Car Pro Advice: Sharing the Road With 18-Wheelers

Car Pro Advice: Sharing the Road With 18-Wheelers

My father was a truck driver for as long as I can remember.  It was in the days when there were virtually no creature comforts in the cabs of the trucks.  I don’t think he ever drove a truck with air-conditioning, and there were certainly no CD players, video monitors, or CB radios.  One night during the summer, around 10 PM, he was driving between Dallas and San Antonio and fell asleep while driving.  He woke up too late to navigate a turn in the highway and turned the big rig on its side, spilling 40,000 gallons of paint in pop-top cans.  It was a mess, but nobody was killed.

Without truckers, there would be no gas, grocery store shelves would be empty, and the economy would crater.  The 18-wheelers you see today carry heavier loads than ever before, and will go faster than in years past.  I was proud of what my Dad did for a living, but as someone who drives a lot, I see a lot of truckers these days who drive too fast, drive too aggressively, seem to have trouble staying in their lane, and I often see them bully their way into traffic. The stats would seem to agree, take a look at the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety statistics from 2019, the most current available (based on an IIHS analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System):

    • A total of 4,119 people died in large truck crashes in 2019. Sixteen percent of these deaths were truck occupants, 67 percent were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, and 15 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists. The number of people who died in large truck crashes was 31 percent higher in 2019 than in 2009, when it was the lowest it has been since the collection of fatal crash data began in 1975. The number of truck occupants who died was 51 percent higher than in 2009.

    • Ninety-seven percent of vehicle occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes involving a passenger vehicle and a large truck in 2019 were occupants of the passenger vehicles.

    • Eleven percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2019 occurred in large truck crashes.

    • Seventy-four percent of deaths in large truck crashes in 2019 were in crashes involving tractor-trailers and 28 percent were in crashes involving single-unit trucks. Some crashes involved both a tractor-trailer and a single-unit truck.

    • Sixty-four percent of large truck occupants killed in multiple-vehicle crashes in 2019 occurred in collisions involving another large truck.

    • Twelve percent of all passenger vehicle occupant deaths and 22 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multiple-vehicle crashes in 2019 occurred in crashes with large trucks.

    • Fifty-two percent of deaths in large truck crashes in 2019 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways, 32 percent occurred on interstates and freeways, and 15 percent occurred on minor roads.

    • Forty-eight percent of large truck crash deaths in 2019 occurred from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., compared with 30 percent of crash deaths not involving large trucks.

    • Seventeen percent of large truck crash deaths in 2019 occurred on Saturday and Sunday, compared with 35 percent of crash deaths not involving large trucks.

    • Seventeen percent of large trucks in fatal crashes in 2019 were involved in single-vehicle crashes; in contrast, 37 percent of passenger vehicles in fatal crashes were involved in single-vehicle crashes.

In 2020, there were 414 fatal crashes involving truck-tractor/semi-trailers in Texas.   - Source: TXDOT.

People are going to continue to drive, and products must be moved from factories to merchants, so how do we co-exist?  If you do battle with an 80,000-pound object traveling at over 60-miles per hour, the odds of winning are not good.  So, here is a list of don’ts to be conscious of while traveling the American road:

    • Don’t travel next to a big truck.  Slow down or speed up, but don’t linger there.  The trucker may not be able to see you and he or she has a much better view of the road ahead and may have to make an emergency lane change.  There is also the chance the truck will blow a tire, causing a loss of control.  What it says on the back of many trucks is true…if you can’t see the driver’s eyes in the side mirrors, he or she can’t see you either.

    • Don’t get in a trucker’s way. Most truckers like the middle lane on a three-lane or wider road.  It gives them more options and they don’t like merging traffic.  It takes a loaded truck as much as a football field and a half to stop, you don’t want to cut in front of them.

    • Don’t tailgate them either.  When following closely to a semi, you cannot see anything in front of you except the trailer, and have no idea what is happening down the road.  If the trucker has to make an emergency stop, it won’t likely end well for you.

    • Don’t get distracted when an 18-wheeler is around you.  Truckers tend to be very good at using their blinkers.  If you see a turn signal come on, be extra cautious and never get on the right side of trucker when his or her right blinker is on.  Trucks need a lot of extra room to navigate turns.

    • Don’t get into a road rage incident with a trucker.  Be patient when a big rig is passing another truck or even a car.  Acceleration is not quick in these rigs.  I’ve actually seen ignorant people get mad at a trucker, cut in front, and slam on the brakes.  That is a death wish.

We can all safely co-exist on the highways and byways of our wonderful country, but it takes patience, skills, and a healthy respect for a vehicle that is way bigger than yours.


Updated and republished August 24, 2021 with new data figures.

Photo Credit: Carolyn Franks/Shutterstock.com