There’s a complex balance to maintain when driving around semi-trucks. They’re large and intimidating by design, and an accident with a semi is often deadly. But there are two sides to every coin, as while you don’t want to be stuck behind a tractor-trailer, they don’t want you trailing behind them or making sudden stops in front of them. So use some common sense, and follow these tricks to avoid annoying truckers, or colliding with semi-trucks.
Understanding semi truck blindspots
Semi-trucks are massive, as are their blind spots. One on each side, a semi-truck can’t see directly in front of it, directly behind it, and on either side next to the cab. That all plays into where you should, or rather shouldn’t be when driving near a semi-truck.
For starters, you should never be directly in front of a semi-truck. If you suddenly have to stop, a semi-truck cannot slow down as fast. That’s why it’s critical you maintain a safe following distance, that way if you slam on your brakes, a trucker has time to slam on theirs.
The same applies for being directly behind a semi-truck, though if the semi were to suddenly stop, chances are you could slow down faster (unless you were really riding their tail, which I’ve seen many times before). The main reason it’s a bad idea to stay right behind them is that the driver can’t see you. Most trucks don’t have rearview mirrors or cameras, so if you’re right behind them, you’re invisible.
The same is true for being on either side of them, only it’s more dangerous. If you’re riding right beside a truck and they have to merge, they won’t see you, and you’ll slide right under the trailer. As an aside: if you see a truck flip its blinkers on, get out of their way. Either slow down and get behind them, or know how to pass them.
How to properly pass semi trucks
Rule number one: never pass a semi-truck on the right. While truckers have blind spots on either side of their semi, the right side is often referred to as the “blind side.” They simply can’t see you, even with mirrors, and when they do want to get back into the right lane, you better not be in the way.
Chances are, if a trucker merged to the left, you wouldn’t want to get in the far right lane. On a three-lane highway, truckers are typically only allowed to use the middle and right lanes. And if there’s a hazard, crash, or slow truck in the right lane, faster semis will move to the left, pass, then get back into the right lane. So either have patience and wait for them to move out of the way again or, if you’re on a three-lane highway, move into the far left lane and make a pass.
And don’t be afraid to pass trucks on the left, because they’re well aware of how slow they are. What you never want to do is ride beside them and match their speed, as not only are you in their blindspot, but you’re holding up traffic and annoying every driver behind you. Confidently, but safely, make your pass at a reasonable speed. And if you need to merge into the lane the truck is in, give them lots of room before you merge. After all, the only difference between merging and cutting someone off is how much room you leave.
Other common courtesies that’ll make a trucker’s job easier
Don’t brake check semis, it makes you look ridiculously dumb. The same goes for cutting a truck off at an intersection so that you don’t get stuck behind them at a red light. Whenever a truck has to suddenly stop, it puts the car ahead of them in danger, i.e. you.
This is especially true with tanker trucks, which are hauling liquid that’ll shift around. Here’s a little science lesson: if a tanker truck comes to a stop, the liquid inside it doesn’t. In fact, it all flows to the very front of the tanker, and can push the truck forward even more (you wouldn’t think it, but liquids are heavy).
Long story short, leave trucks lots of room, and don’t be an unpredictable driver. You’ll be making their jobs easier and your drive safer by just using common sense, and being a little patient. Getting stuck behind a truck might make you a couple of minutes late. But if you’re really cutting it that close, just leave earlier.