Your Guide to Sharing the Road With Tractor Trailers Safely
There are 15.5 million trucks operating on U.S. roads today. Of those, two million are estimated to be tractor trailers. This means not only do semis and tractor trailers account for a great deal of traffic on the roads today, but they also contribute to a great deal of risk in terms of driving safely on our nation’s highways and byways. By learning what it takes to drive safely around and with these larger trucks, you can practice defensive driving and stay safer on the roads today.
There were 4,119 fatalities on U.S. roadways in accidents involving large trucks in 2019, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That does not even take into account the many injuries that occur in these accidents.
To shed light on numbers that are closer to home, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, in 2014, Pennsylvania saw:
While these statistics are alarming, the more you know and understand about tractor trailers on the road, the better prepared you will be to avoid many accidents and fatalities involving semi trucks.
Conditions and Situations that Increase the Risk of Tractor Trailer Accidents
Like many things in life, driving involves a series of risks. Learning to manage those risks helps improve your safety on the road. This means you need to be able to anticipate what is going on with other drivers on the road — including those driving large trucks. It also means taking preventative actions rather than simply reacting to potential accidents once they have been set into motion.
Identifying conditions and situations that are risky for truck drivers is an important first step. The following are among some of the biggest contributing factors to truck accidents:
- Driver fatigue. Current regulations say truck drivers can drive up to 11 hours per day – 77 hours per week, according to the IIHS. Unfortunately, the institute’s surveys reveal truck drivers actually spend much more time on the road, leading to substantial fatigue.
- Distracted driving. This includes texting, watching videos, eating and applying cosmetics while driving, to name a few. Truck drivers spend many hours each day, week and month on the road, which can result in their minds wandering.
- Adverse road conditions. This includes roads in disrepair, as well as ice snow, rain, debris and animals on the road.
- Driving under the influence. Alcohol impairs driving judgment and reaction.
- Poor lighting, visibility or signage on the road. These increase the risk that other drivers will not be seen.
- Defective vehicle equipment. Problems with wheels, tires, brakes, steering, engines and transmissions all increase the risk of a tractor-trailer accident.
- Braking requirements. A loaded tractor-trailer can take up to 40 percent farther than a car to stop, and this gap is greater on slippery roads or with poorly maintained brakes.
- Traffic patterns and flow. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, big trucks such as 18-wheelers cannot exactly stop on a dime.
- Reckless driving. This involves the driver displaying a wanton disregard for the rules of the road.
- Size of the trailer. IIHS reports 72 percent of deaths in large truck accidents involve tractor trailers with only 28 percent involving single-unit trucks.
It is important to be aware that while these are contributing factors for truck drivers to have accidents, they can also be partly or wholly responsible for accidents for any vehicle on the road. Limit your own distractions, keep your vehicle in a good state of repair, obey traffic laws, do not drive while intoxicated or impaired by lack for sleep, and take precautions related to weather conditions whenever possible to improve your own safety on the road.
Tractor Trailer Accidents Cause Serious Injuries
Driving safely around trucks is critical. Accidents involving semi-trailers can be fatal. When they are not fatal, though, they can leave behind victims with life-altering injuries, including:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Crushed or broken bones
- Whiplash and other neck injuries
- Back injuries
- Permanent disabilities
These injuries can cause substantial pain and cause you to miss weeks, months or even years from work. They can also lead you to accruing crippling medical bills. In some cases, you’ll be rendered permanently disabled and unable to return to work at all — affecting your family’s short and long-term finances. Preventing truck-related accidents is the best possible cure.
Tips to Safely Share the Road With Tractor Trailers
The tips below will help you keep yourself, your family and your passengers safer while you are sharing the road with large trucks. Keep them in mind and make them a part of your routine driving habits every time you are out on the road.
Observe a Generous Tractor Trailer Following Distance
The State Farm learning center encourages drivers to keep a safe minimum distance behind semis and big rigs on the road. It reports that a good minimum distance for following these trucks is 20 to 25 car lengths.
Avoid Driving in Blind Spots or “No Zones”
Large trucks have even larger blind spots where they cannot see cars and trucks driving alongside or behind them. If you are within these blind spots, they cannot see you and may cross over into your lane in order to avoid road debris, animals and other hazards on the road ahead of them that you do not see.
You should also avoid merging into a truck’s blind spot whenever possible as it is easy for you to get lost in a sea of traffic. The fact that drivers cannot see you places you at significant risk. Instead of driving beside trucks for any distance, attempt to pass them quickly or allow them to pass you. In addition, avoid driving directly in front of trucks. If you can only see the truck’s grill in your rear-view mirror and cannot see into the cab of the truck, put a little more distance between you.
The old rule of thumb to consider is if you cannot see the truck’s mirrors, the driver cannot see you. Take that to heart.
Allow for Longer Stopping Distances for Trucks on the Road
Trucks are big, and you should always assume they are carrying full, heavy loads. How big are they? Believe it or not, many big rig trucks weigh 80,000 pounds or more when empty. When they are carrying full loads, they can weigh substantially more.
What this means is that trucks cannot stop as quickly as cars can. Tractor trailers need both time and distance to slow down to a full stop, and when they attempt to stop short they place themselves, their cargo and other vehicles on the road at even greater risk. Unfortunately, this can cause problems because of:
- How long it takes the driver to recognize the danger
- The reaction time of the driver
- Braking distance of the vehicle
Therefore, be careful to not cut off 18-wheelers, swerve in front of them or stop suddenly when one is coming up behind you on a highway or interstate.
It is in your best interest as one of the other vehicles on the road to allow tractor-trailers plenty of room to slow down and stop safely whenever possible. Auto accidents happen in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, large trucks cannot respond as quickly. That is why it is up to drivers to behave defensively behind the wheel and avoid placing themselves in harm’s way.
Watch for Wide Turns
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, trucks have a much wider turning radius than cars — 55 feet, in fact. This means trying to squeeze beside a truck when it has its turning signal on — especially if you are squeezing into the truck’s blind spot — can have disastrous consequences.
It is also risky if you are driving beside them and keeping pace with them in this situation as they may not see you as they veer over to make right-hand turns.
Obey Local Traffic Laws
Traffic laws exist to protect the safety of all who share the roads. Obey them when driving and pay attention to other cars on the roads that are not obeying them. This includes things like buckling your seatbelt for safety, respecting the speed limits, observing proper passing zones and even yielding to others on the road.
The flip side of that is to be a courteous driver, no matter how maddening the traffic becomes. For instance:
- Get over when signs inform you to do so for lane closures or road construction.
- Observe construction zone speed reductions.
- Do not drive aggressively.
- Avoid hard braking.
- Do not block intersections.
- Yield to faster traffic by moving over into a slower lane to allow faster traffic to move past you.
While some of these are matters of courtesy, they also make the road a nicer and safer place for all drivers when observed.
Slow Down When Road Conditions Call for It
There are times when it is in everyone’s best interests to slow down on the roads, including yours. That means large trucks and smaller passenger vehicles alike need to take their time to ensure everyone reaches their destinations safely. Common examples include driving in situations involving:
- Hard rain
- Excessive wind
- Heavy traffic
- Road debris
- Animals in the road
- Roads in a state of disrepair
- Road construction zones
- Heavy traffic
Being patient on the roads in the worst of conditions can save lives. You never know when the lives that will be saved are your own or those of the treasured passengers in your own vehicle.
Report Truckers on the Road Behaving Erratically
If you see truck drivers who are speeding excessively, swerving in and out of traffic, driving aggressively or otherwise exhibiting signs of possible intoxication or distracted driving, you owe it to the safety of everyone on the road to report that behavior as soon as it becomes safe to do so.
Obviously, you do not want to be searching for a mobile phone to make calls while driving. Consider having passengers make the report if possible. The key is to report bad driving from large trucks and tractor trailers to get these drivers off the road and reduce risks to other drivers on the road.
Do Not Drive While Impaired
Many people who would never consider driving after consuming alcohol have gotten behind the wheel while sleep deprived, taking prescription medications or otherwise distracted and unable to focus their full attention on what is happening on the road.
Driving distracted, specifically texting while driving, is very dangerous. According to the Brain Injury Society, texting while driving is similar to the effects on reaction time and judgment of drivers of consuming four beers — increasing the risks of a crash by 23 percent.
All distractions should be avoided when possible to keep the roadways safe for all drivers. This includes the distractions of applying makeup while driving, texting, reading, working, watching videos, arguing with children in the backseat, or conducting business with clients while driving. You do not only have to mind your actions on the road, you must also guard against the actions of other drivers who may be distracted too.
Pull Completely Off the Road in Emergencies
While this is one that has been taught in every driver’s education class for decades, it bears repeating. Get your entire car as far off the road as is safely possible in the event of an accident. Use proper signaling and safety tools, including vehicle hazard lights and flares, if needed on dark, stormy or foggy nights so that other drivers on the road know to provide plenty of clearance. Far too many fatalities occur when people are pulled over on the side of the road and attempting to change tires or make other minor repairs on busy, crowded highways.
Get Help From a PA Personal Injury Lawyer
If you are on the road with a tractor trailer, driving tips like these will help keep you safe. When the unthinkable happens, though, it is a good idea to have an experienced, compassionate attorney on your side who will be an advocate for you, the victim, and not serve the interests of large trucking companies and corporations.
If, despite your best efforts to keep the roadways safe for your family, you or a loved one has been injured or suffered loss of life as a result of a tractor-trailer accident, call a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney who is skilled at dealing with large truck accident cases.
Use this form today for a free consultation with an injury specialist at KBG Injury Law to learn more about how we can help you deal with the physical, emotional and financial consequences of a devastating truck-related accident. For Results You Deserve®, call KBG at 800-509-1011.