Be Prepared… the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.Robert Baden-Powell
In the event of a Major accident, as long as the driver is wearing a seatbelt, the driver’s injuries are often minor. The driver compartment of the tractor is designed to move energy forces around the driver and protect in the case of all but the most traumatic of accidents. However, after the accident the driver has to leave this protective bubble.
The drivers, while dealing with shock of the accident may have to, cut their seatbelt, break a window, walk or crawl through broken glass, escape from a fire, jump from a height, scale an embankment and survive extreme weather exposure. Any or all of these hazards may injure the driver more than the original vehicle accident did. And in my experience it does.
Further, in the same way a ship captain is expected to run the evacuation of a sinking vessel, the driver is the one in control of the vehicle, cargo and accident scene. The primary role of the driver at that point is to keep anyone else from getting hurt. If at all able, especially in the event of a hazardous cargo, the driver must put in place safety measures, at least until first responders arrive. That means summoning first responders, setting reflectors or flairs to warn other drivers, fighting small fires, having hazardous cargo paperwork available for first responders, and assisting others when possible. This is a demanding task for an uninjured driver and can be made impossible for an injured one.
Consequently the driver, driving in the climatically controlled protective capsule of the tractor is often not prepared to be forcibly ejected into the elements, yet alone into the role of accident site manager. Here are some specific recommendation that that will prepare drivers in the event of a major accident.
1. Wear clothing that protects.
A best practice would have a driver in steel toed boots with puncture resistant soles on all the time. If you really can’t find ones that are comfortable, then try cowboy boots or ankle boots that will support and protect you foot and lower leg. Runners, sandals and bare feet will not protect you after an accident.
2. Wear clothing that can be seen in the roadway.
A best practice would be to have hi-vis clothing or vest on all the time. Often driving down the road, I see oncoming truck drivers with their hi-vis vest hanging beside him. I often wonder why- is it uncomfortable? Who knows? If you can’t wear your vest all the time, the next best is to strap a flashlight and or personal reflector on your belt. Be sure you are not blending in. Black clothes may not show the dirt, but they keep you from being seen at night. Camouflage print clothing may be fashionable, but “blending in” is not the strategy that will keep you alive as a pedestrian on a highway.
3. Dress for the outside conditions, not the inside of the truck.
Simply ask yourself the question, if I was outside right now, could I survive an hour in what I am wearing. If the answer is no, consider changing what you wear when you drive. A cold climate driver can wear their coat unzipped, turn down the truck heat, and have gloves and a hat in a pocket. Best practices would have you survive an hour, unaided outside the truck on a major highway. Remote locations require stronger measures.
4. Wear a belt and keep your cell phone attached to it-even when charging.
Sweat pants may be comfortable to drive in but they are not protective or solid enough for safety. Best practices dictate the driver’s cell should be in a holster, attached securely to the drivers belt-even when charging. In the event of an accident the cell will unplug from the dash but stay in the holster where you can reach it. Whether the driver is trapped in the wreck, or thrown clear, the cell may make the difference between life and death. The cell phone is critical for summoning help. Even in areas with very little signal coverage a text message can be sent and received. Sometimes cell coverage can be obtained by climbing a hill or a tree.
5. Have a seatbelt cutter and window breaker on your person.
Best practices have the driver carry in pocket or on belt a multifunction tool capable of cutting the seatbelt webbing and breaking a window. Next best is a cab mounted (within reach of the seated driver) hammer cutter. Unfortunately in a major accident the tool may break free of the mount and fall out of reach of the driver.
A major accident is a very emotional situation. Even seeing that someone else has had an accident inspires us to stop and help. The last thing you want to do is create more work for the first responders by becoming injured yourself. Remember that, even when helping you need to keep safe. Remember to wear your hi-vis vest. I know drivers that have been injured helping another at an accident scene. The worse case involved a guy actually being run over. There is a chance that if he had been wearing his vest, he may not have been.
No one wants to have an accident but when one happens it happens so quickly that you won’t have time to react. Taking some safety measures are easy and can prepare you to be the leader at the accident scene instead of the victim.