Why are so many people afraid to share the road with tractor-trailers? They’re the backbone of the U.S. economy and travel at an average speed of only 45 mph. That doesn’t sound too scary.
Well, considering the fact that an average tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and require up to 40% more space to stop, their likelihood of causing a fatal crash is immense, to say the least.
About 4,600 fatal car accidents involving a tractor-trailer happen every year. While this might seem rather menial compared to the six million passenger vehicles that cause fatalities, the danger posed by tractor-trailers cannot be overlooked.
This begs the question, how can you protect yourself on the road when driving alongside tractor-trailers, and what causes the accidents in the first place? Read on to find out.
What Causes Tractor-Trailer Accidents?
Like other road accidents, tractor-trailer accidents occur due to a variety of reasons, some of which can be avoided. In fact, most accidents are driver-related. Here are some of the most common causes of tractor-trailer road accidents:
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of road accidents around the world. In 2021 alone, more than 3,500 people lost their lives in accidents involving distracted drivers. Truck drivers are even more susceptible to distractions since they rely on navigational devices to plan their routes. Some drivers may also drive while on the phone, further increasing the chances of causing an accident.
Trailer trucks have large, intricate pieces of equipment prone to malfunction, especially if the trucking company fails to complete safety inspections regularly. The result is often brake, steering, and suspension failures, all of which can significantly increase the likelihood of a serious accident.
Truck drivers are required by federal law to submit to random drug testing. While this significantly decreases the chances of professional drivers using drugs, it doesn’t eliminate the problem.
Some truck drivers use prescription medication and other over-the-counter drugs. While some of these instances involve legitimate health concerns, some medications may have impairing side effects like drowsiness. These effects can significantly reduce the drivers’ reaction time and fine motor movements.
How to Prevent Tractor-Trailer Accidents
Accidents are hard to predict or even prevent. Still, there are certain measures you can take to decrease the likelihood of getting into an accident involving a tractor-trailer. Some of the most effective preventive measures include the following:
Leave Plenty of Room
The sheer mass of a tractor-trailer makes it incredibly difficult to bring to a stop in case of an emergency. Even evasive maneuvers like sharp turns might mean rolling over or causing further accidents on the other side of the road.
Therefore, whenever you’re driving behind a tractor-trailer or coming from the opposite direction, try to leave as much space as possible between your vehicle and the truck. This not only reduces the possibility of a crash but also gives the tractor-trailer’s driver enough time to respond in an emergency without putting you in harm’s way.
Be Aware of Blind Spots
Multiple blind spot accidents occur each year on U.S. roads. While some of these accidents occur due to reckless driving around these spots, it’s not always the case with tractor-trailers.
Truck drivers have limited view from their mirrors. In most cases, they can’t see what’s behind them unless it’s a considerable distance away. Therefore, these drivers are mostly concerned with what’s in front of them rather than what they’ve already passed.
When driving around a blind spot, it is advisable to keep some distance between your vehicle and any heavy vehicle on the road. You should also try overtaking trucks at relatively safe spots and clearing quickly enough in case they change lanes.
Don’t Pull Out in Front of Trucks
Pulling out in front of a trailer truck is never a good idea. Many drivers make the mistake of estimating the speed at which a truck is coming, hoping that they can pull out and be gone by the time the truck gets there. In most cases, this results in a full T-bone collision.
The notion behind this is simple. Trailer trucks have a lot of momentum, and their brakes aren’t designed to respond as fast as smaller vehicles. Therefore, even if the driver sees you pulling out, they may not have enough time to slow down or respond.
Keep Your Driving Predictable
Maintaining predictability on the road is one of the key strategies for avoiding accidents with large commercial vehicles like tractor-trailers. When you drive predictably, truck drivers know where you are at all times and are less likely to make moves that put their lives in peril.
Responsible driving behaviors that deserve special recognition include paying attention to signs, obeying roadway rules and adhering to speed limit restrictions.
Take Extra Caution When Driving in Bad Weather Conditions
Visibility should not be your sole focus when driving near tractor-trailer drivers; many road accidents involving these vehicles involve other motorists and poor weather as contributing factors.
Weather conditions like snow and fog make visibility extremely challenging at night, particularly for heavy vehicles on the roadways. Under these circumstances it’s easy to switch lanes accidentally into oncoming traffic with heavier vehicles or get too close to an oncoming tractor-trailer and cause collision.
Heavier vehicles often find it more difficult to stop quickly in poor weather conditions like snow. Therefore, it is advisable to drive slowly in bad weather conditions and pay attention to the road so you have enough time to respond in an emergency.
The Bottom Line
Tractor-trailer accidents with high speeds often have an exceptionally high fatality rate, due to both driver error as well as smaller vehicles interfering in collisions involving heavier ones.
As a road user, it is your duty to do everything within your power to avoid accidents – regardless of other road users’ behaviors or inaction.