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When Sharing The Road With Trucks, Know What You Are Dealing With

We have all been there. Casually driving along the highway when you spot a tractor trailer in the distance. The wave of anxiety that hits you as you make the decision to keep your distance or speed up and pass the massive vehicle. Traveling at high speeds next to a 40 ton machine will put even the most experienced driver on edge.

Tractor trailer, semi truck, big rig, regardless of what you call them, those vehicles are synonymous with certain images. Images of the carnage that can be caused by one of those vehicles if placed in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, as in any field, there are bad actors who refuse to follow the applicable rules and regulations. Some drivers cut corners and disregard regulations that put other people in jeopardy. Through aggressive driving, drug use, poor vehicle maintenance, lack of sleep, excessive speed, and a host of other issues, those drivers fail to comply with government standards and put lives in jeopardy. The purpose of this blog post is to raise awareness and promote safe driving for all motorists who encounter commercial vehicles on the roadway.

This article is not suggesting that all commercial vehicle drivers disregard safety regulations and drive in an unsafe manner. Many hard-working Americans get behind the wheel of a tractor trailer every day without incident because they understand the statistics and characteristics discussed below. However, unfortunately, some drivers disregard their responsibilities and, thereby, make the road a more dangerous place for everyone.

When the average passenger car collides with a tractor trailer, the outcome for the automobile is often catastrophic. Tractor trailers can weight up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded. When compared to the average passenger car that weighs approximately 4,000 pounds, the size and weight difference is extraordinary. Unlike a collision involving two cars, the destruction a tractor trailer can cause can be much more severe for both the vehicle and its occupants. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, tractor trailers are more likely to be involved in fatal, multiple-vehicle crashes as opposed to a single fatal crash.

Tragically, crashes with commercial vehicles can happen to anyone at any time. No one is immune. Recently, a Georgia truck driver was charged in a New Jersey wreck that left celebrity comedian Tracy Morgan in critical condition and another man dead. But nobody ever hears about the vast majority of the crashes because they are such a common occurrence. This fact needs to change.

In 1970, the federal government established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Its goal is to save lives and reduce vehicle-related crashes by creating safer driving regulations. According to NHTSA, there were 3,380 fatalities and 74,000 people injured in crashes involving tractor trailers in 2009. Of the fatalities in crashes involving tractor trailers, 75 percent were occupants of another vehicle, 10 percent were non-occupants, and 15 percent were occupants of a tractor trailers. This means that the overwhelming majority of fatalities occur in vehicles other than the tractor trailer.

Even when a driver is operating safely, the massive size and the “blind spots” or “no-zones” in a truck create a heightened risk of danger. Understanding the blind spot areas is essential when sharing the road with a tractor trailer. Keep in mind that a tractor trailer, unlike a car, has no rearview mirror. The only rearward vision the truck driver has is in his side mirrors. When the truck is entering and executing a turn, be mindful that the only thing the driver can see in his side mirror is the side of the trailer heading into the turn. The driver’s other mirror, facing away from the turn, will reveal an area off to the side of the road. Thus, exercise extreme caution when traveling behind or near a turning tractor trailer, as the driver cannot see what you are doing.

Also be mindful that there is a blind spot directly behind the truck that lasts several car lengths. There is also a blind spot directly in front of the tractor trailer that spans almost one whole car length. This exists because the driver cannot see over the hood of the cab. If you are driving next to, in front of, or behind a tractor trailer, always make sure you are visible. As a rule of thumb, if you can see the driver in his side mirrors, he should be able to see you too. If you cannot see the driver, your car may be in his blind spot.

Knowing these statistics and truck characteristics should impress upon you that caution should be exercised when driving next to or around a tractor trailer. Don’t be another statistic. Drive safely.

Federal Highway Administration (2006). “Chapter 14: Freight Transportation”. United States Department of Transportation.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Survey (2011), NHTSA Statistics, United States Department of Transportation.

Good Morning America Special (2014). “Truck Driver Charged With Causing Crash That Injured Tracy Morgan”. ABC News Corp.

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