How to Stay Safe and Avoid a Tractor-Trailer Accident

Obviously, the easiest way to prevent you and your family from injuries on the road is to avoid accidents altogether.  While some accidents may be unavoidable, there are many ways you can drive defensively to help steer clear of less careful drivers.  This is especially important around “semi” trucks and tractor trailers.  Due to the size of these trucks and the conditions the drivers work in, it is absolutely important that you use great caution when driving around these vehicles on the road.  An important factor in preventing these types of accidents is to understand the danger.

InjuryBoard has developed this article to provide you with important information and simple techniques that will help you and your family stay safe and prevent accidents when on the road.

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Driving with Caution Around Trucks on the Road

Tractor trailers are less maneuverable, start more slowly and take longer to stop than other vehicles.  They are particularly susceptible to adverse road conditions.  The average semi truck with trailer can range from 12,100 pounds to 80,000 pounds.  The federal government even allows more and more trucks to operate at an overload capacity of over 80,000 pounds!  That means a large commercial truck like an 18-wheeler weighs about 25 times the average automobile – up to 40 times more than some small cars.  If a tractor trailer strikes a semi truck in the rear, it does not stop or slow appreciably.  When you factor in the size of the truck with the speed and weight, you can see why the possibility of other vehicles becoming part of an accident is great.  In fact, tractor trailer accidents account for an eighth of all traffic fatalities.

Another important factor in tractor-trailer accidents is the truck driver.  In more than 80 percent of tractor trailer traffic accidents, the non-commercial driver is not at fault.  Furthermore, most of the deaths or injuries in such accidents happen to the non-commercial driver.  There are many reasons truck drivers become the cause of accidents.  One of the critical reasons is fatigue.  Semi truck drivers are nearly always at work behind the wheel and most of the drivers work long shifts.  Truck drivers are supposed to be limited to 12 hour shifts.  Truck drivers are required to keep records to log their hours of service.  But, the nature of the trucking industry is that more miles means more money, but it also means more hours.  There’s always an incentive for truckers to push the envelope.  Sometimes this means drivers carry two sets of books.  One set of books records the real amount of time they’ve been on the road – those are the books that they get paid by.  The other version records less time, shows everything being done by the rules – those are the books that a driver shows to the Department of Transportation.  While there exist penalties for falsifying records, they are not very severe or effective at first. Yet, it only takes a few cases of abuse to make the road more dangerous.

Working these long hours, it is common for drivers to become fatigued or bored, which highlights another problem facing truck drivers and all of us that share the roadways with them – distractions.  Truckers working long hours get bored on the road and turn to things that distract them and keep them from driving safely on the road.  Many truck drivers will talk on cell phones, read books or newspapers, or pay attention to passengers to revive the boredom of driving long shifts.  As we all know, a distracted driver is a dangerous driver. 

While not all accidents can be prevented, there are many things we can do as drivers that can help us avoid these dangerous accidents.

Safety Tips to Avoid Tractor-Trailer Accidents

Although it is difficult to prevent a tractor-trailer accident, traffic experts say drivers can take certain critical steps to safeguard themselves.  The first thing is to understand the limitations of a truck driver. 

Pay attention, and treat trucks differently than you would other vehicles -- A truck’s size and weight can affect the driver’s ability to brake and stop the truck, and his/her ability to change lanes.  It is not easy for them to stop quickly, making tailgating extremely dangerous.  Therefore, it is important to keep a safe distance between you and the truck at all times, especially when changing lanes in front of a truck.  If you must pass a truck, do it in a hurry, with your full attention on the road.  And when possible, don’t drive next to a truck for any extended length of time.

Stay visible and anticipate the low visibility of the truck driver -- Trucks have large blind spots, with limited visibility next to and behind them.  Try to stay in the trucks visibility; if you cannot see the driver or his mirrors, chances are he/she is unable to see you.  Pay attention to the trucks turn signals, if the truck is signaling to turn, the driver may not see you and may turn in front of you.  Do not rely solely on your lights or horn to notify the driver of your presence, but also slow down your vehicle to stay out of the path of the truck.  

Take extra care when driving in adverse conditions -- In addition to the issues with the truck driver’s visibility and the size and weight of the truck, adverse driving conditions can affect all vehicles on the road.  Consider the road circumstances and slow down in rain, smoke, or fog and take more caution when driving at night.  A wet road can make it more difficult for your vehicle to stop and makes it extremely difficult for a truck driver to stop his vehicle.  Smoke and fog can make it more difficult for drivers to see the road and decrease the time you will have to respond to a dangerous situation on the road.  Also, take the design of the road into account since trucks may have difficulty navigating a narrow entrance/exit ramp on a highway or making a tight turn.  You may need to speed up or slow down to give the truck more room to maneuver.  Take caution when you are entering a highway from an entrance ramp and merging into a fast paced highway, where trucks may have trouble slowing down to allow you to merge in.

If you have to stop on a highway, pull completely off the road -- Drivers with a flat tire tend to change the flat right near the road, not wanting to park their car in the dirt and muck off the shoulder.  This also follows when you need to pull over because of vehicle malfunction or if you have been in an accident.  This can be a problem because truck drivers tend to follow traffic.  Truck drivers may “follow” the stopped car off the road and run right into it.  This is especially true with a fatigued driver who may look up at the road after a distraction or “nodding off,” and sees a car and knows they should pretty muFch be behind it.  If that is a car that has stopped, the truck driver may not realize that until they have literally come right up onto it.  It is best to get as far off the road as possible without going into a ditch, and if awaiting help remain in your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened.  If it is difficult or impossible to move your car to a safe area and you have no other alternative, you may want to get out of your car and leave the situation.  In this case, take all precaution to avoid traffic on the road and get as far as possible from moving traffic.

Avoid “road rage” -- Do not get aggressive or take out “road rage” against a truck.  Some truck drivers, due to impatience or the desire to drive as many miles as possible, will tailgate and drive aggressively.  Drivers may feel the desire to retaliate by cutting the truck driver off or braking suddenly.  However, this is a dangerous reaction.  Cars and SUVs are designed and tested against collisions with other like-sized vehicles, not against giant trucks that weigh tons.  If a trucker is driving aggressively, slow down and let him pass or get off at the nearest exit.  It is also important to report aggressive or faulty truck drivers when possible.

Try to expect the unexpected -- There are many things that you cannot prepare for on the road.  One of the biggest is other drivers.  Other vehicles on the road may drive in a manner around trucks that can cause accidents the truck driver cannot avoid, like changing lanes in front of the truck and stopping suddenly or following too closely and striking the back of the truck.  It is important to not only keep your distance from trucks on the road, but also other drivers that may cause accidents.  Trucks also have tire “blow-outs” that send all or most of their tires into the road around them.  It is not uncommon to see pieces of truck tire tread scattered on the highway as we drive.  When judging a safe distance between you and trucks and other vehicles on the road, keep this in mind as well. 

BOTTOM-LINE ADVICE -- Driving cautiously and patiently while working to avoid an accident is the best way to keep you and your family safe.  If you do find yourself involved in an accident, get the information you need to prevent further injury and get back on the road to recovery.

Read the next article:  What to Do When a Tractor-Trailer Accident Happens

Contact an attorney in your area.