Passenger vehicles and commercial trucks share an uneasy coexistence. Truck drivers face industry pressure to get to their destination fast and many car drivers don’t know how to handle their vehicles in the presence of a big rig. Look at the 30,000 pounds a semi-truck weighs and the average 4,000 pounds a passenger car weighs. There’s not much doubt about who will take the worst of any potential collision.
Accidents are all too frequent. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 5,096 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes in 2018, a 1-percent increase from 2017.
We all face deadlines and a lot of those are pressure-packed. But we aren’t all handling an 18-wheel semi in traffic when dealing with our deadlines. Truck drivers are. Compensation and job retention are tied to the ability to make the deadline and those deadlines do not always facilitate cautious driving. This causes problems in the following areas.
- Fatigue. A driver who pushes long hours to make their deadline is more likely to suffer an accident caused by simply being tired. There are federal regulations in place for how long a driver can stay behind the wheel and responsible companies abide by them. But even the low end of those regulations has a driver on the road at least 10 hours a day.
- Distracted driving. Most of us have been on a drive that lasts the 10-14 hours a truck driver can be on the road. We probably remember how boring it could get. Now imagine doing that every single day and you understand the temptations truck drivers have to check their phones or otherwise lose focus. And it only takes once.
- Maintenance. The trucking company has the responsibility to ensure their vehicles are in safe conditions, but the same tight deadlines make it more likely that important safety measures may be overlooked.
- High turnover. Trucking companies have to have a low tolerance for human mistakes from their drivers, lest it be used against them in a potential personal injury legal case. But that also means high turnover among drivers. Less experience behind the wheel means less safety on the road.
Passenger vehicle fault
It’s not uncommon for passenger vehicle drivers to be nervous around trucks and to be unfamiliar with how to drive safely near a big rig. The following mistakes are common.
- Driving in areas where a truck driver has limited or no visibility.
- Misjudging a truck’s speed, either at a residential intersection or when merging onto a freeway.
- Not getting far enough ahead of the truck before attempting to pass. In the right (or wrong) weather conditions, this can result in the car being blown out of position by air turbulence.
- Changing lanes too abruptly in front of the truck. This is hazardous under any circumstances, but especially so for an 18-wheel rig that will find it harder to just slam on the brakes.
The issues discussed here don’t even include the drug and alcohol usage that causes accidents of any kind. The lesson is this: be careful when you’re driving near a truck. Pass at the first opportunity, but do so with patience.