It’s a Big Road Out There: How to Share the Road with Big Rigs

It’s a Big Road Out There: How to Share the Road with Big Rigs

Their size and weight mean tractor trailers and other large trucks pose a greater potential danger than regular passenger vehicles. Here are a few driving tips to follow to keep safe around big rigs.

Big rigs don’t follow the same rules of the road as light-duty and medium-duty vehicles. Their size, weight, and field-of-view mean they simply can’t. For example, the average sedan-sized vehicle traveling at about 55 mph can make a safe and complete stop within 400 feet of applying the brakes. A large truck at the same speed takes twice the distance (or about 800 feet), according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Large trucks face and pose greater risks on the road than normal vehicles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that about 415,000 police-reported crashes involving large trucks occurred in 2015. Of these, 3,598 resulted in at least one fatality, while 83,000 resulted in injuries. While truck drivers do face injury and death in truck-related accidents, a vast majority — about 70% — of fatalities are occupants of passenger vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Because of their size and lack of maneuverability, trucks need more room to navigate. That means drivers need to approach big rigs with care and consideration, because passenger vehicles are better equipped to avoid sudden danger. While it may seem like sharing the road with a large truck would be the same as any other vehicle, there are some rules that all passenger vehicle drivers should follow to stay safe while sharing the road.

Common Mistakes

It’s a common mistake to treat a big rig like any other vehicle on the road. Large trucks have different characteristics than light-duty vehicles, and, as such, there are some dangerous behaviors drivers should avoid if they are traveling near a heavy-duty truck:

  • Staying in a truck’s blind spots. Trucks have larger blind spots than light-duty vehicles, extending over each side. Staying in a truck’s blind spot puts you in a dangerous position if the truck needs to make evasive maneuvers in an emergency. Drivers of light-duty vehicles should avoid staying on the sides of a truck (if you can’t see the driver’s face in the sideview mirror he or she can’t see you), tailgating a truck, or staying too close in front of a truck.
  • Following a truck closely while it’s making a turn. The greater the length of a vehicle, the more it has to compensate for wider turns, so a truck may have to turn left to safely make a right turn, and, in some cases, the truck may have to start a turn from an inside lane. Try to pay attention to a trucks turn signals when you see one at an intersection.
  • Cutting a truck off to reach a freeway exit or turn. This hinders the truck’s ability to brake safely and could endanger others on the road. While slowing down and merging behind a truck may take a few extra seconds, it is much safer.
  • Underestimating the speed of an approaching tractor trailer. The size of large trucks often makes them appear to move slower than other vehicles, but that is not the case. Truck collisions in intersections are common because passenger vehicles try to “beat” a truck to make a turn. The size of a truck means that collisions at high speeds involve a combination of greater mass and kinetic forces, making them significantly more dangerous than accidents between passenger vehicles.

Other things drivers should be wary of around trucks include driving with high beams, road debris, trucks backing into loading zones, and trucks that must make a complete stop before driving through a railroad crossing.


As autonomous vehicles become more of a commercial reality for drivers, the way drivers navigate around trucks must also change.

The first fatal crash involving an autonomous vehicle occurred on May 7, 2016, when a truck collided with a self-driving Tesla Model S 70D sedan. In a report, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted the car driver’s overreliance on the vehicle’s automation, while the tractor-trailer failed to yield the right of way. The NTSB found that the Tesla’s automated systems were not designed to recognize the truck and stop to avoid the crash.

The story highlights two cautionary points for drivers: that autonomous driving technology is still a work-in-progress, and truck drivers make mistakes too.

Like any emerging technology, self-driving cars are not perfect, so it’s up to drivers to remain attentive while they’re on the road. There may be objects or other vehicles on the road that the current generation of automated cars may not recognize and avoid.

Also, drivers of passenger vehicles shouldn’t assume that other drivers will drive as safely as they possibly can. Truck drivers might not yield for a turn or make it easy to follow other safety rules. A safe driver always remains alert for potential dangers on the road, including other drivers.

Drive Safely!

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