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Driving Safely Around Semi Trucks - Part 1

Updated on August 10, 2012

Driving Safely Around Big Rigs

I can’t even guess how many times I’ve seen a car or SUV pass a semi only to jump over right in front of the truck and then hit the brakes. Sometimes it’s just so they can get to that exit ramp two seconds sooner. Other times it’s almost like they are trying to get the truck to hit them.

It never ceases to amaze me that some people don’t even consider that they are taking on a vehicle that weighs 80,000 lbs. or more with an over-sized load. Think about it - depending on your vehicle, you are looking at anywhere from 2,500 to 6,500 lbs verses 80,000 lbs or more!! Even if you are not coming to a complete stop, your car is going to slow down a lot faster than that truck will. Yeah, you can get an attorney and sue - IF you live through the accident.

That being said, here are a couple of things to keep in mind the next time you hit the road.

Braking Distance

* A vehicle travels about 95 feet per second at 65 mph. Taking into consideration perception time - the amount of time for you to see that you need to brake, reaction time - the amount of time for your body to move your foot to the brake pedal, and brake lag (explained next)we can pretty safely give about 1.5 to 2 seconds before the truck even begins to slow. The truck has now traveled about 143 to 190 feet. The biggest difference is the weight of the vehicles - the total stopping distance for your car is about 344 feet. The truck on the other hand needs about 411 feet (assuming a weight of 80,000 lbs. and a level, dry stretch of road and a perfect world).

* Remember that thing referred to as brake lag? A semi truck (tractor or tractor trailer) uses air brakes. Air brakes have an added delay that your car doesn’t. The brakes on a car apply almost immediately where air brakes have about a ½ second or more delay for the air to go through the system. Doesn’t seem like much does it? It does account for another 47.5 feet - that’s enough space to run over a few vehicles.

Be safe, Leave space

There are no excuses for the aggressive truck driver and they know who they are, but trying to use your car to teach them a lesson isn’t the answer. Just avoid them if at all possible. On the other hand, I have actually seen a situation where a pickup truck came to a sudden and complete stop directly in front of a semi truck on the interstate - with no other traffic in the lane. Lucky for him the truck driver had caught on to what he was intending and was able to stop before hitting the pickup. The beauty of it was that the driver of the pickup did it twice!! Pretty obvious what he was going for.
Bottom line - be safe, give big trucks the room they need.

Head on over to part 2


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