For anyone who makes a living doing delivery work, safe driving is of paramount importance. It's all too easy to take our own skills for granted, and lapsing into complacency with an "it's not me, it's always the other driver" attitude is dangerous, to say the least. The responsibility of road safety lies with all road users, and it's never a bad idea (or a bad time) to review your own practices – after all, we may do a super-human job, but we are only human in the end.
Safe Stopping Distances
One of the most basic considerations is allowing enough distance between you and the vehicle in front in order to stop safely. We all know what we should be doing, but a regular refresher keeps this information front and centre in our minds.
The conventional rule of thumb is that if you're travelling at 60 mph on a dry road with regular traffic density, you should be between seven and eight seconds behind the vehicle in front. To put that into a more physical context, that equates to about 370 feet, or more than the length of a football field.
Of course, that's a very generic rule that needs to be based on the correlation of vehicle weight and the speed at which you’re travelling. But even if you know the exact laden weight of your lorry every time you head off for your delivery workand always drive accordingly, do you really know what the requisite safe stopping time or physical distance looks like when you're out on the motorway?
Complying with the parameters of the safe stopping distance is easier than you may think. One tip is to simply take note of when the vehicle in front of you passes an inanimate object on the roadside (for example a tree, fence or sign), and then count the number of seconds it takes you to reach that object. That will give you the basic number of seconds at which you're following the vehicle, and will help you determine if you're within the "safe" range. If the weather is inclement, the recommendation is to at least double the standard to ensure that you have ample time to react in case of an incident that requires you to stop, slow down or change lanes.
It Doesn't Stop with Stopping
Space management while carrying out delivery workdoesn't end with stopping distances, however. It's also very important to consider the distance that you leave between you and the vehicle in front when pulling up at stop signs, traffic lights or rail crossings. The expert advice is to leave at least 20ft in front, which allows for safe manoeuvrability if you have to go around the vehicle for any reason.
Other recommended safety habits are to make your turning intentions clear by signalling at least 100ft before the turn, and switching on your headlights an hour before dusk and keeping them on until an hour after sunrise to make sure that you're always visible.
Are the"Rules" Right?
There's no substitute for experience. While there are always going to be those who regard the seven- to eight-second safe stopping "rule" as excessive, there are also those who believe that it's not enough. They point out that within a normal person's reaction time, at least two seconds are taken up by simply forming the intention to act, which leaves only five to six seconds for the actual reaction to manoeuvre out of harm's way. For the driver who needs to consider multiple vision zones in their mirrors in order to make a decision, those seven to eight seconds of recommended space between vehicles can disappear all too quickly and, in fact, it has been suggested that doubling this number is more appropriate.
Naturally, opinions differ on whether it's time for traditional conventions to be challenged. But whatever a lorry driver's stance or opinion is on the matter, simply opening the discussion is a positive way of encouraging each and every one of us who do delivery work (no mater how experienced or green you are) to consider our personal driving habits in the context of the overarching responsibility of road safety.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching delivery work with available drivers. Over 4,800 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.