First: October 13, 2012
Last: September 28, 2013
Just a couple things you may or may not already know. Traveling on the interstate can be risky, but you can be a lot safer knowing just a few basic things about big rig trucks out there.
First, ask yourself a question. If a sky scrapper was being built in your area, and you needed to get to a place on the other side of that construction area, would you go around it, or walk directly through it? Easy answer is you would go around it. That would be the safest way.
The interstate highway is where I, and a few million other truck drivers make our living. We know you hate getting behind us, and we know there isn't much you or we can do about our presence there. We are a necessary evil, so to speak. Products have to get from production lines to stores, so you can buy them. Our job is to get them there.
First, 95% of all big rig trucks have an engine governor. An engine governor, restricts how fast a truck can go. Simple enough. Most companies have their trucks set to something below 68 mph. That is to help keep us from speeding. I know, you have all seen trucks flying at much higher speeds. An 80,000 lb truck rolling down hill will go well over 70. If we held them back on every hill on the interstate, we would wear out the brakes in a little bit of no time. So, if you are getting ready to make a lane change, and you are going down hill, and a truck is coming, be aware that it is probably moving a lot faster than you think. And if you are coming up on a truck going up hill, 80,000 lbs is heavy, and so we are probably moving a good bit slower than the speed limit.
You have all been behind a truck, passing another truck, and it is taking forever. We hate it too. A truck, that is governed to 67, that is trying to pass a truck that is governed to 65 takes a while. We don't want to hold up traffic, but at the same time, we are on a schedule, and usually every minute and every mile per hour we can squeeze out makes all the difference in the world when it comes to on time delivery.
Truckers usually always try to use turn signals. If we are going to make a lane change, we signal. We are not asking you to let us over. We are telling you that something is going on, and we are going to make that move. It is not a question of can we come over. It is an indication that we are coming over. If you are riding next to us, you are pinning us in, and that can lead to a disaster real quick. Don't ride next to us. We hate it as much as you do. and it's the very most un-safe place to be on the road. Especially on the passenger side. Our sight, in our mirrors is very limited on that side.
We try to get over in the left lane to let traffic get on the interstate at the entrance ramps. Running up beside us and riding there, once you have entered the interstate, because you have reach the speed limit is a hazzard. We can't go any faster, and having you on the right hand side, pins us into the left lane. Either go on past, or drop back, so we can get back to the right lane, out of the passing lane. The Department of Transportation puts very strict rules on us. If there is a vehicle on the shoulder of the interstate, we are required to move to the left lane to pass it. Doesn't matter if anyone is with that vehicle or not. Failing to do this can result in us getting a fine of 250.00. We are not trying to intentionally cut you off, we are just trying to play by the D.O.T. rules. So, if you see a vehicle on the shoulder, and a truck is in front of you, count on him making the lane change.
Stay away from our trailers. You have all seen these big strips of rubber on the interstates? Yes, they come from big rigs. Nearly every company out there runs recap tires on trailers. A recap is basically an old tire, with a new tread glued on to it. The D.O.T. says it is perfectly "safe" for the heaviest vehicles on the road, to run on the worst tires made. ( Amazing huh ) And since they cost about half as much as a new tire, companies buy them and run them. If you have ever seen a truck tire blow, you know, it sounds like a shotgun going off, and rubber will take a windshield out, real quick. If you are going to pass, do it quickly. Don't ride next to big trucks for miles at a time. If a front steering tire blows out, the truck will pull to the direction of the blown tire. If you are on my left side, and the left front tire blows out, I'm coming into the left lane. Reaction time is never going to be fast enough for me to keep from it. By the time I can react to a steering tire blowing out, I'll be 6 feet into your lane, or on top of you.
A lot of people think air brakes are some super magical braking system that trucks have, and can stop a truck, on a dime. Here is a quick course in air brakes. First, they are not magical, with super stopping ability. All brakes on big rigs work by springs. Air pushes the brake pads away from the drums, allowing the vehicle to move. When brakes are applied, by stepping on the brake pedal, air is evacuated from the brake chamber, and the springs push the brake pad, against the brake drum. A very simple system. When a big rig parks, the sound you hear is the air brakes being set. ( that loud "pashhhhh" sound, is the sound of the air being evacuated from the brake chamber, and the springs pushing the brake pads against the brake drums.). When something happens on the road, it will take a trucker about 1 second to get his foot to the brake pedal. It will take another 1 to 1.5 seconds for the air, to react at the brake chamber. If a car jumps in front of a truck, and hit it's brakes, the truck will not react for 2 to 2.5 seconds. That is long enough to get someone killed. So, if you are about to miss your exit, and you jump in front of a big rig, and slam on your brakes to slow down real quickly to make that exit; you could be exiting this world for good. Better to miss your exit, drive another mile or two to the next exit, loop around and come back.
You have all seen big long skid marks that trail off to the should of the road? Usually that is caused by an air line busting. When a big rig loses air very rapidly, the brake chamber air evacuates, because the supply of air is gone. The brakes automatically lock up, putting the trailer into a skid. A skidding trailer will always try to come around, meaning the trailer will not stay straight behind the truck. It will swing to the left or right. Another reason to stay away from our trailers.
Something to think about: A truck, running 55 mph, will need the length of a football field to come to a safe complete stop. Help us keep you safe. If you see trouble ahead, we probably see it to, and our weight makes our reaction vital. The dynamics of size and weight requires room for reaction. If you see trouble ahead, like an accident or debris in the road, be aware that we also see it, and need more room to react to it. We are not trying to bully you, it's just the nature of the beast we are driving. Very harsh and violent reactions on our part can lead to a rollover disaster. Not pretty. Space is needed to make a smooth safe adjustment. Your attention to pending disasters like, debris on the road, and merging traffic, along with just a little understanding of our dynamics can make every one of us a lot safer. And if you are only a few feet back, and you know you have given us enough room to come over into your lane, we are looking in a mirror. You may see 6 feet of room, we may only determine it to be 2 or 3 feet, and unsafe to actually make that move. If you flip your lights on and off a couple times, we then know for sure you see us and your are OK with us making the move. That is driving, and that helps immensely. If you rush to pass us to avoid the pending problem, you probably have just pinned us into a more major disaster. Working together is the key.
City streets and back roads are usually safety nightmares for us. We must swing wide to make turns. That is the only way to get our trailers to follow us without running up on sidewalks, or into ditches. Again, it's the nature of the beast we are driving. Don't rush up on us. Let us use the space we need, to get out of your way, as quickly as possible. When you give us the room, we can usually make the maneuver pretty quickly, and we can both be on our separate ways.
We are just guys and gals, just like you. We have families that want us to come home safely, just like you. We don't want anyone to be hurt on the roads, and if you understand the dynamics of our vehicle, you can understand why we do the things we do, and the way we must do them. Your understanding and actions, can help us drive more safely. And when you think about it, that makes you, sort of like, a truck driver. You're helping us, drive that truck safely. And that is nothing but cool.
Thanks, and be safe out there!!