Driving beside a tractor-trailer can be anxiety-provoking for many drivers. Tractor-trailers take up a great deal more space on the road and need more room to maneuver than other vehicles. If they start to swerve into your lane, you may have few options for preventing an accident. Worse, those accidents can result in serious injury to you and any passengers in your vehicle. While you cannot prevent the risk of every type of accident, you can take several steps to protect yourself and others in your vehicle against the possibility of an accident. If a truck accident leaves you or a loved one injured, then you may have the right to compensation. Contact an experienced truck accident injury attorney today for a free case evaluation.
Common Causes of Tractor-Trailer Accidents
Tractor-trailer accidents can occur for a variety of reasons, many of them similar to the reasons smaller passenger vehicles get into accidents.
These may include:
Driver error. Some driver errors occur because of deliberate decisions. The driver might, for example, decide to speed or drive recklessly to make up lost time. Other types of driver error occur due to:
- Driver distraction, where the driver’s attention drifts off the road and onto other things;
- Driver inebriation;
- Driver illness; and/or
- Driver weariness, either due to too many hours behind the wheel or due to inadequate rest.
Poor weather conditions. In poor weather conditions, drivers may have more trouble keeping their rigs on the road. Slick, icy roads or rainy conditions raise the risk of an accident, as does poor visibility.
Shifting loads. How a truck driver’s load is secured to the truck can make a big difference in the driver’s ability to control the truck. A poorly-secured load can shift during transport, causing the trailer to swing out of control and increasing the risk of an accident. Drivers may not realize their load was incorrectly secured until it’s too late.
Sideswipe collisions. Truck drivers have large blind spots that can make it incredibly difficult for them to see smaller vehicles beside them. While newer tractor-trailers may come equipped with cameras that offer greater visibility around the truck, many of the trucks on the road are older and do not have this feature. Sideswipe collisions can result from a vehicle sitting too long in a truck’s blind spot or a truck driver attempting to merge with inadequate space.
Rear-end collisions. Many other drivers fail to realize how much room a truck driver really needs to stop their rig. These drivers may merge too closely to the truck and slow down abruptly, change lanes in front of a truck while it tries to stop, or stop too abruptly with a big truck behind them. All these actions can result in a severe rear-end collision, which may lead to substantial vehicle damage and devastating injuries.
How Can You Prevent Accidents with a Tractor-Trailer?
Although many of the factors that can lead to a truck accident remain beyond your control, you can take many steps to help protect yourself and your passengers when sharing the road with a tractor-trailer.
- Slow down. Speeding can substantially increase the risk of an accident. You cannot control the truck driver’s speed, but you can control your own. Follow the speed limit, especially on major highways and interstates. If you have several trucks around you that must drive slowly due to poor road conditions or curvy roads, reduce your speed to match theirs so you can all travel safely. In poor weather conditions, slow down even more, to allow yourself more room to maneuver if something goes wrong.
- Clearly indicate your actions before taking them. Do you need to slow down before you make a turn? If you have a big truck behind you, slow down well in advance of that turn and use your turn signal. A gradual reduction of speed can help the truck driver avoid a potential collision and keep everyone in your vehicle safer.
- Do not change lanes directly in front of a big truck without allowing adequate room. Big trucks need more room to stop and slow down than passenger vehicles. If you change lanes abruptly right in front of a truck, especially a truck traveling at high speeds, you can make it very difficult for the truck driver to slow down quickly enough to avoid a collision.
- Make sure all your lights are working. Check your turn signal lights, headlights, and taillights regularly to ensure that they work properly and that drivers around you can see them clearly. Those lights serve as both a notification of your presence and a warning of your intentions on the road, especially for truck drivers.
- Educate yourself about truck drivers’ blind spots. Most vehicles have some blind spots; areas in which the drivers cannot clearly see the other vehicles, pedestrians, or objects around them. Truck drivers, on the other hand, generally have much larger blind spots. Make sure you understand a truck drivers’ blind spots. Once you know where truck drivers cannot see you, you can take steps to reduce your accident risk.
- Do not sit in a truck driver’s blind spot. When traveling beside a truck, accelerate or decrease your rate of speed to stay out of the driver’s blind spot. If you cannot see the driver in their mirrors, the driver cannot see you—and if you sit in that blind spot, you are at much higher risk of being involved in an accident, since the truck driver may not notice your presence.
- If you need to pass a truck, pass through the blind spot as quickly as possible. Wait until you have plenty of room to get around a big truck before attempting to pass. If you do not have room to get all the way around the truck, wait until you have more room before attempting to pass. Otherwise, you could start to pass a truck, then get stuck next to it due to changing traffic patterns. To reduce the risk of an accident, try to decrease your speed to move back to a safer location. In tight traffic, the truck driver is more likely to notice your presence but, regardless, you should endeavor to stay out of the driver’s blind spots.
- Allow plenty of room for truck drivers to make right turns. Truck drivers typically make very wide right turns so that they can maneuver safely around potential obstacles. A driver who signals an intent to make a right turn wants to let you know about that upcoming maneuver. You should not move your vehicle into the space created by the truck driver. Hang back where the driver can easily see you and wait for the driver to complete the maneuver before pulling forward.
- Back off and leave trucks room to maneuver if needed. If you notice a big truck attempting to maneuver into a tight space, including trying to get into a tight corner or back into a loading dock, allow the truck driver plenty of room to complete that maneuver. The truck driver may need to make several adjustments to complete that maneuver, especially in tight traffic. Pulling up right next to the truck can cause an accident, especially if the driver misses the presence of your vehicle while focusing on their maneuver.
- Pay attention to trucks as they signal their intentions. Most truck drivers will clearly signal their intentions on the road, from the need to change lanes to an intent to make a turn. If you notice a big truck on the road beside you, pay attention to the truck driver’s signals, especially turn signals and brake lights, to help you understand what the truck driver intends to do and avoid the risk of an accident.
- Do not follow too closely behind a big truck. You may assume that you can stop faster than a big truck, so you can follow more closely behind that driver than you can behind other vehicles. Big trucks, however, may stop faster than you might think. A moment’s distraction can also prevent you from noticing brake lights in time to stop safely. Many tractor trailers sit much higher on the road than passenger vehicles, especially small cars. In the event of a rear-end collision, your car could slide under the back of the truck, causing you and any passengers severe injury, including head injuries and even decapitations. Instead, back off! Try to leave enough room for the truck driver to see your vehicle in their mirrors. While the driver’s ability to see you may not change their actions, it can give you more room to slow down or stop.
- Avoid playing chicken with big trucks. If you drive aggressively, you may typically try to prevent other drivers from pulling in front of you or crossing in front of you. Big trucks, however, will almost always win over smaller passenger vehicles. Even if the driver attempts to stop a maneuver in the middle of it, the sudden adjustment can cause a serious accident, especially if they over-correct or must stop abruptly in poor weather conditions. If you see a truck driver attempting to pull in front of you, trying to change lanes, or getting ready to move through an intersection, stop and wait for them to pass through safely. While it may add seconds to your drive, it can also keep you and your passengers safer.
- Pay attention to the truck driver’s load. Shifting loads can lead to jackknife accidents and truck rollovers. Worse, cargo on a flatbed or in a poorly-secured trailer can fall off directly in front of or on top of your vehicle, causing substantial damage to your vehicle and injury to the occupants. Take note of the truck driver’s load. If you notice any problems with the load, including signs that it might have come unsecured, try not to travel beside or directly behind the vehicle. If possible, signal the truck driver to notify them of a potential problem, especially if that problem poses a danger to others around the truck.
- Avoid distractions while driving. You should always avoid driving while distracted, but the need to avoid distraction increases exponentially when sharing the road with big trucks. You may need to respond quickly to prevent an accident or decrease the risk of severe injury, especially if you notice problems that could pose an immediate danger to you or others on the road. Pay attention to your driving, and only your driving, while behind the wheel. Do not consume food or drinks, especially messy foods, or try to check your phone for text messages or emails while driving.
- Do not drive aggressively, especially around big trucks. Aggressive driving tactics are often unpredictable for others on the road, making it difficult for truck drivers to decide what you will do next. As a result, a truck driver might not respond quickly enough to your maneuvers to avoid a collision. Unpredictable driving can substantially increase the risk of an accident. Aggressive driving may also include traveling at high speeds or ignoring the rules of the road, both of which can make you much more susceptible to injury in an accident.
While you cannot prevent the risk of all accidents on the road, you can take several crucial steps to help protect yourself and passengers in your vehicle from the risk of truck accidents. You cannot control tractor-trailer drivers, but you can control your own actions—and often, that can offer the protection you need to keep yourself safe on the road. If you do suffer injuries in a truck accident, contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible for a consultation about your claim and a better understanding of your rights following injuries in a truck accident.