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Truck Accidents

How to Stay Safe and Avoid a Tractor-Trailer Accident

Much of American commercial activity and movement of goods is done by commercial truck.  Unfortunately, many truck drivers suffer from issues with fatigue, overloaded schedules, and sometimes even drug use. Because of their massive sizes and heavy weights, trucks can cause significant damage and death if they’re involved in an accident. Recent statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration indicate that in 2009 (most recent comprehensive statistics) some 286,000 large trucks were involved in crashes nationwide, causing 51,000 people to be injured and 3,380 deaths. Although it is difficult to prevent a tractor-trailer accident, traffic experts say drivers can take certain critical steps to safeguard themselves and drive defensively to help steer clear of less careful drivers.  This is especially important around “semi” trucks and tractor trailers.  Because of the size of these trucks and the conditions the drivers work in, it is critically important that you use great caution when driving near these vehicles on the road.

Drive With Extra Caution Around Trucks on the Road

Tractor trailers are less maneuverable, start more slowly, and take longer to stop than other vehicles.  They are particularly susceptible to bad road conditions such as snow, ice or rain.  The average semi truck with trailer can range from 12,100 pounds to 80,000 pounds.  The federal government even allows more and more trucks to operate at an overloaded capacity of over 80,000 pounds.  That means a large commercial truck such as an 18-wheeler weighs about 25 times the average automobile – up to 40 times more than some small cars. Because of their weight, trucks require a longer distance and more time  to slow down than other vehicles on the road. Another important factor in tractor-trailer accidents is the truck driver. There are many reasons truck drivers become the cause of accidents.  A primary reason is fatigue.  Semi truck drivers are nearly always at work behind the wheel and most of the drivers work long shifts.  Truck drivers are supposed to be limited to 12 hour shifts.  Truck drivers are required to keep records to log their hours of service.  But, the reality of the trucking industry is that more miles means more money, but that also means long hours.  There’s always an incentive for truckers to travel more miles in order to make more money.

Keep A Safe Distance

Pay careful attention when you’re near a truck, and treat trucks differently than you would other vehicles. A truck’s size and weight can affect the driver’s ability to brake and stop the truck, and his ability to change lanes.  It is not easy for a truck driver to stop his truck quickly, making any tailgating by a truck extremely dangerous.  Therefore, it is important to keep a safe distance between you and the truck at all times, especially when changing lanes in front of a truck.  If you must pass a truck, do it as quickly and safely as possible, with your full attention on the road.  And when possible, don’t drive next to a truck for any extended length of time.

Be Aware of A Truck’s Visibility Limitations

Stay visible and anticipate the low visibility of the truck driver. Trucks have large blind spots, with limited visibility next to and behind them.  Try to stay in the truck’s visibility range. If you cannot see the driver or his mirrors, he is unable to see you.  Pay attention to the truck’s turn signals; if the truck is signaling to turn, the driver may not see you and may turn in front of you.  Do not rely just on your lights or horn to notify the driver of your presence, but also slow down to stay out of the path of the truck.  

Take Greater Precautions in Bad Weather

 Take extra care when driving in bad weather. Consider the road circumstances and slow down in rain, snow, smoke, or fog, and take more caution when driving at night.  A wet road can make it more difficult for your vehicle to stop and makes it very difficult for a truck driver to stop his vehicle.  Smoke and fog can make it more difficult for drivers to see the road and decreases the time you have to respond to a dangerous situation on the road.

Be Aware of How Road Design Can Affect Safety Conditions

Be mindful of the design of the road since trucks may have difficulty navigating a narrow entrance or exit ramp on a highway or making a tight turn.  You may need to speed up or slow down to give the truck more room to maneuver.  Take special caution when you are entering a highway from an entrance ramp and merging into a fast paced highway, where trucks may have trouble slowing down to allow you to merge in.

Be Very Careful If Must Stop Your Vehicle on A Highway

If you have to stop on a highway, pull completely off the road. Drivers with a flat tire tend to change the flat right near the road, not wanting to park their car in the dirt and muck off the shoulder.  Also pull completely over if you need to stop because of vehicle malfunction or if you have been in an accident.  Sometimes truck drivers may “follow” the stopped car off the road and run right into it.  This is especially true with a fatigued driver who may look up at the road after a distraction or “nodding off,” and sees a car and knows he should  be behind it. If the car the truck see is one that has stopped, the truck driver may not realize it until he has come right up onto it.  It is best to get as far off the road as possible without going into a ditch, and if awaiting help to remain in your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened.  If it is difficult or impossible to move your car to a safe area and you have no other alternative, you may want to get out of your car and position yourself away from it.  In this case, take all precaution to avoid traffic on the road and get as far as possible from moving traffic. Be certain to activate your vehicle’s flashers any time you stop on any roadway.

Avoid “Road Rage”

Do not get aggressive or take out “road rage” against a truck.  Some truck drivers, due to impatience or the desire to drive as many miles as possible, will tailgate and drive aggressively.  Drivers may feel the desire to retaliate by cutting the truck driver off or braking suddenly.  This is a dangerous reaction.  Cars and SUVs are designed and tested against collisions with other like-sized vehicles, not against giant trucks that weigh tons.  If a trucker is driving aggressively, slow down and let him pass or get off at the nearest exit.  It is also important to report aggressive or unsafe truck drivers when possible.

Try To Expect the Unexpected

 There are many things that you cannot prepare for on the road.  One of the biggest is the behavior other drivers.  Other vehicles on the road may drive in a manner around trucks that can cause accidents which the truck driver can’t avoid, such as changing lanes in front of the truck and stopping suddenly, or following too closely and striking the back of the truck.  It is important not only to keep your distance from trucks on the road, but also from other drivers whose unsafe driving may cause accidents.  Trucks also have tire “blow-outs” that send all or most of their tires into the road around them.  It is not uncommon to see pieces of truck tire tread scattered on the highway as we drive.  When judging a safe distance between you and trucks and other vehicles on the road, keep this in mind as well.