Backing Up Badly and Driving Guardedly: Weeks 2 & 3 of Truck Driver Training

Truck driver training school, tractor-trailer, big rig

Erich gives backing up his best shot.

You’d Better Back Up While I Try Backing Up

In my experience of regular – non-truck – driving, there’s two things people don’t do very well: parallel parking and backing up. Then there’s all the stuff they simply fail to do, like looking both ways at an intersection and always signalling before a turn or lane chance. But I’m not here to rant.

In the business of operating a tractor-trailer, parallel parking is something you’ll do once in a while, I’m told. But backing up is a daily occurrence. You have to reverse into a loading dock every time you deliver goods to your destination. Being proficient at it isn’t just a good thing; it’s essential.

And it’s hard to do. Consider how long a tractor-trailer is: a combined @ 65-71 feet. Bear in mind that you have two separate units joined only by a steel pin and a coupling device. Obviously, you’ll never master this on your first day of trying. I definitely didn’t.

I don’t think I was horrible at backing up, although my more experienced co-trainee Eric might disagree. As might the two instructors who were looking on. The purpose of training is to work together to make everyone a good driver. So, they may have decided to encourage me and not tell the truth: ‘You suck at backing up.’

They didn’t have to tell me anything. I did suck at it. But it was day one of reversing for me. I’d never backed up anything bigger than a small U-Haul truck and that was many years ago.

Driving Suits Me, I Think

While backing up didn’t go fabulously, driving did. My comfort level in the big rig wasn’t high initially. I ventured out of the driving school parking lot and hit the road, my instructor Evan beside me. After three times around the block and some words of encouragement from Evan and I was fine. We drove bobtail (without a trailer) so that helped me worry less. I could concentrate on myself and the operation of the cab. I wasn’t concerned about hauling a long trailer.

I quickly learned one certainty about driving a tractor: drivers of smaller vehicles will wait for you. They’ll give you plenty of space to maneuver. In my case, I’m sure that had something to do with the words plastered on the side of the cab: Ontario Truck Driving School. No one wants to be near the student driver of a massive machine. With that in mind, I drove guardedly. I made sure to follow all the rules and tried desperately to appear experienced.

Yikes, the Trailer’s Attached Now

When it came time to driving around the block with the trailer attached, I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I thought I’d be. A day earlier I’d read about making proper right-hand and left-hand turns, so I was prepared with that knowledge. My instructor urged me to constantly use my mirrors. He reminded me that as a truck driver you use your mirrors every minute of driving because you can’t see all around you without them. Once I negotiated my first turn, I felt more at ease already. I had that first day of driving behind me and now I was handling the entire operation.

The confidence I’ve gained already puts me in a reasonably positive frame of mind going forward. In just three short weeks, I’ve gotten the idea that I can do this. Until this point, I was focused on my determination to do well. ‘I’m damn well going to succeed at this.’ That was the mantra I carried with me. But now I have reason to believe I wasn’t deceiving myself. Even my pre-trip inspection has gotten better. Now I wait to see what my second try at backing up looks like.

And I continue to hope and pray that people driving around me don’t do stupid things.

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