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Tips for Avoiding Tractor-Trailer AccidentsFeb 19, 2013
By SFLearn State Farm™ Employee
On U.S. highways, tractor-trailers are 11 million strong and log over 288 billion miles a year. With so many tractor-trailers on the road, it should come as no surprise that they are involved in a significant number of highway accidents. According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, large trucks, such as tractor-trailers, were involved in 286,000 crashes in 2009, which led to over 3,000 deaths and 74,000 injuries. Not surprisingly, a 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 76 percent of fatalities from tractor-trailer collisions were the occupants of the passenger vehicle.
Conditions That Cause Tractor-Trailer Accidents
Among the most common causes of tractor-trailer collisions are:
- Size and weight differences. A tractor-trailer ranges in weight from 12,100 to 80,000 pounds, which is more than 25 times heavier than the average passenger vehicle. That weight discrepancy is also the reason why a tractor-trailer takes longer to stop than a car or light truck. A car traveling 55 mph takes 265 feet to stop, while a large truck needs another 45 feet.
- Fatigue. Truck drivers get paid by the mile, not by the hour. Because of this many tractor-trailer drivers drive longer than they should. Fatigue reduces reaction time and can impair driver judgment.
- Driver distractions. Long hours on the road can cause some truck drivers to become distracted and bored. Some will talk on their cell phones or with a passenger instead of watching the road ahead.
- Adverse conditions. Badly maintained roads, poor visibility, and unfavorable weather can make driving more hazardous. Wet roads or dense fog can challenge a driver's ability to maintain control and stability.
- Improper weight distribution. Tractor-trailers haul all different types of loads, with various densities. If a load is not properly distributed, the trailer can sway.
- Traffic flow. Passenger vehicles sometimes aggressively weave through traffic lanes and cut in front of tractor-trailers, forcing them to brake suddenly.
How to Avoid Tractor-Trailer Accidents
Here are some tips to help you avoid collisions with tractor-trailers:
- Beware of blind spots. Tractor-trailers have large blind spots, called "no-zones," located at the rear of the truck, the side, and the connecting point between the truck and the trailer. A good rule of thumb is: if you can't see the driver in the truck's side mirrors, the driver can't see you. If you plan to pass, make sure the truck driver can see you and knows your intention.
- Don't change lanes abruptly. Any sudden motion in a truck driver's periphery can cause the vehicle to respond unpredictably.
- Avoid getting squeezed. At an intersection, be aware that tractor-trailer drivers can sometimes make wide turns. Allow the truck a wide berth to avoid getting caught in the driver's blind spot.
- Keep a safe distance. Maintain a following distance of 20 to 25 car lengths when you're behind any tractor-trailer.
- Drive within the speed limit. Driving at a safe speed is the key to driving defensively.
- Always use turn signals when passing. Give the tractor-trailer every available visual indicator of your intentions.
- Adjust driving speed to climate conditions. Rain, snow, and high winds can make driving behind a tractor-trailer more hazardous. Allow more distance to maximize braking capabilities.
- Give the truck a wider berth uphill. If you are behind a tractor-trailer on an incline, allow more space in case the driver is struggling to shift gears and the truck starts to drift backwards.
- In an emergency, pull completely off the road. If your vehicle becomes impaired, pull off the road as far as possible. Place hazard lights or flares at both ends to warn approaching traffic, then move as far away from your vehicle as you can.
- Avoid road rage. If you feel that a tractor-trailer driver is acting too aggressively, don't react in kind. Road rage helps no one and only increases the probability of an accident.
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