Joe Bell, a 48-year-old man from Oregon, was walking across America to raise awareness about bullying following the suicide of his son early this year. Last month, while walking on the shoulder of a road in Colorado, Bell was hit and killed by a truck driver who had reportedly fallen asleep at the wheel. The story is a painful reminder of the danger that long-haul trucking creates for us all. According to the Department of Transportation, roughly 3,000 to 4,000 people die in large truck and bus crashes every year in America; thirteen percent of those deaths are the result of driver fatigue.
As we head into winter, busy holiday traffic coupled with an increase in inclement weather means a higher risk on the roadways. It’s a good idea to take a few moments to learn what you can do as a pedestrian, motorist, or truck driver to avoid these kinds of accidents.
Tips for Pedestrians
If there is a sidewalk on either side of the road, use it. If there is not a sidewalk, walk facing oncoming traffic so you can see what is heading your way.
Cross safely. If possible, cross streets only at a designated crosswalk. Always make eye contact with any approaching drivers, so you know that they see you.
Wear brightly colored clothes. It can be hard to see pedestrians on the side of the road, especially at night or in bad weather. Wear a brightly colored coat, hat, or scarf so that you are clearly visible.
Keep as much distance between you and the road as possible. If you need to stop and back further off the shoulder while a large vehicle passes, take the time to do so.
Stay alert. Don’t use headphones, cellphones, or other devices that prevent you from being aware of your surroundings.
Tips for General Motorists
Know your “No Zones.” There are particular areas surrounding trucks and buses where crashes most frequently occur. These blind spots are located on both sides of the truck (much larger than in a car), directly in front of the truck (they often have a large hood that they cannot see below), as well as directly behind the truck. A good rule of thumb to follow is, if you can’t see them in their mirrors, they can’t see you. For a detailed overview of all the “No Zones,” see the U.S. Department of
Maintain a safe distance (20 to 25 car lengths) and don’t make any sudden or unpredictable movements. Anything can happen on the freeway, and trucks don’t have the advantage when it comes to quick movements. Keeping a safe following distance may give you the extra seconds to steer clear of danger.
Obey the rules of the road. Just by following the posted speed limit and utilizing your turn signals, etc. you greatly help yourself and the truck driver retain safe conditions. Be sure to adjust your speed accordingly for weather conditions.
Pass only when you know it is safe. When it comes to passing it is not worth the risk to try and squeeze by just to avoid missing your exit, etc. When you do pass make sure the driver can see you so that they know your intent. Do not pass behind a truck that is backing up — this is the cause of hundreds of motorist deaths and injuries every year.
Also, in order to make a right turn, there are times that truck drivers must first swing wide to the left. Give the driver the berth his truck requires. Never try to get past them when they are making this maneuver as their rear and side visibility is greatly compromised.
Trucks require twice as much time and space to come to stop as cars do. If you need to pull in front of a truck, be sure to leave ample room between your vehicle and theirs, and maintain the same speed. Do not pull directly in front of a truck and then slow down; this is the cause of many rear-end collisions.
Look for signs that the truck driver is distracted or falling asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately truck driving is an industry that pays by the mile or load, not by the hour. Because of this, truck drivers often push themselves beyond their own physical limits as well as the time constraints imposed upon them by law.
Don’t give in to road rage. We’ve all had the experience of dealing with a truck that is pushing the speed limit, or suddenly slams on their brakes. No matter what you feel, do not let yourself become so angry that you act on your emotions and do something rash. If you feel strongly that the driver was breaking a law, or driving recklessly, call the police and report the incident to them.
Tips for Truck Drivers
Don’t drive longer than the law allows, or your body can withstand. Pushing yourself beyond the limits might make for a heftier paycheck, but no amount money is worth risking your life — not only for yourself, but for the loved ones who are depending on you. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a detailed summary of required break times and the maximum number of hours allowed behind the wheel and on shift.
Pay attention. Fatigue and boredom can lead many drivers to seek distractions, but piloting a big rig requires total concentration for everyone’s sake. Avoid the use of controlled substances, talking on your cellphone, texting, and eating while driving.
Obey the rules of the road, and take inclement weather and other driving conditions into consideration. Be sure to slow down and signal well ahead of a turn. Keep in mind that other motorists don’t know how long it takes your truck to stop or make a turn. Only change lanes when absolutely necessary.
Drive by the book. Overloaded trucks or loads that are improperly secured decrease maneuverability. Make sure you follow the industry standards when it comes to your haul. Keep up on the regular maintenance of your rig — a faulty turn signal on a car is one thing, but on a truck it can lead to catastrophe. Be sure to check your headlights and brake lights too. When driving at a slower speed due to a heavy load or inclement weather, drive with your hazard lights flashing to alert other drivers.
Don’t give in to road rage. Just as with motorists it is important to not let your emotions get the better of you. Inevitably cars will cut in front of you, or block you from being able to make your exit in time. Don’t let your anger get the better of you and cause you to make a poor driving decision.
Check your mirrors frequently (every 7 to 8 seconds), and scan the road up ahead for animals, accidents, or any other hazards that could pose a danger.
Here at Meshbesher & Spence, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season! Taking a few moments to center yourself before heading out for that last minute stocking stuffer or the big Thanksgiving dinner shopping trip could save lives.