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How not to Tangle with a Semi Tractor Trailer What You Need to Know

Updated on October 21, 2011

What NOT to do that can get you killed.

1. Cutting in front of a tractor trailer and slowing down.

This is the most common complaint among tractor trailer drivers, and for a very good reason. The reason being is larger trucks can not slow down as fast as you can. A car, van, suv, and pick up trucks can stop fairly quickly. While a semi needs at the minimum 500 feet or more to come to a complete full stop.

While you are applying your breaks and slowing down, you have a 80,000 pound speeding bullet coming at you from behind. If you cut him off where he barley has any room, you are asking for your rear end to be totaled. Hopefully no one was sitting in the back seat. If you hear them applying their jake break (an extra set of breaks that is usually extremely loud) speed up or you will get hit.

Needless to say if you do this to a truck nearing a red light, your car could very well be totaled. You are actually reducing the room they have to be able to stop. Many people do not leave them enough room. That is why they see all grill in their rear view mirrors. Most drivers have enough sense to go extra slow for people with death wishes, and experience to stop quickly. There are times no matter how much sense or experience the truck driver has, they will hit because the vehicle that cut in front of them didn't leave the truck enough room to stop.

What many don't realize is that the heavier the truck is, the more room they need to stop. If you see them hauling coils of steel, heavy machinery or anything that looks like it could be heavy, give them more room. Instead of 500 feet give them 1000 feet just to be safe.

Just because they have air breaks doesn't mean they can stop quicker. As a rule of thumb, think the bigger the vehicle, the heavier the weight, the bigger the breaks, the longer it takes for them to stop. Think about it. A train is one of the largest vehicles that goes across a road. They have some of the most powerful breaks. It takes a train hauling 200+ cars longer to stop than a train hauling around 100 cars. It takes a train at least a good mile or more to stop.

Remember: The bigger the vehicle, the heavier the weight, the bigger the breaks, the longer it takes to stop.


A white BMW SUV ran into the back of a tractor trailer. The entire front of the car was trapped under the truck. http://www.baristanet.com/2009/04/car_accident_near_caldwell_col.php
A white BMW SUV ran into the back of a tractor trailer. The entire front of the car was trapped under the truck. http://www.baristanet.com/2009/04/car_accident_near_caldwell_col.php

2. Tail gating a tractor trailer

Yes, this can be extremely dangerous. You are tailgating a semi, and you don't see a car cutting in front of the truck. This car just happens to also slow way down in front of the truck. All you see is the truck's tail lights come on. You start to slow down not realizing the truck is trying to make an emergency stop, and is slowing down much faster than you think.

The best case scenario would be only the front of your vehicle is totaled. Worst case is the trailer or flatbed is high enough that your low car is swept up underneath the bed of the trailer. Not only does your front end get seriously damaged, but the top part of your car separates from the bottom. Now you are either dead or in the hospital critically injured.

Another problem is that the back tire can blow, or lose its tread. The tires on the truck are made so when a tread comes off, the shop can cement a new tread to the tire. The old tread can be seen along the sides of the road, before they get cleaned up. The pieces of black rubber along the road ways that use to be treads are called alligators by truckers. If the truck blows a tire, your car is in a good position to get hit. You are so close that you will not have room to maneuver if the trailer sways, part of the tire flies towards you, or any number of things that could happen.

A truck driver of a flat bed (trailers that do not have sides) truck hauling a very heavy piece of machinery told me not too long ago a person was tail gating him. The rear tire threw a dread when he was going 55 mph. It tore the front end off of the vehicle that was behind him.

I know truck drivers do not like you tailgating them. To be safe, you should be able to put another big rig between you and the semi in front of you. Another way to determine if you are too close is if you can't see his mirrors, he can't see you. I know some truckers actually swerve off to the side of the road just a little bit, and then back on to the road just to see if there is anyone behind them. Most vehicles do not stay far enough behind the truck for the driver to be able to see them.


Honda rear ended by tractor

3. Do not back out or pull out in front of a tractor trailer when it is coming towards you fast, especially on the down side of a hill.

Why I say down a hill, is because the truck may start slow at the top of the hill, but it will gain speed quickly as it goes down. It is harder for them to stop when they are gaining speed. If you know you have more than enough time to get in front of them and get up to speed before the truck will even reach you, then you should be all right. Otherwise it is better to let the truck go by first. If you hear a truck making a louder than normal noise, the driver is already using their jake break which is an extra break to help slow down the truck. If they are using their jakes, it is a safe bet not to turn out in front of them.

If you pull out in front of a truck going fairly fast down a hill, be prepared to either have the front end taken off of your vehicle, or to have your rear end taken out. If you get your front end hit, hopefully all you will have is a nice long hospital stay.

This was told to my husband by his instructor when he was training to obtain his class A CDL license. An older lady had a hidden driveway halfway down a hill. She saw the truck coming towards her, but proceeded to back out of her driveway onto the road. Half way out on the road, the truck hits her car and takes out the back end. If their was anyone in the back seat, they would have been dead. The police officer cited the lady. When he asked her why she didn't wait for the truck to pass, she said the truck has bigger breaks, and can stop faster than cars can.

Please be careful when pulling out in front of a truck especially on a hill. Remember, even if it looks like the truck is going slow at the top, it could have picked up a lot of speed by the time it reaches the bottom. If the driver doesn't or is not able to see you in time, it could be too late for him to even try to slow down before he hits you.

4. I was requested to add this one. Do not drive next to the tractor trailer, and match its speed. A tire can blow, and hit your vehicle. There is a bigger likely hood of you getting hit by the trailer if something was to happen. If the driver has to react to something, you will not have time to react to the truck.

Truck drivers, please enter comments of how people are driving around trucks that is dangerous. Also, please share your experiences.

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    • profile image

      Rebecca 

      7 years ago

      I am a truck driver and i agree that some of the truck drivers out there do follow too close to a car sometimes. I have gotten on the CB sometimes and asked them what they're gonna do if that car has an emergency like something in the road, mechanical failure or whatever.. they will run right over that little car. I always stay back far enough to stop if I have to.. it's the way all drivers should drive, car or truck. All the other advice is exactly right and if all drivers would do that it would be a much safer highway out there.

    • GojiJuiceGoodness profile image

      GojiJuiceGoodness 

      8 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      Comment point #9 reminds of Randy Travis' song Three Wooden Crosses.

      I live 10 minutes from I-81 in Virginia, which runs through the mountains. This is VA's most dangerous interstate, even though the ones around Washington DC are more heavily traveled.

      Why? Because of the combination of trucks and mountains. Some drivers don't know how to drive on hills and besides, this type of driving just increases the risk even for a good driver.

      I'm not a truck driver, but everywhere I drive constantly there are trucks.

      One big issue is that car drivers don't have patience for the trucks coming up hills. On the same tune, trucks shouldn't try to pass if they're going 20 mph UNDER the speed limit. This can be dangerous if you come hurtling around the corner at 65 mph & suddenly right in front of you is a truck going 45. That's when I'm thankful for super brakes!! :)

      I was taught to give truckers room when driving & if they start to move over into me, I blow my horn to let them know I'm there. I rarely pass a truck on the right (only if he refuses to move over given the chance & there is no reason he shouldn't).

      Probably the only thing that really drives me nuts is when truckers call it too close & they tailgate me. I may have my cruise control on 65 mph (the speed limit), but they want by. However due to traffic in the left lane the truck can't move over so he tailgates me until he can.

      I think sometimes they just aren't thinking about how dangerous that is for me. If I tap the brakes just enough to show my tail lights without loosing speed, most drivers back off. I imagine they just didn't realize.

      In the general public's eyes, truck drivers have a bad reputation. However, I think it's that some drivers are careless drivers & ruin the reputation of ALL truck drivers. As I have driven more, I've realized this. Although I may not be happy with some of the truck drivers, most are good drivers & just can't help that they're going slow--hey, those trucks are pretty heavy when they're loaded!

      So, am I ticked off at truck drivers and think there dreadful? NO, of course not! Are some of them bad drivers? You bet! But I think most people are!! ;)

      Overall, I think truck drivers are good, except that the majority of them tailgate me on I-81 right before passing.

    • profile image

      Richard 

      8 years ago

      5. Do not pass a tractor trailer on the right! Very hard to see a car there and there's usually a reason they are in the left lane. Most tractor trailers move to the left lane if there is a car on the shoulder. Don't be surprised if a tractor trailer starts to come into your lane when you are passing on the right.

      6. Be aware that the speed of tractor trailers are governed. Meaning they can't go past a certain speed. Most are around 65 mph, sometimes less, sometimes more.

      7. Tractor trailers slow down when going up hills. They are HEAVY. Be aware that they will speed back up after reaching the top of the hill (and especially if going back down the hill).

      8. Do not creep along the side of tractor trailers when passing and then cut in front of them with only a 10 foot gap. If you see a tractor trailer passing another tractor trailer slowly, be patient, they are governed and it's not their fault. Refer back to number 6.

      9. Do not make a U-turn on the highway where it says no U-turn. This is illegal for a reason. We can't stop on a dime and if you slow down in front of us or pull out in front of us, we can't stop in time.

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