Truck driving isn’t for everyone. But for those who love the independence and freedom it provides,...
Trucking 101: Getting Your Trailer Into Tight Spots
Sometimes, the most important part of a truck is its trailer—especially when trying to get into tight spots. No matter how experienced a driver, it takes a lot of preparation and skill to get into difficult spots, or to park a large vehicle the size of the truck. Backing accidents do happen, and it is one of the leading causes of damage to equipment and property in this line of work. To avoid driver error, it is important to know how to get into those tight spots when the time comes. Luckily, there are a few fool-proof ways to maneuver in small spaces, it just may take some focus and time.
Whether you drive cross-border or domestic, you are bound to encounter some tight areas your truck can't easily move through. It comes with the job, but it doesn't have to ruin your day. Before you head out to park or pull your trailer into tight spots, it is important to know what you are working with. Remember that it is the trailer you are driving, not the truck itself. Your tractor will steer the trailer, as the drive axles of the tractor become the trailer’s steering axle. This means when you turn the steering wheel to the right, the rear of the trailer goes left, and when you turn the steering wheel to the left, the rear of the trailer goes to the right.
TAKE IT SLOW
The primary thing you want to do when squeezing your trailer into odd spots is to go slow and take your time. Given the truck’s size, you cannot steer or correct at fast speeds. As a rule: you don’t want to reverse into spots at more than 1 mph. While the speed may sound slow, given the size of the truck and length of the trailer, you will need to continue to look at all angles as you move, and that requires time.
These rules also apply when you are parking or moving forward into tight spaces, though here you should lower your speed to about 10 mph and keep an eye on your surroundings.
GET OUT TO LOOK AND EVALUATE YOUR SITUATION
Before entering any unfamiliar area, don’t be afraid to get out of your truck and walk around the area, so you can see where the tight spots are, looking for any obstructions and areas you want to avoid. This is especially important if you are about to turn into a tight parking lot, because you need to know what’s ahead so you don’t get stuck. Always look around and set not only an entry, but also exit plan for yourself.
You want to check for pallets, obstructions and anything which can disrupt not only the sides, but also top of your truck and trailer. Look above, under and to the sides of the truck.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR OTHER PEOPLE
While you walk around or prepare to park or back into certain areas, you may not be aware of foot traffic around you. Consider where there could be pedestrians entering, and be cautious. Keep your lights on and even use your hazards when backing/parking at all times to stay visible to others. Start backing up (slowly) as soon as you get into the truck to lessen the amount of time between you checking the space and someone potentially arriving. If you have to, use your horn to alert those around you that you’re near.
ANTICIPATE YOUR EXIT
If you are parking or pulling into busy areas, ideally you want the front of your truck to end up facing the exit, so you can move with the traffic and not against it. It is much harder to back a truck into traffic, than it is then to just pull forward when you’re done unloading or loading. Park in areas allowing you to pull forward, whenever possible.
CHECK FOR ANY CHANGES IN THE AREA OR SURROUNDINGS
While you may have gone to a spot before, keep in mind that conditions can change. There could be new obstructions added or minor changes you have not thought of, which can become a problem the next time you come. Between the time you were last there, there could have been construction work done, new employees hired or other obstacles added. Always make sure to look around and observe the situation as if it was the first time.
KNOW WHERE THE WHEELS ARE GOING
The direction of your wheels will dictate the direction the trailer is going in. You want to make sure you are not steering too much, and always check as you move the trailer because small movements or wheel shifts can change the pathway. Do not over-steer, as this can cause trouble.
USE A SPOTTER - WITH CAUTION
If you are using a spotter, make sure you know what their hand signals mean so that you can understand where they may be directing you. If you cannot understand your spotter, then they become a distraction. Usually it is helpful to have someone around to give you a better viewpoint, but keep in mind if your rig is very large, then you may not be able to hear them, so either invest in some walkie talkies or develop hand signals and know what they mean.
It's a great skill to be able to drive well, but it is also important to know how to get into those tight spots. The driver is responsible for backing up safely, so it's important to be patient. Keep in mind that your trailer plays a key role in how safely and efficiently you drive. You want to make sure you give yourself enough time to really get it right. Do not rush, do not assume everything is clear and most importantly, trust your instincts!