Visually Check the Fifth Wheel Connection


Last week I had a day with a live unload, a live load, and then another live unload. This included about 500 miles of driving. My hope was to get them all done within 14 hours. By the time that I got to my second live unload it was 18:00 and my 14 hours ended at 20:00. The customer told me that they could not start unloading me until 20:00 and that I could not spend the night there. I asked if I could drop the trailer and come back and get it around 05:00. They said that they would definitely have it done and that I could pick it up at 06:00. Worked for me. I went to safe overnight parking and came back in the morning.


The bills were signed and they released the trailer. It was still dark. My trailer axles were dropped all the way back. After I backed under the trailer and got everything reconnected. I gave it the tug test and all appeared well. I still like to get a visual on my fifth wheel connection. At my age it is not easy to crawl under the trailer and get a flashlight shined up there to see. Inevitably, I bang my head getting out from under.


So, very slowly I will pull away and get my trailer turned so that I can visually check the fifth wheel connection. On this day, the bar was not all the way across. Since I saw it, no problem. I set the trailer brakes and backed up and the connection completed. It took me, maybe an extra minute to check and properly connect. It probably saved me the embarrassment of dropping a trailer in a parking lot. The thing is that it may also have saved me from damaging the trailer and or my lines. That would make me and my company look less then professional in the eyes of our customer.


It could have been a lot worse. There have been incidents of trailers staying connected for miles. That is more likely with a loaded trailer where gravitational force my hold it on the fifth wheel. At some point a bump in the road, or a light braking might disconnect the tractor and trailer at speed. The results can be fatal.


I know that we all in a hurry. Yes. 999 out of a 1,000 times the tug test works. This one happened to be that 1,000th time for me. The fact that I caught it was not luck. It was habit. Good habits lead to safety. It takes me about 30 seconds to get out of my truck and eyeball my connection. As Coach Wooden would say “Be Quick. Don’t hurry.” Never let yourself be so rushed that safety is secondary to speed.


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Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark of Kewaunee, WI has been driving a truck for 24 years. He has been an owner operator for 11 years.

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