Crashes involving trucks and 18-wheeler trucks have been increasing alarmingly throughout the United States. In a recent study of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FCSA), vehicular accidents involving commercial freight vehicles killed 3,200 in 2009 and more than 5,000 people by 2019 – a 56.25% jump in just a decade.
When empty, 18-wheelers trucks weigh around 35,000 pounds and can reach up to 80,000 pounds when loaded. Even when oblivious of these numbers, the average person knows that 18-wheelers are practically giant battering rams on wheels.
But although 18-wheelers are huge and terrifying, what’s surprising is that they only cause less than 20% of all their accidents involving small vehicles. You read that right: Almost 80% of the time, the accident is actually caused by a smaller car.
Since you’re much more likely to cause a crash with an 18-wheeler than have one cause a collision with you, how you share roads with these giants is crucial. Here are five pointers on how you can avoid dangerous accidents with 18-wheelers:
Avoid the blind spots
Regardless of what car you drive, you may have experienced the feeling of shock that comes with a near-miss. You just looked at your mirrors, and you could’ve sworn there was no car zooming in. Either that other car came at you with the speed of light, or it was in one of your blind spots when you last looked. 18-wheelers have it much worse.
Due to their lengths – usually between 70 and 105 feet long – drivers have greatly diminished visibility on both sides of the truck, the back, and front.
Understanding a truck’s blind spots is very important for driving safely around them because their blind spots cover an area that’s so large it’s hard to comprehend. In front of an 18-wheeler truck alone, there are 20 square feet of blind space, and immediately behind it, 200 square feet. On the left and right sides combined, the blind covers three lanes. In fact, it’s estimated that the total blind area of an average 18-wheeler truck spans thousands of square feet.
Trailer trucks also do not have rear-view mirrors, meaning truckers can only rely on side mirrors to see where other vehicles are. Couple this with the stark height difference, and you’ll quickly get why, unfortunately, flattened cars underneath trailer trucks are not an uncommon sight.
An 18-wheeler truck driver’s seat is almost 5 feet high, while even in a Chevrolet Tahoe (one of the largest SUVs in the market), the most you’ll get is below 3.5 feet. The height difference between an 18-wheeler and an average automobile makes the smaller vehicle invisible to the truck at many angles.
The rule to remember: If you can’t see the truck driver, he can’t see you.
According to 2017 data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Georgia has the second-highest number of tailgating citations, with 45 drivers cited for tailgating per 10,000 motorists. Second only to Idaho, with 76 drivers cited per 10,000 motorists. In contrast, the nationwide average is only 14 out of every 10,000 citations. 1
If the truck has to stop quickly, there’s a chance you might not be able to apply your brakes in time to avoid a crash, resulting in a rear-end collision. Although rear-end collisions only account for around 7% of all vehicle fatalities, rear-end collisions account for one-third of all crashes.2
Unlike crashing into a car in front of you, an 18-wheeler’s trailer will hit you eye-level – significantly increasing chances of death or severe head injuries at the least.
Never pass on the right.
Keep in mind that large trucks have two lanes worth of blind area to their right. They often move to their right since, as slower-moving vehicles, most laws require 18-wheelers to stay on the rightmost lanes of highways. If you want to avoid being bulldozed by a large truck trying to take an upcoming exit or simply moving to the slow lane, always pass it by its left side.
But just because a truck’s left side has a significantly smaller blind area than the right, it doesn’t mean that it’s entirely safe. Always pass quickly but cautiously and never try to pass while going uphill or downhill. You should also make sure to maintain a constant speed as you pass the truck and not return to the lane in front of the truck until you can clearly see the driver in your rear-view mirror. Remember our rule of thumb? If you can’t see the truck driver, he can’t see you. And when he can’t see you, the chances of you becoming a cautionary tale grows exponentially.
Learn to yield
When a large truck passes you, don’t try to start a race. Because of their size and weight, 18-wheelers are much more challenging to handle and maneuver and need more time to accelerate or decelerate. By slowing down and giving way, you will be allowing the truck driver to merge into your lane safely.