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Tractor Trailers as Highway Hazards

Many people are so afraid to fly that they will go out of their way to drive to avoid air travel. What's odd about that is the fact that statistically you are more likely to suffer a fatal or serious injury on the highways rather than in an airplane. At least while we are sitting in our cramped seat thousands of feet above the earth, we don't have to deal with the main hazard of the roadway, the tractor trailer.

Over the years, our firm has handled a significant number of serious motor vehicle accidents involving tractor trailers. All of these cases share some unfortunate similarities. Usually you are dealing with either a fatality or a very seriously injured person and in virtually all of the cases the tractor trailer was the clear winner in its confrontation with the automobile.

Many automobile/tractor trailer accidents happen because of the numerous blind spots that the operator of the tractor trailer has. Since there are so many tractor trailers on the road, and we as motorists probably encounter hundreds of them on a long trip, it is important to be aware of the blind spots. By definition, a truck driver cannot see you if you are in one of his blind spots, so the truck driver will not account for your presence.

It's important to know that there are actually four blind spots for the operator of a tractor trailer. The two blind spots that almost everyone recognizes are on either side of the tractor trailer. On the left side, a blind spot exists from approximately the driver's door back to the rear wheel of the tractor. Even with mirrors, there is a blind spot and a truck driver can't see your vehicle while it is in that area in the next lane passing. On the right side, this blind spot exists even further back for nearly the length of the tractor trailer and beyond.

Because of these two blind spots it is extremely important that a driver first stay out of them as much as possible. Driving next to a truck on the right or left for any length of time is dangerous. One common mistake when passing a tractor trailer is to be tentative in an attempt to pass. This is also dangerous because as a result of the indecision of the driver, the car may be in a blind spot and will therefore be invisible to the truck driver. The best advice then is to pass a tractor trailer as quickly as is safely possible. Under no circumstances should a driver attempting to pass a truck lose their nerve and simply ride next to it for any length of time. Keep in mind too that the blind spot on the right side of the truck extends for some period beyond the lane immediately next to the truck and into the other lanes.

There are two additional blind spots that drivers frequently forget to consider as well. There is a significant blind spot behind the truck that goes for some distance. The general driving safety rule is that when you approach a truck from the rear, if you are unable to see the mirrors on both sides of the truck you should assume that you are invisible to the truck driver. Consequently if the truck driver decides to stop or reduce his speed significantly he will do so without knowing that you are behind him and that you are too close to stop your car.

Another very dangerous blind spot is immediately in front of the truck. The truck driver is sitting very high off of the road. This seriously limits his vision immediately in front of the truck. If you pass a truck and cut in front of it, there is a chance that the truck driver might not know that you are there. This could be disastrous if the driving on a downgrade. Truck drivers frequently increase their speed significantly going down hills so that they do not lose too much speed going uphill. While it might appear that a truck driver is seriously tailgating your car, he may not know you are there because you changed lanes within his blind spot.

Blind spots are not the only dangers that trucks present. We have all passed through remnants of retreads that have flown off of trucks that have passed before. Not only is this road debris that can present a hazard that may cause us to swerve or do damage to our car, but at some point that debris was either flying or coming down the road at a high rate of speed when it actually left the tire it was on. You can only imagine what it would be like to be following a truck when suddenly there is a ten foot long piece of rubber flying through the air at your windshield. If some of the pins or other mechanical devices that are used to couple trailers together are not properly placed by the driver or they fail, those too can become flying objects. This is yet another reason why it is essential to stay as far back from a tractor trailer as possible and to pass it as quickly as possible when you decide to pass.

To make matters worse, at any given time more than 25% of the tractor trailers being driven on the road are operated by truck drivers who are fatigued. Truck drivers are strictly regulated by the government as to how long they can drive at any one time. However, driver fatigue is still a real problem. Around 3 million truck drivers in the United States suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. This condition can cause not only fatigue during the day but short incidents of sleeping while driving. It also causes sleepiness and a general lack of awareness.  More Info From Our Site

Since there are so many trucks on the road, we as drivers have to take as many precautions as we can when encountering tractor trailers. In addition to keeping our distance it is also important to watch the truck for any signs that the truck driver might be attempting to move into our lane. Turn signals cannot be ignored, but even more importantly if a truck seems to be making moves out of its lane, those moves must be seen and respected. If a truck driver puts a turn signal on, it is best to stay back until the driver's intentions are known.

Also, it's important to understand that it takes a truck more than twice as long to stop as a car. Moving in front of the truck, especially in traffic, can be extremely unsafe and you should not change lanes in front of the truck at the same distance that you would move in front of a car. What might be safe when dealing with a car might be a dangerous maneuver when dealing with a truck.

The best advice on the road is to understand and accept that trucks are very dangerous and have to be respected as such. Although we cannot control how much sleep the truck driver has gotten or how alert and cautious his driving is, we do have control over how we deal with trucks on the road. It's extremely important to keep a safe distance from a truck and to get past it as quickly as possible when you decide to pass. These simple practices may significantly reduce the risk to us while we share the road with tractor trailers.

Author: David A. Forrest

About the Author: JKFM Attorneys

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