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Highway Safety: Running with the Big Rigs

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/2/2006 | Self Improvement
How often have you gone by an accident scene and noted that a tractor trailer was involved? Sometimes it is the trucker's fault, but all too often the driver of one of the cars on the road did something stupid. The trucker managed to avoid hitting that car, but may have jackknifed or run off the road in the process.

Ask a group of truckers about their pet peeves about the other vehicles on the road, and one of the most common answers will be that the cars do not leave enough room for the trucks to stop or maneuver. Trucks need a lot more room to stop safely than cars do. How often have you seen a truck slowing down as it approaches a stop light? The driver tries to leave at least a few car lengths in front of him, and then a few cars pass him and slip back in filling up that safety zone he tried to create.

Why do trucks need so much room? After all, they have eighteen wheels, with a braking mechanism on each one, and a car only has 4. Most cars, light trucks, and SUV's average between 2000 and 6000 pounds. Divided by four wheels, each brake only has to handle 500 to 1500 pounds of weight. A tractor with a fifty-three foot trailer weighs between 30,000 and 35,000 pounds when it is empty, and the legal maximum loaded weight is 80,000 pounds. So, if you divide the weight by the number of wheels, that empty tractor trailer has a little more weight per tire than the large SUV. And when the truck is loaded, the weight per wheel comes out to almost three times that of the SUV, and over eight times the weight per wheel of the lightweight subcompact.

When running among the big rigs, make sure you stay where they can see you. Trucks do not have the centered rearview mirror that cars have. The view would be blocked by the trailer or the sleeper of a sleeper cab tractor, and that type of mirror would be useless. Therefore, all the driver has are his big side mirrors. If you cannot see those mirrors, the driver cannot see you.

On the passenger side of most tractors is another blind spot, right alongside of the door. Many drivers put an extra mirror over the door to show if somebody is driving next to them, and some tractors have a small window in the lower front corner of the passenger door. But it is very easy for a small car to hide out of the trucker's sight in that blind spot. If you are in the lane to the right of a truck, either slow down or speed up so that you are no longer next to him. Always stay where he can see you.

One final note on courtesy signaling: if you can turn your headlights on and off manually, that is a standard signal to let a trucker know that he has passed you and can safely move into your lane. If your car is one that turns its headlights on automatically, flashing your high beams briefly also works. Flashing the high beams, unfortunately, is only effective at night. In the daytime, the difference is very difficult to detect.

In many ways, it is easier and safer to run with the trucks than with the cars. Trucks are much more limited in what they can do and how fast they can respond. That gives an alert automobile driver an advantage that he does not have when running with other cars.