
Exposure to Toxic Substances
Truckers working with hazardous materials risk dangerous health exposures, as many of these substances are toxic. It is not uncommon for truckers to be exposed to toxic substances or suffer an increased risk of infection due to exposure to bio-hazardous cargo.
Exposure to Dust Particles
When truckers drive to more dry areas of the country, like deserts, they face dust particles that can cause eye problems and can have adverse effects on breathing.
Fire hazards are also the case with hazmat drivers, as some of the substances they haul are highly flammable. Take a tank truck that has suffered a malfunction or gets damaged in a collision.
Also part of the hazmat category, but not exclusive to it, explosions can happen due to many factors, like vehicle malfunction or mishandled explosive cargo.
If you got this far, you are starting to realize why trucking is the no. 1 most dangerous job in the U.S.
As for you, truckers, you must take every precaution when in or around the truck to ensure yours and the safety of others.
When you suspect something may be wrong with the truck – do not hesitate to take it to a repair shop. When you suspect the weather will take a turn for the worse – stop your vehicle and wait it out.
Even if you manage to take the risk and not suffer the consequences 99 times out of 100, it only takes a single accident to happen to lose your life.