Sharing the Road with Trucks

Have you ever heard the saying “If you bought it…a truck brought it”? Well it’s true and like it or not, massive trucks are out there and you’re going to have to learn to share the road with them. Yes YOU! Most drivers have a pretty low opinion of truckers and much of that comes from fear and simply not understanding them. By them I mean not only the truckers but trucks themselves. We’ve all heard the horror stories of wheels flying off, drivers falling asleep thanks to the long hours they drive each day and how they fake their log books. Sure there are some bad apples out there and I can’t blame you for not respecting those ones but they are the exceptions, not the rule. Not every trucker is faking their logbooks, nor do they all fall asleep at the wheel and contrary to what you might think, they are not out to run you off the road. You fear the few. You don’t understand any of them though and it’s not everyday that a trucker puts you in harms way. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Every day, every trucker out there is put in harms way by someone driving a car and by doing so, the car driver puts themselves in harms way too without even knowing it. Oh just so we’re clear…most truckers don’t like most car drivers. Here’s a simple truth, all truckers drive smaller vehicles too, just like you, but most car drivers have never even sat in a big truck, let alone driven one. How could you possibly know what it’s like to drive a mile in their shoes? Truth is, you can’t but you really do need to know a few things about large trucks and truckers would like you to know them too. Before writing this article, I reached out to an online truckers forum so that I could hear some of their concerns about drivers.

So lets start off with the obvious…they are incredibly massive machines. Unlike your car, which may weigh a few thousand pounds, a fully loaded tractor trailer can weigh over 80,000 pounds. That’s a lot of mass to handle and they can’t maneuver nearly as well as you can. Nor can they stop on a dime. Saying they have the agility of a lethargic hippo wouldn’t be too far from the truth. At 65mph (104km/hr) their stopping distance is about the length of a football field. Something to keep in mind is the air brakes that trucks use. Unlike hydraulic brakes used on passenger vehicles, which engage almost immediately when you stomp on the brake pedal, air brakes have a short lag time. Its about one second. Lets do some basic math – at 65mph, you are traveling at about 95ft per second. Average human reaction time can be anywhere from 0.5-1.5sec. Lets take the lower number but that means when a trucker reacts to a situation and slams on the brakes, he’s already traveled about 142ft before the brakes actually start engaging. Now add on about 455ft for the truck to actually come to a stop and overall it’s a whopping 597ft (182m). The average car can stop in less than half that distance. New braking systems are currently being developed to shorten the stopping distance of large trucks but they will never stop as quickly as a car.

The moral here is that you should never lag around in front of a large truck. Ok ok, nobody likes sitting behind trucks, you can’t see past them and they can’t see you either (more about that later), so you want to pass them. Go for it but once you do, don’t just pull in front of them leaving only a couple car lengths between you and the front of the truck. You’re putting yourself in harms way and for the love of all that you hold dear, do NOT dive in front of a truck and then hit the brakes! You’re just begging to end up as paint on their grill. Oh and just so you know folks, if you dive in front of a truck and slam your brakes, and you get hit as a result, you will probably be charged with Careless Driving for having caused that crash (and it really pisses them off when drivers do that). Now before you think that you will just be able to talk your way out of causing that crash, many truckers now have digital dash-cams mounted on their windshields to capture video evidence of what really happened in a crash.

Now lets talk about blind spots. Once again, they are absolutely massive and odds are, you have no idea just how big they are, where they are, or how to spot them. Unlike the average car, a large truck has four large blind spots. As you can see from the diagram below, any one of these blind spots can hide at least one vehicle in it. In efforts to educate drivers about them, they are being called “No Zones”, places around the truck where you should not be hanging out.

"No Zones"

“No Zones”

Once you enter one of these large blind spots, you no longer exist in the truckers consciousness. As you can see, the most dangerous places to be is either beside of or in front of a large truck. The real sneaky one is the blind spot on the right side. Look closely and you will notice that if you are directly beside the cab or just slightly forward of the front of the truck in the lane to the right, you are invisible. Now some trucks have windows in the passenger side door so they can look down and through it to see if someone is there but that’s a small window and the driver may still not see you. Some trucks also have a blind spot mirror mounted on or near the front fenders to open up that blind area. It’s important to note though that not all trucks have those mirrors or those little windows in the doors. You have to look for them. So keep in mind that if you are behind a  large truck and want to pass them, you are basically going from one blind spot into another, into another.

Another trucker asked me to extend a warning to those of you who like to toddle along in the middle lane directly beside a truck or directly in front of one. The middle lane is a truckers “passing lane” and also used to make a safe space for others who are trying to merge on to the highway. By law all drivers must slow down and change lanes away from emergency vehicles who are on the shoulder. Truckers also do this for any vehicle on the shoulder to make things safer for whomever is stuck there. Cabs and trailers all have turn indicator lights on them and there is no excuse for a driver to not see that a truck needs to change lanes. Unlike many car drivers, truckers don’t change lanes without good reason. There’s no joy in it for them. If their signal is on, they need to move over…sometimes quite urgently. Get out from beside them and do so quickly (either slow down and let them in or speed up and get past them). If you just sit there and that truck is forced to move over, you risk getting side-swiped by the cab or crushed under the trailer or the trailer wheels. For those of you who are trying to merge on the highway, wondering why that massive truck won’t move the hell over and let you in, it’s probably because someone is driving beside them in the other lane and the truck is now pinned in that right lane.

When I realize that a truck needs to change lanes, I  get out of their way, period.  Sure I could just arrogantly sit there and think “This is MY spot” but I risk being the meaty ingredient in a mangled metal sandwich. Additionally, if I’m behind a truck and I see that nobody is letting the trucker change lanes, I will move over to the lane they want to get into, slow down just a little and make a hole for them. Kinda like a blocker, ensuring they can change lanes safely.

Much of this just comes down to being a courteous driver but it also comes down to self preservation. When you drive near large trucks and hang out in their blind spots, you are putting yourself and others at risk. It’s a matter of “right of weight” really, not “right of way” and there is no point being dead right now is there. So please drivers, give these truckers a lot of space. They work damn hard to deliver all the stuff you need or want to buy in life.

If you’re a trucker reading this…remember that most cagers have no idea about any of this stuff. Understand also that despite how it may look at times, car drivers aren’t really suicidal. They just don’t know any better. If you forward this on though, hopefully less drivers will blindly hang out in your blind spots or put you (and themselves) at risk.

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