Sharing the highway with those big rigs


November 04, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WE'VE ALL experienced highway driving with large trucks. In bad weather, their dirty spray can eclipse our windshields and make driving challenging. And with the must-get-home-for-the-holidays road trips and winter season approaching, we need to know how to deal with trucks.

"Nearly all motorists have experienced the problem of reduced visibility because of truck splash and spray when driving on wet roads," said John White, public and government relations manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "In wet weather, this spray can temporarily leave a car's windshield completely obstructed and can hinder a driver's ability to safely react to dangerous circumstances on the road."

If you find yourself being swallowed up by tire spray from a large truck, keep in mind these tips, compliments of AAA Mid-Atlantic:

Anticipate it: Splash and spray can be hazards anytime your car is near the back of a moving tractor-trailer. Expect it and try to minimize your exposure.

Steer clear of it. If you can do so safely, change lanes well before you pass a large truck.

Know that your window wipers work ahead of time. Make sure your wiper fluid is filled so you can keep your windshield clear of road grime.

Expect spray even after the rain has stopped. Splash and spray can still be an issue. Anticipate residual effects when driving around large trucks on a wet roadway.

Back off. Always maintain at least a four-second following distance when driving around a tractor-trailer. Keeping your distance will let you safely navigate intersections, merges and other complex road situations.

But what do you do about trucks on a blue-sky day? Truck drivers are professionally trained, and it is their job to drive safely. But they are human, just like the rest of us, and sometimes it seems as if truck drivers travel by their own rules. That's the way it looks to Jim Johnson, who recently sent an e-mail about an interaction he had with a trucker.

Two weeks ago "I got a lesson on two-lane [Interstate] 81. I was doing 70 [mph] in the right lane with the cruise control on. A semi-truck pulled up along side and when his rear trailer wheels were even with me, he turned on his right blinker," he said. "Dumb me, I just keep going 70. Pretty soon, driving a little over 70, he slowly moved to the right and forced me to drive onto the shoulder. Now I know I should have turned the cruise off and slowed down. Lesson learned - for safety we have to give the trucks the right of way. Strangely, after the truck got in the right lane, he pulled back into the left lane and passed another truck."

Here is probably what you did wrong, Mr. Johnson. The Law of Tonnage (heaviest vehicle wins, regardless) indicates that you should have immediately fallen back in your lane to allow the truck driver to enter the right lane, even if you suspected the driver knew you were there. If a truck is signaling to change lanes, allow at least an eight-second gap. (At 55 mph, an eight-second gap is roughly equivalent to the length of 2 1/2 football fields.) We motorists also need to keep in mind that a trucker's blind spot extends to the front, back, left and right sides of the truck. Every truck has four blind spots that the motoring masses should avoid. The front blind spot is 10 to 20 feet in front of the cab. The rear blind spot extends to 200 feet behind the truck. The side blind spots extend alongside both sides of the truck, so avoid cruising in lanes alongside trucks in case the drivers don't remember you are there.

The general rule to drive by is: If you can see a truck's mirrors, the truck driver probably can see you. But do you know for sure? AAA Mid-Atlantic provided other tips for driving near truckers.

Be aware that trucks create wind gusts. Keep both hands on the wheel when you pass a truck or when a truck passes you.

Stay far behind a truck when coming to a stop on a hill. Trucks often roll back as the driver takes his or her foot off the brake.

Don't speed up when a truck passes you. Instead, stay to the right and even slow down slightly to let the truck pass more quickly and to ensure you spend as little time as possible in the truck driver's blind spot.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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