Driver Knowledge Tests

How do you prevent damage and crime at a truck stop or when refuelling?

Downtime is expensive. Truck stops, fuel stations and loading docks are a common place to pick up damage to your truck and trailer which can mean time off the road while it’s repaired. With a bit of planning and care you can all but eliminate the risk of damage.

You can’t completely prevent being hit in a truck stop or loading dock, but here are some tips to help.

These areas tend to be tight and there are often drivers speeding. There are distractions and blind spots, and drivers are often tired and hungry. Keeping your speed slow and signalling where you’re going will help you avoid mistakes.

The advice you follow depends on how much risk vs convenience you’re prepared to sacrifice. There are obvious contradictions when it comes to choosing a location to park – the parking spot furthest from the facilities is likely to be the quietest, but it’s potentially the one that has the least light and could be worse for crime. You’ll need to make your own decision.

Refuelling

Stop before you pull into the fuel bay to make sure that the area’s clear and your trailer is lined up. If you have an overheight load, check the height of any canopy above before driving under it. Choose a low gear and crawl into the bay. While refuelling, do a walkaround of your truck to check it. Once you’ve finished refuelling, make sure the fuel cap is on tight, double check the area around you and take note of your turning points so that you don’t clip the fuel pump when turning. The trailer should have cleared the fuel area before you turn otherwise you risk the rear end of the trailer swinging out or the trailer cutting in causing you to hit the pump.

Parking

All pull-through space is the easiest. Choose a double space if there is one rather than a single space (or choose the widest single space with the best turning options). Watch for other drivers reversing who might not see you.

When pulling in forwards, pull past the space, then start a sharp turn to pull the trailer into line with the parking space. You’ll need to be at least 1.5m from anything at the side of your trailer to account for the rear swinging out. Double check that your trailer won’t hit your cab fairings, exhaust stacks or parts on the back of the cab.

Pull half way into the parking spot, check you can see the trailer wheels; if you can’t see them, you risk clipping the vehicle next to you.

It’s better to sustain damage on the trailer than on the truck – it’s cheaper to fix and it doesn’t necessarily stop you from working like it would if someone takes out your radiator. If the space is tight, it can be best if you nose into a spot so that anyone backing in either side of you is more likely to hit the trailer than the prime mover. While this is more risky for you when backing out, at least you are in control of that manoeuvre.

Usually, though, it’s better for you to reverse into a stop. This is because when you start up again, your engine will be cold, and pulling away easily in a forward gear is better for fuel economy, rather than trying to do slow-speed manoeuvring on a cold engine.

Drivers are often reluctant to park far away from the gate or the facilities. Park where it’s the quietest, even if that means you have to walk 30 seconds more. But avoid it if the lighting is poor. If there’s better lighting, there’s less risk of crime and when anyone’s manoeuvring near you they will have better light, too.

Park away from heavily trafficked areas if you want to reduce the risk of being hit.

Record the licence plate of any trucks parked next to you in case you notice any damage. Take photos when you arrive if you are worried – these will be timestamped and can be used to prove (or infer) the cause of damage.

Invest in a dash cam that will record what’s going on in front of your truck – it can be good for evidence later if someone damages it. Your truck might be damaged while you’re eating or sleeping, and a dashcam can often get enough information for you to contact the company involved in an incident.

Preventing crime

If you suspect a car is following you, pull into a rest area before the one you want to go to and see if they follow you in. If they follow you back out again, this is suspicious.

Take care at truck stops and parking areas. The best-lit, most visible place is likely to be the one at least risk from people lurking in the shadows.

Watch for scammers and robbers. Don’t trust anybody. People approaching your truck telling you that you have a problem should be viewed with caution. Avoid getting out of the truck when it’s dark and there’s no one else around. Don’t let people walk behind you.

Ensure your load is secure and can’t be stolen. Reversing up to a building or fence stops the rear doors being opened.

If you don’t feel safe at a truck stop, see if you can contact the driver of any of the other trucks in the truck stop as you can pair up if you need to leave the truck.

For extra security if you’re sleeping in the truck, wind out the seat belt, wrap it around the arm rest and clip it in so that the door won’t open much. While an attacker could still cut through the belt, they won’t be expecting this and it will give you more time to fight back. You can also use a ratchet strap between the two door handles – this will completely prevent the door from being open, and an assailant would have to break the window and lean over to cut the strap.

Cover your windows. The uncertainty of what’s behind covered windows often means that a criminal will ignore your truck and target another. It also means that if you’re a driver alone, you don’t appear so vulnerable.

Don’t leave your truck running when you’re outside of it. Take the key out and lock the door, even when you’re doing your pre-trip inspection.

If you’re in a team of two drivers, don’t leave the truck alone unless it’s in a very visible place during the day.

Camera systems are available that monitor the front, sides and back of the truck.

A dog is a good deterrent (and good company, too).

In some parts of the world, stowaways are a problem, and there are specific things to watch out for such as people taking the bolts off trailer doors to open them, then resealing them once the people are inside.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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