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The holidays are always a busy time of year.  People rushing from work, home, stores, and other various places getting ready for what ever festivities are included in their traditions.  The roads always seem more crowded and plagued with accidents.  We all like to think we are safe drivers.  “It”, meaning an accident, would never happen to us.  But chances are in your lifetime you will be involved in at least one automobile accident of some kind.

Slow down.  Be aware.  Leave space between vehicles.  Look for an out.  Don't text/talk on the phone and drive.  These are all common sense driving tips everyone is familiar with.  They are preached to us from the time we start driving.  But very few people are ever really taught how to drive around big trucks.  There is a common misconception that truck drivers are reckless, always in a hurry, speeding, or just other wise in the way of the common average American commuting on the highways.  Now granted, there are a few bad apples in every bunch, truck drivers and auto drivers alike.  I'd like to think though for the most part many of the accidents and aggravation come from simple ignorance, which can be remedied with a bit of education and a touch of patience.

Historical Fact:  Route 66 was the first fully paved highway in the United States.  It was completed to help truckers carry goods from the Midwest to the West coast and back.  It was later used for tourists and vacationers as a way to see the western part of the country.

Here are a few tips to help everyone as they go about their days and nights on the road preparing for the holidays, and every day beyond.  A little bit of education goes a long way.  Please pass this along and help make the roads safer for you, your loved ones, and everyone else out there.

The average car (4-wheeler in trucker terms) weighs about 4500lbs.

The average SUV or truck weighs about 7000lbs.

The average Tractor (without a trailer on the back), also known as a “Bobtail” weighs about 17000lbs – 20000lbs.

The average Tractor/Trailer combination when empty weighs about 35000lbs.

A Tractor/Trailer fully loaded weighs 80000lbs and up.  The more axels on a trailer the more weight it is pulling.

Speaking of weight and big trucks, they can't speed up and slow down like the average car.  It takes a lot of momentum, horsepower, and torque to get a big truck up a hill.  Typically a truck driver will try to gain a little extra speed before heading up a steep incline depending on how much weight he or she is pulling.  As the truck starts loosing power up the hill they will downshift for more pulling power.  If you block a truck in while going up a hill you are slowing that momentum down and making it infinitely harder for that truck to make it up the hill.  80,000lbs is a LOT of dead weight to haul and they need that speed.  So if you see a trucker coming up behind you on an incline, try to let him by if you can.  It's easier for you in a car to slow down and speed up on a hill than that heavily weighted truck.

Inversely, a fully loaded truck going down hill gains momentum and speed.  The weight of the freight in the trailer pushes the tractor down.  Unlike car brakes, when a big truck's brakes get hot they don't work at all.  Truckers rely on engine brakes and lower gear ratios to safely and somewhat slowly get them down the hill.

So that trucker you are annoyed with for slowing you down to a crawl up a hill and then appearing to race you down the hill, isn't being a jerk.  They are simply working within the mechanics of the truck they drive.  It's physics, nothing more.

When you are diving your car, truck, or SUV think about what happens when you hit the brakes.  How long does it take for you to stop when you are traveling 30mph?  65Mph?  When the roads are dry?  When the roads are wet?  It takes a big truck MUCH longer!  They can't just stop on a dime, or even a dollar.  If you cut off a big truck and then hit your brakes to slow down, you are just asking to be rear ended.  The laws of physics aren't in your favor, as there simply is no way a big truck can stop that fast.  And believe it or not, an empty truck and a bobtail are even more difficult to stop than a truck that is fully loaded.  That 3-car lengths you were taught in drivers ed that is necessary to leave between you and the next CAR, needs to be increased triple between you and a big truck.

On most highways the laws governing truckers prohibits them from being in the left lane except to pass.  If there are 3-4 lanes, the furthest left lanes are completely illegal for a big truck to travel in except in the case of road construction or accidents.  When you see a truck in the left lane just hanging out there with a blinker on, it is trying to get back in the right lane in accordance with the law.  And yes, police officers and DOT officers WILL pull them over for being in the wrong lane for too long, even if a car was holding them up for getting back in the right lane.

And why would a big truck be in the passing lane?  Traveling speed of course.  Big trucks get horrible fuel milage, 4-8mpg is the average.  Yes, 4-8.  And with the cost of diesel, you can image how much it costs to fill up each time.  Even a half a tank can cost $400!  It is better for fuel milage to maintain a steady speed than to speed up or down.  Every little bit helps the pocket book.  Owner/operators pay for their own fuel.  Company drivers get a discount, but often some of the cost still comes out of their pay.  And many of them only get those discounts or help IF they maintain a certain mpg per load.  So all that slowing down, speeding up, stopping, braking, etc, eats up their mpg!  Be kind, let a truck driver over to pass, or back in the proper lane without forcing them to race or play leap frog.  That would aggravate you, so it does them too.

When you are back there hanging out waiting for a trucker to come over, yet he just doesn't, chances are he can't see you.  He knows you're back there but not sure where.  If you can't see their side mirrors the trucker can't see you.  Ease up a little or speed up and get by him.  He's waiting on you to be clear of his trailer so he doesn't hit you.

The right side of a big truck is more dangerous than the left.  That is their “blind side”.  If at all possible always pass a big truck on the left.  And on either side, don't just hang out there by the trailer and tires.  That makes the truck driver nervous.  It's unsafe for you there.  For one, there is a good chance he can't see you.  And for two, if one of those tires blows it will total your car!  Seriously, those  tires are under so much air pressure, if it blows it can literally rip your pretty little Toyota easily in half.  If it will do that to a metal frame of a car, imagine what it will do to you?  Many people get nervous driving around big trucks or passing.  It's understandable.  But the worst possible thing you can do is just hang out back there.  Back off or get by them.  But remember when you pass don't cut them off and then slam on your brakes.

Many of the trucks on the roads today are “governed”, meaning their engine is programmed to not exceed a certain speed.  The companies put these restrictions on the truckers to prohibit speeding and to help with fuel milage.  It is hard coded into the ECM, the electronic brain of the engine.  It isn't something the trucker can bypass.  Some are limited to 58mph, some 60mph, some 62 or 65mph.  Not all trucks are governed, but many are.  So if it seems like a truck is taking forever to get around you, or just won't speed up, chances are he simply can't make that truck go any faster than it already is going.

Truck drivers communicate by CB radio.  If you see a truck driver suddenly slow down, or all the trucks trying to get over in a specific lane, you might want to follow suit.  They know what is up ahead, whether it is a cop with a radar, an accident, or construction.  They are slowing down or changing lanes for a reason, and it's not to interrupt your commute.

Many people think Truck Drivers are a poorly educated, untrained, unregulated bunch of miscreants let loose on the road.  Truth is many truck drivers are military veterans.  Many more have been traveling this country for 20-30 years.  They know the roads.  They know the history.  They follow and are active in the the laws of this country, not just road laws, but all laws.  They understand the workings of our government, the history of this country, the beauty of the land, and the inner streets of even the biggest cities.  For the most part they are good-hearted, family-oriented, softies just trying to make a living like you and me.

The fact is, that the trucking industry is highly regulated.  Truck drivers are limited in the number of hours they can be on duty, how many hours in a day they can drive, and how many hours in a 24-hour period they have to be off duty and in their sleeper.  Their trucks and trailers are inspected by DOT officers regularly.  Their CDL is highly regulated and they are protective of that.  Trust me they don't want to be the cause of an accident any more than you do. But a truck driver can only be as safe as the other vehicles around them.  A CDL isn't just handed to them, it is expensive to obtain and there is a huge book of laws, rules, and regulations they must study and learn. Further, each endorsement (hazmat, doubles, etc.) are expensive to get and to maintain.  Their driver logs are now electronically maintained are considered a legal federal document.

Big Trucks, 18-wheelers, Tractor/Trailers, or what ever other nickname you have for them make up a large and growing portion of the traffic on our highways and city streets.  They are a necessity.  Truck drivers are the heartbeat of America.  Everything you see, use, eat, wear, or otherwise own is transported across country via truck drivers and their big trucks.  Even the supplies to make the roads, your houses, even your landscaping is carried in some form by a tractor/trailer.  From crop to commerce, from lab to hospital, from warehouse to home, everything each of us use every single day is there because of a truck driver.  They are a necessity.  So think twice before you grumble about the trucks on the road.  And remember a few of these tips to help make the road safer and more pleasant for you and the truckers alike.

~sierra. (aka Kitty)