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Defensive Driving Tip 7 – Driving with Big Trucks

Where would we be without big trucks?

Better off, you say?

Hardly. We need big trucks to get large numbers of things and large objects from Point-A to Point-B. Semi-trucks, car haulers, cement mixers, lumber carrying trucks…all of these trucks are needed for use of things in our everyday lives. Not everything can be shipped by train or plane. We have to share the road with big trucks whether we particularly like it or not.

Yes, they’re big, and sometimes slow, and yes, sometimes the drivers act like they own the road. But they’re on the road with us, and we need to know how to drive when we’re around them. Many accidents and deaths have occurred over the years between cars and large trucks. Many could’ve been prevented, but a lack of knowledge or a lax attitude towards them got the better of drivers, and a serious injury or death occurred when it didn’t have to.

We see semi-trucks all over the road each and every day. They have to be there, so learn to drive with them.

STAY OUT OF THEIR BLIND SPOT:

Semi-trucks are huge, therefore they have a large blind spot. Unlike cars, in a semi-truck, the driver can’t simply look over his shoulder into the blind spot. He has to rely on his side mirrors and hope that small vehicles are not driving in the blind spot.

Many accidents have occurred because of smaller vehicles remaining in the blind spot.

If a trucker needs to change lanes and he hasn’t seen anything in his mirrors for a while, he is going to assume that there are no cars next him, and he’s going to change lanes. If a vehicle IS driving in the blind spot, he will not see the trucks blinkers, and will not know that the truck is even changing lanes until it is too late and it’s right on top of them. Stay out of the trucks blind spot!

A TRUCK'S STOPPING DISTANCE

A truck’s weight means that it takes longer to accelerate, so other drivers will have to be patient. They also take longer to stop, which means they need a longer following distance than most vehicles. The average passenger car traveling at 65 mph can stop in approximately 240 feet, which is about three-fourths the length of a football field. A fully loaded tractor-trailer may take more than 400 feet to come to a complete stop, well over the length of a football field.

When you’re driving down the highway, it may be inviting to pull over into what looks like a big open space in the lane next to you, but think carefully. What looks like an opening between a car and a large truck may just be that truck’s safe following distance. Pull into it and you may cause problems: right after pulling over, you’ll have a large truck that is less than a safe following distance behind you — very dangerous if you have to stop suddenly because the truck won’t be able to. You’ll also force that truck to slow down to get back to a safe following distance: you don’t like being inconvenienced and endangered when someone else pulls abruptly into your safe following distance, so don’t do it to anyone else, especially not an oversized vehicle that simply cannot react as quickly as a passenger car.

If you are stopped behind a truck on an upgrade, leave additional space in case the truck drifts back slightly when it starts to move. Also, keep to the left in your lane so the driver can see that you’ve stopped behind the truck. It can be as dangerous to stop in a truck's blind spot as to drive in one.

WIDE TURNS

Big trucks are obviously larger, so they usually have to turn from the center lane. If a truck is driving down the street in front of, slows down, and puts its blinker on, it’s going to make a turn. Let it.

Many drivers keep going or don’t want to yield to the truck because they think that it’s just making a last minute turning decision and don’t want to yield for it. They are not. They are generally so large that they need to turn from the center lane, so give them a wide berth.

BAD WEATHER

Large trucks have to drive in bad weather just like smaller vehicles do, but since they are larger, they have to be extra cautious. If it is raining, their tires will emit a large spray. If you are too close to it, the spray can splash all over your windshield and you can be temporarily blinded by the water. Give them plenty of room.

If it is raining or snowing, it’s going to take longer for them to stop if they have to hit the brakes quickly. You don’t want to be anywhere near a large truck if it starts to spin out or fishtail. It’s enough hat you should give them a wide berth in good weather, but it’s extremely important to give them an even wider one when the weather is bad.

RUNAWAY TRUCKS:

As with any vehicle, big trucks can have mechanical failures. They can overheat; they can blow out tires, but the worst mechanical failure for a truck would be the loss of brakes. Since semi-trucks weigh so much, the loss of brakes can be deadly to everyone on the road. Because of its size and weight, a runaway truck on the highway or interstate can pick up speed in excess of 100 M.P.H., especially if they are going downhill. A truck can’t just pull over to the side of the road and hope to slow down. Most states have runaway truck ramps. They look almost like an exit, but in reality, it’s a large mound of dirt built much like a ramp. It’s there for the truck to drive into, hopefully stopping it without causing death or serious injury to the driver.

If you are in a smaller vehicle and you notice a truck in your rearview mirror driving extremely fast, get out of its way as safely as you can. More than likely the truck will let you know that it’s in an emergency situation by blaring its horn, which will be loud and scary. Don’t panic though. Simply look to see where it seems to be going and do your best to act accordingly. If you can, stay to the right and try to get to the side of the road to let them by. If they’re coming down the right side of the road, then try to safely get over to the left.

Another thing: Stay away from runaway ramps. There have been several recorded incidents where people had pulled over and let their children play on runaway truck ramps only to find themselves in the way of a runaway semi-truck. In one incident, a couple’s children were playing on the ramp, as a runaway truck tried to use it. The children were lucky that day, because the driver saw them and nobly ditched his truck off of the side of a mountain, losing his life, but sparing a family. The sad thing is that it didn’t have to happen.

When a truck is traveling down the road, give them a wide berth. Don’t get angry because they are speeding or acting like they own the road. Be smart enough to know that because of their size, they might need a little extra caution…and cushion from the cars around them.

Who knows? Maybe they’re having some sort of mechanical failure, or a new and inexperienced driver is at the wheel and could be having trouble. Do your best to get along with the vehicles around you.


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