5 Tips To Safer Driving

Safety can never take a holiday for your hardworking crew. Are you following these procedures to make sure your trucks are ready to hit the road every day?

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Failing to adequately secure a portable restroom on the back of a truck or on a transport trailer can result in disastrous consequences. We were reminded of that recently after a motorist was killed while reportedly trying to avoid hitting a restroom that fell off of a trailer in front of him.

Nathan Luc Alain, 23, was driving on a highway in New Zealand when a portable restroom crashed onto the road. According to news accounts, he swerved left to miss the restroom and drove into the path of an oncoming semitruck. The tragedy is a somber but valuable reminder that driver safety should always be top of mind for portable restroom operators.

That’s especially true during the busy season that’s hitting full stride for most PROs this month. Even though your drivers are often running sunup to sundown these days, a terrible crash like this one underscores the importance of continually following best practices in safety procedures.

Here are my five tips for ensuring safe operation of your vacuum trucks this summer. You could turn these topics into safety tailgate talks with your crew over the coming weeks. If we can prevent just one mishap on the road, the effort will be worthwhile.

Load security is job No. 1

While the most recent fatal crash happened half a world away, similar cases have been reported closer to home. A few years ago, a Florida woman was killed when she lost control of her car after a restroom fell off a transport trailer. Whether you deliver restrooms from a fold-down carrier on your vacuum truck, on the back of a flatbed truck or using a trailer, proper use of tie-down straps is critical to working safely.

Make sure drivers are trained on the proper method of cinching a restroom to a carrier. Go out in the yard and inspect their work before they head out on the morning route. Look for opportunities for redundancy in strapping units to withstand the bumps caused by rugged terrain and buffeting winds on the open road. Be mindful to look for signs of movement or loosening of straps during the route, and make periodic inspections of the lashing while working the route.

Regularly check on the condition of your straps and discard worn, frayed or otherwise damaged straps. Look for stress on buckles, ratchets or other hardware associated with your straps and toss them in the garbage if you find any flaws. Make sure your straps are strength-rated to safely hold your heaviest or bulkiest restroom inventory. Keep a good supply of replacement straps on hand and encourage drivers to replace them if there is any question about their durability.

Check your traction

When it comes to your pre-trip truck inspection, there is no more important step than checking out tires. Your safety and the safety of the motoring public depend on a few square feet of contact between the rubber and the road. And more than most components of your service rig, tires are prone to unpredictable failure that can lead to catastrophe. A few years ago, a tire blowout on a vacuum truck was reportedly responsible for a Florida pumper losing control of his truck and careening off the highway, killing him. 

Don’t let your drivers leave the yard before they’ve given each tire a thorough inspection. Look for uneven or extreme tread wear and signs of age or rot that could result in tire failure. Look closely for cuts or punctures caused by road debris, both in the tread and along the sidewalls. Any weakness could cause a blowout, and the danger is double if the driver is hauling a full load. In the event of a blowout, it’s easier to lose control of a vacuum truck carrying a high, unstable load.

Get on a regular program to rotate and replace your fleet’s tires. Whether you keep maintenance logs on paper or use a software program, track usage and have a tire replacement program that fits your workload and the driving conditions you encounter. That means accounting for rough roads, a hot climate, roads that are often snow-covered and slippery or other factors that can cause premature tire failure. It’s always better to change a tire when it still has 5,000 miles of life left than to wait until it fails and can place your driver or another motorist in harm’s way.

Mind the mechanicals

Servicing units all summer long, you need to be confident you can take evasive action when necessary to avoid a crash. And it’s not a matter of if but when you will encounter a dangerous driving situation. That means you need to routinely check components that allow you to steer and stop the service truck at that split second.

Have a mechanic look over your steering linkage for play or wear in parts like the tie rod ends, and make sure the power steering lines are not leaking and the power steering fluid is fresh and the reservoir is topped off. Include the vehicle suspension parts in routine checks. Suspension contributes to safe truck handling and is particularly crucial when carrying variable liquid loads.

Pay close attention to brake performance. Is there inconsistent play in the brake pedal? Does the truck track dead-on straight in hard braking? Do you hear unusual brake noise that may indicate you’re getting close to needing new brake pads or routine service? Check the brake fluid reservoir to make sure the level is staying between the minimum and maximum lines and top off as necessary.  

See and be seen

Several years ago, I reported on the case of a pedestrian walking into the path of an Arizona PRO’s truck and being killed. The incident became a lingering nightmare to the truck driver and her company. I’m not saying the tragedy could have been prevented or that the driver did anything wrong in that case. What I would say is that having good sightlines from the cab and ample running lights and warning beacons will promote better safety for your trucks.

Recently I passed a wrecker at an expressway crash site that was lit up like a Christmas tree, with hundreds of yellow running lights from the front bumper to the tow hook. While this was an extreme example, it reinforces the need for all work trucks to be easily seen on the road and work site. Sometimes you need to clean special event units during nighttime hours. These events might have narrow lanes for you to maneuver your truck and large crowds of people who aren’t necessarily paying close attention to your truck. Adding bright lights along the hose trays and four corners of your truck could provide inexpensive safety insurance for your company.

You also want to have a clear, unobstructed view around your rig. Make sure your side mirrors are adjusted properly for good coverage. Keep the windshield area uncluttered and clean. Consider adding backup cameras for a better view of what’s going on behind your tank. Add powerful work lights so you can focus clearly on your duties while out of the truck cab.

Time for driver’s education

Driver’s education doesn’t stop when you turn 16 and come out of the DMV with your license or after you’ve trained and received your CDL. For professional drivers, safety lessons should be reinforced constantly to stay sharp. Get your crew together regularly to discuss aspects of pre-trip safety inspections. Promote positive behind-the-wheel habits that will reduce the number of incidents or infractions involving your drivers. Look into providing incentives to rack up hundreds of thousands of trouble-free miles for your company fleet. 


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