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Five Things You Need to Know When Driving around Trucks

Woodruff Johnson & Evans Law Offices

1. Tired Truck Drivers = Dangerous Truck Drivers

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The driver of the truck you pass on the road may be fatigued. There are federal regulations that govern the amount of time truckers can work. For example, a trucker cannot drive more than eleven hours in a 24-hour period. A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study done in the year 2000 showed that the risk of a trucking accident nearly doubles between the eighth and tenth hour of driving. Incredibly, the risk of crashing doubles again between the tenth and eleventh hours of driving. Thus, even a truck driver who is following the federal regulations for hours of service becomes more dangerous the longer he drives on a given day. Imagine the threat to the motoring public posed by a truck driver who is notfollowing the regulations.

The reality is that truckers and trucking companies are often conflicted between safety and profit. Indeed, some trucking companies give lip service to “safety first” while at the same time providing their employees with a delivery schedule that is impossible to follow without violating the hours of service regulations, or speeding, or both! Fatigued drivers fall asleep at the wheel, have impaired reaction time and impaired cognition. Couple this with the fact that trucks are more difficult to operate than cars and their massive size, and you have a catastrophic accident waiting to happen.

2. The Truck May Not Be Fit to Be on the Road

The sad reality is that many trucking companies put profits over safety when it comes to maintaining their trucks. Some trucking companies are barely getting by and run their business on a shoestring budget. These companies cannot afford to properly maintain their trucks. It is impossible to know whether the truck that is driving behind you has properly maintained brakes or tires.

Brakes that are out of adjustment or worn may lead to a total brake failure. The risk of brake failure increases when it is hot outside or when traveling downhill. Worn out tires can blow out and cause the truck driver to lose control. Thus, always give the truck behind you plenty of space and time to stop.

3. Size Is a Life and Death Matter

Sir Isaac Newton formulated what we all innately know to be true, Force = Mass x Acceleration (F = ma). An eighty thousand pound truck going the relatively low speed of 25 miles per hour applies two million pounds of force on any object it hits. Obviously, collisions with trucks are far more deadly than collisions with regular-sized vehicles because of the massive amount of force a truck can deliver.

Another potential issue involving weight occurs when trucks are improperly loaded. It is important to evenly distribute the weight of the load throughout the trailer. Many people are not aware that the rear axle assembly on a trailer can be shifted forward or backward to help distribute weight. If a truck is not loaded properly, it can cause the truck to tip over or jackknife during turns. Improperly loaded goods can shift and fly off the trailer.

The weight of trucks also significantly increases a truck’s stopping distance. A passenger car traveling 65 miles per hour takes approximately 300 feet to stop (1 football field). A truck weighing 80,000 pounds will take approximately 525 feet to stop (almost 2 football fields). Thus, do not cut off a truck near a stoplight and expect it to be able to stop in time.

4. The Tail Wags the Dog during Turns

A truck’s trailer can significantly impact the way it is driven. The most common example of this is “off tracking.” Off tracking is the term used to describe the fact that the trailer will not follow the same path as the tractor when the truck makes a turn. Thus, the zone of danger covered by a turning truck is far greater than the path of the tractor. A common example of a collision caused by off tracking occurs when a tractor trailer is making a turn at a city intersection and a motorist attempts to pass the turning truck on the right. The driver of the passenger car thinks there is space to pass on the right because he is observing the path of the tractor. Seconds later the window of opportunity for passing slams shut as the truck’s trailer pins the passenger car against a light pole.

5. Be Seen, Not Hurt

The size of trucks creates large blind spots. Trucks do not have rearview mirrors. There is a blind spot approximately equal to three times the truck’s length behind it. The old maxim is true. “If you cannot see the truck’s mirrors, the truck cannot see you.” There are significant blind spots on the sides of large trucks as well. For this reason, it’s very dangerous to switch lanes into a truck’s blind spot.

In conclusion, it is necessary to take extra care when driving around trucks. A motorist should account for the fact that a trucker may not be alert because of fatigue. Motorists should be aware that many trucks are not properly maintained and should be ready to react in case of equipment failure. The size and weight of trucks also makes it harder for trucks to stop. The bottom line is that any collision with a truck is likely to have catastrophic consequences. Unlike a plane crash where you have no control, there are measures you can take to lessen the risk of a truck accident ever happening to you.

If you or a family member are injured in a truck accident, it is important that you retain an attorney who understands how trucks work and the causes for trucking accidents.

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