Learning how to drive a semi truck with 18 wheels can be an exhilarating and daunting experience. From a wide array of new safety items to learn to acquiring a special license that allows you to operate such a large vehicle, there are plenty of things with which you must familiarize yourself before getting on the road. So if you are looking into starting your new life behind the wheel, here are some things you should know before you turn the key.

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License to Drive

Just like with any other motor vehicle, you must possess a valid driver’s license in order to legally operate an 18-wheeler. But this license is specific–you must possess something called a CDL, or a commercial driver’s license. The CDL allows you to operate a commercial motor vehicle, and while the basic application is outline by the federal government, each state has the right to manipulate the testing and qualifications for acquisition individually. Make sure to understand the rules regarding the obtainment of a CDL, and acquire one before you start your journey down the road.

Longer Than the Average Car

While it is obvious at first glance that an 18-wheeler is longer than the average car, most individuals don’t realize how this affects their ability to drive until they get behind the wheel for the first time. Unlike regular automobiles, 18-wheelers are not fully connected, meaning that you must anticipate the movement of your cargo before you steer the cab in the front.

Basic tasks such as parking and reversing take on a whole new tone when driving an 18-wheeler. For reversing out of a parking spot, driving teachers recommend following tire tracks on the pavement behind you. If no tracks are present, though, it is best to use a partner to guide you, or rely heavily on your mirrors while you slowly move in reverse.

Other Considerations When Driving

There are a host of other considerations to take into account when learning how to drive an 18-wheeler. Because most trucks are heavy and are produced with manual transmissions, drivers must learn a technique called “double clutching” in order to safely shift gears when traveling. Double clutching is different than regular shifting, and should be understood and mastered early on.

Driving in the mountains or in hilly areas with extended inclines can present another obstacle entirely. Because brakes heat up when being used continuously, they can begin to wear or even malfunction  after prolonged use. Driving in mountainous areas will inevitably cause a driver to employ the brakes often. If they heat up too much, though, they may begin to wear thin, at which point in time they can fail to adequately stop the vehicle in motion. Trucker drivers must be prepared for this at all times, and must understand the proper procedure for how to solve this problem.

Getting Behind the Wheel

While starting to learn how to operate an 18-wheeler truck may be an exciting prospect, there is an abundance of rules and safety regulations you must learn before beginning. Make sure to fully understand all applicable information before turning the keys and starting off down the road.

Gerald Hampton is a freelance writer and blogger based in San Antonio, Texas who frequently contributes articles on trucking, transportation, 18-wheelers, the shipping industry and other associated topics; to learn more about the trucking business and 18-wheelers visit Next Exit Logistics.

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