I hope we can finally say winter is gone and with it the high risk of weather related accidents. On our fleet we tend to see more single vehicle accidents in the winter months’ including jackknifes, rollovers and animal strikes. Although summer is generally a safer time to drive it is not without weather hazards. In Canada we get rapidly changing weather even in summer. From the strength of prairie tornados to the fury of maritime hurricanes we still get storms that can toss your truck. Even operating in very hot days can provide a hazard.
However, I think the big hazard in summer is the increase of vehicles on the road because we tend to see more multiple vehicle accidents. Both weather related and traffic related accidents can be prevented by good professional drivers. Rarely is there an accident where a well trained professional driver could not have prevented it by practicing the principles of defensive driving.
I find drivers are often confused by the difference between the doctrine of fault and the doctrine of preventability. Fault is a legal concept involving financial responsibility. It is used to determine who will pay for the accident. For example an insurance company or a court will determine who is at fault for an accident. Preventability is a much higher standard of care. A driver may not be at “fault” for failing to prevent an accident caused by things outside their control, such as the actions of other drivers, or bad weather. However, it is the still the professional driver’s responsibility to take all necessary precautions especially when these factors are present. Virtually every accident is preventable but every accident has at least I driver at fault, even partially.
Next, let’s look at what is a defensive driver. A defensive driver strives to prevent accidents inside or outside of their control. There are specific skills a defensive driver uses to scan the road and read the traffic in order to predict what can go wrong and formulate countermeasures in case they do. In this way a defensive driver can use his superior skills and knowledge to simply avoid situations where he would have to use emergency maneuvers. Here are some situations to be especially careful around.
Evaluate the intersection type as you approach it. Different expectations apply to a “T” intersection as opposed to, for example, a highway cloverleaf. Know and plan for what you and other vehicles should do. Imagine the other vehicles making mistakes and plan what you would do if they did. I like to imagine that every other driver is my 78 year old father- in- law who does great when he is on a known route but takes a while to react to new situations. A professional driver’s failure to anticipate poor driving actions by other drivers and to plan countermeasures prior to entering an intersection is a factor indicating that an accident was preventable. If you did not adhere to traffic laws, regulation or signs, etc. the accident is definitely a preventable one.
Almost all backing accidents are preventable. It is the responsibility of the driver to check all clearances and properly evaluate the situation prior to backing, regardless of whether a guide is used to assist in the backing maneuver. If you are backing into a dock be careful the cargo doesn’t fall on you or fall out for you to run over it. The accident is preventable if the driver relies solely on a guide, misjudges distance or backs in unnecessarily on the blind side.
Passing safely is always the responsibility of the passing driver. The entire passing maneuver is considered voluntary. It is also very dangerous. I shudder when I see anyone, but especially a truck weaving from lane to lane through traffic. Research has shown that your chances of an accident increases greatly with lane changes and so professional drivers consider the risk before changing lanes. Lane weaving makes managing your blind spots very difficult if not impossible. In traffic very little time is gained by traffic weaving anyway.
A professional driver is expected to maintain a safe following distance at all times and to anticipate that vehicles in front may come to an abrupt or unexpected stop. Watch traffic ahead for clues as to when traffic is slowing down. If you are in a familiar area, remember bottlenecks and anticipate them. Be especially cautious in construction zones. Every accident where you drive into something is preventable.
Rear-end collisions can be preventable or non-preventable. Generally accidents which occur due to the hit driver failing to use their signal timely or stopping abruptly should be considered preventable. In the event that your vehicle comes to a gradual stop and is stopped in an approved and appropriate area but is struck from behind, the accident should be regarded as non-preventable.
The primary responsibility of every professional driver is to operate the vehicle safely. Don’t let summer give you a false sense of safety.