Fifthwheel coupling: An operational priority for truck drivers at Transport Service

June 1, 2003
TAKING the time to train drivers on fifthwheel coupling and instituting a structured fifthwheel maintenance program has become a priority at Transport

TAKING the time to train drivers on fifthwheel coupling and instituting a structured fifthwheel maintenance program has become a priority at Transport Service Co, Hinsdale IL, according to Tom Hosty, safety director, and Peter Nativo, maintenance director.

“We have created a pre-trip inspection video to ensure that we have consistent training,” said Hosty.

The fifthwheel training is part of the program for all new hires who are in the classroom for one week and in the field for another week, including in-cab training.

“Each driver is held responsible for proper inspection and operation of the fifthwheel,” Hosty said. “Drivers must follow the coupling procedure and verify its success.”

The initiation of the program began after Hosty and Nativo were advised by their terminal managers that several fifthwheel occurrences, that included disconnects, had happened throughout the year. “We decided to push driver and employee awareness and created the fifthwheel program,” said Nativo.

The pre-trip inspection of the fifthwheel includes looking for cracks, missing or loose bolts, and parts. Drivers are told to tilt the plate up and down to ensure free and proper movement, and to insure there is ample supply of grease. They are to actuate the air slide and check for leaks. The upper coupler requires a similar inspection.

The coupling procedure should include:

  • Setting trailer brakes.

  • Raising or lowering trailer to align fifthwheel and upper coupler.

  • Upper coupler should strike fifthwheel just at top of approach ramps.

  • Driver inspects wheel to ensure the unlocked position.

  • Handle fully extended.

  • Throat open and unobstructed (do not try to couple to a locked fifthwheel.)

  • Fifthwheel will level out with upper coupler.

  • Kingpin will slide into kingpin throat.

  • Coupling complete when locking mechanism cams over and snaps into place.

After drivers have completed the coupling procedure, they verify the coupling with a tug test and then visually inspect the connection, using a flashlight if necessary. The handle will be completely retracted, and the jaw and wedge will be locked in place behind the kingpin.

To reinforce the coupling practice, Transport Service places a warning decal on all tank trailers at the curbside landing leg. It reminds drivers to use a flashlight, inspect the locking mechanism, and check the handle.

Nativo noted that mechanics also receive training featuring the fifthwheel, view the pre-trip video, and go through in-house manufacturer training and certification.

The fifthwheel preventive maintenance and inspection procedure is applied to all tractors in the fleet. Shop personnel are to comply with written procedures from Fontaine and Holland, fifthwheel suppliers, each time a tractor has preventive maintenance performed, or when the fifthwheel requires inspection or repair.