4 Tips for Backing Up a Semi Truck & Trailer

Message from Driver Solutions: Backing up a semi tractor trailer is one of the most difficult and challenging parts of a truck driver job...especially for newbies.  It tests your skills and definitely your patience.  Even if you've backed up a large van or moving truck, you soon find out that backing up a tractor and trailer is a whole new ballgame.    

It's for this reason that the Driver Solutions' CDL training program spend plenty of time developing range and backing skills first - before hitting the road.  Often times, new students are eager to climb behind the wheel of a big truck, but they soon realize the importance of principles such as G.O.A.L.  (Get Out And Look).  

My First Day of CDL Training

Do you remember your first day of CDL training? I'll never forget mine. I vividly remember thinking about how excited I was to learn how to drive a big semit truck. I also remember thinking after the first day, "How in the heck will I remember all these things about the pre-trip inspection?" A lot of information is thrown at you in that first week of truck driving school and it can seem overwhelming; but, it’s really not too much to comprehend. With the help of my CDL instructors, they made this information overload into smaller chunks that I was able to use.

In about a month, Driver Solutions kept its promise. I was not only driving an 18 wheeler, but I was getting ready to take my state CDL test and start cruising the open road. I put my trust in Driver Solutions and was rewarded with my Class A CDL. After you get your CDL and start your truck driving job, you quickly learn a few really valuable lessons. Below, I will go over what I believe could be the most important thing to keep your DAC report clean - backing up your truck and trailer. 

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Backing Up Your Truck

When you leave school, you will learn very quickly that backing will test your nerves, skill and patience. I could name the blind back, the straight-line back, the normal sight-line back, and the close encounter back just to name a few. You will be asked to back your semi truck and trailer into situations that can test your every nerve. Below are my 3 tips that should help make the challenge easier:

1. Practice Patience

I'll get right to it.  The secret to truck backing success is patience. You may laugh at that, but patience has served me very well over the last 3+ years as a professional truck driver. CDL school can teach you so much. They can try and teach you patience in tough backing situations, but they will not be with you when you are stressed about a hard backing situation out on the road.

I always like to remember that no matter how tough the backing situation - other truckers have done it, so why can't I? I specifically remember a back up in New Jersey early on in my career. I was just floored when I saw where they wanted me to back the truck and trailer. So I asked a lot of questions. I asked them how truckers get into that spot and I was amazed at their answers. In Jersey the high-low driver told me, "No truckers ever get it in the normal way, we have a special dock because you will be a little crooked." Nice to know! It really relieved a lot of my stress. And I eventually got it done.

2. Evaluate the Situation

A big thing I want to talk about with backing up a big truck is evaluating the situation at hand. You may feel pressured at the time to back up to do it quickly.  Please remember that if you hit something, you will spend way more time filling out an accident report and your company will be wondering what the heck happened. Hitting something stationary is not good. It means a couple of things:

  1. You probably didn't get out and look. (GOAL)
  2. You didn't evaluate your situation and hurried into a very tough spot.

I will say this though, the place where you are delivering likely knows they have a tough back up situation.  Often times, if you ask the right questions they will be more than willing to help.  At the end of the day, it's completely up to you to not do anything that will get you, your truck, or your trailer in trouble. Doing so may very well take you 30 minutes to back up your trailer safely, but by spending some extra time you can avoid a preventable accident.

3. Don't Hesitate to Ask Questions or for Help

I once had a backing situation in Los Angeles and had small trucks and cars all around me. I had already looked up the business on Google Earth and I knew it was going to be tough all around. I called the business before hand just to see the best way to enter. They were very helpful. When I got into the parking lot, I knew I was in for a very tough backing situation. They wanted me to parallel park the truck to unload. I literally took as much time as I needed. I also asked the company for spotters, which they gladly provided. My job is to get the truck and product to the shipper and receiver, safely. When they ask me to do something beyond the call of duty, I force them to take on some responsibility. Spotters will do wonders sometimes. But please be aware that spotters do not make you free of responsibility if you hit something - it's still your fault.

4. Don't Get Too Confident

Even after a year or two on the road, backing up your truck can be one of the most challenging parts of a truck driving job. It's a good challenge, though. My mentality is always if some other trucker did it, so can I. I think for me it's all about getting out and looking, assessing the situation, being patient, and not letting other truckers pressure you. I've had a lot of truckers blowing their horns at me to hurry up. I can't help them with their impatience. But I can help myself by taking my time and getting it right.

Early on in your career you will feel the stress to hurry it up. Don't do it. As you progress in your trucking career you will definitely be able to evaluate situations more quickly and efficiently and it will make whatever back up that may be go much smoother.  If you get too confident, boom! You just hit something.

Backing safely will become second nature after a while. You will get out and look all the time. Even If you think you don't need to. You just will. That's a good thing. Your stress level will disappear when you are confident enough to know that no matter how difficult the situation, you are up to it.

About The Author

Wayne got his start in trucking by going through the Driver Solutions company paid CDL training program back in 2012.  Since then, he has traveled over 300,000 safe miles and counting! After seeing his photos and reading about his adventures, we knew we had to share them on our blog. Join Wayne on his journey for a first hand look at life on the road!

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