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Tips for Driving Around Tractor Trailers

Tips for Driving Around 18 Wheelers and Large Trucks

Large trucks and commercial vehicles such as tractor trailers, tankers, 18 wheelers, flatbeds and others are fundamentally different from passenger vehicles in several key aspects. These differences are the root of the unique challenges they pose on the road. Recognizing  them is the starting point of safe cohabitation with these vehicles on our roads.

The major aspects include:

1. Blind Spots

Commercial vehicles are notorious for their expansive blind spots, also known as “no-zones”. These are areas around the vehicle where the driver’s view is severely limited or entirely obscured. Tractor trailers have blind spots on all four sides: one lane wide on the left, two lanes wide on the right, about 20 feet in front, and up to 30 feet behind the vehicle.

2. Braking Distance

Owing to their enormous weight, tractor trailers require significantly longer distances to come to a complete stop compared to passenger cars. Stopping a fully loaded 18-wheeler can take the length of up to two football fields, which is about 40% longer than the stopping distance for a passenger vehicle.

3. Space Requirements

Due to their size, tractor trailers occupy a large footprint on the road. They require extra space for maneuvers like changing lanes and turning. For instance, trucks have a turning radius of 55 feet, necessitating additional lanes to complete turns safely.

4. Wide Turns

Large commercial vehicles, particularly tractor trailers, make wide turns. The cab and the trailer follow different paths during the turn, often requiring the truck to swing wide or initiate the turn from a middle lane to ensure safety.

5. Driver Fatigue

Tractor trailer drivers often spend long hours behind the wheel, increasing their risk of driver fatigue. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) permits truck drivers to drive for up to 11 hours per day, potentially making fatigue a critical safety issue.

 

Imperatives for Driving Around Tractor Trailers

Keeping the unique attributes of tractor trailers in mind, let’s dive into the golden rules of safety when driving around these commercial vehicles.

1. Drive Defensively

when in the vicinity of large vehicles like tractor trailers. It involves vigilance, speed control, anticipating potential risks, and readiness to react promptly and appropriately to other drivers’ actions.

2. Avoid Blind Spots

Tractor trailers have substantial blind spots on all four sides. When driving near these vehicles, avoid lingering in these no-zones. If you can’t see the driver in the truck’s side mirror, they probably can’t see you. Thus, to stay visible, either speed up to move ahead of the truck or slow down and stay behind it.

3. Allow Ample Space

Tractor trailers require extra space to execute maneuvers safely, owing to their size and length. So, whether you’re making a right turn, changing lanes, or passing a truck, always ensure you leave enough space for the truck to operate without hindrance.

4. Keep a Safe Following Distance

Maintaining a safe following distance is crucial when driving behind a tractor trailer. Tailgating a large vehicle not only obscures your view of the road ahead but also puts you at risk of a severe rear-end collision. The safe following distance from a tractor trailer should be at least four seconds.

5. Use Your Signals

Truck drivers need more time to respond to other drivers’ actions due to their vehicles’ size and weight. Therefore, always signal your intentions to turn or change lanes well in advance, allowing the truck driver sufficient time to react.

6. Pass with Caution

Passing a tractor trailer or 18-wheeler is not the same as passing a passenger vehicle. Always pass on the left side of the truck, as the right side is the truck’s largest blind spot. Ensure the entire truck is visible in your rearview mirror before you merge back into your lane.

7. Dim Your Lights

Tractor trailers have larger mirrors than passenger vehicles, which can be affected by bright headlights. When driving behind or passing a large truck at night, dim your lights to avoid blinding the truck driver.

8. Never Cut Off a Truck

Cutting off a tractor trailer is a dangerous move. Due to their long braking distances, trucks can’t stop as quickly as passenger cars, increasing the risk of a collision. So, always ensure the entire front of the truck is visible in your rearview mirror before merging in front of it. Being patient can pay off in situations where you may be tempted to cut a commercial vehicle off.

9. Avoid Distractions

Distracted driving is a significant risk factor when driving around large vehicles like tractor trailers. Whether it’s using a mobile phone, adjusting the radio, or eating while driving, any form of distraction can be hazardous. It is best to keep your focus at all times.

10. Respect Physics: Size, Weight, and Speed Matter

Tractor trailers have a significant size and weight difference compared to other vehicles on the road. These differences influence how truck drivers operate their vehicles, affecting acceleration, braking, and maneuverability. Therefore, always consider these variables when driving around these large vehicles.

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