Back Away From Trouble – 7 Tips for Backing Up Your Truck Safely

Maroon truck backed up

Imagine being in your truck. It’s raining and late. You have a delivery early in the morning, and you’re tired. 

You’ve driven all day, only to arrive at a small unlit parking lot where your GPS has said this is location for the receiver.  You look down the long driveway and see a few trailers backed against the wall of the building. This MUST be where they receive their deliveries so you begin to pull in. 

Swinging wide to avoid the fence, you and your 70-foot-long vehicle slowly advance towards your parking spot for the evening.  As you inch closer, you can see there is only one slot available, and it’s between two trailers. 

The ground slopes down 3-4 feet to meet the wall of the building, and you see a square garage style door about 4 feet of the ground.  If you perform this backing effectively, you’ll be in the sleeper berth asleep in 10 minutes; but if you fail, you’ll be dealing with paperwork, pictures, dispatch, and possibly the police for the next two to three hours. 

Each time you drive in reverse, those complications are a real possibility. This example illustrates why it’s so important to get it right… every time.

1. G.O.A.L.

Get Out And Look is best advice any driver can adhere to.  Visibility is limited in the cab of that truck, so if you can’t see, Get Out And Look.

Some trucks actually put this slogan as a decal on their rear view mirrors. Visual inspection of your truck and the situation from the ground gives the driver a perspective they can’t see from the seat.

Getting out to look allows for the opportunity to protect those in the vicinity as well. Accidents cost the company money and can cost the driver their job for something that is almost always preventable.

2. Carry a Flashlight.

Black flashlight shining light on the ground
Use a flashlight to guide you.

Using your mirrors to see at night can be difficult.  With a lack of ambient light, you’ll be lucky if you can see the corner of that trailer you are backing around. 

When you GOAL (get out and look), lay the flashlight on the ground at the end of the trailer. 

Use the light as a marker to guide your trailer around other peoples’ equipment.  This is a handy trick that works! 

But don’t forget to pick the flashlight back up once you’ve parked at the dock or the next time may not be so easy….

 3. Teams Work Together.

 While the responsibility for a backing accident falls on the driver behind the wheel, any delay affects both drivers.  A team can back into a difficult space much easier than a single driver if they learn one major skill: Communication. 

FRS (Family Radio Service) radios are cheap, and can make the job of a team very easy.  The driver can operate the vehicle while the other teammate stands at the rear of the vehicle and communicates in real time using a handheld radio.  

That second set of eyes can avoid a costly incident and save a massive amount of time.  In addition, the peaceful sleep that both drivers can get while waiting for the customer to open will only aid in the safe operation of the vehicle. 

4. Beware of Help from Non-Drivers.

Most people who work at a facility see trucks backing in every day. If their docks are difficult to navigate, they watch drivers struggle day in and day out trying to successfully back their equipment into the docking area. 

These employees want to help, but be careful in accepting their assistance. Ultimately, if you are the driver, the liability is on you!

People that offer help may not know how to spot a potential mistake. The best approach if you have someone on the ground is to place them where you can see them. Ask them to watch a specific point of concern and ensure you don’t hit it. This way, you can make sure they don’t get hurt, and you can utilize their extra set of eyes.

5. Remember Your Moves.

A huge key to backing up in a small area is to remember each move you make.  If you remember all the moves you have done to get into a situation, you can always do those moves in reverse. This tip can get you out of a jam quickly.

If you find that you don’t have the room required to back in, you can “reset” the situation by reversing the moves you made. This will put the truck back to where you started, and then you can start over by making the adjustments you need to make to be successful. This advice can often be used in life as well.

6. Setup Leads to Success.

 One major part of backing up is how you set up prior to placing the truck in reverse.  When you first pull up, the angle at which you set up your truck will decide how difficult it is to maneuver the truck into the “hole”. 

Each backing maneuver is different, and the amount of space needed will vary.  Experience teaches the new driver what is the best setup for each backing requirement.

That experience comes from watching other drivers. But it also comes from making mistakes. These mistakes are inevitable and will frustrate you as a new driver. Sometimes, small mistakes can cause a backing accident just from the frustration, which leads into the next point…

7. Just Stay Calm.

 Frustration and lack of focus cause accidents.  The new driver needs to find ways to cope with the stress that can come with maneuvering a huge vehicle around obstacles. When everything seems to be going wrong and nothing seems to be working, it’s time to take a break.

Get out of the truck. Walk around and use this time to collect your thoughts.  The principles of “G.O.A.L.” also have the secondary use as a stress reliever.

Getting out gives the driver the opportunity to face the problem from a different angle and allows for the stress to subside.  Utilize this technique, and you’ll find that backing is not only less stressful, but after a while, it might actually be enjoyable!


About The Author
Contributor: William Mason (Current CDL Instructor and former truck driver with 20+ years of experience).