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Driving Near Big Trucks

In fatal crashes involving a car and a truck, the car occupants are far more likely to be killed. Driving mistakes around trucks can have tragic consequences.  

A recent survey sponsored by the American Automobile Association (AAA) examined crashes involving passenger vehicles (including cars, pickups, minivans and SUVs) and trucks. That organization estimates some 5,000 deaths and 140,000 injuries in the US can be attributed to dangerous driving near commercial trucks and tractor-trailers.

In collisions, the sheer size of some trucks puts car occupants at a disadvantage. Many drivers are intimidated when they must share the road with large trucks, and not without reason. According to AAA, people in passenger vehicles account for 98% of the deaths in fatal two-vehicle crashes involving a car and a truck over 10,000 pounds. However, the survey found that in most cases, police, survivors or witnesses identified at least one unsafe act by the car driver.

A manoeuvre by a car near a large truck may be more dangerous than the same manoeuvre near another car. Similarly, a large truck may perform a manoeuvre that carries low risk of a crash near another truck in the traffic stream, but a higher risk when performed near a smaller vehicle.

The study, by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, found that drivers who get involved in fatal crashes probably drive the same way around trucks as they do around other cars. It identified five driving behaviors that were factors in most of the fatal crashes:

  • failing to stay in the lane or running off the road;
  • failing to yield the right of way;
  • driving too fast for conditions or above the speed limit;
  • failing to obey signs and signals; and
  • driver inattention.

The study reinforces the message that a few basic defensive driving habits could save a lot of lives:

  • Don't change lanes abruptly.
  • Slow down to let trucks have the right of way.
  • Drive at a safe speed.
  • Stay alert to traffic signals and road conditions.
  • Use turn signals.
  • Never cut in front of a truck.
  • Avoid driving alongside trucks whenever possible - if you can't see the truck driver's face in the side mirror, he or she can't see you.
  • Avoid tailgating.

 

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