If you were on the road anywhere near Sacramento on Thursday morning, December 10th, then odds are decent that you were tied up in a serious traffic jam.
At about 6:15 AM, a large two-trailer FedEx big rig truck traveling down southbound I-5 crossed over the center divider, striking a northbound pickup truck head-on, instantly killing the pickup’s driver. The accident ended up closing all lanes of I-5 North, as well as one lane of the southbound side. According to CalTrans, the closure resulted in a 7 mile long traffic jam.
Officers on the scene stated that the FedEx truck likely hydroplaned and lost control due to heavy rain that had been falling that morning.
Obviously, it’s impossible to guarantee your safety on the highway. There was no way for the driver of pickup in Thursday’s accident to anticipate the accident. However, big rigs and tractor trailers are inherently dangerous, and there are some things you can do to try and stay safe. Here are a few tips on what you can do to minimize the risk of a serious accident with a big rig.
#1. Avoid blind spots.
Big rigs are practically surrounded by blind spots. There are four key areas that you need to stay outside of so that a truck driver can see you:
- The first 20 feet of road in front of the cab of the truck.
- Behind the trailer, for a length of about 30 feet.
- On the driver’s side, extending from the front of the cab to roughly the center of the trailer (or the center of the first trailer, if the truck is hauling more than one).
- The blind spot on the passenger side is easily the largest. Depending on what lane you’re in, the blind spot can extend for the entire length of the truck.
Basically, the best thing you can do is to stay as far away from an 18-wheeler as possible. Only drive next to a truck when you’re passing it. Don’t match a truck’s speed. And definitely don’t tailgate a truck or try and merge right in front of a truck.
#2. Trucks take a loooooooooooong time to stop.
Big rigs are extremely heavy—some of them weigh more than 80,000 pounds. This means that even when the driver slams the brakes, they tend to keep going. A big rig going 65 mph can take more than 300 feet to come to a full stop. And sometimes, their brakes fail (which is why you often see “runaway truck ramps” when traveling through mountainous areas).
Never depend on a truck to be able to stop in time to avoid an accident. Your vehicle is far more maneuverable than any big rig or tractor trailer.
#3. Watch out for trucks turning right.
In order to make right turns, big rigs will often swing out to the left, or if more than one lane is available, will actually turn right from the left lane. This tends to open up a pocket of roadway on the right side of the truck, which can be tempting for eager drivers who want to get to their turn as soon as possible. But as big rigs make a turn, this pocket tends to narrow rapidly, sometimes resulting in cars being swept off of the roadway by the shifting trailer.
When a truck is making a turn, stay behind it.
#4. Pass on the left.
Generally speaking, good driving manners in California dictate that drivers should pass other vehicles on the left-hand side. However, drivers often get impatient around trucks, and will pass wherever and whenever they get an opportunity. But remember those blind spots we talked about earlier? A truck’s largest blind spot is on the right side.
The reason why truckers often use the center lane is because they are trained to do so. The right lane can be extremely unsafe for truck drivers to stay in, due to the frequent merging going on. By traveling the center lane, truck drivers minimize the risk of having to swerve out of another vehicle’s way, and have the most options available for maneuvering around obstructions.
But just because a truck is in the middle lane doesn’t mean that you should pass on the right. To keep everyone on the road safe, always pass a truck on the left. No exceptions.
#5. Many big rigs have speed limiters.
Have you ever been stuck behind two or more big rigs alongside one another that are creating a roadblock? While this is frustrating, it often isn’t the truck drivers’ fault. Many big rigs have speed governors installed that prevent drivers from accelerating beyond a certain point. A consequence of this is that if a truck driver attempts to pass another truck, but hits an uphill patch of road, the truck’s speed will more or less “stall out” at a speed matching the truck they’re trying to pass.
It’s not just annoying for you—it’s annoying for the truckers too. Do your best to be patient, and to give the trucks as much room as possible until the passing truck can merge properly.
#6. If you see a truck driving unsafely, call it in.
These days, most commercial trucks have phone numbers on the back that motorists can call if the truck’s driver is driving dangerously. Getting an unsafe driver off of the road today can prevent an accident from happening tomorrow.