Do’s & Don’ts: Advice from a Lifelong Trucker
When someone buys an RV, they are usually given resources or advice for driving a motorhome or tow vehicle and how to be prepared; but, unless you are a chauffeur or (in some states) haul more than 26,000 lbs., there is no requirement for licensure.
For the most part, people who own RVs are knowledgeable about how to drive them and responsible in doing so. However, you can never know too much about operating an automobile and how to take care of it.
Don Hayden is President and Owner of M&M Cartage. M&M Cartage is a family owned trucking company in Louisville, Kentucky. This year they celebrate its 50th anniversary. I sat with Don and picked his brain about large vehicle safety and maintenance.
What started out as a small air-freight operation in 1972 has since grown into a regional general freight company with 375 employees, 280 trucks, and 3 offsite terminals in Michigan, Tennessee, and Ohio. These days, Don mostly operates the business out of Louisville, not regularly driving freight, but his knowledge and experience is far-reaching and I want to share some of it with you.
Mitch: What’s your road song?
Don: (with no hesitation) Bruce Springsteen – The Promised Land
M: What’s the par speed you want to limit yourself to?
D: Whatever is on the signs along the road – you want to be totally in control. Regardless of the conditions, whether it’s rainy, bad weather, dark, light, dry, traffic, whatever.
M: As far as licenses for commercial truck drivers, is there one that you would recommend for RVers?
D: If someone came to me saying “I don’t have experience, where can I go, what kind of license should I get?” I would coach them on our rules and regulations in the industry and why they’re good, and also DOT physical testing and screening – the last thing you want is someone that’s on the verge of having a stroke or going into a diabetic coma while they’re operating a 80,000 pound vehicle. You want them to be physically able to handle that. So if they had a serious health condition, before they buy that big Provost, I’d tell them they might want to reconsider.
As far as licenses, you should look at Class B; it’s not for combination vehicles, it’s for a straight truck or bus – it’s the most applicable. At minimum, it would be great to attain a Class B manual and study it like you’re taking the exam.
I would not recommend an RVer to go through the process for a CDL; if you do that, you’re subject to liability and regulations like physicals and drug/alcohol testing, there’s a lot to that. There is a lot of valuable knowledge to be gained from those manuals.
M: What are some dangerous common mistakes that can be easily fixed, and are there rules of thumb to avoid them?
D: I can’t stress how important it is to do a very thorough pre-trip inspection, and even post-trip. From my experience on the commercial side, I walk around take a really thorough look at everything that is latched, secured, whatever cargo is there, just every window and latch and button I can find. Make sure you inspect the trailer lights and the vehicle’s connection to them, you just can’t check that stuff enough before you head out. Also, under-inflated tires cause so many problems, and it’s such an easy thing to fix. Some people will opt for cheaper tires, but even when I’m towing my boat, the more plies the better. You cannot forget to check the tire pressure every time you hit the road.
On the CDL side, we are required to do a pre and post trip inspection on every vehicle and document that we’ve done so. Our drivers have a tablet that shows them what needs to be inspected. If you did a study on what most CDL drivers fail their final test on, it’s the vehicle inspection, by far. It’s usually something small, but that’s how important the industry sees it.
From additional anecdotal research on internet forums, in most cases, seasoned truckers will tell you that most RV drivers are responsible and usually “have it together” for lack of a better term. However, one irresponsible driver is one too many. The larger your vehicle is, your margin for error grows slim, and the consequences of an accident can be much worse and further-reaching than having a regular automobile accident.
For more information specifically geared towards RV driving and operation, start here at FMCA’s website.