Car drivers and truckers each have different ways to stay safe on the roads. Following these tips can help prevent a truck accident.
If you’ve driven on a highway, chances are you’ve had a heart-stopping moment when you had to swerve out of the path of an 18-wheeler changing lanes, or you’ve seen one barrelling behind you at what seemed like a dangerous speed.
It’s scary. And rightfully so.
- 57% of fatal crashes involving large trucks occurred in rural areas
- 27% percent were on Interstate highways
- 13% were both—rural Interstate highways
- There were 13 fatal large truck crashes per million people in the U.S. in 2017
Truck accidents are usually more serious than accidents between passenger vehicles because of their size, the type of cargo they’re hauling, and their high speeds on highways. Let’s take a look at what regular drivers can do to prevent a truck accident.
How to prevent a truck accident (for motorists)
Defensive driving is a useful skill for any driver, but there are a few techniques that you should keep in mind specifically when you’re in the proximity of a large truck, whether on or off the highway.
Here are 10 tips to prevent a truck accident:
- Allow more space when following a truck than you would with a passenger car. A larger vehicle limits your visibility of what’s ahead, including slowed or stopped traffic, construction, or other hazardous travel conditions. By leaving plenty of space between your vehicle and the truck in front of you, you have more opportunity to react if you need to make a sudden stop or swerve.
- Leave space when passing in front of a truck. A truck is much heavier than a passenger car, which means it requires more distance to stop. Don’t ever cut in front of a large truck. If you can’t pass with plenty of room, then stay in your lane.
- Stay out of a truck’s blind spot. There’s a little trick to help you know if you’re in a truck’s blind spot: look at the truck’s side mirrors. If you can’t see the truck driver’s face in the mirror, the truck driver can’t see you. It’s safer to pass a truck on the driver’s side. They have a much wider blind spot on the passenger side. In other words, you should pass in the left lane while the truck is to the right.
- Be careful where you pull over on the highway. If you need to pull off the highway in between exits, try to find a wide shoulder or a designated pull-off spot. Many accidents happen because a car is pulled over and swiped by a passing truck that swerves a little onto the shoulder.
- Use caution if a truck is turning. A truck needs more clearance to turn than a car. In addition, the driver has less visibility. So, if you need to judge a truck’s speed as it approaches an intersection or how much space it will need to clear a turn, always allow more room, rather than less. Assume that the truck is moving faster than you think it is and requires most of the intersection to make a turn.
- Never play “chicken” with a truck. If you think a truck is going to try to pass you or get in front of you, let it. The highway isn’t a time to be “right” or faster, even if you think you have the right of way. Even if you don’t want to allow the truck to get in front of you, do it anyway. Not doing so can have deadly consequences.
- Pass quickly. Only pass a truck when you can see that there’s space ahead to do so swiftly. You don’t want to linger in the lane beside a truck for any longer than necessary. Tire blowouts and rollovers happen frequently and you don’t want to be alongside a truck when one of these events happens.
- Be predictable. This is important in any driving situation, but especially when it comes to proximity to large trucks. Use signals clearly so that a truck driver can see what you intend to do and can adjust their own driving accordingly. Never change lanes or turn without using your signals.
- Avoid distracted driving. Highway driving, in particular, can be long and boring. But don’t let yourself become too fatigued or distracted while driving. Just remember — the other drivers are bored, too. Plan your trip before you leave so that you have good music, audiobooks, podcasts, or whatever you like for entertainment already queued up. Don’t be fiddling with your phone, or even the car radio, while driving. If you need to change things up, wait until you get to a rest area or find a safe place to pull over. If you begin to feel tired, take a break. Don’t wait until you start to nod off, because then you’re already in a dangerous situation.
If you use a GPS, have the audible instructions turned on so that you’re not looking at the screen. Let it tell you where to go using voice commands.
- Anticipate weather conditions. Storms happen almost everywhere, and sometimes they pop up fast. Bad weather creates dangerous driving conditions. You can set a weather app on your phone to alert you if a dangerous storm is coming your way. Or, if one does happen quickly, head for the nearest exit and wait it out.
Tips for truckers to avoid accidents
What if you’re not the driver of a passenger car — you’re the truck driver? Although the truck driver often fares better than other drivers in a crash, injuries and fatalities do commonly happen and you don’t want to live with that guilt. Besides, driving a big rig is a responsibility not only to yourself, but to your employer and every other motorist and passenger on the road.
We tend to think of truck accidents as happening at high speeds on the highway (and they do), but every truck must eventually get off the highway in order to travel to the final destination — and accidents happen on local roads and within proximity of the warehouses or other drop-off locations, too.
As you head out on a delivery, keep these tips in mind so you can help to prevent a truck accident:
- Drive at a legal and reasonable speed. A speed limit is just that... a limit. Not a suggestion, and not a minimum. It’s the maximum speed at which you’re allowed to drive on that particular stretch of road. You’ll need to adjust your speed if you’re driving in bad weather or if there are other conditions that would make it safer to drive more slowly. You have a job to do. Getting your cargo to its destination quickly is definitely part of doing your job well. But no one benefits if you don’t get it there safely — not your employer and certainly not you.
- Plan ahead. Part of being a trucker is making deliveries to new destinations. Just like any driver, it’s important to be familiar with your route before you leave. Since a truck might not be able to use the same roads, entrances, exits, and underpasses as passenger cars, it’s important to get the lay of the land ahead of time if possible. A GPS is great, but it’s often not designed for the needs of a big rig. It’s also not a one-stop-shop for mapping. It’s always a good idea to check a map ahead of time and then compare with the GPS so that you have a full picture of your route. Know your bridge and trestle clearances ahead of time so that you don’t cause an accident because your truck gets stuck somewhere it can’t fit.
- Connect with the customer. We hear about fatal truck accidents happening mostly on highways, but every truck needs to exit a highway to get to the warehouse, retailer, or other delivery destination. Sometimes the local roads can be just as tricky to navigate (if not more so) than highway driving. Reach out to the customer or manager at your delivery location. Call ahead, let them know approximately what time to expect delivery, and ask if there are any particular road hazards or special conditions that might affect your driving. This will take an extra minute or two upfront, but it will save you hassle and potential danger when you arrive.
- Conduct a pre-check. Similar to planning your route, you should plan your delivery. If you’re pulling into the rear of a crowded shopping area or any other populated space, know that passenger cars might take short-cuts in places where they don’t belong. Or there could be other delivery vehicles coming and going. If you don’t have a clear sight line of where you need to go, park your truck, get out, and look at where you need to be and how you’re going to get there. This can prevent you from blind-siding another car, rolling your truck, or even hitting a pedestrian.
- Rely on your spotter, but only to a point. Having a spotter is helpful in a lot of situations. But remember that, often, the spotter is only watching one part of the truck. Maybe they’re looking for overhead clearance and not the front right corner. Or maybe they’re watching the back end of the trailer and not checking for overhead clearance. The spotter is just one person, so you need to also be watching all of the points yourself. Again, if you need to get out of the driver’s seat to get a visual, then do so. Better safe than sorry.
- Follow the rules about driving hours, and get plenty of sleep. There are strict regulations about how many hours you can be behind the wheel, the number of breaks you need to take, and the amount of hours you need to sleep. These might be the most important rules you follow as a truck driver. A drowsy driver is a dangerous driver. You have quotas to fill, deliveries to make, and deadlines to meet. It’s not an easy job, and doing it well means being efficient. But it’s important to be efficient in ways that don’t cut corners on your sleep times.
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s tempting for some weary truckers to use amphetamines or cocaine as stimulants while driving, But this is not a safe solution to driver fatigue. When you use these drugs to stay awake unnaturally, it raises your likelihood of taking risks like speeding, unsafe lane changes, or other poor maneuvers. Plus, you’re actually more likely to fall asleep at the wheel when the stimulants wear off.
- Stay focused. Just like any driver, you need to avoid distracted driving. Never send or read a text message while driving, or perform any task other than driving. Follow the same rules as any other driver — plan your radio station, playlist, or other entertainment before you leave so you’re not searching for something on your phone or on the radio while behind the wheel.
- Know your vehicle. You must have a valid CDL (commercial driver’s license) in order to drive a truck. It’s important that you’re familiar with the type of vehicle you’re driving, how it operates, and how to know if something’s wrong. Maintenance issues are a common cause of truck accidents. Brake failure, broken cargo restraints, and steering problems can mean tragedy on the road. Know when a noise or rattle can be an indicator of a maintenance concern that needs to be addressed.
- Know what you’re hauling. It seems like common sense to know what’s in the truck you’re driving, but if you’re an independent contractor or you work through an employment agency, you might drive for different companies every day. However, it’s crucial that you know what to do if there’s an emergency and you’ve got a truck full of hazardous material. Even a minor accident can become a big problem if you’ve got cargo that includes substances that are harmful if released into the air or water.
Some accidents are just that... accidents. You can’t prevent everything, and even the most cautious driver gets into scrapes sometimes. But by reviewing these tips for truck accident prevention, and always using common sense and careful driving techniques, you can hopefully avoid a deadly situation.
If you do experience a truck accident, there’s help. The legal circumstances around a truck accident can be confusing and hard to navigate, so a personal injury lawyer can help. Consider using the Enjuris Personal Injury Law Firm Directory to find the best truck accident attorney for your case.