There's nothing fun about driving next to an 18-wheeler. They're big and they have a frightening tendency to drift in and out of your lane more often than you'd like. But sharing the road with a big rig need not be a nightmare — there are things you can do to make it easier on yourself and your friendly neighborhood truck driver.
how to drive around big rigs
You'll notice a theme throughout our driving tips — patience and awareness. These 2 virtues are never more valuable than when you find yourself navigating the roads alongside a big truck.
Take no chances (even when it's inconvenient)
When a truck's about to move into your lane, your first instinct might be to speed up and cut the vehicle off so you don't get stuck behind it. But this type of move puts you in danger. A truck can't stop as fast as your car, so if you suddenly cut in front of a truck and then hit the brakes, you're asking for a serious accident.
Always choose inconvenience over potential accidents.
Pass with extra care
Give the truck even more space than you would give other vehicles you normally pass. One point of reference is to make sure the front of the rig is visible in your rear-view mirror before returning to the truck's lane. The goal is to avoid putting the truck driver in a situation where sudden braking is necessary.
Watch out for those turns
Operate under the assumption that the truck driver can't see you. Truck drivers may need to swing wide to the left in order to make a right turn, so trying to squeeze directly behind or beside them could cause a collision. Wait to see where a truck intends to turn before making any move — and be sure to give it enough room.
5 reasons why big trucks present a driving challenge
Truck drivers are, for the most part, highly trained professionals, so why is it frightening to drive next to them? The truth is, it's (usually) not a problem with the truck driver's competence or driving habits. Instead, it's the truck itself that poses a variety of dangers. We'll explain why.
Weight difference and the law of gross tonnage
An 18-wheeler is just about the biggest thing on the road (besides, of course, the world's largest thermometer off I-15). And if you've ever gone sailing, you may be familiar with the law of gross tonnage — that is, if another vessel is larger than yours, you are obligated by your own sense of self-preservation to get out of its way.
The same applies on the road, because if you crash your 2-ton sedan into a 40-ton truck (or the other way around), it's inevitable that your car will sustain more serious damage than the semi. It's just a matter of physics and common sense (2 areas that don't always overlap).
The risk of underride/override
Because large trucks are just that, large, a collision with one can lead to underride or override, depending on who crashes into whom. Cars that rear-end large trucks are in danger of sliding under the truck on impact. Override can happen when a truck crashes into a car from behind, overriding the rear of the vehicle. Both scenarios are grim. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that, in 2012, 67 percent of fatalities in large truck accidents were car occupants.
Trucks that weigh in excess of 10,000 pounds are required by law to have rear underride guards, though the effectiveness of these devices has been called into question. In a 2013 report, the IIHS found that while most underride guards functioned properly when a car going 35 mph struck the center of the trailer, almost all the guards buckled when only 30 percent of the car's width overlapped with the truck's trailer. If that seems confusing, here's the main takeaway: unless the collision is directly head-on, there's a significant risk that the underride guard could fail.
Because of their weight, big trucks take longer (sometimes twice as long) to stop than other vehicles. Pure physics is at work here. The sort of drivers who like to bob and weave through heavy traffic can run into trouble if they forget that trucks aren't able to stop on a dime.
Trucks have lots of "no-zones"
Big trucks have "no-zones" (otherwise known as blind spots) all around them, which is where truck-related accidents are more likely to happen. When driving in a truck's "no-zone," your car disappears from the truck driver's view. According to one report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a whopping one-third of accidents between cars and large trucks occur because of no-zones. A good rule of thumb is that if you can't see the driver's face in the truck's side mirror, chances are the driver can't see you.
Splash and spray
In wet conditions, large trucks can splash or spray snow, water, and mud onto other cars. And sudden splash or spray on your windshield can do a number on your ability to see. If you're driving in inclement weather (or weather that was recently inclement), it's especially important to give trucks lots of space so you don't wind up with 18-wheels' worth of mud on your windshield.
More driving tips
Car insurers like us love safe drivers. Continue your safe-driving education by reading through our other driving tips.
Top 7 driving phobias
Did you know that 20 percent of drivers fear driving near large trucks? Learn about the other top driving phobias and how to conquer them on the Esurance blog.
Sharing the road with buses
Now that you know all you need to about sharing the road with trucks, learn how do to so with buses.
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