Sharing the Road Safely With Big Trucks

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Though today’s cars are engineered to be safer than ever, with many even able to auto-brake to avoid getting into collisions, size still matters when it comes to occupant protection. By that measure larger and heavier vehicles tend to fare better in a crash, with big rig semi-trucks being kings of the road in that regard.

However, sharing the road safely with large trucks can be a challenge. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,986 people died in large truck crashes last year, with passenger-car drivers at fault in 80 percent of truck-auto collisions.

One of the biggest problems is that while it’s easy to spot a tractor-trailer on the highway from a passenger car, it’s more difficult the other way around. That’s because truck drivers tend to suffer multiple blind spots in front of, behind, and alongside their vehicles. Large trucks are also slower to react to emergency situations than sedans and SUVs, need considerably more room to maneuver; they’re also more susceptible to cross winds than autos, given their sheer size and weight.

For starters, always give trucks their space. Maintain a safe distance – say, four seconds or more – between your car and a truck in your path so you can react in time to sudden stops or emergencies, including blowouts.

When passing a truck, do so only on the left side and be extra-aware of the driver’s blind spot to avoid a collision if the driver subsequently decides to change lanes or exit the highway. The rule of thumb here is that if you can’t see the driver, the driver can’t see you.

Never cut in front of a large truck, which tends to be far slower to bring to a stop than any passenger car, SUV, or pickup. A fully-loaded tractor trailer can take the length of a football field (including end-zones) to come to a halt at highway speeds.

If the weather in inclement, pay attention to a truck’s so-called tire spray, which can give you some indication of current road conditions. If there’s considerable water being thrown from a truck’s tires, it means the pavement is wet and you should take extra precautions. If there’s less tire spray but the roads look wet, that means the pavement is beginning to freeze and it’s prudent to maintain a slower speed. But if there’s no spray coming from a truck’s tires, yet the road still looks wet, that means you’re riding over so-called black ice and should be particularly careful to avoid spinning out of control.

With much of the country still experiencing winter weather, be extra careful if you find yourself sharing the road with one or more snow plows. It’s best to say behind a plow, if for no other reason, because that’s where the road will be the safest. Experts say to maintain an comfortable distance – about 15 truck lengths – away from plows, as drivers can frequently change lanes, make turns, or exit a highway without much notice. Do not pass or get between trucks plowing in a plow line, which is when two or more trucks are plowing a multi-lane highway side by side.

Otherwise, if you’re in the process of passing or riding alongside a snowplow, be sure not to crowd the truck; not only does the driver have a restricted field of vision, the plow can throw up a cloud of snow that can reduce your visibility to zero.

If visibility is reduced and you’re coming up on what looks like a cloud of snow, take heed, as it could be concealing a snowplow.

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