It's natural to have that anxious feeling when you find yourself next to a tractor-trailer truck on the highway. In fact, in 2019, more than four thousand people died in large truck-related car accidents. This is an unfortunate new high, up about 30 percent since a decade ago.
Unfortunately, most of these accidents involved tractor-trailer trucks, sometimes better known as semis or 18-wheelers.
While most truck drivers are professionals while behind the wheel, some things are simply out of their control: Factors like weather, traffic, and other drivers' decisions on the road can affect the trucker's safety and other passenger vehicle drivers.
Whether or not you've been in an accident involving an 18-wheeler, driving near a big rig like this is a healthy fear. But it might calm your nerves and prevent a future collision to know the things you should—and shouldn't—do when sharing the road with one.
What Is an 18-Wheeler?
Though they're known by many alternate names like big rigs, semis, and trailer-tractors, the term “18-wheeler” is no misnomer. These large trucks are big rigs that have a whopping 18 wheels. They're powerful machines designed to carry one or more semi-trailers and up to 80 thousand pounds in freight.
The semi-truck dates back well over 120 years, going back to 1898. At the time in Cleveland, Ohio, Alexander Winton started the Winton Motor Carriage Company and sold 22 cars.
However, his rapid success came with a problem: People from all over the country wanted these cars, and there was no practical way to get them to their new owners without adding a ton of mileage.
That's when Winton invented the concept of semi-trucks: A trailer large enough to carry and deliver these cars without adding any extra mileage or wear and tear. That's why the first semi was called an “automobile hauler,” and the Winton Motor Carriage Company successfully sold its first manufactured semi-truck in 1899.
Today, more than two million 18-wheeler semis in the United States traverse the roads every day.
Is It Safe to Drive next to a Semi-Truck?
Truck transportation is the most common type of transportation employment in the United States, so the amount of semis you might see on the road over the coming years is bound to multiply significantly.
If you're one of the many Americans who feel a tinge of anxiety when pulling up next to a semi on the highway, know you're not alone. Generally speaking, it's just as safe to drive next to a semi-truck as you would any other truck—as long as you stay safe and diligent about your driving skills.
Always remember these essential driving tips when you find yourself next to a semi on the highway:
- It takes truck drivers much longer to stop. If a truck is driving at 65 miles per hour while carrying a full load, it can take two full football fields before they can come to a complete stop—and that's if the weather conditions are ideal. That means their reaction time is slower than yours while driving, and you should keep a safe distance from them.
- Blind spots are much more severe. A typical semi cabin is likely around 13 feet high off the ground, which means mirrors provide a limited view. Although truckers should always check their mirrors, passenger vehicles must also drive at safe distances behind and beside them. Avoid cruising in a truck's blind spot for extended amounts of time.
- Truck drivers drive a lot. Per federal law, truckers are allowed a 14-consecutive-hour period per day (if they've just spent ten consecutive hours off-duty), with 11 of those hours spent driving. Although rest breaks are required, 34% of truck drivers have admitted to feeling very tired while behind the wheel. This means you should assume that you're more alert and able to act quickly when sharing the road with an 18-wheeler.
When you're traveling on the highway near a semi, you must never let your guard down. Although truck drivers are professionally trained to operate 18-wheelers safely, they can't keep everybody around them safe if the drivers around them don't do their part, too.
How Do You Drive Around a Semi-Truck?
Here are some essential tips for driving around 18-wheelers.
Tip #1: Avoid Blind Spots
An 18-wheeler's blind spots are much bigger than any other vehicle, making it difficult for the truck driver to see upcoming traffic from behind them. If you find yourself driving near a semi-truck, do your best to avoid blind spots—also called “No Zones”—and keep your distance by staying:
- 20 feet ahead of the truck so that there's ample time to stop
- 30 feet behind the truck if the driver decides to switch lanes
- Staying at the halfway point of the tractor-trailer on the driver's side
- Staying at least two lanes from the truck's right side, meaning that you should never be coasting in their right blind spot
A good rule of thumb is to remember that if you can't see the truck driver's face in his mirrors, then it's likely that he can't see you, either.
Tip #2: Always Pass Safely
Using your signals and passing safely is crucial when on the highway. Since most freeways have a speed limit of around 55 to 70 miles per hour, collisions while passing only take one small mistake to occur.
When driving around a semi, be sure to:
- Avoid passing on uphill or downhill parts of the highway since semis may need to decrease or increase their speed at these points.
- Keep to the driver's left side instead of the right, as the driver can see much better from the left mirror than the right.
- Keep to the right when a truck is passing you so that you can exit its blind spot faster.
- Use your turning signals before you decide to change lanes to alert the driver of your intentions so he can adjust his speed accordingly.
Tip #3: Be Cautious
Being cautious while on the road includes avoiding distractions, being a defensive driver, and wearing your seatbelt.
More specifically, do your best to avoid common distractions such as:
- Making phone calls
- Having conversations with passengers
- Eating or drinking while driving
- Fixing your hair or makeup
- Attempting to read something, like directions
- Using a GPS
Finally, seatbelt use can save lives in dire situations like collisions. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that wearing one reduces the risk of death by 45% and injury by 50%. With your seatbelt intact, you're 30 times less likely to be ejected from the vehicle during a crash.
What Should You Do If You're in an Accident With a Large Truck?
No matter how big or small, any type of car accident is likely to leave you feeling scared and stressed. Even if you feel shocked by the aftermath of the experience, it's essential to act fast and follow these steps.
Step #1: Check for Injuries
When involved in a big rig truck accident, the chances are that neither party is walking away without any injury. Even if you don't feel like you have one, you might have a concussion or neck pain that will surface later on.
If you're immediately suffering from a debilitating injury, then you must call an ambulance and seek medical care. Your health should always come first. However, if you can wait on the scene before going to the hospital, you can continue with these next steps.
No matter how severe you perceive your injuries to be, always go to a doctor. Your insurance and the truck driver's insurance will require written proof that you've been evaluated for any medical issues.
Step #2: Report the Accident
Call the police immediately following the accident, even if everybody is cooperating. When the police arrive, they will assess the scene and write a formal report on the matter, which will include:
- Weather and road conditions
- Location, time, and date
- Types of vehicles
- Condition of both drivers and their vehicles
- Interviewing any witnesses
- Suggestion as to which party is at fault
Step #3: Gather Witnesses, Photos, and Documentation
Even as the police are gathering information for their report, be sure to do your due diligence and protect yourself by obtaining information from any witnesses, the other driver, and taking plenty of photos, as well as keeping all necessary documentation.
- The other driver's name and insurance
- Witness contact information
- Photos of the scene, any damage, and yourself
- The police report number
- The officers' name and phone number
- Personal notes on what happened
You're your own best advocate when on the scene of a car accident, so you'll want to take note of this critical information.
Step #4: Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
Experienced car accident lawyers are there to protect you—even when the odds are stacked against you.
Lawyers know the ins and outs of filing a car accident claim and can handle just about anything that insurance companies and prosecutors will throw at your case.
Plus, Louisiana's “No Pay, No Play” laws complicate how many drivers' insurance operates after an incident. For example, if you don't have the minimum level of required insurance coverage for a truck accident, you might not be able to collect anything from your claim. Luckily, lawyers know this rule and can help you work around it to get the best outcome possible.
While most people may do their best to avoid driving near an 18-wheeler semi-truck, it's still crucial to know basic safety when traveling on the highway. After all, with more than two million semis on the road, you're bound to see one on your route through Louisiana.
Just be sure to be diligent about being a defensive driver and always avoid blind spots, pass safely, and be cautious about wearing a seatbelt and ignoring potential distractions.
However, if you are unfortunate enough to find that yourself in an accident with a semi, remember to:
- Check for injuries,
- Call the police,
- Document the accident, and
- Contact a car accident attorney right away.