Driving around large semi-trucks on the highway is not the same as driving around other vehicles. Semi-trucks that are fully loaded can weigh more than 80,000 pounds – or more than 40 tons. All that extra weight makes it hard for these trucks to brake quickly or to respond to dangers on the road.
A car colliding with a massive tractor-trailer can be a worst-case scenario. The unequal match in weight and power causes these collisions to frequently result in very serious injuries or fatalities.
The 4 Don’ts of Driving Near Semi-Trucks
When driving behind a large truck, you should not do four things in particular: pass on the right, drive in a blind spot, cut off the truck, or get too comfortable.
Don’t Pass on the Right
Passing on the right is something you should never do around large semi-trucks. It is generally against the law. Trucks also have to swing widely to the left to make a right turn, creating a large gap that may make it seem like there is room to pass. If you try to pass a truck on the right, you leave open the opportunity that the truck will plow into your vehicle if it is trying to turn right.
Passing on the right is never a safe idea, but it presents even more problems if you try to do it to a truck. Stay safe and always use the left when passing.
Don’t Drive in a Blind Spot
Every vehicle has a blind spot for the driver, and truckers have a lot of them:
- Directly in front of the truck (because of the long hood)
- A distance behind the truck at which you cannot see its side mirrors
- Along either side of the truck
Truck drivers probably can’t see your vehicle if you are side by side with it. If you are in a truck’s blind spot and the driver makes a lane change or has to swerve to avoid debris or other obstacles, the results could be disastrous.
Stay safe and stay out of a truck’s blind spot. Truck drivers can see you best when you’re on the driver’s side of the truck. When passing a truck, you should always pass as quickly and safely as possible, and stay ahead of or behind the truck.
Don’t Cut Off a Truck
With all that weight in tow, it can be very difficult for a semi-truck to slow down or come to a stop quickly. In fact, it can take a large tractor-trailer the length of three football fields to come to a complete stop from traveling 60 mph.
If you cut off a semi-truck, the driver won’t be able to stop quickly and may just plow right into the back of your vehicle in what is known as an override. An override occurs when the truck is unable to slow down fast enough and it is forced on top of the car in front.
Leave plenty of room between you and a semi-truck when pulling into the same lane. Not only is it courteous, but it will also keep you both safe.
Don’t Get Too Comfortable
When you approach a semi-truck, or you see one approaching you, be on alert. Tractor trailers and other large trucks do not move the same as other vehicles on the road. Wind can push the trailers into other lanes, tires can explode onto the road, and the truck can start to drift across lanes if the driver becomes fatigued.
Unfortunately, a truck driver cannot react as quickly to these situations because of the size and the weight of the truck. You must be alert to take defensive measures as needed when the truck driver cannot, including braking or changing lanes quickly.
Is It Safe to Drive Behind a Semi Truck?
In general, try to avoid driving close to large tractor trailers, period. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) states that, when traveling behind large trucks, your following distance should be about 4 seconds between you and the truck in front of you. For speeds over 40 mph, leave additional space.
If you are tailgating a semi-truck, chances are that the driver can’t see you and that you can’t see anything in front of the truck – meaning that you also can’t know if obstacles are approaching. If the truck has to come to a sudden stop, you may not have any warning, and you could easily have an accident.
You’ve probably seen cars “drafting” behind trucks. Never do this. If the truck stops, you’ll probably go underneath the truck in what is known as an underride. Underrides often lead to decapitation.
It’s always a good idea to allow enough following space between you and another vehicle on the road. It’s even more important to do so when you are behind a large tractor-trailer.
3 Things You Should Do to Keep Safe Around Big Rigs
It’s not enough to simply avoid doing certain things on the road. You should also do these three things to keep yourself and others safe.
1. Pass on the left. Pass the rig quickly, maintaining a consistent speed, and move away from it. The closer you are to the truck, the more potential there is for risk.
2. Be predictable with your actions. If you need to change lanes or turn, signal well in advance. Change lanes or make your turn when you are away from the truck, where the driver can clearly see you and what your intentions are.
3. Be even more careful at night. With less traffic volume, truck drivers may take more risks and drive much faster as they try to meet tight deadlines. When driving at night around semi-trucks, you should therefore take extra precautions, such as leaving extra space and resisting the urge to pass until you’re in a well-lit area. At night, truck drivers may be more fatigued and may have a harder time spotting obstacles and dangers in the road. Don’t let your guard down.
Remember: Semi-trucks don’t behave the same way as other vehicles on the road. Following these tips will help keep you and other drivers safe.
Hurt in a Wreck While Driving Next to a Truck? Get a Free Case Evaluation
Friends, family, and a blog like this often have solid advice on how to drive safely near big rigs: You should not do this or you should not do that. Fine, but what about when you follow all those rules, and the truck driver still negligently causes a wreck?
While preventing an accident is ideal, it’s not always possible and not always up to you. If you get injured by a negligent truck driver, it’s important to know that these aren’t just regular traffic accidents on a larger scale. There could be many more involved parties and potential sources of insurance coverage when it comes to a negligent truck driver. Having a professional on your side who knows exactly what to look for and who to deal with is one of several good reasons to hire a truck accident attorney.