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What should you do when your truck breaks down?

Even the best-maintained trucks will occasionally strike a problem that means they can’t proceed any further. Most commonly this will be a flat tyre. A driver and the company they work for must have a plan that meets the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to keep both the driver and other road users safe while the truck is disabled. It’s also important to minimise the disruption to traffic as this can create additional accidents and hazards, as well as costing the economy, preventing emergency services from doing their job, etc.

Planning for a truck breakdown

Ensure that you have contacts for truck emergency heavy haulage, tyre repair and breakdown servicing in your glovebox. You need to know whether it’s your company’s preference to organise this if you are able to contact them, however, you might break down at night and would then need to organise the breakdown services yourself. Know whether you are allowed to attempt certain types of repairs or whether you must wait for assistance.

You will need appropriate personal protective equipment and other safety gear ready in your truck. The absolute minimum is a high visibility jacket, a torch and two emergency triangles. It’s recommended to have some chocks, a blanket and some tools.

If you regularly carry the same type of load on the same routes, then you should be aware of places where you can safely stop and where there are places you can seek help.

Your head office or dispatcher should have a plan to deal with potential issues with work hours and they will need a process for notifying clients of delays to freight. These delays can cause serious costs downstream. For example, at your delivery point they may have forklift operators waiting to unload you and several other smaller trucks waiting to take part loads to other clients who will need to be notified.

If your truck breaks down

Indicate in the direction you need to move. Don’t use your hazard warning lights yet because you will confuse motorists following you. Move your truck off the road as far as you can but beware of soft verges which might give way and cause your truck to sink on one side and roll over. If you can get to the left of the road this is best, but if you are in the right-hand lane of a motorway or dual carriageway and can’t, move as far to the right as possible. Unless it’s brake failure, you might be able to coast or limp along until you see a suitable parking space; if it is brake failure then you need to use engine braking to bring your truck to a stop safely as soon as possible.

Once you have stopped, put your hazard warning lights on and remember to turn off your high beam lights if you are parking at night. If you are parked on a slope, chock your wheels.

If your breakdown has caused a serious hazard back along the road, e.g. a tyre has delaminated or you have dropped a load of fluid that will be dangerous (especially to motorcyclists) call 111 immediately and then contact your dispatcher or the company you are working for. If the situation is not life-threatening but you need assistance then you can call *555 from your cellphone.

If you have cellphone coverage you can open Google maps, tap and hold on your location, click Share and you can send your exact coordinates via a number of methods, e.g. Messenger, Whatsapp, Gmail, etc.

If there is no cellphone coverage use your CB radio to report it to another driver, giving them as accurate details as possible as to your location, your truck’s details and your company details. They should contact both the police and your company. If you can’t raise anyone on the CB radio, stop a passing motorist and ask them to help. Writing down the details to give to them will be more reliable.

Exit your truck on the side away from traffic, e.g. the left if you are parked on the left-hand side of the road. Make sure you’re wearing your PPE.

Take your warning triangles and place one around 200m behind your truck (unless you’ve stopped on the hard shoulder of a motorway) and one around 200m ahead of your truck. Usually, you would place the one behind first if you are parked on the left. If there are high winds you may want to use something to help keep the warning triangles upright.

Sensitive or dangerous loads

If you are carrying livestock and the breakdown could cause animal welfare issues you will need a plan to deal with it. If you are carrying chilled goods and the chiller unit has failed, make your dispatcher aware so that they can advise the client. If you are carrying dangerous chemicals, you may need to let emergency services know.

Keeping yourself safe

Stay off the road unless you have to direct traffic because your truck is in an awkward position. If the weather is cold, ensure you wear enough to keep yourself warm both inside and outside the cab. If it’s nighttime and visibility is low, assume other drivers cannot see you.

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Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

Posted in Advice, Fleet
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