Drivers of all vehicles have a responsibility to drive defensively, protecting not only themselves, but also other drivers and pedestrians around them. Dump truck drivers have additional responsibilities because their trucks are higher, longer and heavier than most vehicles on the road.
Overloading is a bad habit. Loading dump trucks isn’t an exact science. When a loader operator at a quarry, excavation or demolition site loads a dump truck they get it as close to the legal weight limit as possible. At quarries, trucks usually weigh in and out to determine how much rock they’re taking out of the quarry. If the truck is overloaded the driver must remove some of the load. Unfortunately, many drivers elect to drive on, hoping that the Department of Transportation doesn’t have an inspection roadblock and portable scales set up along their route.
Overloading exceeds the load rating of tires and braking system on a dump truck and extends the total stopping distance of the vehicle. In an emergency braking scenario, brakes get hot quickly and lose their effectiveness. Routine and regular overloading increases the wear and tear on structural, steering, chassis and suspension components which leads to a less than reliable hydraulic system. When drivers attempt to lift the dump bed, the hydraulic ram isn’t strong enough to lift the load. When the truck is parked on an angle, the additional weight of an overloaded dump bed causes the truck to tip to the side.
Inspect the load and the truck
After loading the truck, drivers should inspect it for loose gravel or material that has landed on the flat surfaces of the cab, frame or dump bed. This material can fall and strike other vehicles, causing damage or an accident. Check for large rocks that get caught between the tires and may be pitched out into the road when the truck gets to roadway speed. Keep all mirrors adjusted and clean. Check your blind spots, before changing lanes or making turns. Equip your west coast mirrors and hood with add-on convex (fisheye) mirrors. Remember to use the Get Out And Look (GOAL) method and ask for assistance or a spotter when backing up on a job site.
Safe driving principles
After inspecting the truck and load for safety, dump truck operators must follow the principles of safe driving:
- Always wear a seat belt and have a seat belt policy in place
- Slow down, drive the speed limit or a speed appropriate for conditions
- Never tailgate
- Avoid driving distractions including cell phones and texting while driving
- Scan the roadway ahead
When a dump truck is involved in an accident, pre-trip inspection documents, maintenance records and scale records are reviewed by enforcement agencies and attorneys. If it is determined that the truck was overloaded and the driver was aware of it, civil liability could be incurred by the driver and the business owner. Documentation of an overloaded truck could lead to increased civil penalties.
In 2010, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rolled out the Compliance, Safety and Accountability program. This new safety data tracking system monitors not only the motor carrier, but the driver as well. State accident and inspection data is maintained in this program. Drivers can have a positive or negative effect on a carrier’s DOT safety record when they’re cited for an overloaded truck.
Another danger in the world of driving heavy trucks is over steering, also known as overcorrection. This occurs when the right side tires fall off of the edge of the pavement and the driver reacts by slamming on the breaks and jerking the steering wheel back to the left. Many times this reaction causes the truck to skid, resulting in a head-on crash or rollover incident. An overloaded truck is much harder to control during an off-the-road recovery.
Keeping transport vehicles loaded correctly is a safety basic. Make it clear that the company expects safe driving, including seat belt use, safe speed management and loads that are legal. Don’t let a simple mistake like overloading cause a life-changing incident.