A Short Beginner Transport/Truck Driver's Factfile

                         In Memory of OLA 712, The Last Truck..?


Introduction, see below
Defining Professional Driver Responsibilities
General Overview of Driving Skills
Basic Vehicle

Driver Wellbeing
Appendix, see below
  In Truck Driver's Heaven
  Useful International Road Rules 

Free 30 pp. Transport Factfile PDF and Word versions, re-edited 16.12.04

Introduction:   Writing a Factfile on transport driving could quite easily lead to something as big as a volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, so at the outset, the limit of this file extends to a being general introduction to becoming a transport driver, with two main points of interest covered:
  For the aspiring professional transport operator, an appropriate professional mindset must be developed, and sustained, throughout your career, and important aspects of this mindset are discussed here.  Also, detailing of each and every type of transport vehicle, the jobs that they perform and the loads they carry, is not realistically possible, however, there are characteristics of work and vehicle management common to all transport vehicles, including loads, and some of these will be listed, but such listings should be regarded as starting-points for further learning and gaining of specific transport driving experience. 

No learning is ever finite, and there is always the personal responsibility to continue to enlarge personal knowledge and experience, as there are always new technologies, new types of work, and new skills and standards required to be learnt and updated.  This small file is dedicated to the ideal that not everything needs to be found out the hard way, so, with the assumption that the aspiring transport driver already has some years of driving experience in smaller vehicles, what follows are some observations, reflections, and tips that could help build a transport driving knowledge base.

The author of this Factfile has been driving trucks on and off for 40 years, happily without serious mishap, and has seen may changes in that time, along with good and bad memories, near misses, tired eyes, broken sleep, bad back, and other exasperations, as well as having worked with good and bad drivers, bosses, customers, and other transport-related personnel.  Vehicles driven include cars, tractors and other farm machinery, utes, vans, loaders, fork lifts, tray and canopy trucks, dump trucks, garbage trucks, semi- and truck-and-trailers, with loadings inclusive of general freight and livestock, and also passenger buses.  There are others who have driven a greater range than that, for sure, this to be expected, especially in a full-time professional transport career.

Never a “gun” driver, to be candid, but always striving to be, at best, safe, proficient, and machinery friendly.  Most of all, various survival skills were learnt and applied, and these, plus a few handy general driving tips, (neither an exhaustive list, note!), are passed on here to any beginner driver who might find them useful, not least to ease their workload, and possibly even to aid survival.   Truck/transport driving was always a cross between an interest, a way of seeing a lot of country and interesting places not possible any other way, and, a default career that is now probably over, although someone always seems to need a truck driver at times, even one now somewhat passed his best!

Mention is made below of transport/truck-driving as being perhaps regarded as a default career, but this driver soon realised that as default, occasional, part-time, full-time or whatever, this occupation carries much responsibility, and must be done properly, or get out from behind the wheel for good.  “Holiday driving” is an oxymoron anyway, usually applied to drivers of cars, and should not even be mentioned in connection with professional driving, and part-time drivers should always take their duties just as seriously.  In other words, there is always difference in mindset, and experience, between a professional transport driver, and some else who just happens to have a licence, and when the latter drives, they better have their mind on the job!

Take what you need from this document, and welcome, but do continue to add new information from your own burgeoning experience.  To reiterate, the facts and ideas here are from just one “sunset” driver’s experiences, there are many other experiences to be had, and skills to learn, plus good, bad, better drivers to observe, and this will never stop, should never stop.   This Factfile is presented here as a small contribution to avoid the necessity to re-invent the wheel so to speak, but that wheel and its spin-offs and refinements will always continue to develop, and the budding career driver must understand this right from the beginning.

Defining professional driver responsibilities:  The first lesson to be learned about driver responsibility for the aspiring transport operator is that the larger and heavier the vehicle you drive, the greater the onus of your own responsibility, and for the following reasons:

1. In comparison to transport vehicles, smaller vehicles are relatively speedier, smaller, more easily maneuverable, and so much easier to drive, although only with the illusion of safety, in view of car accident statistics, (also, the bigger the vehicle, the more chance of surviving an accident), and,

2. The majority of small vehicle drivers will also have little or no experience of heavy vehicles, and what is required of their drivers, so you will need to think for them in terms of defensive driving and road safety, even to the extent of actual ad hoc and pre-emptive decision-making at times. Indeed, there is a good case for requiring all non-heavy vehicle drivers to spend some time during their licence training actually driving a heavy vehicle to gain a better perspective of their own personal responsibilities as car drivers when sharing the roads with larger, heavier vehicles.

3. Territoriality is innate in primates, and humans, being primates, are no exception, but supposedly we are all capable of overcoming unreasonable expression of this instinct, and nowhere is this more important when using a public road, that does include as pedestrians and cyclists, whose road skills are also supposedly taught from childhood years.  So, do not let the T-instinct overrule your common sense as a transport driver, and do not let those less endowed with common sense spoil your day, or much worse, involve you in an accident. 

4. Foresee, forebear, and above all be forewarned, because for every type of heavy vehicle you drive there will be a new category of idiot/idiette to watch out for and contend with, two-legged, two wheeled, and four wheeled, from those who are unable to understand why you cannot ride on a road shoulder at will, to those who think it is such fun to cut in suddenly in front of a loaded passenger bus just to see a braking demonstration, and the oh-so-humourous consequences.  Volvo Cars, Volvo drivers, and Volvo car advertising, all really do have much in their favour, OK!

Paid-up insurance policies do not absolve any driver of the responsibility to think, and to keep on thinking, and some truly empathic driver training can only improve driver thinking, and road-user compatibility.  In fact, in addition, being strapped into a crash rig to find out just how hard vehicles can hit, and spending some time in Accident and Emergency, with a mop and bucket in hand, would  be very useful experiences for any prospective licence holder, and for some who already hold one...

You, the transport driver, are driving a large transport vehicle as a profession, instead of just for immediate personal convenience, and, with loads, longer hours at the wheel, plus timetables or itineraries to keep to.  Your alertness and fitness must be maintained, plus overall consistent standards of performance, adherence to employer and/or customer logistics, product or goods requirements, ie, overall professional driving standards. You also have professional responsibilities towards employees and clients, and must develop personal working relationships that will facilitate flexibility at different times.

You must develop a rhythm, a routine, a creative feel for your task that will carry you through good days and bad, with minimum disruption of your itinerary, this being not so important for the average motorist less bound by time constraints. Realistically speaking, in all circumstances, you need to be of even disposition, self-disciplined, intelligent, (and prepared to use this intelligence), more defensive than territorial in your attitude to road use, and most importantly, never a big-vehicle bully towards other road users, for safety and courtesy reasons, and for the sake of all other transport drivers. 

Most importantly, because of the often solitary nature of the job, moodiness or brooding is an occupational hazard for drivers and operators if the day is not going well, so realize this tendency, and overcome any mood lapses that will affect your professionalism and your judgment.  Overcoming this propensity may also save your life, and anyone else's in times of emergency.   The Prime Directive of any transport operator is to finish the day safely, especially for your passengers, if you have them, and sustained professionalism will do much to ensure this.  The well-being of the vehicle, and load, are the next priorities.

You must also develop a sure "road sense" that simultaneously sees both present and possible road scenarios, and you must also develop high-quality instinctive reactions, both for routine and emergency situations.  Whatever the signs or markings, on freeways, roadways or byways, you are always "driving to conditions", and even familiar roads may have unexpected changes.  Especially blessed are those with a sure sense of what dangers may lie beyond the next corner, such as oncoming vehicles or animals on narrow roads, as part of a driving "sixth sense," supplementing innate driving skills and natural caution.     

There is also that important "feel" for the vehicle itself, how it is running and/or holds the road, that only experience can really hone, and so the P-Plater should accept that the limits imposed by this beginner’s restriction are for very good reasons, and carefully developing road sense and feel for the vehicle driven are just a couple of examples!  All learning involves a development period and time practice any new skills, and structured learning such as for driving needs time and patience to mentally integrate.

As these standards are developed with accumulated experience, the learner-driver should not be overconfident, but be patient, and willing to continue to learn.  Indeed, any driving licence aspirant for any form of transport who cannot develop the first two standards of road sense and feel, or, is not disposed to further learn, should not be so empowered to drive professionally, for all our sakes.  

Furthermore, on the subject of learning, to forestall slow learning re individual alcohol tolerance, blood alcohol levels should be set at zero, including for Diplomats and Politician's Offspring, and profit margins of alcohol outlets, should never be a factor in this matter. Hypocrisy should never rule, OK!   The same rule should apply to handheld mobile phones, they have the potential to rival alcohol, and, increasingly nowadays, other misused drugs, as causes of accidents.

Transport driving is an increasingly demanding occupation that should be upgraded to a specific Trade in the selection and training of professional drivers, and that includes Australia where this is written.  A Transport Operator's Trade Ticket should be instituted, covering a wider range of heavy vehicles and machinery, all aspects of operation and maintenance, plus selection of suitable career operators with a real feel for their work, and, empathy with the machinery for which they are to be responsible.  Licences should be then be granted as specific skill levels are achieved.

The hit and miss, go-and-work-it-out quasi self-training, or, operating as a default occupation characteristic of previous times, is no longer relevant to the modern world of multiskilling and multitasking, with increasingly complex and costly machinery and its operation, as well as with the demands of clients and other operator responsibilities.  Operators should be chosen for, and trained to, their particular operational aptitude, but still gain as wide an operating experience as possible before specializing. 

But it is important to reiterate and remember that no driver or operator should be complacent just because a licence is attained, because learning will, and must, continue for the duration of their working life, be it with new machinery or models, differing work environments, job descriptions, or safety and first-aid revisions.  An open and prepared mind, and a controlled ego, may mean, at some stage, the difference between life, death, or serious injury, or, just a plain botched job and loss of reputation and credibility.  While bearing this in mind, the definition of a good driver or operator should also be cast somewhat wider than just speediness or manoeuvring skills, to recognise and commend those who give optimal consideration to the limits of their vehicles, thus prolonging useful working life, and minimising expenses and time lost related to premature wear and tear and part failure, especially the easily preventable.  

Only the best drivers in terms of skill, history, temperament and attitude, should ever teach and/or supervise beginner drivers in any area of operations.  Perhaps it should be said that it is anyone’s right to apply to be tested for a driving or operating licence, but actually gaining, and keeping one, is a privilege that the individual must continue to respect for as long as that licence is held.  Good early instruction is the foundation for honing and maintaining good driving or operating skills, and, badly managed aptitude of any degree can lead to overconfidence and folly, accident statistics easily prove this.  

Furthermore, every type of vehicle or mobile plant or machine also has unique legal, and enforceable, standards to be met for licensing and operation, and any driver or operator should always know, and observe, these standards as part of their professional responsibilities.  This is ongoing throughout any driver/operator’s career, and such knowledge must be kept up-to-date.
So, do you still want to be a professional drive/operator?  Well, it needs aptitude, application, patience, self-discipline and determination to do well, and there are no shortcuts, so believe this, accept this, and get on with the job if this is your chosen profession, OK!

Meanwhile, diesel is the first choice for motive power for heavy transport, and the longevity of the diesel engine is assured, as processed vegetable oils can be used in lieu of petroleum products. This is ironic, as diesel was originally developed to use vegetable oils, the production and use of which  was swamped by the then rising petroleum industry, although the working diesel engine itself has thrived to this day in many useful applications.   (Ask Google re "History of Diesel")

Nowadays, vegetable oils are seen as a viable and cleaner alternative to conventional diesel fuel, so diesel engines have an assured place in transport for the foreseeable future.  There are environmental problems of large-scale particulate emission that may even be affecting the albedo of snowfields, and global dimming, (which only masks global warming), and general health, but, with luck, a diesel exhaust scrubber will be developed to further enhance the use and reputation of these versatile hardworking engines, and their equally hardworking operators.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology may be utilised more and more in the future as R&D into this technology continues, and obtaining hydrogen by passive means such as solar power becomes more practicable.   But HFC technology is more likely to be used in urban areas to solve immediate pollution problems by limitation of fossil fuel use, while at the same time, there may be limitations on bulk transport of hydrogen to enable hydrogen availability over long distances, although this may change over time.  However, no matter what form of fuel may be used to power heavy transport of the future, GOOD DRIVERS WILL ALWAYS BE NEEDED!

A Baker's Dozen of Important International Road Rules

Keep to the correct side of the road

Read the road signs, not the billboards

Drive to conditions on any road, anywhere, anytime, in any weather

Avoid driving when tired, or when in indifferent health

Be careful where and how you park, especially in emergencies

When in doubt, slow down, and also watch your rear vision mirror

Stay off crowded freeways in foggy conditions

Do not tailgate, and do let tailgaters pass you ASAP

Keep your cool, do not let the idiots rattle you 

Never entirely trust blinkers, even your own

Never entirely trust an intersection, even when controlled

Do not drink, take drugs, and/or use handheld phones when driving

Never crowd a learner or an older driver, think what it was like for you, and also, how it will be...

The One Overall Road Safety Rule is to take nothing for granted, and that includes regarding all other road users, and their probable skills, motives, moods, health, education, ancestry, etc., with a healthy suspicion, without exception, and, always check over the vehicle you are driving, and do keep your own road skills and attitudes under constant review..

In Truck-Drivers' Heaven:

there are always pens and sunglasses close to hand,

your coffee is in a bottomless cup, just right, and always ready to drink,

there is no problem with cholesterol,

the girls are actually disappointed if you don't  whistle,

other road-users will toot thank-you, and wave when you let them by,

the cops also wave, and confer on you right-of way,

there are no tailgaters, and idiots cannot get a licence,

there is basic maintenance, but no punctures,

tyres never wear, and you never have to change a wheel,

windscreens need cleaning, but the sun never gets right in your eyes,

freight is always well-packed, organised, properly marked, and with useful paperwork,,

trolleys, ropes, tie-downs, chains, tarps, nets, gloves, and other favourite tools never want to leave you,

there is night work, but no time constraints, and sleep time is mandatory,

customers smile, are well-organised, and never keep you waiting,

bosses and proprietors are actually interested in your professional opinion,

architects, urban and rural planners, plus highway engineers, have all done time as truckers’ offsiders,

loading bays are always off-road, spacious, safe, deck-high, with checkers and helpers ready,

there will always be secure parking, comfortable smoko rooms, and handy toilets,

there are no bad backs, tired eyes, irritable kidneys, or unhappy marriages,

there is never a need to push the limits, and you always cruise on the sweet spot,

your wits are saved for driving, and not wasted on worrying.

In fact, you really do get to enjoy your chosen work.....

All things considered, not too much to ask?