Pre-trip inspections should include a driver’s state of mind

It’s no secret that trucking can be a stressful career. Just-in-Time delivery schedules, Hours of Service regulations, bad weather and traffic jams often seem to conspire against those who work behind the wheel. To compound matters, the challenges of every workday can build on the stresses of everyday life, whether they relate to an argument with a spouse or financial troubles.

Each of these stresses can play a role in highway safety.

The hours spent in a driver’s seat simply leave plenty of time to dwell on a wide array of issues, making it difficult to focus on anything else – especially when the feelings explode into anger.

During one defensive driving seminar, for example, I approached a driver who had been cut off earlier in the day and asked him to describe the incident. He covered every detail from the red Suburban and its licence plate to the driver who was talking into her cell phone. He was able to discuss every action that he took from the moment that brakes were applied, and the anger that he felt.

Then I asked him to describe the other cars that were around the truck at that very moment. His mind went blank, and it demonstrated the tunnel vision that can emerge when anyone is angry.

Safe drivers choose to adopt a calm, professional attitude whenever they sit behind the wheel, but that decision requires them to measure their state of mind as surely as they measure brake stroke during a pre-trip inspection. Indeed, any feelings of stress need to be addressed before the wheels begin to turn.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one of the first steps in resolving stress will involve identifying the underlying source of any problems, and taking real steps to solve them. That might mean turning to a financial expert to help with money issues, or a family counsellor to work through marital problems. Even physical activity and stretching exercises can offer a great release for the tension.

But fleets play a supportive role of their own.

A dispatcher or manager who answers a call from any angry driver will obviously need to address an immediate challenge, such as a shipper who refuses to accept a load. The first goal is to help diffuse the situation. But it will also be important to explore the root cause of the anger. The frustration expressed at the loading dock may relate to ongoing problems with a schedule, but the real issue with a specific delay may involve a missed family celebration.

Issues like these will often be identified after the tempers of the moment have been calmed, and when appointments are scheduled for a talk after the truck is parked.

Of course, the underlying issues can also reach much deeper than an individual situation. Illnesses such as clinical depression can also be taking their toll on an employee, and might be hiding in plain sight. According to, the symptoms of depression can include sadness throughout the day, a loss of interest in favorite activities, excessive feelings of guilt, or trouble making decisions. There can be a feeling of fatigue, changes in sleeping patterns, or changes in weight.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can offer a great conduit to distribute information about illnesses like these, as well as any of the other factors that can lead to unwanted stress. Some fleets have even extended the reach of their EAP programs to include Employee Family Assistance Programs, helping to address the root causes of the widest-possible list of issues faced by a driver’s family.

When working at one fleet, I assembled information on several emotional wellness issues such as dealing with elderly parents, financial wellbeing and mental health, and left all of it in the driver’s lunchroom along with contact information for the EAP provider. Every piece of literature or CD could be borrowed anonymously, without any questions asked.

Mentorship programs can provide another source of support, guiding drivers through the lifestyle issues that are a reality in the trucking industry, and tend to be most effective when they involve someone other than a direct manager or a peer – giving people the confidence that they will not be judged when raising a problem.

Collectively, they are the steps that will help drivers to address any stresses in life, and help them to remain focused on the road.

Think of them as preventive maintenance for a healthy state of mind.