Opinion: How to drive safely around big trucks

By Charlotte Lane

West Virginia Public Service Commission Chairman

Big trucks are a lot less scary when you understand them.

The PSC’s Transportation Enforcement Officers patrol the state’s highways and the turnpike to ensure that commercial motor vehicles, such as semis and buses, are in compliance with safety regulations.  But that is only part of the solution.  The other part is for private motorists to not cause dangerous situations when sharing the road with larger vehicles.

There are several key elements to keep in mind.  Truck drivers have huge blind spots and semis need more time and space for every maneuver.  They absolutely cannot stop on a dime. 

The most important thing to remember is to stay out of their blind spots.  A truck driver’s blind spot on the right runs the length of the trailer and extends out three lanes.  If you can’t see the driver’s face in his side mirror, he probably can’t see you and you are in danger.  When passing, make sure the driver can see you, use your turn signal and always pass on the left.  Complete your pass quickly and don’t linger beside the truck.  Cars can momentarily “disappear” from the driver’s view due to blind spots.  After you’ve passed, allow extra space before returning to the right lane.  Only change lanes when you can see both of the truck’s headlights in your rearview mirror.

Never crowd a truck or cut directly in front of one.  A fully loaded truck or bus can take 400 feet, more than the length of a football field, to stop.  Avoid passing a truck on a downgrade because it picks up speed when going downhill.  If the truck is passing you, stay to the right and let it go around.  Finally, give the truck enough space to safely merge back into the right lane.  If you pull in front of a truck and slam on your brakes, it is not going to end well.

Trucks also require extra room for turning, often needing to begin their turn from the middle lane.  Pay attention so that you don’t block their space.  If you see that a truck plans to turn, stop far enough back so the driver doesn’t have to squeeze past you.  Most truck and bus drivers are very good at maneuvering their vehicles, but it’s not smart to put them to the test.

Finally, focus on your driving and avoid distractions such as cell phone use, texting or eating.  As always, wear your seatbelt and never drive while excessively tired or while under the influence. 

Let’s all stay safe out there.

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