Safely Back Up Your Tractor Trailer; Truck Backing Situations

The most difficult trucking maneuver for many to master is how to back up safely.

Safely back up your tractor trailer in these backing situations.There are several backing situations which professional truck drivers encounter frequently, which Vicki shows through animated graphics below.

All backing and docking situations that drivers of dry vans and refrigerated vans encounter involve the movement of the truck and trailer in which a driver has the vehicle in reverse gear.

Because of the dimensions of the vehicle and the driver’s inability to see the far end of the trailer from his or her seat (unless he or she has a back-up truck cam), the driver may be more prone to being involved in a backing accident.

So we’ll cover these maneuvers from the simplest to most complex.

Straight Line Backing

This is the easiest of all backing scenarios. However, they can present challenges, especially if you have to back up through a hole or standing water or if the dock is dark.

When you draw near to the dock, make sure that you don’t ram it. Also, beware of running into projections protruding from the walls on either side of certain docks. In some cases, you can do a lot of damage to the doors on your trailer if you hit them.

If you can, avoid situations in which you back up over long distances. Get as close to your destination as possible.

Remember the instruction you had in truck driver training school and how to pass your CDL road test.


straight line backing animated graphic


90-degree alley docking

This maneuver is the one that Vicki had the most difficulty mastering in truck driver training school. The difficulty involves the fact that the vehicle has a hinge — the kingpin — where the tractor and trailer connect. Being an articulated vehicle:

  • when you turn the steering wheel to the left in reverse, the trailer moves to the right and
  • when you turn the steering wheel to the right in reverse, the trailer moves to the left.

Drivers encounter this situation not only at shippers and receivers, but also in many truck stops.

The illustrated image below does not take into account situations where

  • the trailer’s tandems may be at different positions,
  • the truck may have to back up in tight quarters (such as at a small truck stop), or
  • where there are impeding objects that must be avoided (such as a concrete post or wall).

The most difficult of all 90-degree alley docking situations is on the “blind side,” where the driver has to back around to the right instead of the usual left.


ninety degree alley docking


Some shippers and receivers have 45-degree alley docks, which can be even trickier to back into than a 90-degree alley dock.

It is sort of like the combination of straight line backing and the 90-degree alley dock.

Offset Alley Docking

We have not encountered this docking situation very often. When we have, it has most often been at shopping malls.

The most difficult offset alley docking situation we ever encountered was when we had to back a 53-foot trailer with a conventional tractor into a space designed to be navigated by a daycab pulling a pup trailer (a short vehicle, not one 70 feet long!).


offset alley docking

Docking and Parking Situations We Have Encountered

  1. When we have been backing in at a shipper or receiver’s location, as a general rule, they didn’t care how long it took us to back up to the dock just as long as our truck got in there. This situation can be different at a truck stop where there may be a continual stream of other trucks whose drivers are looking to park for their mandatory rest breaks.It is the wise driver who knows when a situation is beyond his ability to negotiate. Mike was once attempting to park in a tight Pilot truck stop, around a truck whose driver had not backed up as far in his spot as he could have. Mike tried over and over again to get in but could not make it. He eventually pulled out, made a U-turn and parked in a spot directly across from the original spot.Only after Mike had parked in the second spot did Vicki become aware that the driver of the truck that Mike had tried to back around was in his truck! When another driver attempted to back into the same space that we had just abandoned, he decided to back up his truck a little farther in his space! We wondered as to why he chose to move his truck for the other driver but not for us. But we said nothing.
  2. Once, Mike had to back up into a construction zone near a hospital in the midwest. He had to be concerned with the side-to-side movement as well as the overhead clearance. If you have a similar situation, be on your guard not to have an “under blunder.”
  3. Another difficult backing situation is backing into a dock but then arranging for one’s tractor to be at an angle in relation to the trailer. We encountered this once where an older facility had insufficient room for trucks to drive past the long line of docks. All of the truckers needed to back into docks in such a way that their rigs from above looked sort of like the number “7” (although not quite that pronounced of an angle). What a challenge!
  4. Just one time, we had to pick up a load inside a cave near Independence, Missouri. The backing area was so tight that we were told we had to enter the cave from one specific direction. Sure enough, there wouldn’t have been sufficient room to back the rig from the usual position, but we were successful.
  5. The only time that we ever had to back up a rig inside a building was in New York when we drove for Swift. The dock lines were clearly marked and there was pretty good pulling up room, but it was a little dark in the place. For the life of him, Mike just couldn’t seem to get the hang of backing the rig that day.Vicki had an idea of setting a flashlight along the driver side dock line to help. That visual aid didn’t help Mike either. Argh! Finally, Vicki got behind the wheel. It was the first time since truck driver training school that she had backed a truck into a dock. She followed the advice of one of her instructors (Shorty), who had said numerous times, “Follow your tandems; they’ll never lead you wrong.” Vicki did that and the truck went right in the hole. Perfecto!
  6. When the Wachovia bank building was being constructed in Charlotte, NC, Mike had to make a delivery late at night that forced him to back up his rig from across a well-traveled downtown street. This situation necessitated Mike calling for local law enforcement to stop traffic long enough so that he could back across all four lanes.
  7. We had a reverse serpentine situation once when backing into the BellSouth building in downtown Atlanta. Vicki served as Mike’s eyes on the ground to help him negotiate the windy path down into the basement of the building.
  8. GOAL - Get Out And Look - on the driver's side mirror of a commercial motor vehicle.Mike once delivered a load of penny blanks to the U.S. Mint in downtown Philadelphia, which required him to perform a blind side backing job between two columns and next to another truck on his right hand side. He had help on the ground and also stopped his truck numerous times to get out and look to see where he was going.

Mike says that with a heavy load, if you are backing slowly and you hit something, chances are you may never feel it. So be careful.

truck drivers money saving tip iconMoney saving tip: Backing accidents are preventable. The key to successful backing is knowing where your vehicle is in proximity to other objects at all times.

If you are required to back up your truck and you can’t see well, follow the tried and true adage to “Get Out and Look” (GOAL). Even if you have to get out of and back into your truck a dozen times to make sure your truck is safe, then do it.

Among the most aggravating things that can happen to a driver — although it is also expensive — is when he is parked (in a brand new truck, no less) and another truck backs into his rig. Mike knows because it happened to him during the time he drove for Schneider.

He had parked in the center of his space at a truck stop — all the way back in the space — under a light pole. He was lying down about ready to go to sleep (in his bright orange truck) when he felt the truck rocking. He jumped up and parted the curtains in time to see the driver pull off.

Fortunately, the experienced driver (who had just signed on with his company) came back and admitted that he thought he’d backed into Mike’s truck. Mike discovered after the fact that there were other drivers on the ground trying to warn the driver that he was about to engage himself in a backing accident. What was worse was that there were plenty of other available spaces at the time!

Besides paying for the damage done to both of the vehicles, the driver now had a preventable accident on his hands. Because Mike was a company driver, he never saw any of the insurance claims to find out how much the damage cost to repair. However, he took an entire roll of film of photos on a disposable camera to document what the company needed.

With the advent of CSA, drivers will want to be especially careful about backing incidents and accidents. Each one may contribute to a number of losses, including potential loss of employment with a trucking company.

Remember to back up “slow and easy.” Don’t be in a hurry. You don’t want to hit anybody or anything, as the results can be disastrous in more ways than one.

There have been times when workers have been crushed between a truck and a dock because the driver chose to back up without knowing who or what was behind his trailer. Sometimes these backing accidents are fatal.

Be especially careful when backing late at night and you’re tired. It’s not worth the embarrassment, loss of your good reputation and safe driving record, and loss of your hard-earned money (potentially including your safety bonus).

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