WHEN WE hit the roads in search of pleasant summer memories, we dread finding ourselves just behind that 18-wheeler, just as truck drivers dread being surrounded by impatient car drivers. "Cars are notorious for cutting in front of trucks, placing everyone in jeopardy," said Larry Daniel, president of AITA Inc., a trade association of independent truck drivers.
Trucks can weigh as much as 40 tons when loaded. "The law of physics dictates that when 40 tons are in motion, it cannot stop, turn or react quickly," he said. "[When] a truck driver is forced to try to violate this law, something bad usually happens."
As many hours as we commuters and vacationers put on the roads, keep in mind that truck drivers log in far more. They're the professional drivers on the roads. Truck drivers are required to have a commercial driver's license that must be renewed regularly. Truck drivers must stay up to date on any changes in the laws for the types of freight and loads they haul.
Daniel said that truckers often drive 10 hours a day. "During their 10 hours, they stop for food, fuel and rest stops and try to average 500 miles per day. At that rate, they would average more than 125,000 miles per year," he said.
It is also in their best interests to drive safely. "If they get three moving violations, they lose their licenses, just as four-wheeler drivers. There are no allowances for miles driven," Daniel said.
The length and width of trucks create driving hazards. To avoid coming on the wrong side of the law of tonnage (the heaviest vehicle wins), follow these tips:
At intersections, truck drivers turning right may move into the left lane to avoid hitting the curb. Do not position yourself along the right side of the truck. It is not a mistake if the truck is in the left lane and has the right blinker on. Don't pull into the open space to the right of the truck, as it is swinging wide to navigate the turn.
Most trucks need a longer distance to stop than cars do. Don't scoot in front as you approach a stoplight -- you may not be leaving them enough room to stop.
Signal your intentions well before turning, slowing or stopping to give trucks behind you more time to brake.
When stopped, a truck may roll back farther than a car when the driver releases the brake. Give a truck room to do so.
Be visible. Stay out of a truck's blind spots, typically to the sides and back. If you can't see the truck's mirrors, then the truck driver cannot see you.
When passing trucks, pass as quickly and safely as possible, and don't cut in front of a truck too closely -- many trucks have front blind spots as well.
Never drive or walk around the back of a truck when it is reversing. You may be in the driver's blind spot.
When meeting or passing a truck on a highway, stay as far away from it -- in your lane -- as you can to avoid the wind pressure created at high speeds. A truck also uses all of its lane space. If you are stopped or broken down, where possible, park well clear of the roadway.
Enforcing the law
I often go around the two roundabouts at Route 103 and Route 100 about 6:30 a.m. Just before Memorial Day, several mornings in a row, I noticed a police officer stationed at the entrance of one of the roundabouts. Then, inside the roundabout on the outer shoulder, another officer had one or two vehicles pulled over.
Needless to say, I drove both traffic circles very carefully, using my signals and thoroughly confusing the driver behind me.
I wondered why the officers were there, even as I listened to radio news reports about the enforcement of the seat belt law at night using night-vision equipment in Rockville. According to Rachel Miller, a spokeswoman for the Howard County police, the officers were at the circles enforcing the seat belt law.
In fact, Maryland law enforcement agencies were part of a nationwide campaign -- aptly titled "Click It Or Ticket" -- to increase seat belt use. During the campaign, officers in Maryland set up more than 100 checkpoints and seat belt enforcement zones around the state to stop and ticket drivers who violate seat belt and child passenger safety laws. The roundabouts at Route 100 and Route 103 were just one of those checkpoints.
What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.