Truck Driving Requires Open Eyes and Minds

December 15, 2020

When you’re behind the wheel of a a truck, you are using your whole body -- and mind. You use your hands, arms, chest, legs, feet, and head. And eyes and ears. You need to use your whole body to make sure you and everyone else stays safe.

But using your whole body without using your mind means that you are not safe. Your mind may be the most important tool while you drive. It is your mind which will help you make sense of what’s going on. Your truck driving school in Tacoma, Washington will develop your skills -- as well as the mental habits you must have -- to be a great truck driver.

When you head out on the road, remember to bring your mind with you. That mind requires training to make sure you see -- well, really, perceive -- everything you need to. And that perception requires training

CDL driver education should focus on perception, also.

Let’s begin with a little test. Don’t worry -- there’s no penalty for failure.

I bet you didn’t see it the first time. Most people don’t.  And that’s ok -- it shows the importance of perception.

Human psychology sometimes gets us into trouble. We are wired to see what we want or expect to see. Those expectations lead us to misperceive situations, leading to trouble.

Remember how the test was set up -- you were told to look for one thing -- the number of passes the team in white made.  You were “following the rules of the road”, so to speak. (And also remember the driver training part of the test -- you were told to watch out for cyclists!).

Being good viewers, you counted. You focused on the team in white. That means you didn’t focus on the team in black -- they were passing, too. And the bear -- we all missed that.

I bet you can see the connection with truck driver training, driving, and perception.When you’re driving at 60 mph in a loaded truck weighing up to 80,000 pounds, you want your perception to be sharp -- both for your safety and the safety of everyone else on the road.

Your perception and observation must be active

If you’re looking to obtain a commercial driver’s license, you probably have been driving for a while. But even experienced drivers need to rethink what they do, because we all fall into comfortable habits.

Accidents happen because one (or more) drivers missed something on the road which they should or could have seen. Even with eyes on the road, their perception may have led them to focus on one thing, ignoring the rest.

Think about the awareness test. The active portion of the test lasted for 14 seconds. In 14 seconds, a lot can happen behind the wheel.

A truck traveling 55 mph travels 80 feet per second; that truck therefore traveled over 1,100 feet during those 14 seconds.

It takes about ¾ of a second to perceive and process a hazard -- that’s about 60 feet. Your brain then has to tell your foot to hit the brakes. That message takes another ¾ of a second. Another 60 feet.

And at that speed it will well over 500 feet to come to a stop -- almost 2 football fields.

And that’s if your mind is perceiving the situation clearly and accurately.

In addition to realizing that texting and driving is highly dangerous, it also suggests we need to be observing actively to make sure we don’t cause accidents.

Active observation keeps you safe in your truck

As an experienced driver, you know you can’t just stare directly ahead of you -- either in a car or in a truck. You will miss the moon walking bears which are all over the place.

Follow these rules to observe actively and perceive accurately:

  • Look well over the steering wheel, and look where you’re turning when you turn.
  • Your eyes should move around actively, not getting fixed on one spot for more than 2 seconds or so.
  • Check the far, middle, and near distances -- remember that the car in shoulder a mile ahead could suddenly start and pull into the driving lane.
  • Check your mirrors every 10 seconds or so, making sure they show you the trailing corner of the trailer
  • Always be aware of potential exits from your situation. Be aware that other vehicles could swerve into you or ahead of you.

One thing to be aware of is that we react to faster objects more quickly than slower ones, especially if the faster objects are larger. We’ll see trucks before cars, and cars before bicycles and pedestrians.

Be aware of traffic in crossroads. Don’t count on their stopping even if there’s a stop sign or red light in their direction -- on the other hand, don’t stop, either. Just be aware that some people are clueless that way. This thought pattern should become routine.

How can I learn to perceive well?

Good perception habits should start even before you get into the cab of a truck -- they can start while you’re driving around in your car.

Take a commentary drive.

During a commentary drive, you narrate what you’re perceiving, what you’re planning to do, and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Even before you obtain your CDL, you can narrate in your car, and work on your situational awareness.

Using your cell phone to record both sight and sound of your commentary drives will help you reinforce the benefits of commentary drives. Watch with an open mind.

A good commentary drive should have you talking about the following items

  • Maneuvers -- Lane changes especially should be narrated thoroughly. Describe how you’re using your mirrors.
  • Approaching vehicles -- describe them, what they’re doing, and how you’re prepared for them, especially in the event they end up doing something stupid.
  • Other road users -- animals, pedestrians, cyclists all present special challenges for truckers.
  • Speed changes -- describe your speed changes and why you’re making them.
  • Intersections -- note the color of the light, the presence of brake lights, and other factors affecting how you approach it.
  • Road markings and signs -- describe what they tell you about the road ahead.

Commentary drives, especially once you can get into the cab of the truck, will help you become a better driver. Work with your CDL instructor to develop your ability to make commentary drives.

Good Perception = High Safety

As you practice your perception skills, you will become a great truck driver.  Perception is a skill which can be developed even before you enroll in a truck driving school in the Tacoma, Washington area.

As you work through your driver training you can do everyone a favor and perceive things accurately. By being aware of how your brain perceives what comes through your eyes, you will be a great truck driver.


(253) 448-5041


(253) 448-5041


Toro Trucking Academy

1321 109th Street E, Tacoma, WA 98445
4441 NE Crystal Lane, Portland, OR  97218
8601 S 218th Street, Kent, WA 98031