truck safety

It typically begins with a simple yawn. Next thing you know, your eyes feel heavy. You find yourself turning up the radio or opening a window. Then you realize you forgot the last few miles you drove and wonder how you traveled so far without realizing it.

What’s happening? It’s fatigue, and it’s one of the most common and dangerous safety risks for professional drivers. About 65% of truck drivers say they feel fatigued while driving, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. What’s worse, fatigue plays a role in 31% of all deadly truck crashes, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The good news is that staying more alert while driving is well within your control. Try one or more of these seven smart strategies to beat fatigue behind the wheel. You may just save a life!

1. Take your breaks. Always follow Hours of Service (HOS) regulations and take a minimum of 30-minute breaks every 8 hours. Try to find your own rhythm. For example, you may be more alert if you take shorter breaks every two-to-three hours instead of “saving” your break for that eighth hour on the road.

2. Get your sleep. Aim to sleep for seven to eight hours every night. If possible, avoid or limit driving mid-afternoon (between 2 – 4 p.m.) or overnight (between midnight – 6 a.m.), times when the body is naturally drowsy.

3. Watch what you eat and drink. Skip fast food, vending machines, and other types of food that lack nutrition. Instead, pack healthier meals. Choose fruits, vegetables, nuts or string cheese for snacks. Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed. But don’t go to bed hungry, either. Avoid sodas and other sugary drinks. Choose water instead so you can stay hydrated.

4. Stay active and fit. While you can’t exercise while driving, you can add some physical activity during your breaks and during your off time. Take a brisk walk. Do some stretching exercises. Aim for 20 minutes of physical activity at least three days a week. Being physically fit lowers your chances of fatigue.

5. Check your medicines. Sleeping pills, allergy medications and cold medications can make you drowsy. Avoid or limit them whenever possible. Always ensure you discuss any medications and their side effects with your doctor.

6. Avoid the traps. Many drivers think that they can fight fatigue by smoking, turning up the radio, or opening a window. Those activities may refresh you for a few seconds, but they won’t keep you alert for the long haul. If tired, do the right thing, pull to a safe area, and take a break!

7. Don’t tough it out. If you start yawning, making sudden lane changes or start to grow irritable, it’s a good bet you’re tired. Find a safe, legal place to park, such as a truck stop or well-lit rest area, and take a break.

When you press the brake pedal on your truck, you expect an instant response. Yet any number of issues can cause your vehicle’s braking systems to fail, increasing your risk of a serious accident while putting you and your cargo in danger. That’s why maintaining your truck’s braking system is so important and a major part of your Pre-Trip Inspection.

To ensure brake safety every day of the year, here are 10 tips to help ensure your brake linings and pads are ready for the road:

1. Inspect all the parts of the brake linings and pads that you can see during pre- and post-trip inspections.

2. Check for signs of missing or damaged brake lining, such as grooves in the drum from rivet contact.

3. Look at the shoe-to-drum clearance and ensure that there is adequate lining on the shoe.

4. Try to find any signs of leaks from the hub or other components that may contaminate the lining or pad surface.

5. Look for any missing lining blocks.

6. Scan for visible cracks or voids in the lining block.

7. Check for any exposed rivets or lining blocks that look loose on the shoe.

8. On disc brakes, pay close attention to the condition of the rotor. Look for either metal-to-metal contact or heavily rusted rotors across the entire friction surface on either side.

9. Make any repairs in accordance with the brake manufacturer’s requirements and guidelines.

10. Note any brake lining or pad-related issues in your driver vehicle inspection reports and report them to the motor carrier.

In addition, always check for these brake-related items during pre- and post-trip inspections:

  • Any missing, non-functioning, loose or cracked parts
  • Audible air leaks coming from around the brake components and lines
  • Slack adjusters that are different lengths
  • Air pressure below 90-100 psi
  • Rust holes or broken springs in the brake housing section of the parking brake
  • Malfunctioning ABS warning lamps

Remember, a properly conducted pre-trip inspection will go a long way toward passing a brake inspection — and keeping you and those around you safe.

The brake system on a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) must perform constantly and under all conditions. While both air disc brakes and S-cam drum brakes can get the job done, many manufacturers have made air disc brakes standard and the adoption rate for air disc brakes is increasing.

“The biggest difference between air disc brakes and S-cam drum brakes is disc brakes have a shorter stopping distance and you eliminate several components, so there are less maintenance items on air disc brakes,” said Chris Hough, vice president of maintenance at Penske Truck Leasing.

For example, air disc brakes do not need a slack adjuster, but S-cam brakes do. Kerri Wirachowsky, director of inspection programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), said brakes out of adjustment is the number one violation drivers receive.

“Generally, when a vehicle is put out of service for brakes being out of adjustment, it is because the automatic slack adjuster did not adjust correctly. It could be because it was not maintained or because it failed,” Hough said.

Additionally, air disc brakes don’t experience brake fade, or result in stopping power, after repeated use. At higher speeds, disc brakes have a better response at higher temperatures.

Initially, the adoption of air disc brakes was slower because they were more expensive and roadside service didn’t always have parts, Wirachowsky said. “As more and more get introduced into the market, the more the price comes down and the more familiar technicians get with them and can do roadside repair. I think over the course of time, we’re going to see more go that way,” Wirachowsky said.

Penske Truck Leasing made air disc brakes standard on tractors within its rental fleet in 2017, and Hough expects to see increased adoption on trailers as well. “Over time, as technology continues to improve and air disc brakes become more economical, which they are, we’ll probably see the industry transition to air disc brakes on trailers,” Hough said.

Brake Maintenance

When maintained and installed correctly, both brake types meet required safety standards, but maintenance is critical for all systems. Disc brakes are sometimes erroneously characterized as being maintenance free and they are not, and brake systems, whether they are disc brakes or drum brakes, require attention.

Hough said brakes must be checked at every preventive maintenance inspection and drivers should regularly check brakes during pre- and post-trip inspections. Plus, brakes need to be lubricated or greased at set intervals and slack adjusters on S-cam drum brakes have to be tested.

“During a PM inspection, we measure the applied brake stroke. With the foot pedal applied, we measure the total distance the slack adjuster is traveling so we know it is working correctly,” Hough said. “They’re dependable, but from time to time, one will fail.”

Hoses and tubing have been an important focus area for CVSA inspectors for several years because brake hose chafing is another common violation. “You could have belly hoses on the trailer that are rubbing or the gladhand hoses are too long and they rub on the catwalk,” Wirachowsky said. “That is what we look for, and drivers should be looking for that during their inspection.”

If a hose rubs up against something until it punctures the liner of the hose, it will leak air. “If it is leaking air, the brakes won’t work correctly,” Hough said, adding that some hoses are difficult for drivers to inspect during pre- and post-trip inspections. “That is why it is so important during a PM inspection to check for any type of chafing.”

Overall Safety

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) latest Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts report, the brake system was the third most cited vehicle-related factor in fatal commercial motor vehicle and passenger vehicle crashes, highlighting the critical safety role brakes play in transportation.

Additionally, brake-related violations accounted for eight out of the top 20 vehicle violations in 2022, according to FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System. Plus, brake-related violations make up the largest percentage of all out-of-service violations cited during roadside inspections, CVSA reported.

Additional Information

CVSA has several brake sources available:

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    You may know the saying, “April showers bring May flowers”, but these same wet conditions also create a variety of dangerous road hazards for professional drivers. In fact, flooding is now ranked as the second deadliest weather hazard in the U.S. each year, according to the National Weather Service. (Excessive heat is currently listed as the Number 1 deadliest U.S. weather hazard).

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    You climb in and out of your cab constantly. You may even be required to climb into the trailer or on top of a flatbed to secure the load you are transporting. This is done so often, that you probably don’t think of the risk involved. But move too fast or carelessly, and you could end up out of service with a serious injury.

    Trips, slips, and falls cause around 100,000 work-related injuries a year for professional drivers. They also keep workers off the job for an average of 24 days, according to National Safety Council data. Wintertime is an especially dangerous time for falls due to weather hazards like snow, sleet and ice that impact the central and northern regions of the U.S.

    You can avoid trips, slips, and falls by following a few basic steps:

    1. Use the three points of contact rule. The three points of contact rule will give you the most stability every time you enter and exit your truck, reducing your risk of a slip, trip or fall. Three points means that you should have two hands and one foot — or two feet and one hand — in contact with your truck at all times. When you climb up or down, grab onto fixed items, such as door handles, the door frame, steps or your steering wheel. Don’t rely on tires or wheel hubs to climb out.

    2. Don’t climb and carry. Avoid the temptation to hold anything — a coffee cup, smartphone or logbook — in your free hand when you enter and exit the truck. Doing so will prevent you from effectively using the Three Points of Contact Rule. Always place your items into the cab before attempting to enter your truck.

    3. Move slowly and deliberately. While jumping out of your cab may save time, you must never do it. Jumping puts extra strain on your back and joints, which can cause you pain and create injuries over the long term. Jumping also puts you at risk for ankle, shoulder and knee injuries that may occur if you fall awkwardly.

    4. Look before you leave the cab. Make sure your vehicle’s handles and steps are clear of ice, snow and other hazards. Park in well-lit areas and on level surfaces so you can climb out of your truck safely. Look for objects blocking your path and move them out of the way.

    5. Wear proper footwear. Choose non-slip footwear. Waterproof work boots with textured treads are always a good option.

    6. Pay attention. Focus on climbing up and down the stairs only. Don’t look at your phone or other objects. Avoid distractions.

    What hazards will this winter bring to commercial motor vehicle drivers? While nobody knows for sure how bad each winter may be, many include plenty of snow, rain and mush, along with cold temperatures in parts of the U.S.

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    Truck parking has appeared on the American Transportation Research Institute's (ATRI) Top 10 Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry list since 2012, and it was the fifth highest-ranking issue of industry concern in ATRI’s latest report. Among driver concerns, it tied with driver compensation as the top concern.

    “This is the 10th year that the lack of available truck parking has made the top 10 list of industry concerns, and among commercial drivers, it has consistently ranked in their top three," ATRI wrote in its annual report.

    Concerns over parking have increased due to hours of service and electronic logging mandates, which are causing more drivers to look for parking at the same time. ATRI reported that drivers will often park earlier to ensure they find safe parking prior to running out of hours of service. The lost wages associated with an early exit from revenue trips average over $4,600 annually per driver

    ATRI issued several proposed strategies in its report to address parking concerns, including creating a new, dedicated federal funding program designed to increase truck parking capacity at freight-critical locations, encouraging local and regional governments to reduce the regulatory burdens limiting the construction and expansion of truck parking facilities near major metropolitan areas, and advocating for states to expand the availability of accurate, real-time truck parking availability information on roadside changeable/dynamic message signs.

    A 2021 ATRI study on truck parking information systems found that 15% of drivers rely exclusively on roadside changeable message signs for their parking information. Additionally, 57% of drivers indicated that they had utilized a truck parking app in the past year.

    Truck Parking Technologies

    There are several technology-based systems currently available to help drivers find parking. The free Penske Driver™ app allows drivers to locate and get contact information for nearby parking locations.

    ATRI, American Trucking Associations and NATSO formed the Truck Parking Leadership Initiative, which developed the Park My Truck app that allows truck stops, rest areas and others to report the number of spaces available in their lots. Other apps that provide parking information include Trucker Path and DAT Trucker.

    The Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials (MAATSO) initiative unites eight Midwestern states in the nation's first Regional Truck Parking Information Management System. The Truck Parking Information Management System (TPIMS) has been deployed along high-volume freight corridors through Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The states collect and broadcast real-time parking availability to drivers through various media outlets, including dynamic signs, smartphone applications and traveler information websites. “This will help drivers proactively plan their routes and make safer, smarter parking decisions,” MAATSO said on its website.

    American Truck Parking, a federally and state-funded project run through the University of California at Berkley, has partnered with several government parking projects that track real-time parking info, including MAATSO, and shares it on its website, combining it all in one place. It also collects data on private truck stops.

    Several large truck stops, including TravelCenters of America, Love’s and Pilot Flying J, provide parking information via their apps and allow drivers to reserve parking spaces.

    If you haven’t recently checked all the components of your truck’s brake system, now is the time to get it done to keep you and others safe on the road. Plus, you'll be ready for your next inspection.

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    As an estimated 480,000 school buses return to U.S. roads in late summer and early fall, it’s time for professional drivers to brush up on their own lesson plan: How to drive with care during back-to-school season. Remember these 7 words that can help you avoid an accident and potentially save a life.

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    You may think distracted driving and DUIs cause the largest amount of traffic accidents each year—and you'd be right. But did you know that speeding is #3 on the list?

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    Cargo theft can cost thousands or even millions of dollars per load, and food and beverages are among the most targeted commodities across the United States and Canada. That is followed by household goods, vehicles and accessories, and pharmaceutical and medical products, according to the latest figures from CargoNet, a theft prevention and recovery network. CargoNet said the cost associated with stolen cargo was just over $60 million in 2021.

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    More than 70% of the nation's roads sit in regions that see over 5 inches of snowfall each year. That means there's a good chance you'll encounter slippery and downright dangerous driving conditions over the next three months.

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    With holiday traffic volumes expected to be near pre-pandemic levels this year, professional drivers can expect to share the road with millions of motorists nationwide. But the highways won’t be the only crowded place. Truck stops and rest areas will be jam-packed, too!

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    The driver shortage has hit an all-time high. Comfort and convenience features on late-model equipment can help improve drivers' experience on the road, which can boost recruitment and retention efforts.

    "It is so competitive in the driver market, some of the carriers are using truck features as a benefit in their recruiting," said Chuck Pagesy, director of safety for Penske Truck Leasing. "You're trying to differentiate yourself from the other carriers and make your drivers more comfortable, so you also get more productivity and greater tenure."

    The American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that by the end of the year the truck driver shortage will hit a historic high of just over 80,000 drivers.

    Increased Comfort

    Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have worked to increase comfort inside the cab, rolling out better ergonomic designs for dashboard alignment and gauges. They're also building in greater adjustability, such as with electric mirrors, temperature settings, automatic climate control and heated steering wheels. "In some cases, OEMs are trying to make them more car-like," Pagesy said, adding that fleets can also specify a better seat with more back and thigh support. "If drivers are not so fatigued when they get out of the truck, they hopefully have improved alertness and productivity."

    Improved Safety

    Class 8 tractors are increasingly equipped with safety features, such as active cruise control and lane-departure warnings, which can reduce stress on drivers. "It takes the pressure off of them and allows them to be more alert," Pagesy said. "Power steering and disc brakes have also made it more comfortable for the driver."

    Tire pressure monitoring systems indicate any problems with tires, resulting in fewer flats and issues. Pagesy said some trucks are equipped with self-inflating tires, which can provide a significant safety benefit.

    Added Convenience

    Fueling at Penske locations provides added convenience for drivers. "We pump the fuel for them. At a lot of truck stops, they have to pump their fuel," Pagesy said, adding that Penske also conducts a multipoint inspection and checks the tire pressure, washes the windshield and cleans up the rearview mirrors.

    If the fueling attendant finds any defects, the shop can fix them. "It is a convenience and safety issue at the same time," Pagesy said.

    Warmer weather means commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers will be dealing with crowded streets and highways. Since warmer weather also brings out more bicyclists, pedestrians and children at play, professional drivers must use extra caution. Use these 7 tips to share the road safely with bicycles, pedestrians and children.

    1. Remember that bicycles are vehicles. Cyclists are asked to follow the same traffic laws as cars and trucks, so show them the same respect you would another driver. Yield to them as directed at stop signs, stop lights and intersections. Always give bicycles at least three feet of clearance before passing and watch for cyclists when you're getting in and out of your truck.

    2. Be cautious making left and right turns. You know your tractor-trailer needs to make wide right-hand turns. Pedestrians, cyclists and children at play may not know this so take extra caution when making any right-hand turns. The same is true for left-hand turns—always look for pedestrians or cyclists before crossing traffic.

    3. Watch crosswalks. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in crosswalks. If you're traveling through a neighborhood with crosswalks, drive slowly and be prepared to stop. Remember that on average trucks traveling 65 mph need two football fields to come to a complete rest, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

    4. Know your limitations. Because your truck sits high, you may not see children at play or cyclists. They may be hidden by your truck's blind spots, or they could be playing behind your truck.

    5. Stay extra-alert between 6 – 9 p.m. That's when more than one-fifth (21%) of fatal bicycle-motor vehicle crashes happen, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. July and August run the highest risk for these types of accidents.

    6. Slow down. Children don't only cross the street using crosswalks. Cyclists don't always use reflectors or wear brightly colored clothing. Pedestrians don't always use flashlights when walking at night. Reducing your speed will help you be ready for anything.

    7. Don't drive distracted. Busier roads mean more potential for danger. So never call, text or email while driving. And never drive after drinking alcohol. This is against FMCSA regulation.


    An estimated 7,000 truck fires happen on the nation's roadways every year. And while that number may seem small, most tractor-trailer fires can create millions of dollars worth of equipment and cargo losses. They also can cause serious injury or death to drivers and other motorists.

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