Though they are commonplace on the highways and byways of the United States, many drivers of non-commercial vehicles know little about the massive size, weight and power of 18-wheelers. Sadly, this lack of knowledge frequently means that these drivers make many mistakes around the big rigs, mistakes that may result in the loss of many lives.
Most of today’s semis have two drive axles and one steering axle. The trailer is attached fifth-wheel style and can move forward or backward over the back axles to help make sure weight is distributed evenly. Pulling only one trailer, a typical tractor-trailer weighs around 73,000 lbs. Due to the massive weight of the vehicle, normal driver reaction time and speed, a semi-truck can take up to 525 feet to fully stop. This comes as a surprise to many non-commercial drivers because normal cars and trucks can typically stop in less than 200 feet.
Knowing Your Rig
New truck drivers receive comprehensive training about driving, following distances, weather conditions and many other occurrences that may impact their driving. One of the most important parts of training is what drivers learn about skidding. In essence, a skid means that a semi’s wheels have lost grip of the road which means the driver has lost control of the semi.
Being familiar with your truck is critical to avoiding a skidding semi-truck. For instance, being familiar with the brake pedal in your vehicle can help you to apply the right amount of pressure instead of slamming on the breaks. Unfortunately, brakes that are hit with too much force frequently cause at least one set of tires to lock up and skid. And once the trailer enters a skid, it can be difficult, if not impossible to stop.
Knowing your vehicle also helps to understand stopping distances with reference to how much weight is on their trailer, what weather is doing and how heavy traffic is. One good rule of thumb for commercial drivers is that they should always overestimate how long it will take to stop. In cases where drivers underestimate this distance, a trailer may skid into a jackknife and may need to be towed back to safety.
Semi trucks today are built with an incredibly useful tool that is not available on cars. The Jake Brake, also known as the engine brake, can help drivers slow an engine on a decline and even moderate slowing down to ensure the semi does not go into a skid.
Knowing Your Route
Making sure one is familiar with a route before starting the trip is another way to avoid a skid in a big rig. By taking time to review the types of roads along the route, the elevations of these roads and the times of day when traffic might be the heaviest, drivers can prepare in advance.
One recent news story told of a semi driver who was unfamiliar with a route and followed his GPS blindly up a remote mountain location. When the driver tried to turn around and descend the mountain, the truck began skidding toward a steep bank and got stuck in mud and snow. Because the driver had no cell phone service, he left the truck and attempted to walk through the forest to find help. In the end, he ended up walking for three days before finding an interstate and flagging down help. Perhaps this situation could have been avoided had the driver taken time to familiarize himself with the route prior to starting his trip.
Prevention is Key
Keeping prevention at the forefront is key to overall trucker safety which then enhances the safety of all on the road. Unfortunately, part of prevention is that commercial drivers must always be vigilant and aware that other drivers on the road simply may not understand the perils that accompany big rig accidents. Many drivers today say their top complaint is that leaving a safe following distance in a semi is next to impossible.
Truckers also state that many drivers simply do not realize that they have a rather large blind spot behind the trailer and next to the driver’s door. Though a truck driver can use mirrors more effectively than most drivers on the road, they are not magic. If a car cannot see a trucker’s mirrors, then they should assume that a driver cannot see their car.
Have a Plan B
As with every well-laid plan, a commitment to avoid skidding does not always come to fruition. In the case drivers encounter a skidding semi-truck they should be prepared to take action quickly. Should the back wheel skid, drivers should be prepared to take their foot off the gas pedal and avoid breaking until the skidding has ceased. Should the front wheels skid, it is best to use the brake only lightly as drivers bring a truck to a full stop as soon as possible. Finally, in the instance that a drive wheel skids due to slippery conditions a driver should engage the clutch and turn the steering wheel gently in the desired direction.
Though it is not possible to avoid all dangerous situations, semi drivers who are prepared and understand what might cause skidding can go a long way to avoid these situations.