Keep Drivers and Technicians Safe During Roadside Repairs

A Penske Maintenance tech on the phone by his truck.

In trucking, uptime is critical, and no one wants to experience unscheduled maintenance, especially if it occurs while a driver is on the road. Unfortunately, mechanical failures happen, and when they do, keeping drivers and maintenance technicians providing emergency roadside services safe is the top priority.

Chris Hough, vice president of maintenance design and engineering at Penske Truck Leasing, said the increasing number of distracted drivers amplifies roadside repair safety. All 50 states have enacted “Move Over” laws generally requiring drivers approaching emergency vehicles, service vehicles or tow trucks to move over or slow down. However, 71% of Americans are unaware of them, according to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Here are three tips to help keep drivers and technicians safe:

Move to Safety: When an over-the-road breakdown happens, the best option, if possible, is for the driver to move the vehicle to a safe location with the four-way flashers on. “If the vehicle is not drivable, turn on the four-way flashers, set up your safety triangles at the proper distances, and return to the cab while waiting for the roadside service,” Hough said.

Once roadside technicians arrive on site, they need to assess the situation. If technicians don’t feel comfortable with the positioning of the disabled vehicle, Hough recommends they contact their domiciled location or roadside call center to have the vehicle towed to a safe location.

Get Noticed: Even before a technician arrives, a best practice is for a driver to make the truck visible, which can help passing vehicles avoid a collision. “Use the four-way flashers and place safety triangles at the proper distances behind the disabled vehicle,” Hough said.

Once technicians arrive, the Tire Industry Association recommends that the mobile service vehicle be parked approximately 30 feet behind the equipment to be serviced, which makes the work area more visible to oncoming traffic. Technicians should avoid standing or working in the area between the work truck and the tractor-trailer, which can be dangerous.

Technicians need to wear high-visibility vests and coats. Wearing reflective gear is not only a best practice, but it may also be a law. Many states have laws regarding how much of a technician’s body must be covered with reflective material at roadside.

Take Extra Care During the Winter Months: Snow, ice and fog can amplify safety concerns during winter months. “Be extremely alert and aware of your surroundings and follow all safety protocols,” Hough said. It is also a good idea for drivers to be prepared for winter weather scenarios and keep extra winter clothing in their vehicle, as well as a flashlight, extra blankets, water and some prepackaged food.

Minimize the Risk of a Failure

Ideally, equipment will go from one preventive maintenance event to the next without ever having to come back. Penske follows a rigorous maintenance schedule that includes using advanced system analytics to identify potential failures before they occur. PM inspection plans are continually being updated based on failure rates and a vehicle’s history. Regularly inspecting wear items and completing proactive repairs helps minimize the risk of an over-the-road failure.

Tire failures are a frequent cause of roadside breakdowns, but properly maintaining tires can help prevent tire-related issues. The Department of Transportation requires tires to be changed at 4/32 for steer tires and 2/32 for drive and trailer tires. Penske’s pull points are 5/32 and 3/32. “Our goal is to replace the tires before they reach the DOT minimum requirements,” Hough said.

Other common causes of unexpected breakdowns are brakes, cranking systems and exhaust systems.

Hough said completing thorough pre-/post-trip inspections can also help prevent breakdowns. “Daily draining of the air tanks and ensuring only high-quality/treated diesel fuel is used during the winter months are two items that will also help reduce roadside events,” Hough said.

Customers fueling at Penske locations have the added benefit of customer service representatives who check fluid levels on oil, antifreeze and windshield solvent while the tractor/truck is fueling, complete a visual inspection to spot fluid leaks, and bump the tires to check for any issues. The reps also clean the windshield and mirrors.

If drivers need service, Penske’s 24/7 Roadside Assistance, which is available to full-service lease and contract maintenance customers, has more than 18,000 emergency providers who are ready to help day or night. The call center is staffed by experienced, in-house Penske personnel who have detailed knowledge of Class 8 trucks and understand the specific problems drivers may be experiencing.

Communication is critical, and Penske’s Fleet InsightTM online suite of fleet management tools allows drivers and their managers to see ongoing call updates, track breakdown and repair details, view detailed charges for easy verification, and identify and address recurring issues.

Typically, equipment is repaired within a short amount of time but if more lengthy repairs are necessary, Penske provides a rental or substitute vehicle.