Searching for Docks
Finding and backing to docks is one of my most difficult tasks. In spite of the best GPS technology and input from customers, local directions from highways to docks via surface streets are not always correct, clear, complete, practical and easy to follow. Missed turns in a truck can be troublesome and dangerous and are to be avoided if at all possible. In spite of my best efforts I still miss some turns, then have to find some (often awkward) way to turn around or otherwise correct course.
So I may be tentative as I drive to unfamiliar sites on surface streets, especially in the dark or other limited visibility conditions. When driving slower than surrounding traffic, I will often have my emergency flashers on. I may glance at notes and then look forward intently, trying to identify my next turn or an address or a dock site, watching less frequently for you alongside or behind me than I would otherwise. This is when you can help by paying careful attention to the flashers and direction of my truck and exercising good judgement. When I am moving forward slowly or stopped you can pass as soon as it is practical, safe and lawful to do so (usually when traffic lights and other vehicles permit). Passing while I’m stopped will clear space behind me in case I need to back up.
Backing to Docks from Surface Streets
When I begin backing up on a surface street, it can mean that I need to reach a cross street that I will turn onto. I might back my trailer onto it or I might pass it so I can turn onto it tractor-first. Or you may see my truck backing towards a driveway to a yard containing docks with trailers with tail doors open backed up against them. Docks are elevated platforms with ramps extending from warehouses, manufacturing buildings, big box stores and other buildings, where freight typically resting on pallets is loaded and unloaded with fork lifts or pallet jacks.
In cases such as these, I greatly appreciate your patience and help. I will always back slowly. So long as I am backing straight in one street lane, you can pass me if other traffic permits. If backing into a yard or to a dock, I may have to get out of the tractor and open the trailer doors before proceeding.
I will wait for you to get by before angling back (turning my tractor either left or right to make the trailer begin to turn in the opposite direction, and then reversing my tractor’s direction to “follow” the trailer as I guide the tail to my target). Once angling begins, my tractor and trailer will typically occupy at least two lanes and you may no longer have room to pass until the backing operation is completed. During angle backing I am virtually powerless to facilitate traffic movement or worse, to avoid a crash without help from you. I am depending on you to stay out of my way—typically I can see passing traffic only out of one side of my tractor when angling.
(The “blind side” is the side on the outside of the arc that my tractor makes during angling. It is usually my right side because like all truck drivers I prefer to “sight side” back with the trailer tail in my direct view out my tractor’s left (driver’s side) window. Sight side backs often require lining up in an opposing traffic lane, for example in the left lane of a two-lane street, before angling my tractor through the right lane. It is not important that you completely understand backing technique—it is safest to just assume that I can’t see you during angling.)
You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned a spotter, someone holding up traffic and directing me while I’m backing into a yard or to a dock. This is more common on higher speed streets or highways and/or when visibility of oncoming traffic is limited by a curve or some obstruction. Unfortunately some freight customers leave the backing to the driver alone.
Backing off a street or highway is a particularly demanding and intense act and I greatly appreciate your patience and help with it. Most of the time I can back into a yard or to a dock in one try. If I have to make another attempt I may pull forward and straighten out the tractor and trailer. In that event if traffic permits you may be able to get by before I angle back again.
Backing to Docks from Highways
Occasionally I have to back off a minor or back highway (with one lane in each direction, typically with no median separating the lanes and with surface street and/or driveway entries and exits). This is typically in a more rural area with a driveway into a small customer facility. I stop on the shoulder with flashers on and wait for a break in traffic before pulling out into a traffic lane and lining up for the back. Again absent a spotter, I am greatly dependent on other drivers to stop until I get into the driveway.
When you see a truck ahead of you with its emergency flashers on and traveling slower than surrounding traffic or stopped on a surface street, drive on by as soon as it practical, safe and lawful to do so.
When you see a truck backing straight in one street lane, drive on by as soon as it is practical, safe and lawful to do so.
Stop for a truck that has started to angle back off a street in front of you.
On a highway, stop for a truck that is backing straight or angling.