Science and driving.
Scientists and big truck drivers.
Would you believe me if I told you they have more in common than you’d think?
For one, many outside these professions believe they’re a bunch of know-it-alls.
But do they really know it all?
Looking at scientists, did you know despite working for the past 250 years, taxonomists don’t know how many species live on Earth? Or that astronomers have no clue of how many planets are in our solar system.
As for truck drivers, veterans of the road know that they must keep up with the rapid rate of change in the industry. Believing you’re a know-it-all in the haulage industry is the quickest way to a hefty fine, jail or even death.
This may come as a shock to other road users who assume all truck drivers are irresponsible nuts. How else can they explain why drivers appear to (needlessly):
- Park on the interstate ramps at night,
- Run red lights,
- Block traffic on the highway by riding next to each other.
But as absurd as these behaviors may seem, there are reasons behind them.
But not all scientists are ‘clueless’. While astronomers and taxonomists may still be looking for answers, neuroscientists have developed ways to help us do our jobs better.
Truck drivers (especially rookies) can get overwhelmed by the task of safely driving a 33,000+ pound vehicle. This can lead to nervousness and panic, which are precursors for accidents.
In this article, we aim to identify scientifically backed methods of tackling the major pressures of big rig driving.
In It to Win It: For many drivers, the first few months behind the wheel are tough. There are new regulations to stay aware of, road users that seem to be out to test your patience, vehicles that can break down at any time etc.
It’s no wonder some driving schools report that up to 90% of students don’t finish training.
But do you know you’re already a number of steps ahead of the game?
A key predictor of success is asking yourself – “how long are you going to be doing this?” By taking the first step of getting professional CDL training, you’re committing to driving for the long haul.
Based on the results from an experiment documented in his bestselling book, The Talent Code, author Dan Coyle found that committing to learning a skill, in advance, makes all the difference between success and failure.
So you’re in it to win it.
But what happens when the going gets tough? And you have to deal with fines for violations, the constant lack of sleep, annoying drivers, how do you keep going?
Developing Grit: Psychologists have identified the trait that keeps us plugging away, focused on the end goal ; they call it grit.
You may have heard of it used in context of the Special Forces but we can all learn a thing or two about how to develop it in our lives. I’ll let professor Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book, Grit: The Power Of Passion And Perseverance, identify the main elements to help us get the inner strength needed to succeed.
- She notes that it’s hard to stick with something over the long haul if you don’t care about it, so pursue what interests you. It’s easier and more enjoyable to commit to something you are passionate about.
- The next step is practice. Practice and more practice is the only way to develop a skill. From Professor Duckworth’s book, she identifies that it helps if you believe the work you do matters and is linked to the well-being of others. Thinking about how what you do helps others and gives you an empowering sense of purpose.
Hit the Calm Button: With passion and purpose in place, how do you stay calm and go with the flow? It’s easy to just say remain calm but how can science help dispel stress and reset to calm within minutes?
Here are 2 easy ways backed by neuroscience :
- Make a conscious, physical effort to relax. Tensing up your muscles then relaxing them sends a signal to the brain that you’re not stressed anymore and forces it to calm down.
In the book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience To Reverse The Course Of Depression, author Alex Korb suggests the following exercise:
To help your brain to relax your muscles, it can be helpful to clench them first. Flex a tight muscle and hold for a few seconds. Now exhale with a sigh. Some of the muscles where this has the greatest impact include those in your face, hands and stomach.
- If you don’t want to scare people around you by pulling funny faces, you can take slow, deep breaths. Breathe in for a count of 6. Pause then exhale slowly for another count of 6.
If deep breathing can help Navy Seal recruits improve their passing rates by almost 10%, it can work for the rest of us as well.
Whilst at the control of a big rig, it’s vital that you try to the calmest person in a situation as your actions have far reaching consequences.
But consider this scenario: you’re cresting a hill at 60 mph on a rainy highway and you suddenly come up a gridlock, what do you do?
Slam the brakes? Head for the shoulder? You see, it’s relatively easy to stay calm in regular day-to-day activities, but when faced with a sudden situation, we default to panic mode.
Avoid Panic. Just Focus : To get through situations like this, we’ll take a few tips from a bomb disposal expert, a Navy EOD team leader, who regularly disarms underwater torpedos, biological weapons etc.
When faced with a high pressure situation, the most important thing is to avoid panic as it will impair your judgment and reaction.
You can do this by looking at the situation objectively. Think about a time you were in a similar situation and remember how you resolved it. By leveraging your prior experience/the experiences of others (what you learned during training), your brain can begin to understand what appears to be an impossible scenario. Seeing it as just another version of a problem you’ve had before puts you back in control of the situation.
The secret to staying in control is to focus and knowing the next step. If you allow your brain to start speculating, it will quickly lead to the downward spiral of panic.
The secret to beating that?
Simply decide what you need to do next.
An apt example of this is the age old question: why do many trucks run red lights?
It’s hard to believe but many think commercial truck drivers run through lights because they can’t be bothered to waste time at a red light.
That’s not true.
The timing on stop lights doesn’t allow enough time for a fully loaded truck to stop. When big truck drivers see a yellow, they immediately have to gauge the distance and figure out if they can stop in time. If they can’t, they just have to go through the light.
Their stopping distance is impacted by road conditions, whether they are loaded or not, condition of brakes/tires, speed etc. Instances like these are why we advocate carrying out regular PM at Perfit Computer. At the ‘point of no return’, drivers simply can’t give in to fear or confusion, a decision has to be made.
To remain calm, even under pressure, you need to stay engaged. Avoid highway hypnosis and distracted or impaired driving.
Part of staying engaged (and in control) as a fleet manager and driver includes ensuring your vehicle remains in top condition. For drivers, a DVIR shouldn’t be seen as yet another task to be accomplished but as a key component in carrying out their duties safely.
For fleet managers, why wait till you receive the news that your truck had an accident due to worn brake pads, before taking action? And being busy simply isn’t an excuse.
To ensure your compulsory maintenance tasks aren’t missed, Perfit Computer, working with drivers and fleet managers, developed the EMDECS fleet management software. Designed to keep you on top of your PM schedule, increase your efficiency & manage assets better, you can say it helps keep you calm.
If you want to have one less thing to worry about, you should take EMDECS for a spin.