If you’re traveling for work during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re likely forgoing air travel in favor of road trips.
While many of us used to commute daily to work, if you haven’t in awhile you might need a refresher on how to travel around semi trucks safely.
They are a fact of life on the road, but many people aren’t aware that special precautions should be taken to stay safe around semis.
How to Safely Travel Around Semi Trucks
When you approach a semi truck in town or on the highway or interstate, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.
Whether you’re going to work or you’re on a socially distanced road trip, the same rules apply while you’re around any semi truck.
1. Stay out of blind spots
One of the biggest things to remember when you approach a semi truck is to watch out for blind spots.
In a passenger car, there are only a few, small blind spots that the driver needs to worry about. However, we all know how annoying it is when another driver won’t get out of our blind spot.
Think about how the truck driver feels when you stay in their blind spots. If you can’t see the truck mirrors, they cannot see you either.
Some of the most common blind spots around a semi truck are 30ft. directly behind the truck, 20ft. in front of it, and on the front left and right sides.
See the diagram from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration below for more information on where you’ll be out of a truck driver’s blind spot.
2. Keep a safe distance
Another important rule is to keep a safe following distance and leave extra space around semi trucks.
Semi trucks are loaded down with heavy supplies and have a longer stopping distance.
Imagine that you pull directly in front of a semi after passing and leave no space. The driver would have to slam on the brakes, and they may still hit you because they are not able to stop as quickly as a passenger car.
Additionally, think about if the semi in front of you suddenly stopped and you were following closely. Your car may slide under the back of the semi and be crushed.
This becomes especially important in winter weather conditions when we should all be more careful when driving.
A good following distance for trucks is about 4 seconds behind them.
3. Leave room for wide turns
Lastly, remember that semis make very wide turns to make sure that their trailer will clear.
A semi could start a turn from the middle lane or they might just need extra turning room.
Do not try to turn right around a semi because they could hit you.
If you are in a car next to where you know a semi will be turning, make sure to leave room for the semi to make the turn and don’t crowd the intersection.
How to Pass a Semi Truck
Now that you’ve learned how to safely drive while in the vicinity of a semi truck, it’s time to learn how to pass one!
Did you know 75 percent of commercial vehicle accidents are caused by drivers in passenger cars?
Passing a semi doesn’t have to be difficult, but it can be dangerous for you and the truck driver if you don’t know how to do it safely.
1. Watch for on-ramps
Before you consider passing a semi truck, look to your right.
Is there an upcoming on-ramp?
If so, the semi will likely need to slow down or get over into the left lane to let the other drivers onto the road.
Avoid passing when there is an upcoming on-ramp because you never know if there will be heavy traffic in that area that necessitates that semi getting over.
2. Don’t pass downhill
Next, never pass downhill on the interstate or uphill in the case of a two-lane highway.
On the interstate, never pass downhill because the weight of the semi will cause it to move faster on descent making it much harder to pass.
On a two-lane highway, never pass uphill because you cannot see an oncoming car coming up over the opposite side of the hill and could be in a head-on collision.
This goes for passing trucks, cars, or any other vehicle.
3. Pass on the left and don’t stay in the blind spot
Once you have decided to pass a semi, use your turn signal to move into the left lane.
As with passing any vehicle, never pass on the right.
Not only is it illegal in many states, with semi trucks it can be particularly dangerous.
One of the biggest blind spots on the semi is the right side. Always pass on the left, and make sure that you can quickly pass the semi to stay out of the smaller blind spot on that side.
4. Check your rearview mirror
When you have successfully passed the semi truck, check your rearview mirror before moving back into the right lane.
Make sure that you can see the truck in your rearview mirror, not your side mirror.
This will assure that you can safely move back into the right lane.
What to Do If You Are Involved in an Accident
Even if you take every precaution, it’s unfortunately still possible to get in an accident when you travel around semi trucks.
A semi truck accident could cause serious injuries.
Always get immediate medical help after a semi accident, even if you don’t feel like you are hurt. Some injuries can show up hours or days later.
You will also need to exchange information with the truck driver, try to take photos of the accident on your phone for evidence if possible, and contact a personal injury lawyer to help with the complex legal battle you might be about to face.
Contact VanDerGinst Law to After a Truck Accident
Most of the time it’s safe to travel around semi trucks, but people are involved in semi truck accidents every day.
If you’ve been involved in a truck accident, it might be time to call VanDerGinst Law.
Our team of experienced attorneys is ready to help.
We’ll take care of the legal side while you work on recovering from your injuries.
There’s no fee unless you win, and we’ve handled thousands of cases over the years that give us the expertise to handle anything thrown our way.
Learn More About Trucking Accidents
Full Episode Transcript
Welcome to Legal Squeaks. I’m Dennis VanDerGinst. If you haven’t already done so, please be sure to subscribe to Legal Squeaks on your favorite podcast platform.
Today I’m going to talk to you about commercial truck accidents. From a lay perspective, it may not seem important to distinguish these type of accidents from other traffic accidents, but they are very different and distinct from accidents that only involve passenger vehicles. So this is a topic that’s definitely worthy of its own discussion.
And I have a special passion about this topic because I have served on the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice for many years, and I currently serve on the National Advisory Council for the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America.
As an attorney, I’ve handled numerous cases involving big rigs and other large commercial trucks. And on a personal level, I’ve had loved ones who have been involved in these accidents. So I, I know firsthand the devastation that these types of accidents can cause.
So the term commercial vehicle usually indicates any motor vehicle that’s used to transport goods or paying passengers, but when I use the term commercial trucks, I mean the types of vehicles that can really create havoc and serious accidents on the roadways. For instance, the vehicles that are sometimes referred to as big rigs or tractor trailers, semis, 18 wheelers.
Similar concerns would exist for tanker trucks, busses, box trucks, any large truck of that nature. These vehicles are held to a heightened safety standard due to that size and power.
Drivers are required to undergo specific training to operate them, and the vehicles themselves are subject to regular inspections. Accident cases involving those types of vehicles can be considerably more complex than a regular car accident might have been. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, between 2000 and 2018, nearly 90,000 people died in the United States because of crashes involving large trucks and busses. During that same period of time, over 1.8 million people were injured in accidents involving big trucks and busses.
Now, obviously, people can be injured or killed in regular traffic accidents as well. You know, it doesn’t have to involve a commercial truck, but the risk of death or serious injury resulting from these accidents is much higher due to the size and weight of these types of commercial vehicles. Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of truck drivers are safe and thoughtful drivers. In fact, I’ve got several family members who either are currently or have in the past been over the road truck drivers. In addition, most trucking companies adhere to the applicable state and national regulations regarding training and supervision of drivers and the inspection and maintenance of vehicles.
And accidents involving large trucks are often, you know, not their fault, often it’s the fault of people driving smaller cars around them who fail to take into account the size of the trucks, the lack of maneuverability, or the large blind spots that some, sometimes exist with trucks, especially older trucks. But having said that, large truck drivers do cause their fair share of accidents as well. And one of the main concerns with this type of vehicle is that given the fact that it has extremely high inertia, it means that it takes longer for it to stop.
And if a driver doesn’t leave adequate room between that commercial vehicle and the car in front of it, he or she might end up rear ending someone with disastrous consequences. So, like I mentioned, regular maintenance of big rigs and other large commercial vehicles is extremely important, and that’s because commercial vehicles are required to adhere to certain safety standards for their air brakes. Large commercial vehicles are notorious for brake problems, and inspecting the vehicle after an accident can reveal important information about the state of its braking system, including brake lining adjustments and durability tests.
Equipment malfunction is often a contributing factor in these types of accidents. Trucking companies have to keep a record of the vehicle maintenance, but they’re allowed to discard those records after a certain period of time, you know, and it’s very, very common that those records are crucial to evaluating accident cases. So it’s really important to gain access to them right away before all the relevant maintenance records are either destroyed or discarded somehow.
Another source of negligence might be the company who loaded and secured the cargo in the tractor trailer. Sometimes loads are too heavy or they’re not properly secured so that they shift when the vehicle is moving or making turns. And that causes the vehicle to become unstable and perhaps tip over or again, get the momentum going in such a fashion that they cannot, the driver loses control of the vehicle causing an accident.
Speaking of the driver losing control, driver error may be a cause, obviously, of big rig accidents as well. Truck drivers have the same distractions as other drivers on the roadways, including sometimes being distracted due to texting or phone usage. But in addition to those other typical distractions that we all face when we’re driving, truckers can have long hours on the road, which can cause fatigue, which often, often is going to contribute to accidents.
In addition, there’s there’s the stress of constantly rushing to meet deadlines with respect to deliveries, and that can play an adverse impact on physical and mental health. Intoxication can be a part of the puzzle. It’s always good to do an extensive search into the driving histories in order to determine what the exact nature of the delivery was, and that can be useful for building a case.
If an operator, for instance, has a poor driving record, it’s much more likely that the accident was a result of his or her human error. Speaking of drivers, a commercial driver’s license, CDL, is the driver’s license required to operate large, heavy or placarded hazardous material vehicles and commerce. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act established the minimum requirement that must be met when a state issues a CDL. And there are different classes of licensure and endorsements which are going to determine what types of vehicles a person is allowed to operate.
Sometimes there are other outside factors that contributed, that may contribute to these types of accidents, including weather conditions, road conditions, road work, dangerous roadways. These are all factors that need to be evaluated to see what impact they may have had on any given scenario when we’re talking about an accident involving a large truck, or a big rig or, you know, a tanker truck, for instance. Speaking of injuries from a commercial vehicle accident can also be complicated.
Obviously, there’s the risk of serious bodily injury or death, but if the vehicle was carrying a harmful substance such as chemicals, then the victims are at risk for suffering a myriad of other medical problems.
In the worst case scenario, sometimes the cargo might even increase the risk of cancer or respiratory problems, which could affect the person’s quality of life and employment opportunities for the rest of his or her her life. So there are a number of things that are pertinent to large truck accident cases that just don’t usually arise in your typical passenger vehicle car accidents.
That’s why it’s important that if you’ve had an accident that involves this type of consideration, that you have an attorney helping you, that is familiar with the rules and regulations that impact these types of accidents, I hope this information has been useful. And I also hope you never have to use it.
If you have any questions, VanDerGinst Law is always honored to help.
Again, please be sure to subscribe and review Legal Squeaks as well as our other podcast, Uncommon Convos.
Also, check out legalsqueaks.com, where you can suggest topics for upcoming podcasts.
So please have a great day. Stay safe. And I love you all.
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