When you’re cruising down the highway, it makes sense that you might get a little jumpy at the sight of an 18-wheeler in your rear view—they often weigh 75,000 pounds more than your car. In 2012, there were 104,000 people injured in crashes involving large trucks — an increase of 18 percent from 88,000 in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Because of statistics like that, there are a handful of new large-truck federal regulations in the works—like backup cameras, data recorders and a speed limit cap (of about 68 mph), according to the Car Connection.
We can’t point our fingers at big rigs, though — many of us don’t fully understand the ins and outs of maneuvering large trucks. Terry Burrus, a 51-year old trucker who’s been in this line of work for 30 years, wants to change that. When it comes to the big rig-passenger vehicle relationship, Burrus believes it’s time we end the ignorance and start the education. He’s confident that automobile drivers and large-truck drivers can live in harmony on the road if they learn a bit more about one another. Here are his words of 18-wheeler wisdom.
We know you’ve heard this before, but it’s time to put a stop to distracted driving—that means playing with your music device, talking on the phone, and the worst of the bunch, texting, which requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from you, the driver. It is by far the most worrisome distraction, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Replying to a text could mean that your eyes are off the road for five seconds while traveling at 55 mph; that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded—and now imagine there’s an 18-wheeler in front of you and you didn’t see it. Instead of talking on the phone or texting, Burrus (whose cell phone is always unreachable while driving) recommends that you pull over and do what you need to do — talk, text, eat — then get back on the road.
Crossing three lanes of traffic because you missed your exit is never a safe option, and Burrus has seen the tragic consequences. Instead, take your time to get to a destination, avoid sudden lane changes and when you do merge, always use your signal, Burrus says. Remember, being a few minutes late is much better than not making it at all.
If there’s a large truck on a three-lane highway, the truck will typically be in the middle lane, Burrus says. “This way we’re not constantly dodging cars that are getting off and on the highway, and we’re also not in the fast lane,” he says. Burrus also advises to never drive side-by-side with a truck. Large trucks have a large blind spot, and they can accidentally hit you when changing lanes or turning if you remain in the lane right next to them. Burrus says to either give the truck room if it’s ahead or behind you, or pass the truck in a safe manner, using your signals and providing plenty of space (at least 100 feet) between your car and the large truck when you merge back into the lane. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advises that if you can’t see the driver’s face in the side view mirror, he can’t see you, which could put you in danger should the truck need to swerve or change lanes.
“Truck drivers get a bad rap, and it’s important to know that truck drivers are not beer guzzling maniacs driving for days on end,” Burrus says.“We are professionals, assigned with a task of picking up and dropping off goods, and we take our job very seriously. Truckers are only allowed to work 14 hours a day and can only drive for 11 of those hours — DOT has strict rules on truck driving, and we follow them. I’ve driven 2 million miles in an 80,000 pound piece of machinery without an accident. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone.”
When a truck needs to turn, they need all the space they can get. First, other drivers should notice their turn signal to see where they are planning to turn. As a rule, do not pass a truck as it is turning in any direction, Burrus says. With a height of about 14 feet and a weight of about 40 tons, trucks can easily topple over or roll right on top of a smaller vehicle, Burrus says.
Besides giving plenty of space to a turning truck, you also want to be out of its way if it’s coming toward you at an intersection. At an intersection, be sure you come to a stop before the stop lines. If you’re beyond the line, your vehicle could be in the way of trucks attempting to turn, which puts you at risk of being hit or scraped, according to Utah Department of Transportation.
If I flash my lights once, it means merge in front of me, you’re safe. If I flash my high beams or give you multiple flashes, this means do not merge over, it is not safe. As a side note, you do not have to hit the brakes to thank me—this is hazardous.”
When it comes to merging, 18-wheelers are not obligated to move, but they often do so as a courtesy, Burrus says. According to DOT regulations, 18-wheelers should maintain their speed and stay in their lane. If you’re an automobile driver who wants to merge in front of a truck, it’s important to know the language. “Truckers have a non-verbal, on-the-road language—we have to communicate with each other,” Burrus says. “If I flash my lights once, it means merge in front of me, you’re safe. If I flash my high beams or give you multiple flashes, this means do not merge over, it is not safe. As a side note, you do not have to hit the brakes to thank me — this is hazardous.”
Never tailgate a truck, Burrus says. Debris — like a blown-out tire on the highway — could propel through your windshield. Instead, stay back at least 100 feet, Burrus advises. There are many rear-end collisions with large trucks because people are driving way too close to the back of the truck. “It’s also important to remember that truck drivers are sitting way up high, so they can see things before you do,” Burrus says. “Give us space to react to something on the road, should we see something up ahead that an automobile cannot see.”
Trucks have to obey a lot of rules on the road. At some points on the highway, a truck could be directed by a road sign to move from the right lane to the left, or they have to change lanes to exit at the weight stations for a safety check. “Many passenger drivers get upset at this, but trucks are just following the road rules,” Burrus says. Read the signs, too, and be aware of where the large trucks on the road are heading next. After all, they are the real heavyweights of the road.
When it comes to questionable weather, “A good rule of thumb is, if you don’t see a truck on the highway, get off the highway — it’s probably not safe weather conditions,” Burrus says. “But if it’s minimal weather issues, such as rain, and you’re driving under the speed limit, get in your right lane.” It’s also important to know that truckers are going to take their time and maintain their speed; they do not mind you driving behind them to block some of the rain, wind and snow, but give them space — Burrus advises at least 150 feet behind or in front of them due to the conditions.
In the mountains, if you see a large truck coming down a hill, move out of the way. If they are in your lane, change lanes and give them space. “Unfortunately, we don’t have 18 sets of brakes, and coming to a stop takes a lot more time,” Burrus says.
If drivers of passenger vehicles can understand and respect all of the vehicles on the road—from the 5,000 pounders to the 80,000-pounders—we can drive safely with less stress, and keep on truckin’ in harmony.