Working (in proper working order).
Free of obstructions.
These are key measuring points in the circle check, the round-the-truck pre-trip inspection that every driver needs to complete each day before hitting the road. This is what I have spent the majority of my first week of truck driver training on, trying to memorize.
Most people don’t spend a lot of time walking around their car or truck and carefully examining it for possible defects – namely that everything in view or under the hood is secure and damage free, working properly, and free of obstructions. In the trucking industry, it’s a whole different story. You spend a lot of time doing exactly that, in the name of safety. Safety matters most in this business. Nothing else is even close.
In the name of almighty safety, the typical instructor will take you through this circle check routine repeatedly. My instructor – an affable and experienced gentleman who doesn’t look his age of 70-plus – said we’d probably run through it forty or more times. I understand and appreciate this, because without nailing it you can’t pass the Ministry of Transportation exam, and you won’t get your license.
The circle check means making absolutely certain that all components of the truck and trailer are ‘good to go.’ Specifically, you have to ensure that your tractor (the truck) is properly attached (coupled) to the trailer via the fifth wheel and kingpin (the attaching mechanisms). It also means thoroughly checking your fluids, tires, air brakes, clutch, exterior lights, landing gear, and other components.
This is extremely serious stuff that can’t ever be taken lightly, so you won’t see me writing about it in a glib or sarcastic tone. As the driver of a tractor-trailer, you’re firmly in control of a massive, powerful vehicle that has enormous potential to cause major damage on the highway. You are in a killing machine and if you don’t think of it that way already, you’d better start now.
This is my mindset in my training. It’s not my intention to be alarmist and make you want to run far away from your local truck driver training centre. I also don’t mean for you to be afraid of trucks on the highways and city streets. I’m just trying to stress the truth. It’s the truth that I’m going to have to live with, possibly for the rest of my working days.
Now for a little levity.
You might notice that I haven’t said a thing about actually driving the big rig. That part comes soon enough. You have to be patient to get to it. At any top-notch training school – such as the Ontario Truck Driving School – they don’t just let you get behind the wheel right away. They take you through a detailed training regimen. It can be fun and interesting, if you’re passionate about the industry.
I actually didn’t get to drive at all on my first day. That long, cold and windy day in east Hamilton was spent doing what’s called “yard work.” There was me, another Eric (we were quickly called Eric 1 and Erich 2) and our instructor braving the chill. Eric 1 had been training for a few weeks so he knew the ropes a little. Meanwhile I learned quickly that much of yard work is about perfecting the circle check. You won’t master it on your first day or the next few days. You just have to keep doing it until it sinks in and becomes second nature.
The next day was for home study. At the kitchen table, I started digging into the truck driver training manual. The first chapter started with a history of truck driving. I love history so that was pretty cool. But then came the rules and regulations of driving in Canada and the U.S. This is important stuff because the procedures and protocols in the two countries are very different. You can’t ever plead ignorance. Chapter 2 deals with the Commercial Driver’s License that you can’t drive without. I’m trying to do most of the reading in the Burlington Public Library, where I can concentrate and really learn the material.
I got to drive a little on my second day and third day of in-school training. But even then it was only in the yard for the purpose of another round of circle checking. Still, I got an impression of how powerful a truck tractor is. I know I’m going to enjoy sitting high up where I can see the whole road. The lofty perch offers a whole new perspective on driving.
Idiots Can Ruin Your Ride
The most surprising thing I learned this week relates – surprise, surprise – to the circle training and how utterly necessary it is to do every time you get into the truck, even after taking a break at a roadside truck stop. My instructor says there are disgruntled drivers who will sabotage your vehicle if given the chance. For instance, he’s been at a truck stop where one of these idiots pulled the fifth wheel locking lever on a parked truck, dislodging the trailer from the tractor. When the driver got into his truck and started to pull away, the front of his trailer hit the ground. The driver then asked my instructor if he saw anyone suspicious nearby. He said he hadn’t. Of course, he hadn’t been looking for anyone suspicious until he heard the trailer crashing down.
I asked if there aren’t locks or alarms that might prevent these kinds of despicable acts. He said there aren’t, although there should be. Still, locks and alarms or not, the fact remains that nothing beats a thorough check. In the end, it could save a whole lot of time and aggravation.