Stay Safe While Sharing the Road with Truckers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported 475,000 large truck crashes in 2016. Human error accounts for as much as 90 percent of trucking accidents. Many times, motorists simply do not realize that they must adjust their driving habits while in the presence of big rigs. Below are some things you should know to stay safe when sharing the road with a trucker.
Spot a Drowsy Driver
In a survey by Harvard’s Sleep Medicine Division, a quarter of all participants admitted they have nodded off while operating motor vehicles. Among truck drivers, that number doubles—nearly half of those surveyed claim to have fallen asleep behind the wheel. Despite maximum service hour limits, sleep deprivation among truckers is at an all-time high.
According to the FMCSA, as many as 28 percent of all truckers may suffer from sleep apnea, a dangerous condition that leaves people fatigued even after a full night’s rest. As such, it is possible to encounter drowsy truck drivers any time of day. A commercial operator who becomes drowsy may:
- Weave back and forth across the center line
- Repeatedly dip off the edge of the road
- Drive for extended distances over tops of rumble strips
- Continuously slow down, then speed up again
- Run through red lights or stop signs
If you notice any of these signs, remain a safe distance behind and do not pass. Gather as much information about the truck as possible, such as the tag number, DOT number, and the name and address of the trucking company. Once you have this information, notify the local highway patrol at once.
High Potential for Blowouts
With semis, treads can strip from a tire. If you are next to a truck when this happens, you’ll have to dodge wayward debris. The driver may also swerve, and may even over-correct to compensate. The odds that you will hit a chunk of tire and lose control increase as well.
If a driver near you loses tread, remain calm. Maintain a safe distance until the driver fully regains control. Pay attention to where debris lands so you can prevent contact if possible.
Beware of Blind Spots
A truck has blind spots all the way around the vehicle, not just on the sides. Know where a semi’s blind spots are so you can avoid them whenever possible.
The height of the cab and gentle curve of the hood partially block the road immediately in front of the truck. As such, never pull directly in front of a semi, but wait until you can fully see both headlights.
Directly behind a big rig is dangerous not only because the driver cannot see you, but also because you may not have adequate distance to stop. Always adhere to the five-second rule when behind a semi.
The area on either side of the vehicle near the front of the trailer is a blind spot that can extend several lanes over. Commercial drivers often refer to it as “no man’s land” because of the large area it covers.
Pass With Caution
Speed regulators adorn many commercial vehicles, and often force drivers to operate at between five to 10 miles per hour less than the posted limit. As such, you may find it necessary to pass a tractor-trailer. If so, follow these steps:
- Big rigs make wide right turns, so never pass on the right. Pass only on the left, and only where passing is allowed.
- Make sure the lane beside you is clear, and that you are at least two car lengths behind the truck.
- Signal, check your mirrors and blind spots, then pull out swiftly into the passing lane.
- Stay as close to the left edge of the passing lane as possible without going off onto the shoulder.
- Maintain a steady speed, and move around the semi as quickly as possible. Do not linger in any blind spots.
- Once you can fully see the headlights in your rearview mirror, signal and then move over.
While passing, watch for any sudden moves on the part of the operator. Should the trucker try to switch lanes, honk your horn and move over to the left shoulder if possible. Do not try to scurry around the vehicle; this can make matters worse and greatly increase the risk of an accident.
Allow Right-Hand Turns
Never try to go around a truck that has moved into the left-hand lane to make a right-hand turn. The operator may not see your vehicle and could crush you as a result. Wait until the driver has fully completed the turn before you make any sudden movements.
Be Mindful of Weather
You may think that wind would not blow a heavy vehicle such as a tractor-trailer around. In reality, trucks are notoriously difficult to control in heavy winds; their large surface area catches the wind, and can cause the vehicle to whip violently from side to side in severe gusts. Crosswinds pose unique hazards when they compromise a truck’s aerodynamics. This can lead to trailer swing, in which the back end skids over to one side.
Big rigs can also skid or slide on wet or icy pavement. This can increase the odds of a rollover or jackknife. A common myth is that the weight of a tractor-trailer will hold it down on wet pavement and keep it from hydroplaning; in reality, semis can hydroplane on water-logged roads, particularly if the trailer is empty.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains that large trucks and buses accounted for 4,440 fatal accidents in 2016. Serious injuries are also common, and may include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, paralysis, or losses of limbs. Actively look for signs of drowsy or distracted drivers, and follow the above safety tips to reduce your odds of an accident.
If you sustain injuries despite your best efforts, an attorney may help you obtain compensation. Contact the Dolman Law Group at (727) 451-6900 or to schedule a free consultation. We’ve handled numerous trucking accidents, and strive to place the interests of our clients first.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, Florida 33765