Navigating the roads alongside tractor trailers requires more than just casual attention—it demands defensive driving. These large vehicles have unique operational constraints such as longer stopping distances, wider turning radii, and larger blind spots. For passenger vehicle drivers, understanding how to drive safely around tractor trailers is vital. This blog offers essential tips for defensive driving that enhances safety for everyone on the highway.

Understanding Tractor Trailers:

Before diving into defensive driving techniques, it's crucial to recognize the limitations of tractor trailers:

  1. Stopping Distance: A fully loaded tractor trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and may take the length of two football fields to stop from highway speeds.

  2. Blind Spots: Tractor trailers have significant blind spots or "No-Zones" where cars disappear from the view of the truck driver. There are blind spots in the front, rear and both sides of the tractor trailer.  

  3. Turning Radius: These vehicles need extra space to make turns, especially right turns, where they may initially move left to maneuver.

  4. Acceleration: Heavily loaded trucks accelerate slowly, so be patient as they build up speed.

Defensive Driving Tips:

  1. Keep Your Distance: Maintain a safe following distance behind tractor trailers. Tailgating a truck is very dangerous, as the truck driver cannot see you. Also, if a truck stops suddenly and you hit the rear of the truck, it is very possible that you could slide under the truck, which can result in deadly consequences. 

  2. Pass with Caution: When overtaking a tractor trailer, do so quickly and safely—never linger beside the truck. Make sure you can see the truck driver in their side mirror before pulling in front of them, and always pass on the left side where the truck driver's blind spot is smaller.

  3. Avoid Blind Spots: Stay out of blind spots when possible. If you can't see a truck's side mirrors, the truck driver likely can't see you.

  4. Be Predictable: Use signals well in advance of making a move and avoid sudden lane changes or unpredictable maneuvers around trucks.

  5. Anticipate Wide Turns: Tractor trailers need extra room to turn. If a truck signals a turn, assume they will need all the space they can get and don't try to squeeze by or cut in front.

  6. Be Patient: Recognize that trucks operate differently and give them the time and space they need to navigate or accelerate.

  7. Watch for Truck Signals: Pay attention to truck drivers’ signals and give them the benefit of the doubt that they will take the action they are indicating.

  8. Give Trucks Room to Move: Understand that trucks might need to shift lanes to avoid potential hazards on the road like debris, potholes, or even smaller vehicles.

  9. Expect Longer Stopping Times in Poor Weather: During adverse weather conditions, a truck's stopping distance can increase significantly. Adjust your driving accordingly.  Stay as far away from tractor trailers as possible in icy or wet weather.

It is easy to get frustrated with a truck traveling slowly in your path, but patience goes a long way in ensuring mutual safety on the roads. Remember that commercial truck drivers are professionals who have special training to handle their trucks. Being courteous, such as allowing trucks to merge or giving them the right of way when they signal, helps ease the way for everyone.

Driving defensively around tractor trailers is an essential skill for all motorists. It's not just about following the rules—it's about fostering a safer road environment for all users. By being aware of the unique challenges associated with tractor trailers and applying these defensive driving tips, you contribute to a culture of road safety that protects you, truck drivers, and your fellow commuters. Remember, when we share the road with knowledge and respect, everyone arrives home alive. 

Jill S. Bollwerk
Helping St. Louis area residents with personal injury, workers' compensation & insurance appeals/disputes.
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