What Are the Biggest Risks When Sharing the Road with an 18-Wheeler?

What Are the Biggest Risks When Sharing the Road with an 18-Wheeler?Hitting the road anywhere in the United States typically means sharing it with trucks of all sizes, including 18-wheelers. This is especially true in New Jersey, where major highways such as the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 287, and Route 78 – among many others – serve as vital conduits for 18-wheelers carrying heavy loads to locations in, and beyond, the Garden State.

Traveling on the same roads as these trucks is inherently dangerous for anyone in a passenger vehicle. Truck driver error is not the only reason for crashes involving passenger vehicles and 18-wheelers.

Why is sharing the road with 18-wheelers dangerous?

Also called tractor-trailers, semi-trucks, or big rigs, the average 18-wheeler is massive. Typically stretching 70 to 80 feet in length and weighing in at 80,000 pounds – or 40 tons – when fully loaded, these behemoths are intimidating, to say the least. If a truck accident occurs and a passenger vehicle is involved, the odds are not on the side of the occupants of the passenger vehicle. Accidents involving cars and 18-wheelers can cause serious or catastrophic injuries or even death.

The sheer size of an 18-wheeler and what that means for how a truck can be maneuvered and how much time and distance are needed for it to stop safely are sometimes lost on drivers of smaller motor vehicles. Large trucks such as 18-wheelers present unique challenges for truck drivers, including:

  • Reduced field of vision.What any experienced truck driver knows – but drivers of passenger vehicles may not know – is that tractor-trailers have multiple large blind spots. These blind spots, or areas on the road that the truck driver cannot see when looking at rearview or side mirrors, are located all around the truck. This includes both sides of the 18-wheeler as well as the front and back.
  • Longer stopping time.Due to their size and weight, an 18-wheeler truck requires significantly more time and distance to come to a complete stop. If another vehicle cuts of a tractor-trailer or stops suddenly in front of it, there may not be enough time for the truck driver to stop – even if he or she reacts quickly. The greater the speed the 18-wheeler is traveling at, the longer the amount of space it will need to stop. The speed limit is 65 miles per hour on many New Jersey highways, meaning a tractor-trailer carrying a full load will require a substantial amount of space to stop without hitting the vehicle in front of it.
  • Slower reactions.While passenger cars and other smaller vehicles can maneuver through traffic quickly, including merging into traffic and changing lanes, the same cannot be said for 18-wheelers. Once again, their size presents challenges that truck drivers must account for when approaching a merge or attempting to change lanes. Truck sideswipe accidents occur more often than you may expect.
  • Wide turns.Turning in any direction is more complicated for an 18-wheeler, but especially right-hand turns. Trucks need plenty of room to complete the turn safely and without incident.
  • Wind susceptibility.At 70 to 80 feet long, 18-wheelers may face real challenges in moderate to high winds. They can become difficult to control, as the combined surface area of the truck and trailer effectively become a sail that can catch the wind and throw the trailer off-balance. The result can be catastrophic for any vehicle driving alongside of, or in otherwise close proximity to, the tractor-trailer.

It is important to note that these challenges are present at all times, including in clear, pleasant weather and good road conditions. They are even more dangerous during inclement weather conditions such as rain, snow, ice, fog, or high winds.

How can I prevent a crash with an 18-wheeler?

The best way to prevent a crash with an 18-wheeler is to avoid traveling near them whenever possible. However, that is not always realistic, especially here in New Jersey where tractor-trailers are seemingly everywhere. Fortunately, there are some reasonable precautions drivers can follow in order to safely navigate New Jersey’s – and any other state’s – roadways along with 18-wheelers:

  • Give them plenty of room. If you are behind an 18-wheeler, be sure to maintain a safe following distance of a least four seconds between your vehicle and the truck. You may need to leave even more space depending on road and weather conditions. The goal is to give you plenty of time to avoid any dangerous situations that may occur, such as sudden stops, wide turns, a tire blowout, or the truck tipping over due to high winds. If you cannot see the truck’s side-view mirrors, the driver of the truck likely cannot see you. Additionally, your own view of the road ahead and any possible obstacles is obscured by the height and width of the tractor-trailer. Leaving enough space between you and the 18-wheeler allows you to see more of the road so you can anticipate any issues and react as quickly as necessary.
  • Pass safely – on the left.In New Jersey, as in most states, drivers are generally required to pass vehicles on the left, meaning the other vehicle’s left side. This is a much safer option, especially when the vehicle you want to pass is an 18-wheeler. The blind spot on a tractor-trailer tends to be smaller on the left side. Before passing, be sure that there is enough space in front of the 18-wheeler for you to safely move in front of them without causing an accident. Remember to signal and maintain a steady speed, as speeding up to change lanes and then immediately slowing down can cause a serious crash.
  • Stay alert. Always.Of course, you should be aware of your surroundings, road conditions, and other cars nearby whenever you drive. However, this is particularly true when you are traveling on the same road as 18-wheelers or other large trucks. While being in a smaller vehicle gives you the benefit of being able to quickly maneuver around any potential obstacles or issues, your reaction time is crucial. Driving while distracted or tired – or simply not paying close enough attention to the road – interferes with that reaction time which may have serious consequences.

Even the most cautious driver cannot avoid every potentially dangerous situation – especially when driving near an 18-wheeler. If you suffered injuries in a crash with an 18-wheeler, you need a New Jersey personal injury lawyer with experience fighting on behalf of accident victims. The certified trial attorneys at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP are the lawyers you need on your side. From our offices in Edison, Red Bank and Toms River, we build strong, strategic cases and fight until our clients are satisfied. Call us today at 732-777-0100 or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation with one of our NJ truck accident attorneys.