When the weather starts getting rough, commercial truck drivers have to slow down and take some extra precautions. This can be a little frustrating for other motorists on the road, which may lead to impulsive and dangerous decisions around these trucks.
Poor weather can make driving difficult for a regular passenger vehicle, but commercial trucks have it even harder.
We all have to share the same road, though, so it’s important to understand what sudden weather changes mean for truckers, and what you can do as a motorist to keep everyone safe.
Physics is a Harsh Taskmaster
A commercial vehicle with a full load can easily weigh as much as 80,000 pounds – compared to most passenger vehicles that range somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds.
Safe to say: trucks are going to handle a little differently.
That much weight can be difficult to control and will cause serious damage in a collision, and when the weather turns bad, it only makes handling even more of a challenge.
In normal weather, a 4,000-pound vehicle travelling at 65 mph can take up to 316 feet to stop. That’s a bit longer that the length of a football field. A fully loaded commercial truck, on the other hand, going at the same speed will take nearly twice that length (around 525 feet) to stop.
But it’s more than just weight that affects how well a truck can stop in winter.
Brake lag is also something drivers need to consider. Brakes on a large commercial truck don’t work like those ones in passenger vehicles. When you step on the brakes in the car, the hydraulic systems react instantly. The air brakes in semi-trucks, take a little more time to apply pressure.
This lag time can make it harder for a truck driver to stop in time to avoid a collision with a vehicle that doesn’t give it enough space.
“What Is That Truck Doing?”
This is a phrase that a lot of motorists think when they’re driving behind a large truck – especially when it appears to them that the weather “isn’t that bad.” Afterall, it’s “just a little rain or snow.”
But a little rain and a little snow means a lot more to a truck driver (see above to understand why), which is why they make some specific choices about how they’re driving.
Motorists need to be aware of what they’re thinking to make the best possible choices for their own safety.
Truck drivers must reduce their speed when they’re driving through poor weather conditions. And, if the situation continues to get worse, they are required to pull off the road and wait until the weather clears.
Passenger vehicles need to keep an eye out for them on the side of the road and be aware that they may choose to pull off the road.
Truck drivers are also going to brake and accelerate lightly to avoid locking up their tires and going into a spin, which also contributes to the time it takes to start and stop. Drivers will also try to create extra space on the road between them and other vehicles, so they may decelerate at unexpected times.
Tips for Passenger Vehicles around Commercial Trucks
These tips come straight from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They provide some simple guidelines for staying safe around commercial motor vehicles. Be sure to check out the site for full details (and great graphics that help illustrate these points), but the highlights include:
- Stay out of the blind spots. Commercial trucks have huge blind spots that extend across multiple lanes and back dozens of feet. Basically, if you can’t see the driver in the vehicle’s side mirror, you can safely assume that the driver can’t see you, either.
- Pass carefully. Signal before you start to move and then accelerate so you can get past the truck safely and quickly. Don’t linger. Make the choice to move and do it confidently and carefully. If a truck is passing you, give them some space to get back into your lane. Refrain from passing them going down a slope, since they tend to speed up going downhill.
- Don’t cut off a truck. If you’re moving into a lane too quick and too close to the truck, it can be very dangerous. You’re probably already in their blind spot, and if you’re way too close, the truck simply won’t be able to slow down quickly enough to avoid a collision.
- Don’t tailgate. And, if you’re stopped on an incline, be sure to put plenty of space between you and the tractor trailer ahead of you.
- Give them extra turning space. Even when the roads are clear, a truck is going to swing wide when they turn. If there is a slick road under them, it could cause all kinds of other problems. Give them room when they turn, don’t try to get between a turning vehicle and the curb, and never stop in front of the intersection line or “block the box” at an intersection.
- Be patient. Modern trucks have a ton of power and strength, and once they get going, they keep going. However, it’s not going to accelerate as fast as your average passenger vehicle, even on a flat road. It’s important to understand this so you can keep your cool on the road. Getting aggressive and angry about it won’t help anyone and just lead to other risks.
These tips are important in everyday situations. They’re doubly important when the weather turns against you.
Working Together for a Safer Road
Even in bad weather, transportation services have to continue. When the weather changes, it can create a range of new risks, and everyone on the road has the responsibility to drive safely to prevent accidents.
Commercial truck drivers may have more responsibilities than the average motorist, since their trucks weight so much and they to arrive at their destination without damaging their freight. However, drivers in passenger vehicles share the same responsibility to watch out for potential dangers and share the road with everyone.