CDL Training

Backing Up a Trailer: Tips You Need to Know


Even after you have passed all your exams and finally gotten fully licensed to drive a tractor trailer, it can be a bit intimidating the first time you are backing up a trailer solo. This is a skill you develop over time that requires practice and patience. Don’t think you are alone in this feeling. Even the most experienced drivers can find themselves struggling a bit with trailer backing.

Let’s review some of the more essential tips you need to remember when backing up your trailer. Most importantly, stay calm. This is a skill that is only going to get better the more often you practice.

Why Do Trailer Backing Accidents Happen?

All kinds of issues can cause an accident when you’re backing up a trailer. Maybe your mirrors are not angled right, or you forget to get out and look around before starting. Most often, the reason is a lack of experience or inadequate training. When you enroll in a CDL program through a DRC network school you can be confident that you will gain the skills needed to safely back a trailer.

You need to spend the time to successfully check your area, follow your procedures, and complete the entire process. It is far better to relax and double-check than getting into an accident that requires paperwork, mechanics, and time that will slow down your delivery schedule.

Here are some critical tips for backing up a trailer to make your delivery and move on.

Trailer Backing Tips

Keep Backing Simple

Avoid oversteering and wait for the trailer to respond. It can take up to 10 feet for a trailer to respond to a correction.

Use All Your Mirrors
Don’t rely solely on one mirror, use all of them to maintain situational awareness.

Look Ahead
Look past the end of the trailer to avoid missing your mark. Pay attention to both the immediate area and the path you’re trying to back into.

Take Your Time
Take your foot off the gas and stick to an idling speed. Slow down the entire situation so that you maintain control from beginning to end. The only timetable you are on is your own. Rushing leads to accidents.

Stay Calm
Right along with slowing down, is remaining calm. You are not there to impress other drivers or worry about being made fun of by jerks. You are there to successfully complete a delivery. Remember your training steps and stick to your patience, so you remain relaxed and in charge.

Make Yourself Known
Not everyone in a busy area will pay attention to what you are doing. Give the horn a couple of hits before backing up a trailer. Make sure everyone around knows you are moving, so they keep their cars, bikes, gear, boxes, and bodies out of the way.

When all else fails, stick to the golden rule of backing up a tractor trailer – G.O.A.L. This stands for “Get Out and Look.” It means whenever you feel there may be an issue, or even if you think you are 100% in the right, get out of your cab and take a look at the situation. That way, you can avoid any issues that may crop up as you move.

Preparation is Key for Backing Up a Tractor Trailer

Before starting, go ahead and double-check that your mirrors are adjusted correctly and that your surroundings are clear of obstacles. Even though you are ensuring you have clear lines of sight, take a mental picture to reinforce where you are backing your trailer up in the space provided.

You want to look around the area for things like:

  • Lining up with the pads on the dock.
  • Will your wheels be inside or on the lines at the dock?
  • Are there signs of bent materials, doors, or ramps where accidents occurred in the past?
  • Are there nails or other debris in your way?
  • Can you get close to the dock?
  • Is there a lot of foot traffic?
  • Do you have a clear path out when you are done?

It is all about learning from any potential mistakes, so as you drive and back up more, you become a professional that doesn’t sweat no matter the situation. That takes time and building the skill foundation for success.

Get The Training You Need

No matter if you are working with a 45-degree angle or a limited amount of forward space, learning the proper tips for backing up a trailer will save you time and money. 

Don’t expect to be an expert from the beginning. Follow your training, take your time, and remain calm. This will be a skill you develop the more you do it. Most importantly, follow the golden rule of getting out and looking around, even if you think you will be fine.

These are the foundational skills we reinforce at Driver Resource Center. For decades our instructors and teams of drivers have followed the fundamentals to ensure a safe and accurate delivery that saves our vehicles and drivers from damage. Call us to learn more about how we can help your driving career.


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