This post is mainly for all of you out there who have never driven a truck before. Once the initial disbelief and confused facial expression wears off after I tell somebody I'm a truck driver, they always have questions for me. So this will serve as a bit of Q&A for everyone.
This has to be the number one question I get asked. It's clearly something that irritates those we share the road with. Well, here's a little secret for you. It irritates us just as much as it irritates you. Most trucks you see on the road have their speed governed between 60 and 65mph. So, let's say there is one truck governed at 62 and one governed at 64. The faster truck will pull out and try to pass the slower truck. The faster truck only has 2mph to get around, so it takes a while as it is. But to make things even worse, the terrain plays a big role too. Should those trucks hit an incline, the slower truck might be loaded lighter or pull hills better. So the "faster" truck has now become the slower truck until the incline ends. The trucks sort of become "stuck" next to each other. All the while, cars are piling up in the passing lane getting upset at the "stupid truck driver." The truck being passed couldslow down, but momentum is huge for these trucks. Letting up on the fuel just a little bit on an incline could set up for a chain reaction where the truck will just keep slowing down, eating up more pricey fuel. Then, it could take that truck a half mile or longer just to get the speed back up. It's a situation that truck drivers hate just as much as everyone else on the road. When this happens, please don't tailgate us. We're doing our best, and we're not sitting in the drivers seat laughing because of the backup we're causing. Riding next to another semi is dangerous and we don't like doing it, but sometimes the small inclines catch us by surprise and we get stuck. It doesn't take much of an incline to slow us down. Tailgating us will do no good at all. If we blow a tire, guess where the rubber is going to end up? Right on your windshield. We can't go any faster, even though we want to.
I see this happen almost everyday. A truck will be in the right lane, then swing out into the left lane in front of a car to pass another vehicle, forcing the car in the left lane to hit the brakes. I don't condone this. It is dangerous. But there's a reason why they do this. It isn't because they are trying to prove a point to you or simply trying to be a jerk. Sometimes, a truck will come up behind a vehicle that is traveling much slower. The driver has two choices; Either hit the brakes, wait for an opening, then move into the left lane, or simply cut in while there is space, even if that space is small. The reason a lot of drivers decide to pull out into the left lane is because once they hit the brakes and lose that momentum, it can take them a very long time to build that speed up again. This will cause traffic to back up behind them and eat up a lot of fuel. It's usually a good idea, if you see a truck approaching another vehicle at a fast closing rate, simply back off and flash your lights so he knows he can come over. You won't lose much time out of your day, and the driver will be very appreciative. I personally love when a "4-wheeler" helps me out. As dumb as it sounds, it can sometimes make my day! We fight with cars all day long, so when one or two of them show a little thoughtfulness, it goes a long way.
Another reason this happens is because of traffic near on-ramps. If there are a line of cars merging, a lot of drivers will simply try to get out of the way. Please, do not change lanes and pass on the right. Once the merge point has passed, that driver is looking for the first opportunity to get back over. A quick decision usually has to be made at merge points. If the driver feels getting into the left lane is the safest choice, he's comin' over, so give 'em room.
Truck drivers are taught to look very far down the road. Since we sit up high, we can see further than you can. If we see something such as an emergency vehicle on the shoulder, a broken down car or truck on the shoulder, a lane closure, construction, or any number of things, we will get into the left lane as soon as there is an opening. We won't wait until the last second to move over. Sometimes it may seem like we moved over way too early. But if we can see the hazard, we'll get over as soon as we can. Once we've passed the hazard, we will move back over. Also, in larger cities, if there are 3 lanes to use, drivers often will use the center lane. Most drivers take a defensive driving course called the "Smith System" and we are taught specifically to use the center lane. It's much safer to us to use the center lane with all the merging going on. Plus, if something happens where we need to make a quick decision, we have more options to work with. Please, if you can help it, don't pass us on the right. Passing on the left is always the safest choice.
Most of the time, truck drivers will try to move over at merge points (on-ramps and lane closures). However, we are actually taught not to do this. It sets up a situation where we will have cars driving along the right side of us, and that's where we have a lot of blind spots. Also, sometimes it's simply not possible to move over. We are taught to hold our speed. That way, you can adjust your speed to ours. Make a decision to hit the gas and get in front of us, or slow down and come in behind us. I learned a good lesson on this one of my first weeks out. There was a car coming in from an on ramp and he was just driving right next to my cab. He wasn't speeding up or slowing down. As the ramp started to end, I began slowing down to let him in. However, just as soon as I started to slow down, he did too. I got slower, and he got slower. Eventually we were both down to 40mph and the car ended up on the shoulder and came in behind me. This was frustrating for me. Plan ahead! Don't wait until the last second to decide what you're going to do! Due to the situation I just described, we will almost always hold our speed and let you adjust. Your car is much more maneuverable than our truck. So you just do what you have to do to merge on. We'll be in the driver's seat with a tight grip on the steering wheel making sounds like "EEEEEEEEEEKKKKKK" and saying "what are you going to do car?" Merging is quite stressful for truckers.
Ok, this one is fairly obvious. So we don't flip over! We have a high center of gravity which makes it very easy for us to tip, especially if our trailer is loaded real high. But there's more to it than just that. Even if we're going slow enough to stay upright, we still have to worry about the cargo we're carrying falling over. For example, I haul a lot of produce loads. These loads are usually stacked in a way that makes tipping easy. Boxes are easily crushed, and once the bottom box crushes, the entire rest of the load is at risk of smashing and falling over. If we pull into a customer with a bunch of smooshed and turned over boxes, what do you think they are going to say about the $500,000 worth of product in there? They will certainly reject the load. Most ramps and tight curves have a little sign stating the suggested speed. You know, those little speed limit signs nobody ever pays attention to? Well, truck drivers do pay attention to those signs. Since those signs are designed for cars, we generally do about 10mph slower than what the sign says. We are going that slow for safety. Not only from flipping the truck over, but also from damaging the cargo we're hauling.
This one should seem obvious, but it's clear that a lot of people think we just run them because we don't want to waste time at a red light. The timing on stop lights is designed for cars. They do not allow ample time for a fully loaded truck to stop. So when that light turns yellow, usually if we have to think about whether we should stop or not, we just go. We will usually set up a "point of no return" and once we hit that point, we're going no matter what the light does. I've heard some people say "trucks have eighteen brakes and a car only has four." That is false! We actually only have 10 brakes. That means if we have a fully loaded truck, each brake has to stop 8,000 pounds! We also do not have enough tire area contacting the road to utilize our brakes fully. The brakes will lock up the wheels, even fully loaded, so we can only brake so hard before the tires lock up. Not to mention what slamming on the brakes does to our cargo. Please, if you see a truck approaching an intersection, be damn sure he's stopping should the light change. It's another stressful experience for us. Lights changing right at the "point of no return" is dangerous, and we do our best to make the safest decision.
Truck drivers are heavily regulated on how many hours we are allowed to drive in a day. Unknown to the general public, there is a severe shortage of truck parking in this country. Most truck stops get filled up around 7 or 8 at night, as do most rest areas. We are often forced to find alternate places to park, like on and off ramps. We don't like doing it. Not only is it dangerous, but most ramps are on an incline or decline, making it very uncomfortable to sleep. It's a necessary evil and many states even ticket us for parking on the ramps, as if we're able to go anywhere else. Please be careful when using ramps at night. We'll leave a light on for you.
This is very unfortunate. We were once known as "The Knights of the Highway." But most companies now have policies against stopping to assist motorists. Since our cargo can sometimes be in the millions of dollars, it's easy to understand why. Unfortunately, the few bad people that are out there prohibit us from taking any chances. Even if we witness a car accident, the companies tell us "if you're not involved, don't stop." Now obviously if it looks like somebody got hurt and there's nobody else around, we're going to stop. But if there are other people around, we are supposed to keep driving. Not only does it waste time, but it opens us up to law enforcement to investigate our hours worked, truck condition, etc. Furthermore, trucks are huge dollar signs to a lot of people. It's easy for somebody to say "well, that truck did this and that and forced me into an accident." Cha-ching! If we see somebody on the side of the road who needs help, we will often times use our cell phone to call for assistance. Stopping is something I wish I could do more often. It's just in my nature to help people. But unfortunately, it won't happen very often.
Hopefully this helps to answer some questions you might have about why truck drivers do certain things. If you have other questions, please feel free to comment here or visit our trucker's forum. We'd be happy to answer any questions you might have!
Until next time, drive safely!
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