Health and Safety: Semi Trucks – Facts and Cautionary Tips

Semi Truck SafetyThe trucking industry is alive and well in the United States. According to, a well-known trucking website, the US economy depends on trucks to deliver nearly 70% of all freight transported with an estimated 15.5 million big rigs on the road annually. And, in 2006, the transportation industry logged 432.9 billion miles for the year. That is a lot of road time.

Most Americans share the road with at least a few of these 18 wheelers during their morning commute alone, particularly along major corridors like I-25 and I-70. Even a large SUV is no match for the weight and power of a semi, so here are some things to think about while navigating the road alongside them, to help keep you and your family safe.

General Trucking Statistics

The trucking industry is a highly regulated one (The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations book is 560 pages full of regulations for truck drivers). And, there certainly are reasons why these regulations are in play. Some of the following facts might seem mundane – even to a layman, while others might surprise you:

  • Semi-trailers are typically 53 feet long. With the cab, they are 70-80 feet long and can haul up to 80,000 lbs. This means that a big rig hauling a maximum load weighs 20-30 times more than a standard car.
  • Truck engines are approximately six times larger than a car engine, with 300 to 400 more “horses” under the hood.
  • It takes two football fields for an 18 wheeler to stop – longer if they are traveling on a smooth road – and 55 feet to complete a successful U-turn.
  • A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required to operate large vehicles (trucks), which is anything over 26,001 lbs.
  • 500,000 trucking accidents occur each year in the US.
  • 1 in every 8 traffic fatalities involves a collision with a truck.
  • Roughly 130,000 people are injured in truck accidents each year.
  • Driver fatigue is the cause of 30% of all commercial truck accidents.
  • The top five driver-related factors for large trucks in fatal crashes were speeding-related, distraction/inattention, failure to keep in proper lane, vision obscured, and failure to yield right-of-way.
  • 84% of fatal truck crashes occur in normal weather conditions.

Proceed with Caution

After you consider all of these factors, you should also consider additional circumstances that make sharing the road with these mammoths even more cause for precaution.

  • Many companies utilize large vehicles that are just under the defined “large vehicle” size to cut costs of employing drivers with CDLs, but many of the skills used to successfully operate these vehicles are still necessary.
  • Trucks have multiple blind spots. Sometimes, depending on where you are alongside a semi-trailer, the driver of the truck is unable to see you. Many times, they could be relying on what they saw minutes before or by looking at shadows (if it’s light outside) or the light from your headlights (if it’s dark).
  • Because of their size, trucks are unable to maneuver or turn like cars or smaller vehicles do. Their cargo swings out far beyond where the cab has been. It is also not safe to be on the inside track if the truck is turning into your lane.
  • If a truck is “overloaded”, their mechanical systems can fail.

When Sharing the Road, Keep These Things in Mind

The industry that relies on these big rigs to move their cargo across the US doesn’t make money when the trucks aren’t running. When drivers and/or their employers make poor choices, they, unfortunately, pass the dangers on to the public. You have to consider the aftermath of colliding with a truck of this magnitude. The sheer size of these vehicles coupled with basic physics should strike fear in you immediately. We suggest following these guidelines that put additional barriers between you and an accident with these “freight trains”.

  • Avoid them! If you don’t have to get too close, don’t. If it is unavoidable, proceed with extreme caution.
  • Remember that momentum is carrying these 18 wheelers. Don’t stop quickly in front of them. Even the best driver, following all regulations and safety procedures, can’t stop a vehicle of that size on a dime.
  • Know where they are and remember that they might not be able to see you when you are too close. Keep a safe distance – give them plenty of room.

At McDivitt Law Firm, we have seen too clearly the devastation that can follow an accident with a big rig. We encourage you to share this information will all drivers in your family, and all friends who commute. Let’s work together to stay safe on our roads.

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