This is the first in a series of articles that I am going to post regarding my experience driving a truck and how those I shared the road with can be safer around big-rigs.
During my year as a truck driver most of my encounters on the road were benign and not worthy of mention. However, there were enough bad encounters that it is worth mentioning them here.
I don't plan on typing about each one, the list is too long for that. Rather I am going to highlight a few and try to educate you how to best handle sharing the road with those of use who drive a truck.
Following too closely is probably one of my pet peeves. I never liked it when I drove a car and I certainly don't like while behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.
As a considerate human, you should be concerned that the driver of the truck might not be happy with you. But you should also be aware that following too closely behind a truck is right down-right dangerous.
The issue isn't stopping distance. Generally speaking, you, as the driver of a car, will most certainly be able to stop in a shorter distance than the truck. It's really a matter of physics. But physics could bit you in the butt. What if you aren't paying attention, maybe you are texting? If you are following too closely, the size of the rig in front of you could cause a distortion in your viewpoint. Sometimes large objects that are already taking up most of your vision might not seem to be getting closer while it really is. This will slow down your reaction time, possibly enough to cause you to hit my trailer.
Here is another point to consider. If you follow to closely, you have no idea what is going on in front of me. What if I am slowing down or moving over to avoid an object in the road or an obstruction on the side of the road. I often change lanes if a state patrol has someone pulled over. If you aren't paying attention you might just strike the object that I just avoided. I know that some people get a false sense of security while tailing a big-rig. They have two thought processes. First: The truck driver is a professional and won't lead me astray. This is true. We are professional who put more miles on the road in a week than most of you do in several months. But this doesn't mean we can't and won't make mistakes. We do. Maybe we don't see that deer in time to make a smooth adjustment. While we might not jackknife or lock up the brakes, we might swerve in a fashion that doesn't allow you to avoid the danger.
The second thought process is the truck is so big that it will plow right through the danger, saving me from any troubles. Not good thinking. All that debris from whatever we hit has got to go some place. Often it is under the truck. If this happens, you will not be able to avoid it.
This past winter I was driving over a snow covered road. I was chained up and moving along at about 30mph. Since it was the middle of the night traffic was pretty light. For some reason, a pickup got in behind me and trailed me for several miles. Maybe his thought was that I was clearing the way for him. Not such a smart idea. I came up on an area that had drifting snow piled up. Not a big deal for me. I had chains on all my drive wheels plus two on the trailer. I only slowed a bit before the drift then applied very light throttle as I hit the drift. The snow billowed behind me and I am sure the driver of the pickup was blinded for quite some time. He backed off after that.
But probably the biggest danger of following a truck too closely is a tire blow out. I know most of you have seen the tire debris on the side of the road and sometimes in the middle of the road. Do you wonder where that came from? It came off a truck. Because the loads we carry are often quite heavy, it can put a lot of stress on the tires. Even the most diligent trucker who preforms the safety check as prescribed by federal regulations is not always going to catch a tire that could blow. But when a tire does blows, it often comes apart. Occasionally those pieces are quite larger and can do serious damage.
A buddy of mine was driving along this past summer when his trailer tire blew. A piece of the tire came off and hit his transmission with such force that it actually damaged the drive train. Note that I said it was a trailer tire and it hit the transmission. The piece was flung forward below the trailer and into the transmission. While this particular incident was probably a one in a million shot, image what that could do to your car's windshield or hood if you hit the tire blowout lottery?
This past summer I was driving through Roseburg, OR. Somebody decided that he wanted to save a little gas by getting into my slipstream. He couldn't have been more than 20 feet off my trailer bumper. No matter what I did I couldn't shake him. I slowed down to 40 mph, yet there he stayed. I sped up to 60 mph, and there he was, stuck you my backside like wet underwear. Then it happened. My trailer tire blew. It was the left back, outside tire. I saw the piece come off (just happened to be looking in the side view mirror at the time) and miss his car by no more than two feet. As I slowed to bring my rig to the shoulder, he sped on by, flipping me the bird. I just had to shake my head. As if it were my fault that he was too close.
Here are a few images of what a tire looks like after a blowout. Scroll down a bit. Notice the missing chunks?
So give us some space. You could save your life and make the trucker's day just a little less aggravating.