6 Common Heavy Vehicle Driving Mistakes

Safe driving should always be a truck driver’s priority.

Accidents involving heavy trucks kill hundreds of people each year. In 2019, the fatalities in heavy truck crash reached 188, a 19.7% increase on the previous year. Although the average number over a 10-year period decreased by 2.7%, the annual death toll is still a cause for major concern. Fortunately, these common mistakes while driving heavy vehicles can be avoided with proper information, training and the right mindset. 

At Chris Shilling Transport Training we understand that Vehicle and road conditions play an essential part in heavy vehicle crashes, but most accidents involve human and social factors, which we have listed and discussed below. Whether you own or operate a heavy vehicle, it’s best to familiarise yourself with these common mistakes while driving an HC, MC, heavy rigid or medium rigid truck.

Texting Whilst Driving

1.     Texting Whilst Driving

Texting is one of the most convenient forms of communication today. It does not require an internet connection, and it barely cost anything. Sometimes, texting is even free. So, it’s no wonder that many people text to communicate with family and friends.

Despite this, texting requires a surprising amount of concentration, so texting is prohibited whilst driving in any state in Australia. Offenders will receive demerit points and a fine of $344, which rises to $457 if the offence happens around schools.

Video calls, emailing, taking photographs, shopping, and social media posting or browsing are prohibited as well. A fully licenced driver can use their phone to listen to music, make or receive a call or as a navigational device, provided that the phone is mounted securely to the vehicle via a cradle or holder, can be used by the driver without touching it, and is not resting or placed on any part of the body of the driver.

Driving Whilst Intoxicated (DWI)

2.     Driving Whilst Intoxicated (DWI)

Approximately 30 per cent of fatal accidents in Australia are caused by drink driving. More than 1 in 4 drivers and riders killed in these crashes have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeded the legal limit. Heavy vehicle driving takes more than just skill, and it is more challenging if you are driving whilst intoxicated. That is why most Australian states and territories have zero tolerance for alcohol for truck and other commercial drivers.

Some states or territories do allow them to have a BAC level up to 0.02 per cent. However, staying below this level may take more than just self-control, so it is best not to drink at all if you are driving.

Driving Through Rest Breaks

3.     Driving Through Rest Breaks

Fatigue can slow a driver’s reactions and decision-making ability, decrease alertness and can cause poor tracking of lanes and speed. So, driving (especially heavy vehicles) with less than 7.5 hours of sleep puts the driver and those around him on the road at great risk. In fact, according to the Road Safety Commission of Western Australia, fatigue-related accidents claimed 14 lives in WA in 2020.

That is why heavy vehicle drivers are mandated by law to follow the standard work and rest hour requirements from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR). The law states that a solo truck driver must not work for more than 12 hours for every 24 hours. They must spend the rest of that period off work, with at least 7 continuous hours of stationary rest time. In other words, this time should be spent outside of the heavy vehicle they are driving or in a regulation sleeper berth of an unmoving heavy vehicle.

Early warning signs of fatigue include:

  • missing a gear, exit or road sign
  • unconsciously or unintentionally slowing down
  • meandering thoughts
  • late reaction time, especially when braking.

If you are yawning or blinking more than usual, or you keep nodding your head while driving, you should pull off the road immediately. Eyes closing for a few seconds or going out of focus are also signs of fatigue and should not be ignored.

Speeding

4.     Speeding

The stopping distance of a truck is almost always double that of passenger car in the same situation. A car driving at 100 kph will need about 90m to stop. On the other hand, a fully loaded truck driving 100 kph will need about 180m. Note that this number rises as the speed of the heavy vehicle increases. Speeding puts everyone on the road at a greater risk of fatal crashes.

New South Wales has a maximum speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour for vehicles with more than 4.5t Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM). Going beyond this limit is illegal, and extremely dangerous as the driver can quickly lose control of his truck. It can cause a fatal rear-end collision and even an override accident.

Misjudging Turning Distance

5.     Misjudging Turning Distance

New truck drivers are more likely to forget that they are driving a 10m truck or have a trailer dragging behind them. As a result, they could misjudge the distance when turning or making a manoeuvre because they have yet to get used to the size of their vehicle. Distracted and fatigued heavy vehicle drivers are sometimes also guilty of committing this mistake.

Checking blind spots before turning is likewise crucial to avoid hitting a smaller vehicle or, worse, a motorcycle trying to overtake. Waiting for enough room before making a turn is also another way to avert crashes.

Relying on Stimulants to Maintain Alertness

6.     Relying on Stimulants to Maintain Alertness

A shortage of heavy vehicle drivers forces some to work beyond the 12-hour daily limit. Despite laws and regulations about standard work and rest hours, this scenario is not uncommon in Australia. These drivers work up to 100 hours per week; the legal limit is 72 hours. To be able to make these long trips, drivers might resort to relying on stimulants such as ephedrine or amphetamines to keep them awake. These stimulants also work as energy enhancers for these fatigued drivers.

Learn from a 30-Years Experienced Heavy Vehicle Driving Trainer

Whether you are looking to learn how to drive a heavy vehicle, or obtain a licence or accreditation, Chris Shilling Transport Training can help you. We have been in the transport and dangerous goods industry in the UK and Australia for the past 30 years.

Talk to us about truck licensing and training courses, as well as associated courses such as dangerous goods awareness, forklift licensing and elevated work platform licensing. We have so much to offer you in Central Coast, Mid North Coast and Newcastle. To find out more, simply visit cstt.com.au or call us today on 0434 366 758. Alternatively, please email Chris at chris@cstt.com.au.