Trucking has been around since the early 1900’s, really taking off around 1910 with the introduction of air filled tires. 1916 saw the first cross country load, going from Seattle to New York City and taking 31 days!
A lot has changed since then, but one thing remains the same: Truckers are the backbone of America. They have been to every corner of our great nation and have seen more than most, good and bad. They could write the book on driver safety, because they have earned the title of professional driver. I decided to ask around and see what we can learn from them, and to draft a short list of things truck drivers wish everyone knew.
The 300-foot Space in Front of a Truck is Not an Invitation to Merge
Most people don’t understand the distance required to stop a truck. Did you know that depending on speed, weight, and surface variables, it can take a football field length or more to bring a semi-truck to a stop? A major factor in understanding is knowing about how the braking systems on trucks work.
Trucks use air brakes, which are completely different than the brakes on passenger cars, in part because truck brakes have a lag time. The truck driver hits the brake, and then the air has to be built up and reach everywhere on the truck, before the brakes are applied. If a driver has to hit the brakes hard or too often, it can deplete the brakes, making it even harder for the truck to stop.
A fully loaded semi could weigh twenty times as much as your passenger car. In the case that you underrun a truck’s stop buffer and get rear-ended your car would be obliterated. Truckers are trying hard out there. Give them some space to operate safely.
Blind Spots are Called That for a Reason
So, where is the safest place to drive near a truck?
Definitely not the blind spot behind the trailer, and not next to the driver’s door. Truckers strategically position their mirrors to minimize their blind spot. Most trucks have a sign on the back of their trailer, so that you can see where their blind spots are located. If not, a good rule of thumb is: If you can’t see their mirrors, then the driver can’t see you. That is a good rule, but it isn’t 100%.
The fact is, you shouldn’t hang out next to a semi at all. I mean, their tires are as tall as your car! If there’s a blowout, it’ll tear your car up. The safest spot is behind the truck – of course, leaving a safe distance.
This Vehicle Makes Wide Turns
Tractor trailers need room to make turns – especially right-hand turns. When a truck pulls to the left, don’t take that as an invitation to dart in on the right side. The driver needs to position himself at least four feet from the curb. That four-foot space isn’t there for cars to use in order to beat semis through the intersection, be patient or you might get crushed.
Most trucks are pulling 53ft trailers with kingpin-to-rear-axle dimension of 39 to 47 feet. It takes time to account for that distance while making turns. Each lane is about 12 feet wide, so they usually need three and a half lanes of total width to make a turn. Making that turn in city traffic is no joke.
Also, a word on those thick white lines painted across the road at intersections: They’re not there because the guy painting lane dividers had a bunch of paint left over; they’re there to protect you. Please stop before those lines, not on or over them.
Off-putting On-ramp Behavior
Its amazing how many people forget that they do not have the right-of-way when getting on the expressway or interstate. Most truckers will see you turning onto the on-ramp before they even reach the overpass. They look over at the on-ramp as soon as they are passing under the bridge to see where you’re located, what your speed is, whether you are speeding up sufficiently, as well as whether you’re even looking in their direction.
If they can, then they will move over. If they have nowhere to go, please yield, don’t cut in front of them. They are usually chugging along at a governed speed, so there is only so much they can do to get out of your way. Most often, there is just no time or room to avoid an accident if the other car isn’t paying attention.
The Old ‘Three-lane Dive’ is a Big Problem
You know that classic maneuver, when a car is way over in the left-hand lane and realizes at the last second that he’s about to miss his exit ramp? There he goes… He just dove over three lanes!
If they are doing that around a car, it makes more sense. At least you can see around a car. Doing that in front of a semi is crazy, you have no idea what’s over there on the other side of them. Have we mentioned that over two-thirds of accidents involving a semi are not the truckers fault?
The Flashing Lights You DO Want to See
When a trucker flashes his lights at you, it’s not for nothing. Truckers usually communicate with you using headlights, turn signals and trailer lights. It’s been observed that most people don’t seem to know which means what.
More than two consecutive flashes from oncoming traffic means that there is another type of danger ahead and you should proceed with caution.
You can also use your headlights to communicate with trucks, a common signal is for lane change clearance. Because semi-trucks tend to be long, it can be challenging for the driver to tell if he can safely change lanes in front of you. You can quickly flash your headlights when his trailer clears your car, letting him know there is room to move into the other lane.
When someone has been driving on the highway for a long time, they can experience a condition known as velocitization, which affects a person’s ability to detect changes in speed. As you can imagine, if you’re not anticipating a construction zone or some other potential hazard requiring a sudden reduction in speed, then it can be quite dangerous.
Truck drivers will often put their hazard lights on when highway traffic is coming to an abrupt stop. Avoid having to jam on your brakes at the last second by understanding what this signal means.
Stop the Stupid Stigma
Somehow, it seems a lot of people have gotten the idea that truck drivers aren’t intelligent, and like a lot of stereotypes, this isn’t fair, and is often untrue. A brain surgeon probably isn’t better at making a steak than a chef, just like an automotive glass technician isn’t likely to be better at diagnosing computer problems than someone from the Geek Squad. This doesn’t mean that any group of people is more intelligent than another; it’s a question of specialization. Truckers are trucking specialists; experts in safely operating semis.
As with any profession, truck drivers come from all walks of life, and from all backgrounds and skill sets. Truck drivers complete additional training, and often apprenticeships, so by the time they head out on their own they’re already very familiar with their sizeable vehicles. The average age for truck drivers is also higher than the average for the general work force, which means that they also have a wealth of experience behind them. And, when asked if they enjoy their job, over 85% of truck drivers surveyed responded affirmatively, compared to less than half of the general population.