Staying Safe behind the Wheel of a Semi

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show a slow-but-steady increase in deaths and injuries resulting from large truck accidents each year. Deaths reached almost 4,000 in 2012, while injuries topped 100,000 the same year.

The number of fatalities and injuries inversely correlates to the number of large trucks in accidents. In other words, fewer trucks each year are causing more deaths and injuries. Why? Bigger trucks are 20 percent more likely to cause multiple-vehicle accidents than single-vehicle accidents. They also are three times more likely to be rear-ended than any other kind of vehicle. Texas leads the nation in fatalities caused by truck accidents, followed by California and Florida.

Truckers face dangers themselves. Their job is not an easy one. Stress, fumes, and back pain can diminish their health. Perhaps more than anything, truckers battle crippling fatigue. They spend long hours trekking across the country and need to stay sharp the entire time.

Here’s how you can stay safe while driving a truck—for yourself and for others on the road.

Prevent Accidents Before They Happen

There are three major types of truck accidents: rollovers, jackknifes, and collisions. They are all preventable if you understand how they occur and how you can stop them.

Rollovers happen when the driver turns suddenly and the truck flips on its side. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates nearly 80 percent of rollovers stem from driver error. However, the truck’s design and load are also factors. Preventing a rollover starts with appropriate speed management. Sudden turns at high speed are the ingredients for disaster.

You can stop a rollover if you:

  • Avoid drastic movements on straightaways and turns.
  • Always look ahead for risky areas on the road.
  • Stay aware.

When a truck’s wheels lose traction, it causes jackknifing. The load ratchets forward and may also fold over onto the truck itself. Any cars can be swept up and crushed against the truck, or just tossed forward at high speeds. Jackknifing typically occurs in a truck with an empty cargo load.

Drivers can prevent a truck from jackknifing if they:

  • Watch for cargo load swing.
  • Install anti-lock brakes.
  • Start breaking well before a turn begins.

Underride collisions and rear-ending are among the most common kinds of truck accidents. Blind spots are often the root of the problem. You probably have seen a sign on the back of a semi saying, “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” That is the truth. Passenger car drivers weave through traffic. Sometimes these drivers don’t even realize they are changing lanes unnoticed by the driver of the semi ahead of them. Even at low speeds, a quick stop can be deadly.

Prevent underride collisions and rear-ending with the following steps:

  • Minimize lane changing.
  • Check mirrors every 5 seconds.
  • Clean taillights.

Even the best semi-truck drivers in the world need passenger car drivers to be safe in order to prevent accidents. Truck drivers can only control their load—and their own bodies. While often not discussed, fatigue causes a great deal of poor driving. You should not hesitate to stop and nap if you are tired. Driving with a partner also holds you accountable and keeps you awake. Make sure to eat regularly, stay hydrated, and if necessary, drink caffeine to keep your eyes open.

Learn a Few More Helpful Tips

Accidents don’t occur in a vacuum. It takes a combination of factors, such as bad weather, high speeds, sudden braking, and lack of signaling.

Always make sure to:

  • Bring chains for tires.
  • Reduce speed during bad weather.
  • Signal early if the upcoming turn will cause drift.

Don’t become a statistic. Following these simple steps can prevent disaster. 

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