Backing Up Tractor-Trailer Rigs

Backing a big rig looks pretty straight forward, but the details can quickly get you into trouble. It takes patience, practice, and good planning to safely execute most backing maneuvers. In this topic, we will describe the planning and some of the safety considerations, but you will be the one who has to evaluate you situation and make it all happen, accident free.

Backing Accidents

Although you can not control other peoples actions, you can focus and concentrate on the backing effort, and this will help you to recognize a problem as quickly as it develops. The tips in this section will not prevent backing accidents, but they will help you to reduce the possibility of backing accidents.

Which parts of the rig are typically involved in backing accidents?

Right side - This is pretty obvious because many backing situations position the tractor so that you cannot see the right side of the trailer. Most drivers will get out of the cab to check on the left side (driver's side) of the rig, but will not go that extra distance to get out and go around to the right (passenger's) side of the rig to check.

At the top - A surprising number of backing accidents involve the top of the trailer striking an overhang, or getting tangled up with wires or building eves. It is a common mistake to look around at eye level when surveying a backing location. Remember to take a look up as high as the trailer top before deciding the chance for success.

At the rear - Sometimes you can misjudge the distance and back into something sooner than you expect. You can also be duped if something behind you moves while you are backing. You can prevent both situations by getting out of the cab to check and recheck if conditions are tight.

Backing Accident Prevention Tips

  • Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Turn off the radio and CB, and get totally focused with the backing maneuver.
  • Always check out the area you are backing into before you begin backing.
  • Use your mirrors properly. You may have to adjust them for this backing situation. Take a moment and adjust as required.
  • Keep you body inside while the rig is in motion. It is tempting to hang out the door to get a better look, but this looses the right mirror because the angle changes, and places yourself in physical danger if you get crushed by something you didn't see. It is also very hard to step on the brake quickly while you are hanging out the door.
  • Keep your right foot off the throttle, instead keep it over the brake pedal. Loaded rigs usually don't need throttle to back, therefore, that right foot can remain poised to jam on the brakes quickly if you see a problem developing in the mirrors.
  • When backing across city and suburban streets, many motorists don't understand or recognize what is happening until they get right up on you. Most motorists are slow to recognize an uncommon situation. Some will also try to dart around you, when there clearly isn't safe room to pass. Any method you can use to draw attention to you backing across the street will help.

Steering in Reverse

Jacking the Tractor - Turning the tractor so it is out of line with the trailer, causes the trailer to begin its turn. To start jacking the tractor, turn the top of the steering wheel in the direction opposite of the direction that you want the trailer to go.

Chase the Trailer - After the tractor is jacked, keep the tractor/trailer angle for the desired rate of turn by chasing the trailer to keep the trailer rate of turn as desired.

Straightening - Once the trailer turning is no longer required, you straighten the tractor so it lines up with the trailer. Then you chase the trailer straight back.

Prepositioning and Backing

If you are backing to a dock, open and secure your trailer doors before backing into the hole (restricted backing destination). Always get out and inspect the hole for tire damaging debris and other obstacles such as overhangs.

Straight Back Preposition - This is the easiest and safest way to back your rig. Always choose this option when it is available. It provides clear view in both mirrors. As you slowly pass the hole, steer hard at right angle to the hole which will take your truck away from the hole until your rig straightens out in front of the hole. Now back up straight and into the hole. As you approach the hole, you should get out and make sure that you are lined up properly.

Clear-side Preposition - Clear side refers to situations where you maintain a clear view in your left mirror while backing. This is your most common backing situation and is second choice to straight backing. Drive past the hole and allow clearance on the right side of the rig for the trailer to jack out. Now back up, jacking the tractor by turning the top of the wheel right and then chase the trailer into the hole.

Blind-side Preposition - Blind side refers to situations where you can only maintain a limited view in your right mirror while backing. This is the most dangerous and most difficult backing choice. Use the same steps as clear side backing. The only difference is that it is harder to see what you are doing. As you back into the hole, get out a few times to check on things. This is much easier than filling out accident reports and repairing damaged trailers and rammed objects.

Docking in the Hole

Use the best prepositioning above for the circumstances at hand. If you must dock from a blind side position, get someone on the ground to help when possible. Most people who work in your profession know how hard it is to back from the blind side, and will be glad to help. Just make sure you can see and hear them at all times. Now open the trailer doors, back into the hole, and stop short of the dock. Get out, walk back and inspect behind the trailer yourself, and estimate the remaining distance. Then back easily until the trailer touches the dock.

Centered, straight and easy is how the trailer should land on the dock. Just make it happen! Many docks require chocking of the wheels, and for good reason. As a fork lift moves in and out of your trailer, the start and stop forces try to move your trailer back and forth. Imagine if your trailer moved out a foot or so, and someone standing there falls into the crack, and then the trailer moves back against the dock and crushes their leg or worse. Or imagine if the ramp falls off the dock while the fork lift is backing out of the trailer, and the fork lift falls between the loading dock and the trailer. Always make sure that your parking brakes are set as soon as you dock. And if chocking is a dock requirement, make sure that you comply.

Some docks have a locking arm which attaches to the trailer and prevents it from moving while the fork lift works inside.

Parallel Parking

Parallel curb parking is a difficult maneuver and should be avoided when possible. It uses the blind-side backing procedures described above. The wheel base of both your tractor and trailer determine the parallel parking difficulty. Shorter tractors and/or trailers are usually easier to handle, and require less space to maneuver. You will most likely have to pull forward and adjust your position a time or two before jacking in successfully.

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