For many drivers, sharing the road with large trucks can be an intimidating experience, especially on smaller or busier roadways.
However, there are a number of steps drivers can take to stay safe around these large vehicles.
Avoiding the ‘No Zone’
When driving near a large truck, a driver’s initial instinct may be to move slowly and cautiously; however, drivers should instead keep up with the steady flow of traffic, according to Richard Harkness, psychologist and CEO of Advanced Drivers Education Products and Training, Inc. (ADEPT), a company that offers science-based training to improve driver safety.
“It’s about passing the truck — not aggressively, but assertively. The goal is to get around the truck, instead of hanging out next to it. All too frequently, drivers end up hanging out in what we call the ‘no zone’ — the blind area right behind the truck where the truck driver has no visual reference of the car behind or to the side of them,” Harkness said.
When passing a truck, drivers must ensure the truck driver sees them, Harkness added.
“If a driver can’t see the eyes or the head of the trucker, the trucker can’t see you,” Harkness said. “From a traffic safety standpoint, one of the biggest issues is when a truck changes lanes right into a car, without seeing it. This is often the result of drivers hanging out in the blind spots where truck drivers can’t see them.”
Drivers should also be visually aware and scan their environment when driving around large trucks, Harkness said.
“When a driver is approaching a truck, his or her brain is being taxed more than if he or she was just driving along. Anytime a truck is near, visual awareness and memory is crucial. When passing a truck, drivers need to be looking at and judging gaps in traffic and scanning the environment,” Harkness said.
Drivers should give themselves an extra second in distance when following a large truck so they can see around the truck, according to Harkness.
“If a driver is only 1.2 seconds behind the truck, he or she can’t see around the truck. Dropping back to three seconds gives drivers more visual range to see what’s going on around and in front of a truck,” Harkness said.
While it may be obvious, one easy way for drivers to reduce an incident with a large truck is to avoid in-vehicle distractions, such as cell-phone use. Drivers who talk on phones while driving are four times more likely to be involved in an accident, while drivers who text are between eight and 23 times more likely to crash, according to Harkness — and the use of hands-free devices makes no difference.
“Just the act of texting and/or speaking on a phone shuts down the parietal lobes of the brain by 37 percent. The parietal lobe deals with visual and spatial relationships — it’s the driving part of the brain. When that part of the brain shuts down by 37 percent, what happens to the brain is called ‘inattention blindness’ — people look, but they don’t see,” Harkness said.
Ultimately, when it comes to sharing the road with large trucks, Harkness’ message is straightforward: “Don’t be afraid of trucks, but understand that they pose an increased risk and get through that risk as quickly as possible.”