When Things Go Wrong

If you drive a truck—whether it’s your first day behind the wheel or you’ve been driving for years—you work in an environment where things can go wrong in the blink of an eye. Sometimes it’s minor. And sometimes it can be catastrophic to you, your business or others. There are the rare few who drive an entire career without so much as a blown tire. I sure wish I could be counted as one of them, but wouldn’t we all.

Personally, I’ve felt the hand of Lady Luck on my shoulder many times, and also been in a few bad situations where she was nowhere to be found. I actually wrote this post under the latter circumstances. I was recently down for repairs to my truck due to an unfortunate incident in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area. The tire on a trailer hauling a large spool of cable broke off ahead of me. And I really should give Lady Luck some credit—no one was coming in the opposing lanes on U.S. 190 when the tire came bouncing and flying at my truck. I’ve watched the footage on my dashcam countless times and there was barely more than 1 second between the time the tire/rim/hub broke loose from the trailer and the time it impacted my truck. Once again, in the blink of an eye, life changed.

Fortunately, I was able to evade hard to the left and was struck across the right front of my truck including the edge of the windshield. Had there been oncoming traffic my previous article would likely have been my last. But as it worked out I managed to escape injury. Unfortunately my truck didn’t fare quite so well. The dealership gave me an estimate of 7-10 days for the repair job. Since I had been out on the road for 2 months I decided to take a rental car home for some family time while my truck was being repaired. So much for positive thinking. In the end, it took a full 31 days of downtime to complete the repairs. A month with no pay is a tough pill to swallow. In my case, I could have accepted a loaner truck from Crete and continued driving, but I was only expecting a 7-10 day turnaround for the repair, and for that amount of time, I felt the right choice was just to take time off and relax a bit. I made the choice and the consequences are all mine.

But the message of this article isn’t so much what happened to me. It’s about handling the moment when the incident has just occurred and the stress, adrenaline and emotions are all hitting you at once. There are some things a driver should do in these first few minutes that can have a profound impact on the outcome of the incident.

Having been in a few bad scrapes including being twisted and tossed off the highway by a small tornado, being rear-ended 3 times by passenger vehicles and my most recent incident—I have learned through experience that being as calm as possible before engaging with others can help resolve the situation in a professional manner. Be honest from the beginning with yourself—no amount of second-guessing your actions or those of others will change the outcome of the incident. The only thing you can influence is how things will proceed moving forward.

Once you have come to as safe a stop as possible set your brakes and take a minute to assess yourself. Are you ok physically or are you in need of medical attention? If you pass that test stop and take some deep slow breaths. Your pulse is racing, emotions are running high and your body is being flooded with adrenaline. This isn’t the optimal condition to start the process of dealing with the aftermath of an incident. If someone approaches you in a combative manner, remain in your truck and wait for law enforcement to arrive. If others involved are acting in a reasonable manner, then begin the post-accident process.

Make sure local law enforcement has been notified. While waiting for officers to arrive you’ll probably have some time to notify Crete/Shaffer/Hunt to let them know that there has been an incident/accident. Inform them that you will call them back as soon as you have completed the post-accident process. Set out your emergency triangles if possible and make sure your flashers are turned on. Grab your cell phone or accident kit camera and take a full walk around the scene to document damage to your vehicle, any other vehicles or property damage. Look at the surrounding area for road signs, speed limit signs, skid marks, crossroads and any other visible evidence that can help to explain what has occurred.

Take pictures of EVERYTHING! Make sure you get photos of license plates of all vehicles involved. When you exchange information with others involved take pictures of drivers licenses, insurance cards and registrations. Most important of all, when speaking to any other involved parties, focus on gathering the necessary information. NEVER say “I’m sorry” regardless of whom was at fault. That could be used in court as an admission of guilt on your part. Stay professional and keep any personal feelings in check. Gather information with your camera and get statements from witnesses in writing if possible or ask them to record a video statement (and record yourself asking their permission).

If you have a dashcam review video of the incident before writing your statement for law enforcement. Take your time and carefully review your statement. Photograph it for your records. Also show the dashcam footage to the investigating officer after writing your version of the event. Make sure you ask the officer for the report number and a business card with their name, badge number and phone number. Photograph it for your records.

The next step is to determine if your truck is drivable. You may want to ask the officers if they consider your truck safe to drive. If you need to be towed call break down and get the ball rolling. In my recent incident with the tire hitting the edge of my windshield I asked the officers where the local Freightliner dealer was—and if they considered my vehicle safe enough to proceed about 25 miles to the dealership. They gave me the go-ahead to drive to the dealership, saving Crete a rather stiff towing bill since the incident occurred on Labor Day.

Before leaving call the Crete Safety Accident Hotline to report the accident and provide all the information they request. This is where photographs of the scene and documents are helpful. Finally, don’t forget to call your asset manager to give them a final update on your situation.

If you’re cleared to drive (either to a repair facility or to deliver your load) I recommend finding a place to park and take a full break. In an accident your mind and body go through a lot of stress with a heavy dose of adrenaline. While you may feel hyper-alert at the moment, once the adrenaline wears off, there will be a physical, mental and possibly emotional crash from all the energy you have been burning. Let’s be honest, that’s not conducive to safe driving in the short term. Park your truck and get a motel room if possible. Get a shower and a meal. But most importantly get some rest. You may be in far more need of it than you realize. Be proactive about your own safety. Contact Crete/Shaffer/Hunt and if you need to alter a delivery appointment put the ball in their court. Your safety has to come first EVERY TIME.

The load will get there when it gets there. But get it there safely. Accidents can and do happen. They can happen to you on your first day of driving or your last, and any day in between. How we deal with life during the worst of times is just as—if not more—important than how we deal with life in the best of times.