Gary Whistler has more driver’s safety credentials than you can shake a traffic cone at. He’s also an avid truck camper with excellent tips on truck camper driving safety.
To state that Gary Whistler is qualified to write an article about driving truck camper safety is an almost ridiculous understatement. For starters, Gary is a retired Certified Director of Safety (CDS), a retired Certified Safety Supervisor (CSS), and a retired professional truck driver with over two-million accident-free miles over a fifty-year career.
Still not satisfied? Well, Gary served on the Board of directors for the Professional Truck Driver Institute, and was a member for on-site evaluation teams for on-site driver training facilities. He served on the Board of Directors for Pennsylvania Motor Truck Safety Management Council, and on the Advisory Council for the North American Transportation Management Institute.
Still thinking this guy might not be up to snuff? Okay, there’s more. Gary served on the Truck Driving Championship Committee for Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, and is the past President of the South Central Chapter of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association. Gary was even presented with the Safety Director of the Year Award for Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association in 2003.
Did we mention he’s also a truck camper owner? Oh, now that got our attention.
At the 2013 Gettysburg North-East Jamboree this past September, Gary held a well attended Driver’s Safety seminar with tips on how to safely operate our truck campers while driving. It was like Drivers Ed, only for truck campers.
Above: Cinda and Gary Whistler at the Gettysburg Jamboree
Truck Camper Driving Safety 101: The Basics
by Gary Whistler
Above: Make a habit about walking around your rig and doing inspections
Before leaving for a camping trip, do a pre-trip walk around your truck and camper the same way each time. Make this pre-trip walk around a habit.
On the outside, inspect your windshield wipers, check for tire wear, and check the tire pressure. Open the truck hood and make sure everything looks right.
Once your truck and camper are connected via the umbilical cord, check your headlights, high and low beams, tail lights, brake lights, four-way caution lights, and turn signals. Don’t forget to reposition your mirrors.
Check your camper’s turnbuckles to make sure they are tensioned and connected properly. Also check for open roof vents, open windows, and raised television antennas. Inside your truck and camper check that all drawers, cabinet latches, and bathroom doors are secured. Any loose items should also be put away and secured.
Above: Gary and Cinda tow a utility trailer
If you are towing, make sure your cargo is secure, and check the lights and brakes on your trailer. There have been many excellent seminars on proper towing equipment such as what class hitch, weight distribution, sway bars, etc. If you are towing, or thinking about towing, be sure you have a nice working understanding of the towing process before hooking to a trailer of any kind.
Avoiding Common Accidents
The most frequent types of accidents are lane change accidents and backing accidents.
To avoid causing these types of accidents, make sure you properly adjust your mirrors prior to driving your rig. While seated in the driver’s seat, find a natural sitting position and find where your blind spots are. Then adjust the side mirrors until these blind spots are mitigated as much as possible. Most trucks have extendable mirrors. Use this feature as it adds a huge safety advantage with your camper on board.
It’s likely that you won’t be able to eliminate all blind spots with your mirrors. However, knowing where your blind spots are will help you to avoid lane change and backing accidents. A typical blind spot can exist from the back of the driver’s or passenger’s door to the rear axle.
When your camper is mounted on your truck, you need to adjust your mirrors so you see just the corner of your camper in your right and left side mirrors. If you have your mirrors adjusted correctly, you will know that someone is passing you. I look in my mirrors approximately every five seconds when I’m driving to make sure that I know what’s going on around the rig. Adjust them and know how to use them. Yes, it is really that important.
When driving on a highway, entrance lanes and ramps can be an issue. When driving in a congested area, I suggest avoiding the right lane unless you are entering or exiting the highway. Stay in the middle lane and go with the flow of traffic.
The Danger of Fatigue
It’s not rocket science that people get tired when driving long distances. You also get fatigued when you face extended work hours, stressful family issues, worry over health concerns, eat the wrong foods, or take certain medications.
These same factors can also have a direct impact on the quality and quantity of our sleep patterns making a driver even more fatigued.
Being fatigued while driving is very dangerous because it slows reaction time to potential hazards, hinders cognitive function and judgement ability, and dramatically increases the likelihood of falling asleep behind the wheel.
Be aware of the indicators of fatigued driving including yawning, heavy eyes, and blurred vision. Recognize these symptoms and don’t drive when you’re tired.
I also recommend avoiding driving when the human body is naturally most drowsy; between 12:00am and 6:00am. The middle of the afternoon, or right after lunch, is another time to pay attention to fatigue. This is referred to as our “Circadian Rhythm”. Go ahead and Google it. It happens to many of us two times in twenty four hours. For others it only happens one time.
If you’re tired, pull over and take a nap in your truck camper. That’s one of the biggest benefits of having a truck camper; you have your own bed, ready for rest, at any time.
The Importance of Seat Belts
I have heard many excuses as to why people won’t wear seat belts. Folks have told me that seat belts are too uncomfortable, that they don’t really work, that they’re not driving that far, that they won’t be driving too fast, that the seat belt might trap them, that they’ll brace themselves, or that the air bags will save them.
People often believe that accidents happen to other people and that they don’t need seat belts because they’re good drivers.
Well, I’ve driven over two-million miles and I wear a seat belt everywhere I go. In my car I require that everyone wears a seat belt. They’re that important.
Please make sure you put your seat belt on properly. Both straps should be snug against the body to transfer the energy of an accident to the right areas as safely as possible. Always untangle a rolled up seat belt and wear them correctly.
Backing Up Your Rig
I recommend practicing backing your truck camper in an open parking lot to learn how the rig behaves in reverse, and to gain confidence when backing up your rig.
I also recommend practicing with your spotter. Specifically, practice backing up your rig from different angles into open parking spaces. You can use cones to represent trees.
This is also an excellent opportunity to practice the GOAL method: Get Out And Look. This means the driver and spotter should always “get out and look” before backing into an area with trees or other potential hazards.
Above: Cinda showing the distance Gary has to back up
It’s also a good idea to work out your spotter’s hand signals and rehearse them ahead of time. In addition to hand signals, it’s important for spotters to show the amount of space between the rig and an object by showing that amount of space with their hands. It’s very difficult for a driver to have depth perception when backing up a rig.
Above: Cinda and Gary’s signal for stop
The spotter also needs to make sure they are seen by the driver at all times. When backing up the rig, the spotter actually has more responsibility and control than the driver.
Above: Gary and Cinda’s rig in a campsite at Tall Pines Harbor Campground
And don’t forget to look up for any tree limbs or other potential issues.
Post Accident Action Plan
It’s often the second and third impact that hurts and kills. After the initial impact, you could be thrown into another vehicle or fixed object, such as the dashboard, steering wheel, or unsecured stuff inside a truck cab can be thrown aggressively. That can, and will, injure you quickly. In the moments after an accident, be acutely aware of other traffic.
Once the accident scene is secured, call the police by dialing 911 and report the accident, if necessary. If someone is injured, call 911 immediately.
If the accident scene is safe to walk around, take pictures of the accident scene. These pictures should include damage to vehicles and property and road conditions including skid marks, debris, the position of involved vehicles, identifiable location signs, intersections, and landmarks. Never put yourself at risk to take a photo, and always remember, never turn your back to traffic. Let me repeat that point; never turn your back on traffic.
Write down the names, phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses of everyone involved in the accident. Document the year, make, and model of the vehicles involved. Gather their insurance company name, policy numbers, and phone numbers and take clear photographs of the insurance cards and license plates.
It’s also good practice to document the police department, police report number, police phone number, officer names, and badge numbers. Also request a copy of the police accident report.
If a potential witness is not coming forward with a statement, photograph their license plate. With that information, you will be able to contact them later, if needed.