The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has identified several behaviors in passenger vehicle drivers that commonly contribute to collisions involving semi-trucks. According to FMCSA officials, these behaviors fit into four key categories:
• Errors in judgment. FMCSA officials say inattention is the leading contributing factor in semi-truck/ passenger vehicle accidents. Regardless of the source, driver distraction inevitably leads to lapses in judgment - and when you're traveling near a semi, running a red light or stop sign can be a deadly mistake. The best way to avoid a collision is to stay completely focused on the task of driving.
• Speed-related behaviors. The faster you're going, the less time you have to react when unexpected situations present themselves - and compared to passenger vehicles, loaded semi-trucks can require 20 to 40% farther to stop. Speed also affects an accident's severity because it increases crash energy - in other words, accidents are more likely to result in serious injuries when they occur at high speeds. It's essential that drivers adjust their speed for roadway conditions. Slow down when you're traveling in inclement weather, passing through a construction zone, or dealing with heavy traffic, and allow plenty of extra space, particularly when following a semi.
• Right-of-way or headway-related behaviors. Failing to yield the right-of-way to a large truck can be extremely dangerous. Never cut off or pull out in front of a semi, because it may not be possible for a trucker to slow down or stop in time to avoid hitting you. Assessing headway (the distance between one vehicle and another approaching vehicle) can also be difficult when it comes to large trucks. Because of their size, semi-trucks can appear to be moving slower than they actually are. Always err on the side of caution when passing, turning and crossing the roadway in front of an oncoming semi.
• Lane change or position problems. FMCSA officials cite several risky behaviors that fall into this category, including merging improperly and changing lanes abruptly in front of a large truck. Remember that trucks handle very differently than passenger vehicles, and they're often unable to execute sudden maneuvers. You'll also want to avoid lingering in a semi's oversized blind spots - remember, if you can't see a truck's side mirrors, the driver can't see you.
For more information about semi-truck accident prevention, check out FMCSA's informational video for drivers, "The Unsafe Driving Acts of Motorists in the Vicinity of Large Trucks."