14 Tips for Driving Around 18 Wheelers

Each year, more than 4,000 fatal accidents involving large trucks or buses occur. And while car drivers often think of truck drivers as big bullies of the road, the fact is that 72% of crashes between large trucks and passenger vehicles are caused by car drivers. Driving too fast, improper following, and failure to stay in an appropriate lane are often the cause of fatal crashes with 18 wheelers.

Accidents with 18 wheelers and other large trucks often turn fatal, and it's not hard to understand why. Legally, 18 wheeler trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. That's 40 tons of weight barrelling down the highway. By comparison, the average passenger car is 4,000 pounds, just two tons. In a collision, there's no question which vehicle will suffer the most damage, which is why passengers and drivers in cars and small vehicles should be especially careful when driving around large trucks.

While there are certainly a few bad apples, most truck drivers are careful professionals who are concerned about your safety and theirs. They practice driving techniques that can keep you safe on the road, but there's only so much they can do behind the wheel of an overwhelmingly large vehicle. It's up to passenger vehicle drivers to stay safe and give trucks the room they need to maneuver safely through traffic.

It can be dangerous driving with big rigs on the road, but to stay safe, you have to share the road. Follow these tips to practice safe driving habits around 18 wheelers and avoid becoming a deadly statistic.

  1. Never text and drive: Driving distracted is always dangerous, but it's especially life threatening while large trucks are around. The five seconds it takes you to reply to a text could mean life or death if there's an 18 wheeler stopped in front of you and you don't see it.
  2. Avoid cutting off trucks: Trucks are much heavier than passenger vehicles, and that means it takes them much longer to stop as well. An 18 wheeler with a full load driving at 60 miles an hour could take the length of three football fields to stop. That's far from stopping quickly, and that means they could plow right through whatever is in their way while they're trying to stop -- including your vehicle. You certainly don't want to be in the way of a truck, so be careful not to cut too closely in front of them. It's also a good idea to avoid driving immediately in front of a truck if you can drive somewhere else that would be safer. Keep in mind that trucks have a blind spot in front, so in some cases, they may not even realize you're there, increasing the potential that you could be hit from behind by a 40 ton vehicle.
  3. Don't tailgate a truck, either: Tailgating a truck is just asking for trouble. For one, large debris may follow trucks and hit your windshield. But more importantly, it is especially hazardous to get into a rear end collision with a large truck, as your windshield is likely to be hit rather than your front bumper. Further, as they're sitting up high, truck drivers can often see things up ahead on the road before other drivers and can react sooner. That means they may hit the brakes stop before you realize that you should, too. It's important to give them space so that you don't run into them. Also keep in mind that trucks have a rear blind spot, so they may not notice vehicles that are following extremely close.
  4. Be aware of where trucks are: Trucks prefer to drive in the middle lane to avoid the fast lane on the left and cars getting off and on in the right lane. If you want to avoid being in front of or behind trucks, stick to the left or right lanes.
  5. Never drive right next to a truck: In addition to increasing your chances of being hit by a lost tire or road debris picked up by a truck, driving next to a truck increases your chances of a fatal accident. Trucks have a large blind spot next to them on both sides (and in front and back). Hang out in these spots, and they might not realize you're next to them when they're changing lanes, swerving to avoid debris, or turning. If you can't see the driver's face in the side view mirror, they can't see you.
  6. Pass trucks quickly: Remember that blind spots are everywhere on 18 wheeler trucks, and the best way to avoid them is to out of their way completely or get through blind spots quickly. If you must pass a truck, pass on the left and be careful to make it through their blind spot near the cab as quickly as you can while maintaining a safe speed.
  7. Stay out of the way on mountain roads: If you're coming down a hill on a mountain with a truck behind you, move out of their way. It is more difficult for trucks to stop any time, but it's especially difficult on mountains when they're dealing with downward momentum and potentially hot brakes. Runaway trucks can and do happen in the mountains, and it's best to not be in their way. If you're moving slower than they are on a mountain road, it may not be physically possible for a truck to slow down and avoid a rear collision.
  8. Give trucks room to turn: Trucks are large and particularly long, so they need more space to turn. Watch for turn signals on trucks, and be careful not to pass a truck with a signal to turn in any direction. Remember to stop before stop lines at an intersection so that you can give trucks plenty of room to get through without hitting you.
  9. Watch out for tire blowouts: We've all seen remnants of truck tires on the highway, and there's a good reason for that: 18 wheeler tire blowouts happen all the time. Stay clear of trucks to avoid being hit by heavy rubber as it flies off of a truck. It's also smart to give truckers room so that you're not next to them if they start swerving during a blowout.
  10. Give trucks the right of way: If you're in a position to choose whether to go first or let a truck do so instead, give the right of way to the truck. It's typically safer to let trucks get through before you rather than trying to push your way in front of them.
  11. Watch for light communications: Drivers of 18 wheelers often communicate using lights, particularly when merging. A truck that flashes its lights once is giving you the go ahead to merge in front of them. But high beams or multiple flashes means it's not safe to merge in front of them.
  12. Follow trucks off the highway in bad weather: As professional drivers, truckers are well versed in driving through inclement weather. So if you're in tough weather conditions and wondering whether or not you should stay on the road, look to truckers for advice. Or rather, look for them on the highway. If they're not driving on the highway during heavy weather, you probably shouldn't either.
  13. Keep an eye out for drifting: An 18 wheeler truck that is drifting between lanes may have you thinking that the driver is drunk, sleeping, or texting. While those are all possibilities, it's also possible that they're simply being pushed around by the wind. Trucks, especially those that are not fully loaded down in the back, can be pushed around due to their top heavy nature. They can even be blown over during serious wind storms. You should always give trucks space, but especially when there are windy conditions present.
  14. Be a responsible driver: Using common sense on the road is always helpful, but it's even more important when driving around 18 wheelers. Avoid sudden movements including lane changes, sudden stops, or abrupt turns. Instead, give trucks plenty of room and notice when you're making a change.

Photo by Flickr user mark233

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