How to Stay Safe with Semi-Trucks

Because of the large size and weight difference and the speed at impact, large truck accidents (semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, “big rigs”, etc.) involving passenger vehicles often result in an outsized number of catastrophic injuries and deaths.

Large trucks make up only about 3% of all vehicles on our roads, highways and interstates, but they account for a much larger percentage of fatal traffic accidents.  In Illinois, semi and other large trucks are responsible for more than 10% of crash fatalities.  In Missouri, these same large trucks are involved in as many as 15% of crash-related deaths.

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How to Avoid Large Truck Crashes

Large truck crashes are almost always preventable.  To stay safe, large truck drivers AND passenger vehicle drivers must share responsibility and make good decisions on the road.

Safety Tips for Passenger Vehicle Drivers

WATCH OUT – The first rule of driving is to always be aware of who and what is around you.  This is especially true when semi-trucks or other large, commercial trucks are travelling nearby.  A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh more than 80,000 pounds and will be slower to respond or brake than a passenger car, truck or SUV weighing a few thousand pounds.

NO TAILGATING – Because of their size and shape, big rigs have a limited sight-line directly behind the carrier area.  If you are unable to see the tractor cab’s mirrors while travelling behind a large truck, you should assume that the truck driver cannot see you.  Be sure to put enough distance between you and the large truck in front of you so that the driver can see you and you have enough time to stop safely for unexpected events ahead.

PASS SAFELY – Never “cut off” or swerve in front of a tractor trailer.  Besides being illegal, aggressive driving can also distract a truck driver or cause them to overcorrect.  Because of heavy loads, truck drivers have a much longer stopping distance than smaller, lighter passenger vehicles.  By maintaining a safe distance when passing and re-entering a lane, you give both yourself and the truck driver plenty of room to maneuver without danger.

REPORT UNSAFE DRIVING – The large majority of truck drivers are experienced professionals who make safety a priority when on the road.  There are other truck drivers, however, who are willing to cut corners or put profit or convenience above their own safety and the safety of others.  If you see a large truck driver (or any driver) driving aggressively, erratically (swerving, drifting between lanes, etc.) or unsafely in any way, put a safe distance between yourself and the truck and report them to the Highway Patrol or other local law enforcement as soon as safely possible.

Safety Tips for Truckers and Trucking Companies

KNOW THE DANGERS – Operating a semi-truck carrying 80,000 pounds or more over hundreds of thousands of miles each year is an awesome responsibility.   Overseeing a fleet of these trucks makes that responsibility that much greater.  Whether you’re a truck driver or a trucking company owner or executive, it’s important to know the factors that lead to large truck crashes each and every year.

For a detailed list of the most common causes of large truck crashes involving passenger vehicles, visit Why Large Truck Accidents Happen on this site.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has also created the following list of common factors leading to tractor-trailer accidents:

  • Poor Driver Training
  • Driver Fatigue (Tiredness)
  • Speeding
  • Overloaded Trucks
  • Oversized Trucks
  • Brake Failure
  • Poor Driving Conditions
  • Driver Inexperience
  • Failure To Yield The Right-Of-Way
  • Driving Under The Influence of Alcohol Or Drugs
  • Aggressive, Dangerous Or Reckless Driving
  • Mechanical Failure (Or Improper Maintenance)
  • Defective Parts (Such As Defective Steering Or Brakes)

PUT SAFETY FIRST – The large majority of truck drivers are well-trained professionals who put safety first.  But every driver must make operating their large truck safely their number one priority when on the road.  Every time you get behind the wheel, make a conscious decision to put safety first BEFORE you start your run.

AVOID DRIVER FATIGUE — Driver fatigue is one of the top two factors in most large truck crashes according to U.S. safety reports.  It is also completely preventable.   More than a decade ago, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) found that truck driver fatigue was a factor in 30%-40% of all tractor-trailer accidents. NTSB determined that proper sleep was essential to driver safety and issued rules stating that drivers must get 8 hours of continuous sleep after 15 hours of duty or 10 hours of driving.  Beyond fatigue, poor driving decisions and driver illness have also been found to be major factors in large truck crashes.   The facts are clear – even if your inside the legal limits and no matter what the deadline is, a truck driver must put safety first and get proper rest when operating.

SCREEN FOR SLEEP APNEA — The NTSB recently warned truck drivers to be screened for sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes abnormal breaks in breathing or abnormally low breathing patterns during sleep.  Sleep apnea can keep truck drivers from receiving proper rest, even during a prolonged period of “sleep”  causing driver fatigue or mental errors when making decisions on the road.