Tips for driving with a trailer

Tips for driving with a trailer

Driving any articulated vehicle requires specialist skills and a special drivers licence, unless you’re towing a small trailer with a car or ute.  At Rentco, we’ve identified some basic rules for driving a truck with a trailer, in this article we’ve covered the most essential.

What’s in a name

According to the Australian
Trucking Association, articulated trucks comprise a prime mover and the following configurations:

1) a semi-trailer coupled by a turntable or B-coupling;
2) a trailer unit with conventional drawbar or converter dolly with drawbar; or
3)  trailers coupled via a turntable mounted on the forward trailer.

These trucks and trailer combos are primarily used to transport freight.  Depending on what you need to transport, trailers are available in open top, extendable, flat rack, drop deck, tautliner or flatbed.

Driving forward

Driving a truck with a trailer hitched on the back is very different to driving a rigid vehicle. When an articulated vehicle negotiates a turn, the path of the back wheels has a smaller radius than that of the front wheels which causes the rear of the vehicle to ’cut-in’ when turning.  It is essential that the driver allows for this when cornering to prevent the rear wheels running off the road and damaging kerbing, traffic lights, signs, power poles, or another vehicle.  Adjust your speed to accommodate safe turning.
You will have seen signage on trucks that says DO NOT OVERTAKE TURNING VEHICLE.  This is because articulated vehicles have to be positioned differently to rigid trucks to turn left or right.  If the turn is sharp you will have to position the vehicle in the inside lane to turn right or the outside lane to turn left.  Pay special attention to your mirrors during these manoeuvrers as it is not uncommon for inexperienced or intolerant car drivers to attempt to pass the larger vehicle.

Driving a truck with a fully loaded trailer requires caution when braking.  Allow a greater stopping distance and watch your speed, especially in heavy traffic or when changing lanes.

Reversing with a trailer

Probably the most difficult manoeuvre, safely reversing an articulated vehicle requires practice and patience.  Adjusting the mirrors out so you can clearly see the rear of the trailer is essential.   If your truck has telescoping mirrors use them, they increase the visibility of your trailer.

Steering a trailer in reverse to get the trailer moving in the right direction can be very confusing at first.  Experienced drivers recommend you place your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel then turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the trailer to go. For example, if you want the trailer to go left, push the steering wheel left (with your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel.) or vice versa.

Use a spotter to assist you to complete the manoeuvre safely. If no one is available to guide you, get out of the truck orientate yourself so that you know where the potential obstacles are.  Take your time, if you feel rushed or pressured you are more likely to make a mistake.