Safety Tips For Sharing The Road With Big Rigs

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Photo from Gerard Donnelly

One December night, I was on my way to a high school football game to cover it for the local newspaper. My car was zipping along the Interstate at a pace of about 70 miles per hour — 10 too fast for the big rig ahead of me. With a flick of the blinker, I scooted into the passing lane and began the journey around. Unfortunately, about halfway into it, the big rig driver decided he would come over into my lane with no warning.

Terrified, I swung the steering wheel left to avoid getting flattened like a pancake. With nothing but the shoulder to go on, I also hit my brake and began to spin out, back across traffic, narrowly avoiding the oncoming cars until my poor little car settled way over on the opposite shoulder.

I had narrowly avoided death, first from the mammoth 18-wheeler and next from the oncoming traffic. Call it Fate or God or blind luck, I was blessed to be alive, and I knew it. What disturbed me then and continues to do so every time I go around an 18-wheeler, however, was the utter lack of control I experienced that night. I was alive, but through no action of my own.

Unfortunately, many drivers who get in to accidents with 18-wheelers, aren’t as lucky.

Surprisingly — and running contrary to my experience — recent studies by the American Trucking Association and Federal Motor Carrier Association have shown that, most of the time, when there is an 18-wheeler vs. 4-wheeler accident, it’s generally the 4-wheeler to blame.

To help combat these problems, blogger and tire-company test driver Mac Demere shared these tips in a recent blog post for Allstate.

  • “Imagine the autobahn,” Demere states. “Herding 40 tons at 70 miles per hour feels a lot like running 155 miles per hour on the German autobahn, which I’ve also done. The stopping distance and accident-avoidance ability of the Freightliner on Interstate 26, and the Mercedes on A1 were roughly the same. Picture yourself on the autobahn, but you’re going a fuel-saving 60 miles per hour. … I, as the fast guy, must be prepared for traffic to change lanes or stop without warning, while you, the slowpoke, must avoid pulling in front of me or diving for the exit past the last moment. Now, reverse roles.”

  • “Look far ahead and aspire to recognize when a truck driver might need to change lanes,” Demere writes. [Note: In my case, there was no emergency vehicle up ahead; the truck driver simply switched lanes without looking.] “If you see emergency vehicle lights on the right shoulder, know that most state laws require the truck driver to move left. (Many say you do, too.)”

  • “Move on by,” Demere says, adding that you should, “Either pass or stay behind trucks. … If you can’t see the truck driver’s eyes in his mirrors, he hasn’t seen you. Since those mirrors are shaking like a wet dog, even then, he may not notice you. Imagine you are invisible to the trucker: You probably are.”

  • Finally, “If a truck driver engages his turn signal as you are passing, push either the accelerator or the brake pedal firmly. Get past the truck – NOW – or drop back. There might be a right-lane-blocking accident ahead: That happened to me. My choices were to slam into the spinning car — and potentially injure the driver — or change lanes with the hope there was room. (There was. Or maybe the car driver gave me — and herself — a break.)”


In Summary

Regardless of whose fault it is, you never want to find yourself as a participant in a big rig vs. 4-wheeler accident. The potential for physical damage — both to vehicle and person — is simply too great and must be avoided at all costs. By paying attention to the rules listed above, you can learn to be a more defensive driver no matter which automobile you’re commandeering. By anticipating what can happen and utilizing best practices for safety, you will stand a better chance of avoiding tragedy and arriving at your destination unharmed.

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