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How to Drive a Semi-Truck: 8 Tips for Beginners 

A semi-truck is quite different from other commercial vehicles, and you require a separate skill set to drive it. The best way to learn to drive any big vehicle is at a CMV driving school, and then getting hands-on experience.

As fleet management service providers, we often get a very close look at how truckers operate. Based on our observation and communication with them, we have compiled this article with all the tips to help you master the art of semi-truck driving. 

What is a Semi-Truck? 

The terms semis, semi-trailers, tractor-trailers, big rigs, semi-trucks,18-wheelers, semi-tractor trailers, and semi-trailer trucks refer to combination vehicles in North America that consist of a powered truck and one or more semi-trailers.

Typically, a tractor unit has two or three axles; however, models designed to transport heavy-duty commercial items may have up to five axles, some of which are lift axles.

One steering axle, two drive axles, and a forward engine are the most typical semi-truck configurations. The fifth-wheel trailer coupling on most tractor trucks is movable fore and aft, allowing weight distribution adjustment over its rear axle. 

Semi-trucks are great for transporting goods from one place to another. These trucks are either privately owned or managed by fleet service companies. 

Top 8 Semi-Semi Truck Driving Tips for Beginners 

Everyone behind the wheel of a semi-truck should feel like they have a lot to learn. It is essential to learn the fundamentals of operating a semi-truck, but the actual training begins while you’re out on the road. When you start making left turns, you should have mastered the first level. For increased self-assurance, practice with trainers in a yard or on a road. 

Below are the top 8 tips for beginner drivers who know how to drive a semi-truck and are looking forward to starting a career in this field. These tips will help in staying safe on the road as well. 

Check Nearby Area Clearly While Parking or Dropping a Trailer 

As a beginner, you must be cautious while parking your semi-truck or dropping a trailer. Get out of the truck and look as often as you need to check whether the nearby area is clear. Backing a semi-truck can prove challenging. It’s better to take your time and do the job correctly. Check the back properly to park your semi-truck or drop a trailer on the dock, and don’t cause an accident that can be prevented easily. 

Stay Aware of Your Trailer While Changing Lanes 

You should know that your semi-truck is much larger than other vehicles. A semi-truck is approximately 70 feet long, so be aware of your truck trailer while changing lanes to avoid collision. You can follow these tips to change a lane ideally: 

  • Keep checking your side mirrors repeatedly, be careful of blind spots, and move only when you notice enough space for your semi-truck to get over. 
  • Accidents can happen because of other vehicles as well; keep signaling for at least 3-5 seconds to make your move clear to the other drivers. 
  • Make sure to change lanes at least 7-10 seconds while keeping your eyes on the rear mirrors. Take your time. 
  • Don’t make any unpredictable moves on the road. 

As an experienced driver, I always check my surroundings before parking or dropping a trailer, stepping out if necessary for a clear view. When changing lanes, I remember my truck’s length, constantly check mirrors, signal early, and avoid sudden moves. Patience and awareness are crucial to preventing accidents.

-Willaim, 45, Columbus, Semi Truck Driver

Pre and Post Inspection of Semi-truck is a Must 

Doing pre and post-trip inspections is essential to discover potential equipment issues. Identifying issues beforehand helps reduce the risk of equipment malfunctioning or accidents. Pre- and post-trip inspections are the best way to ensure the optimum safety of the drivers. 

The semi-truck drivers must do pre- and post-inspection regularly and record the results in the log sheets. If you find issues with any tracking equipment, you can get help from Matrack. 

  • Drivers should know about their vehicle. Every day at the very least, and whenever a new trailer is picked up, or a 10-hour break is finished, a driver must perform a pre-trip inspection. 
  • Whenever a trailer is dropped, a driver must complete a post-trip inspection at the end of each day.

To ensure you check every part of your tractor-trailer and don’t miss anything, use a checklist for your pre-and post-trip inspections.

Don’t Rage! Stay Calm When You Miss a Turn

You should thoroughly review the turns you must make on your trip route. Stay calm and calm if you miss a turn while driving. Follow these things instead: 

  • Remain calm in such situations and do what is necessary. 
  • To recover, never make a U-turn. You are driving a large vehicle, so taking a U-turn won’t be a good idea.
  • Avoid backing across a road.
  • To get your bearings, find a safe spot off the road (not on the shoulder). You should take the next exit or circle the block.

When you take an exit, pay attention to all the signs. By doing this, you can ensure that you understand how to return to the highway. 

I prioritize thorough pre and post-trip inspections to identify potential issues early, ensuring my safety and that of others. I always use a detailed checklist for these inspections. If I ever miss a turn, I stay calm, avoid making U-turns, and find a safe place to reassess my route, prioritizing safety and efficiency.

-James, 53, Chicago, Semi Truck Driver

Follow the Tire Path to Park Your Truck Perfectly 

Parking a Semi-truck is not easy; even experienced drivers feel pressure while doing this. Aiming your tires for the tire path left by the other semi-trucks in the parking spot is advised.

Doing this every time you park your vehicle will help you learn fast. Your accuracy will improve, and you will feel more confident turning the wheels. While aiming for the tire marks, remember you are unaware of the surroundings. So get out and have a look whenever needed. It is one of the best ways to park your car perfectly. 

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

To keep an eye on everything surrounding your tractor-trailer, be sure to be aware of your blind spots and to check your mirrors every three to five seconds. Maintain attention on the road by

  • Not using your phone while driving. Using mobile phones while driving can cause serious road accidents. 
  • Turning off your radio in poor weather conditions. 
  • Before you go for a drive, set your GPS. If your GPS is not working, get help from the Matrack team. 
  • Finish your meal before you start your drive.

Keep a safe following distance between the car in front of you and yourself for at least seven seconds. 

Never Drive with One Hand 

Many drivers sometimes control the wheel with one hand; this is one of the biggest mistakes a Semi-truck driver can make. Keep both hands on the wheel when operating a tractor-trailer to avoid the wind pushing it in either direction. Keeping both hands firmly in place also facilitates improved control and faster reactions in the event of unexpected vehicle movements or abrupt changes in the road’s conditions. 

For new semi-truck drivers:

  1. Aim your tires at existing tire paths for precise parking.
  2. Always check mirrors frequently and avoid distractions like phones.
  3. Set your GPS before driving, eat beforehand, and maintain a seven-second following distance.
  4. Always use both hands on the wheel for better control and safety.

To park my semi-truck accurately, I follow the tire tracks left by others and always step out to check my surroundings, ensuring safety. I diligently monitor my mirrors, avoid phone distractions, and prep my GPS before setting off. Eating beforehand and maintaining a seven-second gap from the vehicle in front keeps me alert. I believe in driving with both hands on the wheel for superior control and swift reactions to unexpected road conditions.

-John, 55, Los Angeles, Semi Truck Driver

Avoid Swerving 

Swerving should be avoided while driving a semi-truck. Slow down gradually while staying in your lane when faced with a potential hazard, such as an animal darting into the road or a distracted driver cutting you off. Keep your distance. 

Final Words

You are all alone when you drive a Semi-truck truck on the road. You can enjoy the utmost independence in this job and get to watch the scenic beauties of the United States, but sometimes it can be stressful as well. 

New drivers often get excited and take up this job, but they regret their decision once they realize the difficulties. However, it’s not the complete truth, and you will become successful as a Semi-truck driver as soon as you start understanding the art of driving on roads properly and caring for the vehicle. 

The tips above will help you drive your semi-truck safely on the roads, but installed equipment in your vehicle can only help in emergencies. You can install multiple pieces of equipment in a semi-truck for the driver’s safety. However, a driver must ensure that all of them are working correctly. As a fleet owner, you must provide your driver’s safety. Choose Matrack and get comprehensive GPS solutions to protect your semi-trucks and drivers.