I have often felt that anyone with a driver’s license should spend time in a big rig before they are allowed to join them on the road in their personal vehicles. The perspective is not what anyone would expect, and there are valuable lessons to be had in the experience. Since I have done ride-along myself (for about a month), I will share what I know. Hopefully readers will take it all to heart.
Everyone is talking these days about “It can wait” with regard to texting and driving. It sure can, but so can YOU. You can wait. Seriously, you can wait. You do not need to dive into the safety zone a pilot is managing for an oversize load. Pilots are those awesome people in the pickup trucks with blinky lights that are following and surrounding a truck with some humongous item that overhangs a normal trailer load. They are not there for show, they are not there just to alert you that the truck is overloaded (weight, size, or both) so you can stare, and they are definitely not there to block traffic for you to use the lane they are clearing. They are trying to keep you from proving Darwin right and removing yourself from the gene pool. Let them do their job! Respect.
You do not need to floor it, dive in front of a big truck, and dodge for your off-ramp. What you need to do is slow down, change lanes safely, and exit without causing an accident. I have seen people so impatient that they didn’t care about the aftermath they left behind on the freeway, and it can be extremely damaging. Even if the truck driver didn’t hit anyone, if he has to dynamite that rig (that’s pulling a knob to lock up the trailer brakes) to keep from flattening you into the pancake you deserve to be, you have just created a delay in his work day. WORK day – that’s money! These guys (and gals) are not on a salary. They are paid by the mile in many cases, and they have a schedule. Now he has to stop and do a safety check on everything, and make sure there is no damage – which could be flat spots on the tires and that may mean replacements are needed. There is no 2 minute process after a lock-up. You are taking food off of someone’s table when you insist that your stop for coffee or a hamburger is so urgent that you have to get around that truck right NOW. If they are meeting another driver to transfer that load, you have now caused several people delays. If that driver is late enough, he may miss his next load. I won’t go into detail about how much that can cut a family’s paycheck, but I know from personal experience it is BAD. We have bills to pay too. Get behind. Use your intellect for 2 seconds.
Damaged loads are another reality of forcing a truck to slam on the brakes. They are carrying items that are as secured as is reasonable, but they aren’t always packed into impervious protection and binding. Where do you think those dented cans and separated items that normally come in a pack come from? The ones at your local grocery warehouse and Big Lots. A lot of those are the result of damaged merchandise because someone didn’t respect the driver. What you don’t see is the ones that were beyond salvage because they are broken or leaking, or damaged in a way that makes them unsafe or unappealing. Those get trashed. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am not a big fan of waste. Consumerism has enough issues without us adding to the landfill, and removing consumables from the market. Think through what impact that has on all of us and slow down.
Now for the real scary part. The max weight on a box trailer and rig is 80,000 lbs. EIGHTY THOUSAND POUNDS. What does your car weigh? What kind of weight can your car survive on impact? How much weight/force can your body survive on impact? I promise you it is far sight less than 80,000 lbs heading at you at around 55 mph (or in some states more). In fact, I really don’t want 80,000 lbs hitting me at 25 mph either. Do you? It takes the length of two football fields to stop that big rig that has to slam on his brakes on the freeway. Two football fields. Picture it. Now picture your car in front of that truck again. Do you feel confident now? Is that off-ramp so important now? Hey, even if you miss it, there is another one down the freeway and you can turn around and come back. They’re built that way.
Not all rigs are created equal. There are different types of trailers, and different types of tractors. The wheel base – the distance between the axels – varies depending on the make (Volvo, Mack, Freightliner, etc.), and just like your little car, that affects the turning radius. The type of trailer being hauled does too, and the load, and the corner they are dealing with as well. So when you see one of those crazy staggered limit lines at a signal or other stop, it’s not just because the painter was bored and wanted to make it interesting. It’s there to keep the front of your little car from ending up road kill. I am amazed at the number of people I see sitting across limit lines on a daily basis. It’s called a LIMIT line, not a loose suggestion of where to stop line. That is a ticketing offense, incidentally – for good reason. Sometimes a truck even needs to go across the normal lane definitions to get around a corner. It happens. If you see this situation, and you can get out of the way, please just do it. Don’t get all huffy and puff about it, and sit there like you own the place. Just move. Put yourself in their shoes for once. They swing wide for a reason, and FYI sometimes a driver has less experience and is doing the best they can and it’s not intentional. It just happens. Sometimes judgment isn’t perfect and they have to deal with it the same as you do. Don’t act like you never made a mistake on the road, because we all do it. A little courtesy and understanding can go a long way. Do not EVER try to zip up beside a truck making a right turn just because space opens up. You’re putting yourself in a crush zone. You will lose.
Following distance. This is super simple. If you cannot see their mirrors, they cannot see you. It is really important that they be able to see you. You may think that you have it under control, but you don’t. Just because it will potentially take him 2 football fields to stop doesn’t mean you’re in the clear if you are crammed up so close that a mudflap could hit your bumper. (No, I am not kidding. It has happened. Yes, that is insane.) Back off of the truck. If he knows you are there, and at a safe follow distance, he will have less to worry about and so will you. From experience I can also tell you that a rock, even a pebble, kicked up by those tires is not a nice thing to do to your car. So why follow the truck so closely anyway? You’re not going to make him go faster. He’s following big rig speed laws. If you have a clear lane, go around – just not if your exit is coming up. lol
Shocking/irritating things that people do:
- Get mad because the truck is slow, pull around, dive in front, and slam on their brakes in front of the truck. Eighty thousand. Pounds.
- Drive slow in front of the truck to “get even”. I guess you weren’t really in such a hurry since you have time to do that now?
- Blow their horn as if the truck can just speed up and get out of their way. Like they have nothing better to do. They’re just there to annoy you.
- Flash their high beams (do you really want to blind the driver hauling 80,000 lbs?)
- Flip the driver off for being there. Really. There often is no determinable reason for it, seriously.
- Try to scream things at the driver out their car window. On the freeway. Yes, of course I can hear you, I have superhuman capabilities.
- Follow the driver to a stop to tell them off for something – sometimes combined with physical threats. How would you react?
- Change lanes in front of a truck without signaling. Eighty. Thousand. Rolling forward. Are you hearing me?
I could go on much longer. I hope I’ve made my point sufficiently. Use your eyes, use your brain, use your training as a driver, and be courteous. It will reduce the stress you are causing yourself on the road anyway, and that’s better for your health. The holidays are coming up soon, and a lot of people will do a lot of stupid things on the road. Let’s do our part to reduce those numbers and save a few lives, reduce property damage, and make everyone’s year end more smoothly. Drive safe everyone.
Remember – if you got it, a truck brought it.